Practitioner Level 2

Photos by IKMF Philippines

Last November, I passed my Practitioner Level 1 exam in krav maga. It was tiring and amazing and terrible. I swore I’d never do it again.

Six months later, I was standing in the same room, about to take the Practitioner Level 2 exam.

Going from P1 to P2 is a cumulative test — not only do you need to know all the new level 2 techniques, but you’d be tested on P1 techniques as well. The good thing about your second exam is you’re not going in blind. You know what the exam format will be like, and can expect a few surprises (even if you don’t know what they are). You know how to manage your energy so you can last several hours without water or breaks. Chances are, you’re stronger, fitter, and faster than you were last time. Easy-peasy, right?

Not at all!

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You play like you practice (or, you fight like you train)

There is a wonderful post on Signal vs. Noise by Jason Fried about playing like you practice. It talks about taking practice and training seriously, because what you do in practice will be what you do in real life. Here’s a snippet from the article about a self-defense class Fried went to, where they were practicing gun techniques:

The instructor repeatedly said, “When your turn is over, do not hand the gun to your partner. Instead, they’ll turn their back, and you’ll just drop it on the ground so they can pick it up and start the exercise over.”

That sounded weird. You’re right next to the person, why would you drop the gun so they had to pick it up?

Without having to ask why, the instructor explained himself: “If you practice handing the gun over to your partner now, you might end up handing the gun over to an actual assailant later. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen.”

This reminds me of a similar story our instructor had about a man he met in Cebu. The man was attacked by a mugger at knifepoint; because of his martial arts background, he was able to successfully bring down the mugger and armbar him. But there was a problem — the mugger (no doubt a UFC fan) was a quick thinker, and tapped out. Out of instinct from all his training, the man actually released him! For his mistake, he ended up getting stabbed; thankfully, he was lucky enough to survive and tell the tale.

It sounds funny, but who’s to say we wouldn’t do the same? No matter how much we’ve trained in the gym, in a stressful situation, our mind goes blank. All we can rely on is our muscle memory. If the muscle memory is wrong, then we’re screwed.

Photo c/o IKMF Philippines

Photo c/o IKMF Philippines

I’ve been training krav maga for 10 months now, and I still have a lot of bad habits that I haven’t gotten rid of. The biggest bad habit (don’t laugh) is that I don’t actually kick my partner’s groin. Even if I do the proper kicking form, my foot ends up stopping an inch shy of the target. It is a bad habit my partner and I both share (it’s probably more awkward for him, considering I’ve got lady parts!). The only time we’ve been able to consistently kick the habit (pun intended) is during our Practitioner Level 1 exam last November. The high level of stress and adrenalin we went through actually enabled us to kick each other full contact, with 100% rate of success 😛

The longer you train in krav maga, the more habits you get. And not all of them are bad. You can see the difference in people who’ve trained for a long time — they’re always guarding their chin, scanning the room after a technique, and punching and kicking in good form. They don’t even think about it anymore; that’s just what their bodies do. In a stressful situation, I can probably still fight. But of all the bad habits to acquire, missing the groin is the worst one — if I’m faced with a real attacker, now’s not the time to be shy!

Fried’s article has reminded me to get my shit together and get rid of the bad habits NOW. Our Practitioner Level 2 exam is coming up in less than a month, and I need to really train correctly and give it my all. It’s not just for the exam, too; if for any reason I need to defend myself, I will fight how I train. So starting tonight, I will kick groins for real. Hey, partner, bring your groin guard, okay? 😀

Baltic cruise: how to get around on your own

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Ted and I are going on a Baltic cruise this summer! It’s our first trip to Europe and also our first cruise together. We did a lot of research and planning for this trip, with information we found all over the web. I’ll be sharing our research here so future travelers will have an easier time.

To tour or not to tour?

Our Baltic cruise has eight ports of call, stopping in one city each day. The cruise offers official tours (they call them “shore excursions”) that you can book in advance. Tours cost an average of USD$100 per head; with eight stops, that’s already an additional $800! The big question we needed to answer before our trip was: should we pay for these tours or explore on our own? Here’s how we answered that question.

Make a list of what you want to see

Ted and I read through the official excursion list provided by the cruise line. This took a lot of time — the PDF was a whopping 93 pages long! The list highlighted the most popular attractions per city, and some that were off the beaten path.

From the list, I used Google Images to search for pictures of each attraction. It was easier for me to gauge my interest in a place by looking at a picture than reading about it. (If the place looked boring to me, it probably wouldn’t be more interesting in person — especially if I paid $100 for it!) From the pictures and the description in the PDF, I made my own list of must-see places and combined it with Ted’s.

Compute the cost

Now we needed to find out if going to those places on our own was cheaper than taking the official tour. Cheap doesn’t just mean money — it also means the time and effort it would take if we did it ourselves.

When computing the cost for an attraction, look for:

  • Entrance fees (and hours; compare it with the time your ship is docked)
  • Transportation fees
  • Places to eat in the area

The cost difference can be quite staggering. For example, in Aarhus, the ship’s tour for the Den Gamle By Museum costs $130. But if we went ourselves, the entrance fee would only be $19!

Of course, tours are expensive because of everything else you get: the convenience of having pre-arranged transportation, a tour guide, and sometimes food. The most important thing you pay for is peace of mind — if you’re on an official tour, the cruise ship knows where you are, and will wait for you at port if you get delayed or lost. If you tour on your own, the ship will leave you if you don’t make it back in time. For many people, that sense of security is worth $100.

When computing cost, think of what you’re willing to pay for — the hassle might be worth the extra bucks. In our case, we decided to pay for tours in two places only:

  • St. Petersburg, because we won’t need Russian visas if we take official tours
  • Stockholm, because Ted wants to see the Ice Bar and it’ll only open in the morning for tours

For all other ports of call, we’re going to explore on our own.

Plan transportation

The next thing to figure out was how to get around without a tour bus. For that, I went to the forums — specifically Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. Forums were treasure troves of practical information, with numerous posts from people with the same questions I had. I also looked at each city’s official transport site, which tells you where to buy tickets, how much the fare is, etc. (While I usually love using journey planners, they weren’t that useful to me this time because not all the sites were in English.)

When writing down transportation notes, be as practical and specific as possible. You won’t have the luxury of getting lost — you have to make it back to the ship on time! For every city, I wrote down:

  • How to get to the station from the pier (note that different cruise lines might use different piers)
  • The exact name of the train, bus, or ferry to take, and its direction (not just the name of the stop)
  • How much the fare would cost and where to buy it
  • The first and last departure times, how long the trip would take, and the frequency in between arrivals

I also made separate instructions for the return trip, because all the names and directions would change. I’m not relying on memory for this one, as non-English words will probably not stick in my head (can anyone say Hauptbahnhof?).

Look for tourist passes

I made a wonderful discovery while researching on transportation: some cities offered tourist passes. These are special cards that give free unlimited public transportation (and entrance to attractions) for a specific period of time (e.g. 24 hours). We used one in Hong Kong that gave unlimited subway rides for three days, and I was pleased to find several places in Europe had them, too. If you go to a city’s official website, you can find out if they have a tourist pass and where to buy them.

To compute if the pass is worth it, add up all your entrance fees from your list of must-sees + all the buses, subways, and trains you need to take to get there. Chances are, the pass is still cheaper. Plus, you don’t have to worry about buying tickets for each place — just swipe your card and go.

We’re buying tourist passes in Oslo, Tallinn, and Helsinki. Hooray!

Look for hop-on, hop-off buses

Another discovery I found was that some cities had hop-on, hop-off (HOHO) buses. It’s a tourist bus that loops around the popular tourist destinations, and for a fixed price you can hop on and off at any stop in the loop. While nothing screams “tourist” than a HOHO bus, you really can’t beat its convenience — you can cover several sights easily, and it might even stop at the pier, which means you can always find your way back!

We’re taking the HOHO bus in Tallinn and Helsinki (it’s a tram there, not a bus). Bonus: our tourist passes cover the HOHO ticket, too.

Learn from other travelers
I’ve found that the best tourist information you can get is from people who’ve actually been there. They might be tourists, cruise aficionados, or actual locals. First-hand experiences make better reading, as they will tell you what it’s really like to explore a place on foot (is the walk uphill on a cobblestone street? is it easy to get lost? what’s the weather like? etc).

Some travelers even post do-it-yourself walking tours so you can enjoy the benefits of a tour guide without the hefty price. I found a great site called Istopoli that has walking maps for some ports of call. There are tons of more information on the forums if you look hard enough.

Sea trail

Weighing it all in

Everyone likes to travel differently, and it’s up to you how DIY you want to do it, or if you’d rather pay for a tour that takes care of everything. I’ve been on a cruise before, and had almost missed the ship in Rome when we explored on our own. (I have a clear memory of gulping down a pizza slice while running to the ship’s bus that was about to leave. The people on the bus burst into applause. It makes for a good story, but I’d rather not have the stress if I can help it 🙂 )

I’ll post our research per port once we’ve actually been there and confirmed the information. Until then, thanks a lot for reading!

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Thoughts from a balcony

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I am writing this with my feet up on a balcony in Shangri-La Mactan. In a few hours, one of my favorite cousins is getting married.* I hear the voices of laughing children in the pool below, and I can’t help but feel very blessed to be in this moment.

I am grateful to have a loving, supportive, and delightful family — there is never a dull moment at a family reunion like this one.

I am grateful to have a job that lets me work from anywhere (for as long as there is internet), because it allows me to travel. I am also paid to make stories, which is still a dream come true.

I am grateful to have friends that are as caring as they are brilliant, because it makes me want to come home and hang out with them as soon as possible.

I also can’t wait to get back to krav maga — another reason I don’t want to be away from Manila too long. (When did I become THAT person?) I am grateful to have found a hobby that I am passionate about that is also good for me.

When I am in the middle of the hustle and bustle of everyday city life, it’s easy to be stressed and unhappy. In a rare moment like this one, I want to remember all the good things I have been blessed with, and never take them for granted. Any moment, any of this can be taken away. Any moment now.

Thank you, Universe, and I hope to return all of this goodness by giving to those around me. Please kick me in the ass if I don’t.


*I have over 20 first cousins on my mother’s side. I love them all, but it’s impossible not to have favorites!

Hacked: An infographic

Two years ago, my Paypal account was hacked. I settled the case with Paypal, my credit card company, and the Philippine National Police Cyber-Crime division. Though they didn’t catch the perp, at least I didn’t have to pay any of the false claims.

Because of the blog post I wrote on the incident, a woman named Allison approached me with this infographic that she helped make. It’s originally posted on OnlineCollegeCourses.com, and is a great visual representation of online hacking. At the bottom of the graphic is an example for bad / common passwords. This is definitely worth a read. Thanks for the heads-up, Allison!

Hacked Infographic