26th September and
3rd October 2015
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."
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 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.