So I've recently picked up a new activity: the martial art of Krav Maga. Simply translating as "close combat" in Hebrew, this form was developed specifically for, and is still taught by, the Israel Defense Forces. And this morning, I can tell you, I feel precisely as if a squad of Israeli commandoes has been beating me with lead menorahs while I ran a half-marathon through the Negev. Jesus.
Our two-hour class last night was just brutal. (And I thought it had been brutal on previous nights.) And I also used to think I was in shape! Jesus! I go there and it makes me wonder why I've worked out for two hours a day for years - when I can't even make it through the warm-up! Mein Gott.
I'm "wounded" (no other term for it) in no fewer than six spots (including all my knees and, most worryingly, the junction of back/neck/right shoulder) and I can barely move from fatigue. (And I just slept 11 hours.) Our instructor, whom is I believe one of two guys in the UK authorised to teach this martial art to law enforcement, just got back from holiday, plus was sick and I think was feeling vindictive. Aside from all the general conditioning stuff that always kicks my arse, we did our first defenses against gun attacks where I did have an advantage, being American, and thus one of the few people in the room who had ever handled handguns. Did more knife defense work (more likely to be useful in this country) plus ground grappling, headlock escapes, and preempting the ole shirt-grab-and-knuckle-sandwich combo.
The highlight had to be where we got in groups of three toward the end and for two minutes (which felt like an hour and a quarter) two would tag-team on the third, relentlessly pressing all the attacks we had learned defenses for during the class, one immediately after the other, again and again and again. The two goals are getting accustomed to dealing with multiple attackers (you're rarely lucky enough to enjoy only one in a street fight), plus the hard-core conditioning. And let me tell you, just the attacking role was exhausting. I made the dire tactical error of defending last and didn't make it all the way through. At about the minute-and-a-half mark a guy put me in a headlock and I just collapsed into it I had nothing left. He let me fall, and the other guy got then me in a "cross-mount" grapple on the ground. I twitched once, then lay there, trying to breathe. When it was all over, I walked home through Covent Garden so drenched in sweat I looked as if I'd just walked out of a lake.
And it was totally freaking great. I'm reminded that getting thrashed is always the best anti-depressant. (Or, rather, I suppose endorphins and adrenaline are.) Pain probably doesn't hurt one bit, either (so to speak). I think there's a reason why depression is a thoroughly modern phenomenon: you need an awful lot of leisure free time, comfort, safety, freedom from want and privation to sit around and get depressed about how unfulfilling life is. For 99% of human history, we've had to hustle all day just to cling to life. The "fulfilling life" is a pretty new concept. Anyway.
I also bought a groin protector last night. Stewart's (the instructor) philosophy is against any kind of beginner classes he just throws you into it, where A) you fend for yourself (which makes you genuinely incented to make progress very quickly indeed), and B) you learn from the more experienced guys. I think related to this was the fact that he never said, "Okay, you new guys might want to buy a groin protector". He just let us figure it out, which we did pretty rapidly. Actually, I think it's more something you wear for your sparring partner than yourself. Since so damn many of that attacks are brutal smacks to the privates (basically anytime you can reach your attacker's privates), wearing a cup allows your partner actually to practice the moves fairly realistically.
In any case, I'm hooked on this. I think my life had really been missing this aspect of formal training. It's not so much the defense techniques, not so much the unbelievable workout, not so much the camaraderie (although I love those three aspects) but principally the physical, mental, and (at least conceivably) spiritual discipline of training.
How did I pick Krav Maga, by the way? (Particularly since the only other art I've studied is aikido, which couldn't possibly be more different in philosophy and technique?) Well, let's just say if it's good enough for IDF it's good enough for me. (The very first thing about the Israelis being that they don't lose fights.)
In utterly unrelated news: Passing a bookstore in Chelsea on Sunday, I witnessed a tableau I couldn't resist photographing for the good reason that it will probably only last another five minutes, and never happen again. But still I can say that, for one golden moment, I shared a display rack with Umberto Eco. (Also the last two Booker Prize winners, though I care a lot less about that. Though, I will say that one of them, John Banville's The Sea, was the first Booker winner I've found readable enough to, erm, finish reading. It was pretty glorious, in fact.) Yeeeppp, just me and my old buddy Umberto . . .
Off now to the health club. (Where, despite it being nominally chest-and-upper-back day, I fear the steam room and hot tub are going to figure a lot more prominently.)