Nancy: 5 Things I Learned from Krav Maga (That Might or Might Not Apply to Writing)

I might have mentioned a few (hundred) times here on the blog that I love a good physical challenge. A few years ago, I had an idea for one that would not only get me in better shape, but would also train me in self defense. So I started searching for Krav Maga classes. Before I could sign up and start kicking ass, I broke my finger.

Fast forward a year and a half. Did I mention it was a serious break? So yeah, a year and half later, I finally signed up for a 6-week introductory class to the fighting style developed by the Israeli Army. And hey, they developed it so anyone of any age and fitness level could learn defensive fighting quickly and easily! So said one of my instructors while he had us doing brutal sprints and one-arm planks at the end of hour-long, full-out hitting and kicking sessions, when I was pretty sure I was going to die of exhaustion.

After expending so much energy, sweat, and – not gonna lie – a few tears, though thankfully no blood, I feel stronger and maybe a little better prepared to take up a fighting stance and protect myself if it ever becomes necessary. But I like to get a big return on my investment, and I can find writing lessons in almost anything, so behold my Lessons from Krav Maga: Writing Edition.

1) Don’t be surprised; be prepared.  If I had to boil my Krav Maga experience down to one line, this would be it. While the techniques do teach you how to fight (and flee!) effectively, there’s more to surviving a street fight than that. You have to be prepared for the unexpected and ready to fight the unknown. 

There are multiple techniques instructors use to simulate real-world surprise and adrenaline rushes, including an exercise where a training partner throws you into a wall (hopefully a padded one) and you fight your way out of the situation. The first time this happened to me, I knew it was coming, but as my body hit the wall, my first reaction was shock. Nothing could prepare me for the reality of it except…well, the reality of it. The second time it happened, the shock evaporated almost immediately and I started going through the motions of freeing myself. By the tenth or twelfth time I hit the wall, there was no shock, just an adrenaline-fueled fight for survival.

When it comes to writing, the writing life, and the publishing game, there will be surprises. The rise of e-books and the way it changed everything about New York-centric publishing was a shock heard round the publishing world, and many publishers, agents, and editors still haven’t recovered from it. Don’t be left in shock. Get yourself prepared now for the next shockwave. Learn everything you can about craft and the stories of your heart, and even the wilds of publishing. Write the best stories you can, and then strap in – it’s going to be a bumpy ride. But if you’re prepared with knowledge, good books, and maybe even a support group like 8LW, you’re much more likely to survive the writing jungle.

2) Practice makes…better. Yes, the actual saying is practice makes perfect. But when is the last time you met anyone or saw anything that was perfect? All the practice in the world won’t achieve the impossible. But take it from someone who showed up at her first Krav Maga class with no concept of how to protect her own face or throw a kick without the very real possibility of falling on the floor (hey, it only happened twice): the more you work at it, the better you can become. But you have to show up and do the work.

This is easier said than done. For most of my classes, as incredibly challenging as they were, the hardest part was actually showing up. Getting in the car, driving myself there, and walking into that studio. More f*ing hard than I want to admit.

The causes aren’t hard to identify. Humans crave comfort and security, as those things exponentially increase our odds of survival. These impulses are hardwired into our brains. Inertia is our friend. Tackling something new and unknown is crazy from a biological imperative perspective. But then a funny thing happens. We show up, we work hard, we practice. And suddenly the new and challenging thing becomes familiar and surmountable, whether it’s a Krav class, a WIP, a different kind of story, or a new approach to writing. (Of course, if you’re me, as soon as that happens, you’ll be looking around for the next new and challenging thing. But don’t mind me – I’m just over here in the corner with the other masochists.)

3) There is a badass inside you. Get to know her. You will like her. Or him, as the case may be. But this is an especially important lesson for the ladies, precisely because society teaches us the importance of being ladies. Translation: be polite, be cooperative, be accommodating. Those aren’t bad qualities. In fact, they are important aspects of civilized society, and they serve the world well. Until things become uncivilized. Then it’s time for that inner badass to emerge, throw out some serious palm strikes, and get you the hell out of there.

Your badass doesn’t just have to show up to throw her fists around, though. Once you get to know and like her, you can use the bravado and swagger she brings with her to go big and be bold. Life is not a spectator sport, and neither is writing. Get some skin in the game. Leave some blood on the field. Write stories that scare the bejesus out of you. Tell them your badass made you do it.

4) Other people will be bigger and will hit harder. While this is true for everyone in the world (except, of course, the biggest, hardest-hitting person), it’s especially true for someone my size. That’s why I don’t ever want a fight to last long. I want to use not only the power of surprise when an attacker learns I can fight, but also every weapon in my arsenal, including palms, elbows, knees, head kicks, groin strikes, and face punches. The mantra my instructor told us over and over was ‘get home safely’. If some big bad is standing between me and home, I’m going to use all the strength in my small body and hit as hard as I can, as quickly and efficiently as I can, because if he starts hitting back, chances are I’ll go down.

In writing, we aren’t actually in a fight with other writers (Twitter wars aside). We might compete for publishing schedule slots, shelf space, bestseller list positions, or hard-earned reader dollars, but when it comes to the actual writing process, who is the bad guy typically standing in your way? For me, it’s not Neil Gaiman or Nora Roberts (although I suspect Nora has a mean roundhouse kick…just sayin’). For me, it’s always me. While I’m my own problem, I can also be my own solution. I can use every weapon in my writing arsenal to get the story on the page. I am not above setting timers, engaging in word count challenges, and bribing myself with Netflix binges, chocolate, and Bourbon. Preferably all at the same time. 

5) It ain’t over until it’s over. Sometimes in Krav as in life, you will be exhausted. Overwhelmed. Overcome. You will want to give up the fight, tap out, and go take a nap. Krav Maga teaches you to treat every fight likes it’s a fight for your life, because it just might be.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic for comparison to the writing life, but as Jilly reminded us in her post yesterday, none of us is guaranteed a tomorrow, or even the rest of today. So while finishing a chapter or a book or pursuing that publishing goal might not be a literal fight for your life, can you challenge yourself to fight harder, push past your perceived limit, and see how much fight is left in you? If not every writing day, then maybe every other one. Can I at least get you to agree to once a week? 

These lessons, as well as a fighting stance, some serious striking and kicking skills, and a few hard-won battle scars are what I’ve taken away from Krav Maga thus far. If you happen to follow my page on Facebook, you might have seen this photo a few weeks ago of my very bruised left hand. In my first Krav Maga class, I didn’t have a fighting stance and had only thrown one punch in my entire life. In the last week of class, I earned that large and ugly bruise by landing literally hundreds of punches, fist strikes, and hammer fists.

Class is over for now, but I’ll be signing up for longer-term training soon, earning more bruises, and embracing my inner badass. So, what are you doing for fun these days? Bonus points if it’s teaching you some life or writing lessons!

4 thoughts on “Nancy: 5 Things I Learned from Krav Maga (That Might or Might Not Apply to Writing)

    • It was, indeed, swollen. I had to take off my wedding ring to make sure it didn’t get stuck. But it is completely back to normal now and I’m ready to start working out with a punching bag while I wait for the next Krav class to start :-).

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