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Defeating My Inner Cream Puff: The 7 Hour Krav Maga Test

Abel James Krav Maga

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.

By choice.

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.

Yawn.

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.

When I was sick of my a-little-too-comfy life in Austin last summer, I bought a 23-year-old camper van and drove around the country for 4 months with my girlfriend and a terrible puppy.

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.

The Test

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…”

[awkward pause]

“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.

Tough day.

“But you look like you’re just getting warmed up. How do you do it, Abel?”

How to Survive a Bona Fide Thrashing

Krav Maga Wounds

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.

Nutrition:
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

Biohacks:
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

Abel James Punch

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.

[Rant]

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.

[/Rant]

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.

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27 Comments

  • Walter Sobchak says:

    Jesus, just the thought of all that makes me want to take a nap.

    Sincerely,
    Cream Puff

  • Dena Maddie says:

    Sounds intense. After 2 months of KRAV at FnF I am hooked, and have almost broken down once or twice (especially when defending against ” knife” attacks from a particularly aggressive and way more advanced female student. Well done, I admire your fortitude.

  • Łukasz Czyżykowski says:

    That’s exactly why I run ultramarathons. To see if I can, to find my limit.

  • Elizabeth S says:

    Well, I will be testing out the mental toughness part tomorrow during a 24hour race that is taking place on a 1 mile trail loop, goal is 100 miles but main plan is not to quit before 24hrs. Great post and congrats on passing, have to look more into biohacking.

  • Roshini says:

    SO happy to see this article, I freakin LOVE KRAV MAGA!!! Trained in it for a few months and boy oh boy, it was hard. And so ridiculously exhilarating. We didn’t even have mats, I kept getting thrown onto hard wooden floors. One night I was in so much pain after training, I couldn’t sleep. But when I discovered that, despite being a petite girl, I was quickly throwing huge guys off me (while they were on top of me, pretending to choke me!), I got a rush of empowerment that is just hard to describe.

    EVERYONE should do Krav Maga, it’s just THAT awesome. Congratulations on passing, Abel!

  • Beth says:

    Just what I needed! Very motivating and humbling!

  • Chris Walker says:

    I freakin’ love stories like this – plus now I wanna Krav :)

  • Wendy Turner says:

    Great work, Abel! You really exercised your inner toughness. And passed with flying colors. WTG!!! My husband had a similar experience with the legendary Jim Harrison, a man Bruce Lee called “one of the most dangerous men in America.” He trained Delta Force and others, and was my husband’s sensei back in Kansas City years ago. His yellow belt test then was like yours now: the worst thrashing of his life. Harrison would smash him to the mat and demand he get up. Then — “pow!” — down he would go again. This went on and on. Finally, Harrison called off the test. My husband could barely stand. Both eyes were cut. One was swollen shut. His mouth and nose were bleeding. “Was that the worst beating of your life?” Harrison asked. “Yes, sensei,” my husband answered. “And I didn’t let you quit,” Harrison responded. “I have given you a scar above your eye to remind you of this day. Whatever life throws at you, don’t ever quit.” This year, my husband celebrated 22 years of beating cancer when he was originally given 18 months to live. What you’re made of inside, in your heart — your tensile strength — does make a difference. We now live in Australia but are moving to Austin in a few weeks. We hope to meet you.

  • Donna says:

    Wow, now that’s a blog post! Must have taken you some time to write this, no wonder your slacking on posting ;)

    Totally agree with the stepping out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. I’ll stick to the Spartan Beast though, thank you. At least for now.

  • michelle says:

    AWESOME JOB!!
    I am also learning krav maga & LOVE it!! It’s excellent exercise while learning self defense for us ladies. Glad to know I’m not the only one that refers to some blows as a “donkey punch”. HAHA!!
    I go to class 2x/week & take private lessons (my instructor is a former marine)
    Love your podcast & blog, keep up the good work.

  • Wendy says:

    Okay. I will. I will sign up and train for the Tough Mudder in Kansas City on Sept 21. Thank you so so much for this post and your example. :) Less cream puff. More steel.

  • Bob Bates says:

    Congrats. I’m doing my P1 Krav Maga test next month. Should be fun. Yup. First thing they said when I joined was “buy a cup”. Ha. I’m a second degree black belt in Aikido which is tough enough – but fortunately no cup.

    Can’t wait to do the test. It will be my Tough Mudder this year!

  • James Shaw says:

    My test is just about 3 weeks away.. and after 6 months I’m confident in my techniques but not my stamina. I’m 49 and used to be 300lbs, so I’ve come a long way to 215. Ironically, although I love the Wild Diet and we’ve eaten nothing but your recipes for 3 weeks now, I have noticed that I have LESS energy during Krav than before. About half way through I notice my legs or arms tiring.. which doesnt bode well for the test. Any suggestions? Could your eating plan be doing this? Should I eat something in particular an hour or so before class?

    • Emily Dewey says:

      Congrats on the weight loss! Perhaps one thing to take a look at would be your carb-intake levels. Krav is pretty hard core, so refueling is so important! Don’t forget those sweet potatoes ;)
      - Emily, FBM Team Coach

  • Suebee says:

    Been through yellow belt test twice, once for my actual belt test and the other as a volunteer partner for another testee. Still being graded. Preparing for the orange belt test again. I wish there was a conditional pass for the orange belt. Really dreading the 7 hour torture again!

  • Well, I will be testing out the mental toughness part tomorrow during a 24hour race that is taking place on a 1 mile trail loop, goal is 100 miles but main plan is not to quit before 24hrs. Great post and congrats on passing, have to look more into biohacking.

  • Stephanie Keenum says:

    I found the orange belt test a challenge as welll. After a hip injury i am physically where i started at before yellow belt but mentally as tough.

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