12 years to earn a Krav Maga black belt. When you train twice per week with an instructor it should take about 5 to the FEKM exam and usually a couple of attempts to pass all the modules. In 2004 I attended the Krav Maga Montpellier Summer Course in Mauguio. I had been to one seminar in Tottenham Court Road by a lady called Soo Dixon of the then IKMF and was impressed with how practical it was. Why Krav Maga? Because I wanted something simple. Something that a 41 year-old could learn and which could become practicable in an emergency – I was teaching in difficult schools at the time, had been threatened by gangs and had strong memories of being mugged and attacked as a teenager. I was also studying and was impressed by the simplicity of Jewish theology and philosophy and with this Jewish martial art. I offered to translate the FEKM website from French into readable English and Richard Douieb let me attend the at the course for free in exchange for my services. (The Google version of “Fédération Européene de Krav Maga” as “Unions French woman of Krav Maga” and the rest of the text was even more incomprehensible gibberish). So in 2004 I began with the FEKM-RD. I would attend courses, come back and practiced with various people, my brother Vincent among them. These practice sessions would become lessons, first on my landing, then in halls. Soon the number of students grew so that I did not have to pay for the venue, and then the students began to pay for my time. I associated myself with my Simon Pither and our club has grown slowly but surely. We now have about 120 students of whom several are now qualified instructors. Growth through difficulty. It has not been easy. I had only been practicing on my own and with friends for only six months and was attending my first instructor training seminar at the Paris Winter Course. Richard Douieb asked me to demonstrate an advanced class in front of a lot of people. I do not know why he demanded something so unfeasible for a beginner. I guess he wanted to see whether I would come back after embarrassing myself (- I embarrassed myself and did come back) I attempted the Initiateur test a second time 6 months later – with Douieb's encouragement, this time. I was not there yet but I was improving and should continue. I had asked him for a high level practitioner to whom I could refer and who would correct and teach me. He suggested three people and I chose Gilles Hassine, then 2nd dan, for no other intelligent reason than that I had friends whom I could visit in Strasbourg. The choice was fortuitous. He is an excellent instructor and a very high level practitioner. In 2006 Gilles awarded me the ‘Initiateur’ Instructors’ certificate and I continued to progress slowly, - teaching, attending courses, inviting him to England to run seminars and to grade us. Grading was not something that interested me. I wanted to train in Self-Defence and enjoyed teaching. But when my students began to grade and we were joined by a more advanced ex-IKMF member from Poland, Gilles convinced me to grade. The normal timescale to reach black-belt in the FEKM is 5 years. I had already been training for 4 years and was still only green (so, I was 2 years late). I reached blue belt but fell out with this other teacher who had been nominated FEKM leader in Britain and whom I found impossible. So I left the FEKM for a while. Some MAPpers might remember him. I had been asked to run a Krav Maga session for the MAPmeet (2007, I think) and was honoured to be invited back in 2008. I did, and brought him as the main instructor. He battered his training partner, leaving blood all over the mats to the stunned silence of the very civilised MAP crowd. Not surprisingly we were not asked to return. I eventually found him so difficult I informed the FEKM that while I wanted to remain aligned to their technical standard I could not work with him and I walked away – but not too far. My school grew, his school did not and in 2012 I approached the FEKM and suggested I return provided I had nothing to do with him. During my 2 years of absence I had continued training with Gilles Hassine, he graded my students who were at the same standard as the FEKM. (- I also passed my taekwondo WTF 1st dan in the interim). So I returned to the fold, went for my Krav Maga brown belt in 2014 and succeeded with flying colours. I planned to go for my black a year later. The FEKM Black Belt There are no Black Belt 1st darga techniques in the FEKM. The exam is modular and is based on principles demonstrated in a selection of techniques from the entire syllabus, covering the essentials of speed, efficiency, simplicity and control. I knew it would be difficult and had a 1st attempt pass rate of 35%. Note that from my Krav Maga beginnings until now, I have had no regular instructor. It is a genius of the system that it can be learned as I have, via seminars and practicing, but the usual 5 year scale to reach the black exam is based on regular twice per week attendance at a class run by someone qualified. Add to this that while I believe I am a good teacher, my innate athletic ability is not high. I have to work harder than most people to be anywhere near as good at martial arts. But I did work, I did have ten years of practice and I had been teaching and writing about the subject for a long time. I understood it and my instructors believed I had a good chance of passing. So I went to Paris in April 2015 for the Northern Sector Black belt exam. It was a disaster. I was so stiff and nervous I creaked when I move. I even failed to demonstrate yellow-belt techniques I had been teaching my own students for years. As for the more advanced stuff, forget it – except, strangely, for a couple of modules 1. Weapons :two against one, generally reckoned to be among the hardest modules to pass, being attacked by one person with a knife and the other with a stick. Where you parry, block, evade, and counter for 90 relentless seconds while two people attempt to hit and stab you as fast as they can. Even if you get caught (as you do) you must not go between them thereby turning your back to one. The fact that I did this well encouraged me not to give up. I had been ready for the test, though not ready enough. With more work I would succeed – next year. And 2. The other module I did well in was free-fighting. Under 40s full contact, over 40s fast-continuous semi-ish contact. Surprisingly, because I am non-belligerent, I am quite good at fighting in this sort of context and against people of similar experience, I tend to dominate. So a year later I went back to France, better prepared but now 53 years old. Throughout the years I have learned to respect my limitations. I have torn my calf muscle, herniated a disk, broken a finger and I know that I am not as strong as when I was a 28 year old firefighter. But I pushed myself. Went to boxing and thai-boxing for the movement and stamina, did three and 4 day courses in France, (stopped drinking by 80%) and lost 9 kilos. So when I went to the Mauguio Southern Zone exam on 2nd April I was as ready as I could. On the day, I practiced NLP and tapping to control my nerves, prayed, meditated and went for it as hard as I possibly could. It is a long exam. About 25 examiners had 220 candidates going for black: 1st darga, 2nd, 3rd and now 4th. You get split into groups, are given a partner who is yours for the day and wait for your examiners to call you. The partner attacks different techniques – strikes, grabs, weapons, (knives, sticks and pistol threats) and you respond under the very exacting eye of very fussy examiners, none of whom want to be thought of as too soft. The FEKM attributes its success to reputation for technicity of which it is very protective. The partner’s attacks are hard and yet you have to control your responses so as not to hurt him. You have to remain technical, to throw the hip into the punches like a boxer, and into the kicks; to align the fist properly with the arm; to demonstrate application of force. You have to show the KM principles of efficiency (including personal protection) and simplicity with economy of motion. And you HAVE to be very explosive and dynamic in everything you do without sacrificing technicity or hurting your partner. And at every stage : a huge dump of adrenalin. It is exhausting and with exhaustion comes ragged technique. Fitness counts in this exam and - so does youth. So you demonstrate for a couple of minutes and then you step aside for the next few pairs of candidates attempting that module. You wait 30-45 minutes and then go again with the next module. 7 times in one day. How much adrenalin can the body produce in one day? I was as prepared as I could be for a full time school teacher with his own business, busy church life, a large family and a many highly valued personal relationships. … and on the 2nd April I only passed another two complete modules and two half-modules. But our supervisors, Yann and Eric, were coming to London for the FEKM-UK Black Belt Exam on the 16th of April. I had given the 2nd April everything in me. What was left to give? Everything again - plus some more. And I passed the remaining modules, and passed them well. ALLELUIA! So now what? A retrospective thanks to my first instructor and inspiration – Gilles Hassine, and to Yann Veillerant and Eric Tagliana who took over supervision of our club – essentially because Paris is closer than Strasbourg. They already head the most successful school in France and their technical ability and their teaching methods have evidently helped our club grow. Now, whenever I can fit it in, more Western Boxing and Thai Boxing at Knights Gym on the Old Kent Road (very good people); more judo if my broken finger is sufficiently pain free after two years – again age matters and it still hurts on cold days; some desperately needed flexibility training (any suggestions?); MUCH more Krav Maga with Richard Douieb, Gilles Hassine and Steve Schmitt, president of the FEKM and also an excellent teacher and very nice guy, and with Yann Veillerant and Eric Tagliana. I’ve got two years to prepare for the 2nd darga exam. I want to succeed on the first attempt. What I lack in youth and athleticism I make up for in sheer resilience. Simon Pither, my student of 6 years ago and associate, also passed his black as did three others from Finland, Poland and France. Some of my students are looking to next April to go for theirs. I do not doubt that they will do better than me and more quickly. In a very real sense, my failures are helping their progress as I help them past the pitfalls and offer the external gaze on their work, which I lack for my own. And many have more talent than me and certainly more youth and time to train. Above all, I want to use this boost to improve in my teaching; to support my students in their teaching; and for our school to grow. 12 years. So. That’s it. 12 years to black. Time flies when you are having fun.