How Krav Maga Makes Me a Better UXer

His name was Molotov, and as you might imagine, he was intense.

Typically in my free time you’ll find me sweating at a yoga studio with people named Shanti. I quickly knew I was way out of my element when I noticed firearms mounted on the back wall of the Krav Maga studio. (They must be pretend. I’m pretty sure they are too expensive to be left out like this.)

If you don’t know what Krav Maga is, you aren’t alone. I didn’t have any idea what it was was until recently. I just kept seeing this unusual name above what looked like a store near my yoga studio. At some point I became curious enough to look it up online. I learned that Krav Maga is self-defense and physical training first. The Israeli army developed it in the 1940s, and it's still used around the world by law enforcement. Self-defense is good, I never learned it, and maybe I should, I thought.

"Department of Destruction - Triangle Krav Maga" says the skull logo.

"Department of Destruction - Triangle Krav Maga" says the skull logo.

So here I am in an exercise studio with Molotov. His manner is welcoming though he looks like he could break my neck in less than three seconds.

We start doing exercises, punching in the air, working on our form. Then we pair up and since there are only a few women, my partner is a man. 

For the first time in my life, I have a man punching, hard, at a pad I’m holding to my chest, pretty darn close to my face. I find my breath tightening up. I’m struggling to keep my balance when he hits. Then it was my turn. 

Punching feels weird. I guess some people know how to do this, but I don't. I’m hitting the pad as hard as I can which doesn't seem that hard. I’m getting corrections from Molotov. It seems I need to be putting my full body into it. My hand is starting to get red, and I’m breaking skin. It seems I’m hitting with the wrong part of my hand according to Molotov. So I adjust.

When I leave 45 minutes later, my head is spinning with new information. And as a user experience (UX) professional, I’m a sucker for new experiences and learning.

So go to another class run by a female instructor. We talk about  what to do in a multiple attack situation and what adjustments to make if a knife is pulled on us. As if she was speaking about Zumba, the teacher tells us about upcoming classes: Gun Disarmament and Knife Fighting. 

We spend a lot of time learning a move to get out of a choke hold. I can hardly keep the instructions straight. My mind is trying to process some kind of arm sweep then elbow blow with a simultaneous chop to the groin. Then I'm to throw a second elbow then prep for the next attacker. (I try to show this to my husband later but then have to tell him to pretend choke me from the side or I can't do it right.)

My thoughts are spinning. I'm learning new vocabulary and concepts. I suspect new brain pathways are forming. I’m having trouble even remembering all the instructions and it all feels totally unfamiliar. And that’s why I’m coming back. 

(And of course I’m so curious why the other people are in the class! I’d love to sit down in a circle at the beginning and discuss why we are all here. They don’t do this in Krav Maga.)

These are the two Krav Maga Teachers I know - Molotov and Jaimie. They are no joke! Both are demanding but caring.

These are the two Krav Maga Teachers I know - Molotov and Jaimie. They are no joke! Both are demanding but caring.

Why am I taking these classes? Well for one reason, they help me professionally as a UXer designing for other people.

If I’ve learned one thing in 2016, it’s that we often tend to run around within our bubbles of friends. We don’t meet different kinds of people. Our election showed us how divided we are.

Krav Maga classes bust my bubble. (Weapons on the wall?!?!) They show me how much I don’t know about people who have served in the military or carry guns. I also know little about people who worry frequency about safety. Clearly I don't even know how to throw a punch well. I have so much to learn about other people and myself. 

How does this Krav Maga experience help me be a better UXer?

  • It reminds me that there are many people who are unlike me.
  • It helps me learn about these people who are different than me.
  • It offers me humility, a key characteristic of a good UXer 
  • It changes my mental model of an workout, and UXers really need to understand the concept of mental models and the process of how they evolve
  • It prepares me for any crazy situations doing user research. Think I'm kidding? Check out Steve Portigal’s new book Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories. 

And in general, I’m likely to be better able to keep myself safe. (Well, at least if someone tries to choke me from the side). 

So one of the things I'm doing now is hanging out with teachers named Molotov instead of Shanti, at least sometimes. No matter what your job is, you will learn valuable information by getting out of your bubble. Who's your Molotov to learn from?