Tuesday, 6 October 2015

KMM Pre-grading & Grading- P1 to P5

26th September and 3rd October 2015
Stratford upon Avon High School, UK

In the build up to the latest set of gradings KMM ran our usual pre-grading seminar. All the sweat and joy of a real grading and the Krav equivalent of a dress rehearsal. Instructors Al Natrins (G2) and Russell Brotherston (G5) who also work with kids at Junior Safe Krav Maga, had organised the whole thing, with Al leading the seminar on the day.

For the first time there was to be a grading in our neck of the woods. Usually the gradings are held down south (Bristol and London) and one in Cumbria. After double bookings at a grading in Birmingham in 2013 on two separate occasions, KMG UK had not used the venue again. Bartosz, the chief instructor of KMM had arranged for it in Stratford upon Avon, at our usual training ground at the High school. Good news for most of us that wanted to grade. Well, except me who was walking on crutches after a operation to repair the ACL in my left knee. Determined to remain 'in the spirit of things' I arranged to write this review of both events which would also enable me to get some intel on training and watch my peers grade for P5 on the big day.

At the pre grading was a familiar face. Peter Santha had trained at Leamington Spa with me about two years ago but I hadn't seen him in ages. He had now rejoined the Worcester branch with Al, and was training for P1. He said "I'm feeling good, pretty excited. I'm hopeful for the day itself."

I also spoke to Karl Dann who trains at Coventry and was prepping for P2. He told me "Looking forward to it. Been doing it for nine months, twice a week so yeah."

The seminar started with the usual warm ups and then the students split off into their relevant levels. As always, the main bunch were going for P1 and Darren Patrick from Leamington was the only P5 candidate in the room. Normally the P1 gradings are held in house and separately to the P2 to P5 exams. This time however, the venue was KMM's own, so the events were able to be run simultaneously.

As the students got stuck into their various drills and techniques, it was clear that some were nervous and most were determined to get it right. Al was walking round with a clipboard marking notes and giving feedback. Due to being on crutches I couldn't get too "up close and personal" so sat at the side watching. It was inspiring to see the level of effort people were giving and later on during a quick water break, I spoke to Al directly.

"It's going well so far. Everyone's looking at the level they should be, with some corrections here and there. For next week, people can judge you kindly or not so kindly. We shall see."

Grading Day

Felt a bit sheepish as I arrived at Stratford High School at 9.30am to find no one even remotely Kravvy there. Once I burned all my paranoid delusions over why (prime theory being that they had told ME it was here, and told everyone else the real venue) I rang Russell. Turned out the grading was midday and I'd got it wrong. Oops! Nipped home for a cup of coffee and then came back, reassured by the sight of Bartosz's KMM van parked right outside the training hall.

Most of the guys stood at the sides of the hall were from Krav Maga Midlands but there were a few others dotted about from other clubs including Total Krav Maga and Krav Maga South Wales. Everyone seemed nervous and I managed to grab a few words. P3 candidate Ewa seemed composed and calm and said to me "I'm feeling realistic. I know what I'm capable of and I'm going to give it my best".

Her club mate Goz said, "Ready to switch the aggression mode on. I give it everything I've got. I'm with Ewa who's my grading partner extraordinaire, so we'll help each other and do what we can."

Rich Coulthard from Krav Maga South Wales was there for P3 and said "I'm a bit nervous with the adrenaline, just want to get on with it. Feel confident with the instruction I've had but always a few nerves before you start."

Text messages were coming in from people who hadn't got to the venue yet. There had been a bad accident on one of the major arterial roads leading into Stratford and a few candidates were stuck. Fortunately, whatever it was was cleared quite quickly as the students arrived flustered but only slightly later than the scheduled start time and we had yet to get things moving.

Once Jon Bullock, the head of Krav Maga Global UK and Alan Dennis an E1 instructor arrived, the students began to register. As they queued up I spoke to Rhiannon Williams, a P1 student from the Worcester club who was there with her friend Ellen Vogel to offer support to their club mates. They trained with Al Natrins who had also come to fly the flag. She said "It's going to be quite interesting I think. It's going to be good to actually see it happen, the P1. Last time we graded in July we were in the thick of it so it will be good to see the P1 and also what the P2 will be like."

Ellen said "Be good to get an outsider's perspective and see what's coming up in the gradings."

Once everyone had registered they sat in a huddle in front of the examiners. Jon Bullock addressed them and asked who was nervous. After establishing that ALL were nervous and getting a ripple of laughter, he established a few truths about the grading. He asked if Krav Maga was the ultimate system and after a pause added "No, of course not. Does it give you a fighting chance? Yes." He then said something that I could personally relate to, having failed P5 last March"The higher people go the more they focus on stuff only from their own level. By P5 you're out of luck if that's what you do."

He went on to say that the primary concern in the grading was to keep your partner safe and that if he saw anyone going too hard during the sparring he would fail them on the spot. The secondary concern was to pass the exam. Bartosz then repeated that the most important thing was not to injure each other and then the warm up began. After getting everyone good and sweaty they split into their various levels with P1 at the far end and 2 to 5 at the other. There were only three candidates for P5, all KMM students with four going for P4, two from Total Krav Maga. Once everyone was lined up Bartosz reminded the P1s to keep the positions they were in now as they needed to remember where they were standing as they marked the score sheets. On bigger gradings your place will be noted with number that you are issued with that you pin to the back of your T-shirt. On smaller gradings they rely on numbers and A and B (sometimes C if there's a group of 3).

People got stuck in pretty quickly and as the day progressed you could see the guts and determination on everyone's faces. P1 by its nature is not the gruel fest that P4 and 5 are, but the students were still giving it 100%. As I moved up the lines it was fascinating to see all the levels like this, something I'd glimpsed briefly at the P&G weekend last December but not with such an uninterrupted view. There's a certain change in facial expression that you can see as you move from P1 to P5. The determination and grit are always there but when you reach the summit of the practitioner grades, you have a certain steel in your eyes because you know JUST how hard your grading is going to be.

P1 were being overseen by Russell and Bartosz while P2 and P3 had Alan Dennis. Alan called them into a huddle on a few occasions and explained what was lacking in a technique that he felt needed correction. Jon Bullock had the P4s and 5s and all seemed to be giving it a good show, despite the obvious tiredness that was creeping up on them like vapour on a bathroom mirror.

Me, Ellen and Rhiannon stepped out for coffees and when we got back the P1s and 2s were setting out mats for forwards and backwards rolls. This has always been a bone of contention for me as it took me a while to crack them properly. By the time of P4 you are required to learn "forwards to backwards" which sounds OK until you find out you can't stop or stand up between them. Thankfully, all the candidates had the rolls more or less down properly. An addition thrown in by Alan Dennis on P2 had the students rolling, then being immediately attacked by whoever was behind them. This was a novel twist as it meant you had to keep sharp and act on instinct for the most part.

Finally the P2s and 3s finished and shortly after the P1s made their way to the side. All were sweating and red faced but looking like they'd enjoyed it. I spoke to Dan Robinson from KMM who'd just completed P2. He said "I'm feeling strong but it was very tough, we'll see how I get on".

I spoke again to Ewa who said "I'm absolutely and utterly shattered. Should be OK. Never say never".

Goz wearily told me, "I feel exhausted, challenged mentally. To be honest I'm not at all very confident at this moment but what will be will be".

While Ps 1 to 3 took a well deserved rest and had something to eat and drink, the P4s and 5s were gearing up for the sparring. Having lost a piece of a tooth on my P4 grading and about two litres of sweat on the P5 one, I was well aware of what the guys were about to face. Alan Dennis oversaw them and as there was an odd number he had them in pairs fighting, with a 'rogue element' roaming the floor and randomly picking on one person in an existing couple. Whoever they attacked would then have to break off and become the new rogue element. They went at it for about six rounds before Alan called them to a huddle, briefed them on what they'd seen and then said. "You all OK? Good, because you've got one more round to go". They went at it again, everyone giving it their full commitment and then had to face the joys of two against one. The whole point of this is to see if you can remain focussed despite the utter exhaustion you are experiencing. Adrenaline and pride were the only things that kept me going last time in March and it was clear just how much some of the fighters were now hurting as they drew up reserves of energy to finish what they'd started.

Finally the fighting was done but the grading wasn't over. Alan got them all into push up position and after conferring with Jon Bullock they got the P4s to do forty push up while P5 had the added bonus of going up to 50. They moved on to burpies and sit ups before finally the end was in sight and they finished.

After a quick wipe down and gulping some water the students split back up into their requisite grades and sat on the floor around the examiners who'd tested them. Bartosz and Russell got down and demonstrated a few techniques that people had found hard and as I moved further up the hall, Alan and Jon were doing the same. Jon used Al Natrins as a partner to demonstrate what he thought needed work while telling the students their grades. Most had passed but not all and Jon gave constructive feedback to those who hadn't made it. I was surprised when he said "If you tell me now that you disagree with me and that you believe you've done enough to pass then I will sign your certificate and give you your patch but do you want that?" The offer was declined and it made it clear that commitment is one thing but an open mind and an acceptance of criticism are also fundamental. I can't deny that I'd have been tempted to take the offer but ultimately, as Jon said to my grading group way back when I took P3, "From this point it's no longer about collecting patches."

As people moved back to get a fresh T-shirt or chat to family and friends things began to wind down. Everyone lined up for a final photo and the awarding of certificates while the steam slowly evaporated from the sports hall windows.

Once again a fantastic day, bonus for me being that I got to see it from the point of view of a spectator to get some hints for March 2016 when I'm fit to grade once more.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Junior Safe Krav Maga (JSKM) Grading

27th September 2015 
Stratford upon Avon High SchoolUK

I help out at JSKM on Mondays with Russell, who is also an instructor at Krav Maga Midlands, and it's always loads of fun. An hour or so, playing games and teaching little kids from ages 5 to 10 the finer points of how to avoid being grabbed, hit or picked up along with striking work. Great for me and great for them.

The kids had wanted to have a grading for quite a while and Russell agreed a couple of month ago that it would go ahead in late September, getting the holidays out the way and meaning as many children as wanted to could attend. Last year there were about 10 students but with the class numbers having risen considerably (with classes in LeamingtonStratford and now Redditch) it was clear that attendance would be high.

I had a knee operation in early September meaning I would be out of all sports related activities for at least four months. Annoyed at being unable to attend to help out with the actual grading, it was good to be healed up enough so I could watch and support the students, especially the ones I teach in Leamington with Russ.

The grading was 10am to 3pm and when I got there at about quarter to ten, the sports hall was busy with parents and little kids milling about. Russell and newly qualified Kids Insructor Al Natrins, also from KMM, were there and organising everything. Helping out were my equivalents rom Stratford and Redditch, Graham Matthews and Jason Tipping, along with Russell's girlfriend Jane Bracey. The children looked hyper keen, running around and climbing on the wall bars. I saw quite a few familiar faces plus a few more I hadn't seen before as they attended one of the other two venues for training.

At 10am Russell and the others got the children into a big group and explained how the day was going to unfold. There were three levels. Young, Junior and Teen with the teenagers off to one side and the main group of students on the mats in the middle of the room. Russell and Al would be assessing and grading them with Graham, Jason and Jane helping out. Once the initial 'Kida!' was out the way they got warmed up with some games. The instructors were chasing them round the mats with foam covered mallets or 'boppers' and the kids had to avoid them. Once they were good and sweaty, they moved on to specific techniques and were kicking and punching the strike shields with gleeful abandon. Most were clearly having the time of their lives, working hard while grinning from ear to ear. I chatted to Tanith and Dave Swain whose daughter Evie was up for her second JSKM grading, having achieved the grade of Young 1 at last year's event. They said she'd been super excited about the whole thing and we could see her getting stuck in to the techniques she was required to demonstrate. 

The Teens groups had just three students, one of which is Graham Matthews' daughter. The difference between them and the other kids was very clear. They were just a couple of notches below adult Krav Maga in terms of what they were required to do. Proper kicking and punching drills were being performed and assessed and Russell turned up in protective gear at one point as a 'sparring' partner. He said that they were to hit two focus mitts that he was holding, in a two minute pressure drill BUT if they dropped their guard at any point he would try to strike them in the head with one of his hands. They also had to perform other pressure drills involving kicking & punching strike shields plus being on the ground and trying to stand up while the others attempted to prevent them doing so.

As time moved on the students were getting tired. Having graded myself, I know how gruelling these things can be and the fact that it was not as intense as a 'grown up' exam did not make it any less daunting for the kids. After another five minute break the children moved on to forward rolls onto crash mats (and going over a crouching instructor) and then into the final pressure drill. The children got around a crash mat each and three other students held strike shields. They then had two minutes to punch and kick the shields. The twist was that behind them was one of the instructors wearing a helmet and groin guard who would occasionally try and pick them up or grab them. The child was required to kick out and struggle to get free, then carry on hitting and kicking the shields until their time was up.

The little girl from this story was initially involved in the drill, holding pads for the others but got scared very quickly. She had already sat out the 'boppers' warm up at the beginning and was adamant she didn't want to have a go when it came to her turn. I work with her on the Monday classes in Leamington Spa and know just how easily she can become scared. Me and Al Natrins had a little chat with her and eventually persuaded her to join in with me and her mother holding the pads. She really tried hard and me and her mum were very proud that she finished the whole thing.

Finally it was over and the kids ran to their parents for some snacks and a drink while Russell and Al compared notes. All the kids looked tired but happy and were nervously waiting for the awards to be given out. After a short time Russell called them into the middle and got them to line up according to level. One thing I picked up on was the pride in the faces of the three students in the Teens level. They were allowed to stand while the others knelt and were clearly very proud to be achieving what was effectively only one step down from an adult Krav grade. I remember how this felt as a child, to be privileged enough to be considered a senior member of an organisation, both at school and in the Cubs and Scouts and I hope these kids go on to have a lot of success in Krav Maga in later life.

The awards were read out, with Young going up first. Russell gave the certificates while Al handed them the patches and gave the students a high five (in 'adult' Krav gradings, we shake hands). All the kids looked super pleased and finally a photo was taken before the babble of voices could be heard as coats were pulled on and little voices could be heard, excitedly telling their parents everything they'd just done.

A little 6 year old lad from the Leamington class ran up to me beaming, with his patch and certificate to ask "Can I 'ave my picture taken wiv you?" Very touched by the gesture I got a few photos with him and also some of the other students before we all headed off home.

Very enjoyable to see just how much fun these kids had and how a grading that last year had only 10 participants had now jumped to over 20. Every child should learn self defence and Krav Maga offers common sense tactics and approaches to the real world we face every day.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Night Parks 5: The Robbery

17th July 2015

RSC Park, Stratford upon Avon, UK

by Lance Manley

KMM's chief instructor Bartosz (Expert 2) runs the Night Parks seminar once a year in mid to late summer. This was my 3rd one, with the previous editions focussing on protecting third parties and how to deal with spontaneous violence and the threat of harm.

This time the focus was on robbery, with guns and knives taking centre stage and much less emphasis on protecting other people. We were going straight for the jugular, with some brutal techniques and takedowns.

I got there about 6.30pm. After a while the rest of the guys turned up, including Patrick from Total Krav Maga in Thames Valley who had also joined us for Warzone 2 last year. Bartosz was running this event with G5 instructor Russell, who I work with on Mondays at the kiddy Krav class JSKM. After a quick warm up and some funny looks off passers by, we moved into techniques involving being threatened with knives.

By coincidence, on the same day of the seminar, new laws came into force in the UK that make it a much more serious offence to be caught illegally carrying a bladed weapon in public. Those caught for a second time by the police now face a mandatory 6 months minimum term in prison. Knife crime, and in particular robberies and sexual assaults have risen by 10% in the last 4 years in the United Kingdom.

Bartosz made it very clear that the best thing to do in any situation is to comply with a robber who simply wants your money, especially if they are right up against you. He acted out several scenarios with Russell where he handed over some money but dropped it on the floor to distract the assailant, enabling enough of a distraction so he could run away. He emphasised that splitting is THE most important thing to do because if you linger, then the robber may want more. Him and Russ then amusingly acted out Russell wanting more and more until he eventually led Bartosz away saying "Let's go and find your car."

We then partnered off and moved through various positions to approach a victim with verbal threats being used. We were shown how to both deflect and disarm as well as compliance followed by scarpering out of the danger zone.

After a good workout with the training knives, we then moved on to guns. These are bright yellow for the simple reason that it makes it glaringly obvious they're not real. Russell recounted a story of the police armed response unit being called to deal with his friend who was playing with a BB gun in the garden.

The techniques for gun disarms are something we'd done before but a new addition to the repertoire was grabbing a gun from someone who's gesturing with it near your body in unpredictable patterns. Something I learned a LONG time ago is that you always keep your finger way clear of the trigger guard, even on a bendy, banana coloured replica pistol, unless you want to be howling all the way to A&E in the back of an ambulance, cradling a broken index finger.

As the sun began to go down we finally moved on to what Bartosz always calls "the fun bit" but we call the Tunnel of Love. Next to the river in the park is a pathway with bushes and tress either side. Perfect for a multiple attackers scenario...especially in the dark. Unlike last year we didn't go through with a partner to "protect" but instead had to navigate the walkway on our own. A Go-Pro camera had been purchased since the last seminar and also a chest harness so the first guy through was wearing that. The last two seminars, we'd been given specific tasks by Bartosz but he told us to improvise and alternate between sticks, knives, guns and simply being innocent people who either wanted a chat or to ask the time. He made it clear that anyone not in grabbing range of a gun who refused to obey a gunman's instructions would get push ups as a penance. This emphasised the importance of safety rather than heroics that may fail and get you killed.

I was second one up and even though I've done both this type of thing before plus Wayne Hubball's Fast Reality, it always gets the blood flowing and the fear factor high. A camera flash went off while I was trying to negotiate my way past Graham Matthews and Mark Broadhurst and the next thing I knew Mark 'stabbed' me to death. Moving on I had people wanting a hug, trying to persuade me to have a threesome with them and another woman, and a guy who simply took a flying kick at me. Finally making it through, I had the usual amnesia over 80% of the journey but was told I'd handled it all well.

As people went through it was interesting to watch the different personalities and methods. One guy lashed out at everyone who approached him, even when four of us simply asked him the time. Bartosz was following him through shouting "They're not attacking you!" but got no response. This proved just how wired it is possible to get in this type of situation and the "blinkers" will come on, causing tunnel vision to threats.

When Anatoli Krassavine, a former Olympic wrestler came through, Russell stood as River Bank Monitor to the side just in case anyone got thrown, rag doll fashion into the cold waters of the Avon.

When Ewa Krav was in the tunnel I held my arms out as if to give her a hug but then cuffed the side of her face with my hand. She instantly responded with a dig to my left eye, which sent my contact lens to the bank and had me backing off. Goz was her usual feisty self, not giving ground and screaming her head off at anyone who got in her face.

Finally we all got through and lined up on the grass for feedback. One very valid point raised was that there were a lot of passers by who could hear what we were doing, who did not know WHY we were doing it but had made NO attempt to either intervene or call the police. This proved that you need to be self reliant in situations like this in real life, and not assume that help will be there.

After a few words from each of us about how we felt we then did the final kida and moved to the Dirty Duck pub for a well earned pint.

As usual, top notch training and the added treat of the Tunnel of Love at the end to test everyone's muscle memory, resilience and "courage under fire".

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Grate Outdoors

At KMM tonight we got shunted off to a much smaller room which can best be described as a shuttlecraft to a ship. The school we train at had double booked us and Chief Instructor Bartosz decided to make the most of the situation.

We'd used the smaller room before and the confined space is a mixed blessing. We lack the lovely spaciousness of the usual badminton court but the claustrophobic surroundings are great for some close quarter work and how to deal with limited range of movement.

The warm up consisted of the usual heavy stretching with some "moving between everyone else" stuff. We had to aim for heads and crotches with palm strikes while simultaneously trying to prevent anyone landing a slap on us. There were a couple of loud "clonks" as someone caught a wallop on the groin guard. Bartosz was heard to remark at one point "I love that sound!" which raised a laugh.

After a warm up we moved to hammer blows on focus mitts. One thing I've noticed with this kind of striking is that you need to keep your fists clenched tight. A few times I yelped as my wrist buckled and pain shot up my arm. Once we got that sorted we put the moves into combinations and then headed outside.

The area at the back of that classroom is semi-enclosed, with a metal fence on one side and a brick wall and windows on the other. The tarmac road surface slopes up to an access area. Ideal for some improv. We got into pairs and went through close quarter strangle holds, i.e. when your attacker is right in your face with little or zero room to manoeuvre. I got partnered with a much bigger lad named Dan who is a lot stronger than I am. A couple of times I was expecting him to use the wall to grate my face off. We drilled this and other movements, working in a "skipping kick" when being attacked from the side and then we had the final bit of fun.

Bartosz split us into two groups with guys dotted along the path leading up beside the classrooms and around the driveway. Some had plastic training knives, others strike shields and the rest their bare hands. We moved through one at a time and had to "simply get from one end to the other....twice." Getting shoved against a brick wall by a 17 stone, 6 feet 4 inch guy holding a strike shield can be tiring. I got my elbow cut on the second attempt and one of the attackers looked slightly narked when he grabbed my arm and drew his hand back to find his fingers had my blood on them. In the middle was a lad with a knife who'd scream for money and up the top a couple who worked together with a strike shield and a knife, making it hard to get past them. I love this kind of pressure drill as there's no time to think and you have to react on instinct. After everyone had had at least two goes each, we finally wrapped things up.

Forming the line for the final kida, it was clear that someone had really got into the spirit of the thing, as one lad had a muddy footprint on his chest where he'd been booted away while trying to attack.

Great fun and educational and it's always enjoyable to do Krav outside when the nice weather kicks in.

Looking forward to Thursday's class.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Practitioner 2 to 5 Gradings, March 2015

Hengrove Park Leisure Centre, BristolUK
21st March 2015

By Lance Manley- P4

Gearing up for a Practitioner level exam is always both fun and a bit stressful. At Krav Maga Midlands we spent the last 4 weeks getting ready with entire lessons focussing on grading revision.

With the Practitioner 1 exams now being held in-house, there were less people making the trip to Bristol (21st) or London (22nd) this time. We had four for each for P2, P3, and P4 with myself and a lad named Mike striving for P5.

I had arranged to share a ride down with Viesturs, a colleague from KMM who was taking his P4 exam. Viesturs's day job is a Christian priest and at the age of 57 he is an inspiration to me and many others in the club. Always positive and smiling he gives everything 100%.

As we weren't on the mats until 2pm we had arranged to set off at 10.30am. However at about 9 o'clock I checked Facebook to see messages from the P2 and P3 guys warning that there had been a bad accident on the M5 motorway closing off several junctions.

Oh dear!

I pushed down my nervousness by doing some last minute prep on my equipment bag. In addition to the requisite gear needed for a grading such as groin guard, gum shield and shin pads I'd also invested in a big packet of flapjacks, painkillers, 3 litres of water and some freeze spray. I have an existing left knee injury (ACLs are fragile beasts) so to be on the super safe side had 3 elasticated knee supports in the bag as well.

When Viesturs turned up we tried a separate route via the M40 only to find that the junction we needed was also closed.


Then we hit upon the bright idea of taking the A429 all the way down to Bristol which proved great until we again hit congestion. Only the fact that I was in the presence of a holy man dissuaded me from swearing loud enough to shatter the windscreen.

With 15 minutes to spare we got to Harlow Leisurezone to see the P2s and P3s gulping down some water and chatting, red faced, to our instructors Al, Bartosz and Russell, while they waited to be called for their results. Goz Gozwellings from the Solihull and Kings Heath branches of KMM was waiting along with her friend and grading partner Ewa. Both said it had gone well and were now just hoping for a good result.

As the 2s and 3s then moved into huddles on the floor to receive their feedback and scores, me and the other 4s and 5s began to get kitted up. A short while later our club members came back, all holding certificates and patches and smiling. 

It was reassuring to see that all our mates had got through. Goz particularly was super happy, as was her instructor Al Natrins. As they made their way out we began to move into the vacant space to get ready. Alan Dennis took us for a quick warm up where he would intermittently shout "You ready?" to which we had to shout back "ALWAYS!!!" After cooking up a good sweat we then moved into positions for the actual grading.

There were 10 of us for P5. Me and Mike from KMM had agreed to pair with people we didn't know rather than each other, to keep us sharp and focussed. I got to partner a lad named Raddy from Nick Maison's Total Krav Maga. We began to go through the moves with Nadav Shoshan from the KMG HQ team in Israel as our examiner.

Me and Raddy were last in the line up so we noticed pretty quickly that people further up the queue were being handed sticks and knives. This was P4 revision that they had put amongst the P5 curriculum. We moved through hair grabs and bear hugs before then doing stick defences and stabbing attacks. I hadn't revised the P4 material and was worried that this would let me down. Once we'd worked through ground releases Nadav then told us to get our 16oz gloves on for the sparring.

My P4 test had sparring that was gruelling to say the least. As we got into a huddle to hear our instructions, Nadav said that we would fight 7 rounds of 2 minutes each, changing partners each time. He added that we were to go as hard as our partners "allowed us to" but not any harder. Message being: It's a fight but don't try to kill each other.

The first round was designated as two for two, meaning a jab + a cross from one before the opponent could respond in kind. This round wasn't too bad but then we moved to harder rounds such as up close and personal (grappling range) and then the expected "free for alls."

The exhaustion factor of this type of fighting cannot be easily portrayed in words. I had been hitting the gym for some serious cardio workouts the last 4 or 5 weeks and even then my energy levels just about coped. Unlike in movies, when you fight constantly for 2 minute rounds with only a 30 second break, your vigour quickly dissipates and only willpower can keep you upright and striking. Nadav made it quite clear that this was a test of resilience and time to "suck it up and carry on." I had to spit out my gum shield on two occasions as I couldn't breathe properly and the order to "try and take your partner to the floor" invariably led to a lot of grunting and struggling as exhausted fighters tried to heave each other over and down.

Once that was finally out the way we moved to 4 against 1. This worked out nicely as there was 10 of us, in two groups. One guy was in the middle with someone holding a knife, another a stick, a third a strike shield and the final guy trying to strangle. Mike was up first and put up a good fight. This lasted 75 seconds with no break before number 2 was in place, which was me. I had imagined this wouldn't be quite so bad as the previous fighting but coupled with how tired we already were the whole thing was knackering. We had to go twice in the middle, as well as being an attacker on the other rounds. Finally the whole thing was over and we dragged ourselves upstairs to get our results and swap our sodden T-shirt for fresh ones.

As we sat on the floor and the sweat dried, Nadav demonstrated general areas where people had made mistakes such as bridging during ground releases and then moved to the scores. The first few people passed and you could see the relief on their faces as we gave them a round of applause. About 3 guys got the "conditional pass" meaning their own instructors would hold onto their certificates and patches until they had performed one thing again to get the whole grade. I was last up and Nadav said "You need to retest everything. The spirit is there, the heart is there but not the technique."

I had mentally prepared for failure as much as for success in the run up to the grading and had promised myself that I would take either result with dignity and a positive mindset. Nadav added that my weapons and self defence work needed improvement. As the only P5 candidate to have not passed I was determined to remain cheerful and jokingly asked "Do I want to know my score?"

He replied "You got 66%".

As the pass mark is 70% I was still reassured that I had missed by only a small margin.

We then lined up for the awarding of the certificates and some photos. I approached Nadav afterwards to see what I'd failed on. He said "I don't consider this a fail" and pointed out that my P5 stuff was OK but the P4 stuff was lacking and at this level I can't have bad techniques in my repertoire. My ground work had been fine and the biggest boost was finding that he'd given me 8 out of 10 for my fighting, despite telling me that I had my hands down too much, a problem that had cost me a piece of a tooth at the P4 grading in 2014. As sparring is something I consider myself weak on it was greatly reassuring to find out I'd got such a high score in it. I shook his hand and said I'd see him in October for the retest.

The first time I've failed a grading but the learning experience was invaluable and to have received such constructive criticism meant a great deal to me. Time to hit the floor in preparation for the October resit.

Bring it on.