I was told that this would be far more difficult than running a marathon.
Oddly, that excited me.
7 hours of suicides, push ups, squats, and delivering and receiving blunt force trauma? Sign me up.
It was a perfectly clear and crisp spring day in Austin. And I’d be spending the daylight hours inside surrounded by the smells of sweat and swampass getting the crap kicked out of me.
What is Krav Maga?
Briefly, Krav Maga is an Israeli form of self-defense that’s designed to be highly practical and bone-crushingly efficient. Defenses aren’t dodges and ducks, they’re simultaneous counterattacks.
Movements are efficient, blows are punishing, and there are no rules. The dirtier the better. So instead of practicing Katas and talking theoretically about what moves could possibly work in a self-defense situation, you spend most of your time getting kicked in the nuts or returning the favor.
If you ever actually manage to get a Kravver in a headlock, you’ll be concurrently slammed in the banana hammock, gouged in the eyeballs as your spine is cranked backward and promptly donkey-punched in the throat before slamming into the floor.
Take that, fratboy.
But Why Learn Krav, Seriously?
Reason Number One: I’ve Always Wanted to Be a Badass
I don’t know if it was my Rambo big wheel, finding a Buck knife in the woods, or seeing The Rock for the first time, but I’ve secretly always wanted to be a total badass.
Was I a purple belt in 4th grade? You bet I was… You should have seen my spinning backfist.
But having dialed-in the process for getting muscles, a six pack, and a bodybuilder’s physique over the past few years, I still felt like a cream puff.
What’s the point of being jacked if your barista can wipe the floor with you?
And Abel, it’s been a few years since you did something batshit crazy like running 30 miles for no apparent reason.
Which brings us to:
Reason Number Two: I Was Stagnating
The same exercise routine for too long: tabata sprints, heavy lifting in my shed-gym once a week, and occasional jaunts with the dog.
Did the exercises work? Totally. But it was time to shake it up, sign up for a challenge, and get stoked again.
If you want your life to be meaningful and rich, you need new experiences.
No one remembers the nights watching Lost reruns in your bathrobe. You remember your first kiss in the back seat of a car, the time you backed into a tree in the same car, and that night you peed in the middle of an alley in Paris…
Why You Need to Make Yourself Uncomfortable
If you want to die without regrets, you need to make yourself uncomfortable. And it needs to be habitual.
When I realized I didn’t enjoy my “perfect” consulting job (You’ll be a VP by 26!!!), I quit, spent the next few months driving around in an 85 Mercedes Diesel, camping at national parks, city-shopping, and playing music.
So when I realized my aesthetically-pleasing body was mostly useless, it was time to learn how to move.
I loyally attended the beginner-level Krav classes for the a few months, and the Krav belt test loomed.
In the test, your fate isn’t decided solely upon how well you can execute the techniques alone; you’re also judged on hustle, mental toughness, and that “fighting spirit” – how do you react when you’re completely out of gas but you need to keep going?
The test is designed to take you past your limit. Whether you succeed or fail depends on how you react and perform in the face of adversity.
This will be important later.
When I walked in, there were 7 of us.
I recognized the kick-boxer who had, in my second class, “accidentally” kneed me straight in the dick, missing the pad completely.
“Hey… Abel, right? Want to be my partner?”
It was going to be a long day.
7 Hours Later…
Since the result of your test hinges on your mental toughness, it’s essential to keep your wits about you.
In my last drill defending myself from 4 attackers, I could really feel that adrenaline cranking. Though my body was broken and I was out of tricks to keep it moving, at precisely the moment I needed it, I felt a shocking and undeniable jolt of energy and emotion.
Surrounded by attackers, I felt like crying and opening a serious can of whoopass at the same time. Honestly, it was a 50/50.
But I kept going.
In a flurry of combatives, I threw straight punches, knees, and hammerfists, culminating with (I must say) an impressive jumping elbow number 7 aimed at the attacker’s brainstem. (Don’t worry, I didn’t kill the man).
A total of 80 tested techniques and a bone fide thrashing later, my hands, legs, arms and neck were bruised and bleeding, everyone was delirious, and the guy next to me literally could not stand. But we were done with the test.
We’d learn whether we passed or not in a few days.
But regardless of how it turned out, my partner and I agreed that we’d be friends. After beating each other senseless for 7 hours, we felt like we knew each other pretty well.
“Cool man, let’s hang out. What’s your number?” I chirp.
“Yeah dude. Uh, its… six.. oh…”
“I… I’m so smoked… six, oh… three… I can’t remember my number…” he says, just as confused as I am.
“I actually can’t remember my number right now! Holy shit!” He says, baffled.
“But you look like you’re just getting warmed up. How do you do it, Abel?”
How to Survive a Bona Fide Thrashing
He’s right, at the end of the test, I was still kicking. It’s not because I’m the fittest, strongest, quickest, or anything else.
It’s because I chose to keep going.
But having run marathons, survived football training camps as a little guy, and persevered through traumas like my apartment burning down and losing everything, I knew that I needed to stack the deck in my favor in the face of physical and mental adversity.
Here’s what I did.
You guys probably know this, but I go low-ish carb most of the time and practice intermittent fasting. This morning, though, I certainly didn’t fast. The test started at noon, so I had time to fuel up. And I did.
In a classic carb-up, I enjoyed a generous Japanese sweet potato slathered in butter and salt (need those electrolytes), an egg and cheese omelet, goat yogurt, fatty coffee, and plenty of water.
During the test, I had grassfed beef, macadamia nuts, grassfed whey protein (from my manufacturer – stay tuned, you’ll be able to get it soon), an AMRAP bar, Athletic Greens, and a Synergy Black Chia kombucha.
Training Prior to Test:
- Tabatas sprints once a week (20 second sprint, 10 second rest 10 times in a row)
- Heavy lifting once a week (compound movements – deadlifts, squats, bench press, kettlebells, and pull-ups)
- Krav classes 2x week
- Daily walks with the pup
Don’t know what biohacking is? Basically, it’s optimizing your body and mind for superhuman performance. Here are a few of my tools.
- UCAN superstarch/protein blend (for carbs and sustained energy)
- Aniracetam/piracetam/choline with fermented cod liver oil (for mental sharpness)
- Phenibut and St. John’s Wort (for positive mood)
- 5 hand-roasted coffee beans (for energy)
If you want to learn some of my other biohacks, check out the Lean Lifestyle Insider.
Developing Mental Toughness
I want to be very clear. You can exercise for just minutes a week and have a terrific body and relaxed lifestyle, but if you want to have mental toughness as well, you need to make yourself uncomfortable. You need to take that leap where you’re completely out of energy and you’re tapped out, but you still make it happen.
7 hours… is that a long time? It all depends on your point of view. If I go in with a negative mindset, it’s extraordinarily difficult. But if I’m a marine (like my friend George Bryant), 7 hours in an artificial survival scenario is nothing, especially when your life is NOT at stake.
People were throwing punches at me, sure, but they certainly weren’t shooting at me or trying to blow me up.
My generation is full of cream puffs. Most of our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers (as well as the many thousands of ancestors before us) endured the physical and mental challenge of war. While that sort of experience is accompanied by unconscionable horrors, I also have to assume that we’re wired to not only endure adversity, but grow because of it.
So I pretended it was a survival situation. After all, that’s why I’m learning Krav – to increase the chances that my loved ones and I would make it through a survival scenario.
I also made a concerted effort to smile and have fun the entire time. Was it a challenge? Yes, but that’s the point.
Reframe the challenge. If other humans can run a mile in less than 4 minutes, be constantly broken and retrained as Navy Seals, and survive WAR, then 7 hours of sweating is a piece of cake. (Here’s a great post from a member of the FBM team, Chris, on embracing discomfort.)
Was it hard? No, it was a challenge.
See what I did there?
You can do it, too.
But Abel, Did You Pass the Test?
Yes, my ball-kicking partner and I got a “conditional” pass. I wasn’t fluent in some of the techniques (especially the myriad of choke defenses), after a few more classes practicing those defenses, I’m a “yellow belt.”
I didn’t pass because I performed all of the techniques perfectly (in fact, some of them were unacceptably sloppy). I passed because I demonstrated the fighting spirit.
And that’s the secret.
So find that challenge and sign up. Today. A triathlon, a Tough Mudder, your first 5k, it doesn’t matter. It’s good for your brain.