It was no place for a hippie journalist.
But there I was early on Saturday morning, surrounded by three highly trained and highly dangerous martial arts experts.
No, I wasn't on the set of "Batman: The Dark Knight" or "Mission Impossible III." I was learning the Keysi Fighting Method (KFM) as it is practiced and taught by a team of dedicated and disciplined men at The Keysi Academy in their pristine and inviting studio, located at 1480 Bellmore Ave.
Involved, intricate, demanding and in the wrong hands/minds - deadly, the Keysi Fighting Method has been featured and popularized in several high wire Hollywood blockbusters (including the remake of "Clash of the Titans", due out April 2.)
It has been introduced locally by Brennan Foster, ex-military man and long time mixed martial arts devotee who found something special in the European-based, cutting edge hand-to-hand combat practice.
At Foster's branch of Keysi Academy (the only one of it's kind on Long Island, though expansion plans are in the works) students are invited to embark on a journey of self-discovery that both challenges and empowers the individual's mind, body and spirit. Classes - no contracts required - are offered three times a week, geared towards adults (and soon children) of all ages and experience levels. All lessons are smartly accompanied by video feeds available online, allowing students to further their explorations on their own time, deepening their understanding and enhancing their development.
Compact, steady and a bit foreboding; his piercing blue eyes never wavering, Foster spoke intently about the craft he loves, and loves to teach.
"I was training in mixed martial arts (MMA) at a gym here in New York where I knew KFM was coming to offer one of their very first U.S. seminars back in 2007," he said. "Immediately following the demonstration, I knew that this was what I had been looking for and was instantly hooked."
All of Keysi (which means "from the heart") originates from the "Pensador" - a physcial pose that involves a tight, protective coverage of the head and neck using arms, hands and elbows. It's both conservative and menacing, allowing the combatant to simultaneously defend and attack with the same energy and motion. In this balance, Keysi and it's practitioners find themselves on an ever-evolving journey to "redefine predator and prey" within a larger paradigm of respect and diligence.
It's this dichotomy that lies at the core of Keysi, which is far more than a strictly physical practice. While Keysi involves a long, methodical series of physical building blocks and stepping stones (students earn colored wristbands instead of belts as they progress through the ranks), as a discipline it also involves mental and spiritual growth.
Foster explained further.
"Keysi is a way of understanding, developing, expressing and transmitting knowledge," he added. "It is a way - a philosophy of life based on the growth of the person - with martial arts as a transportation element that follows a philosophy based on knowledge, research and experimentation. KFM is a series of natural movements that flow together to create the outcome, but it is the attitude and the heart that make these dynamics work."
All of these elements were in play for my Saturday morning sparring session. With only a few very basic shuffle steps and block and punch combinations under my belt (or wrist), I quickly found myself surrounded by Foster and his well-versed assistants Jared Aue and Ron Walker.
KFM is immediately serious and intense. There is no smack talk, no jiving, no jawing, no puffing of the chest. After a brief and respectful salute from the heart, I was crouched and ready, both stalked and stalking. When I recieved and blocked the first blow to my head, I was instantly transformed. Adrenaline surging and awareness peaked - I found myself in a (ok, controlled and simulated) street fight. From the Pensador position I put my early training to work - blocking, sliding and punching. Focused and alive (if not a tad slow).
After the session, I was elated. The growth was immediate, I was a believer. Foster assured me it was part of the process. In fact, it is the process.
"The personal growth (found in Keysi) is based on belief," Foster said. "Belief is the path which guides the human being and leads to personal satisfaction. Belief is not a goal, it is a purpose which leads to the highest level of fulfillment."
Ideas a hippie journalist can surely appreciate.