Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2006.06.14 : Krav Maga:
Getting Handed Your Ass

"The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer."
- David Ben-Gurion

     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.)

  danger     depression     exercise     my books  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
ARISEN : Odyssey
ARISEN : Last Stand
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 1 - The Collapse
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 2 - Tribes
Black Squadron
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 3 - Dead Men Walking
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 4 - Duty
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 5 - The Last Raid
ARISEN : Fickisms ][ – This Time, It's Personal
ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple
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