AMSTERDAM, 16.06.2019 – Pascal Bourrassé – head of Kalah France Tactical Division – came over from Bordeaux for a day’s session. This Kalah Seminar in Amsterdam was the first, and certainly not the last. Eyes were opened, not everybody made it to the end, we trained for survival, egos went to dust, cups were emptied – and refilled with a bit of self defense reality.
A red hoodie. That’s what Pacal Bourrassé told me to look for, via WhatsApp. So that’s what I’m looking for at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, driving slowly through the chaos just outside the departure hall on this rainy Saturday morning.
Last time we’ve seen each other was in South Africa, at a “braai” restaurant (local BBQ). I had just finished a brutal week of training Kalah and was going back home the next day. He was ready for week two of five, leveling up to SWAT and close protection detail instructor.
I spot my friend from Bordeaux, France. Still the big beard and the bald head, but with new layer of skills. We talk about how we’re getting along teaching Kalah. The experiences we had – he’s been teaching Kalah for 3 years, I’ve recently started – future plans, our time back in South Africa, martial arts, and more.
To kill some time before we can check into the hotel in the hip “Kinkerbuurt” area, we drive through Amsterdam to get some sight seeing done and visit the gym to prepare the training materials. Pascal gets inspired and takes a mental note for some nice additions to the program the next day.
Back at the hotel we arrange the check-in and sit down to talk through the upcoming seminar. We decide on a thorough dive into the basics in the morning and variations (with knives and multiple attacker situations) in the afternoon. We’ll show some CCTV footage of actual knife attacks and some other videos to illustrate the illusion of self defense that is being taught in martial arts gyms all over the world.
Meanwhile the sun decided to show up. We head into the city for a nice lunch, a really cool canal trip, and a huge walk through Amsterdam’s awesome neighborhoods (that might have been a little longer because I might have gotten lost sometimes). Gotta say: she’s still a fine little town, Amsterdam.
The next morning I pick Pascal up and it’s showtime. The first participants are already waiting to get in.
After a short introduction, it’s time to rock ’n roll. I take the lead with a light warming up. And then, just like we planned, Pascal takes it up a notch. We’re just under 30 minutes into the seminar and the first message has landed: this is different.
We go through the basics. Go forward. Control. Damage. The mantra gets rammed into minds of the participants, slowly but steadily. They learn how to act like a “good” bad guy, because we are training for reality, not Lalaland. They learn not to instantly switch to Rambo-mode, because that will get them hurt (or worse) in reality.
As the drills progress, we gear up to the first real stress test. In Kalah we always test our skills under circumstances that simulate reality: stress, fear, exhaustion, adrenaline, chaos, aggression, pain, etc. We do that as safe as possible, but expect bruises – and not just the physical type.
Usually, this is where people start to either open their eyes, or break down mentally. And also today this is the case. One of the participants gets attacked by Pascal. It is intense and the whole gym falls silent. What is important is what happens next: do you pick yourself up and start to work, or do you decide to close your eyes to the reality of violence?
Pascal drives this point down in a spirited speech to close the morning session.
After the break we show a video by Idan Abolnik, founder of the Kalah system. Gut wrenching CCTV footage from criminal violence from all over the world, followed by instruction videos of “self defense experts”. It is painfully clear that what is instructed there, doesn’t match up at all to the chaos we saw a minute ago. Jim Carrey’s “Bad Karate Class” skit and the “Sword vs. Gun” Indiana Jones scene illustrate the issue in a fun way.
As promised, we bring out the knives. The participants discover that the same principles and mechanics they learned in the morning also work when it’s a knife attack. Psychologically it’s a different ballgame. A grab just feels way less dangerous than a sharp, pointy piece of shimmering metal. To be clear: of course we trained with fake knives 😉
This evolved into a multiple attacker scenario: somebody holding you from the back (double nelson), with a knife threat from the front ready for attack. This is a very bad situation to end up in, but unfortunately a common way of robbing people in some countries (although the rear naked choke – which is actually easier to get out of – is the preferred weapon of choice, we just made it a bit harder for our participants).
The end of the afternoon, the end of the seminar. Pascal had us sit down for some reflection. One participant had no idea what Kalah was until this morning, but gotten through fine. Some had a bit of a confrontation with themselves. Some had to give up halfway. The participant who got “handled” by Pascal had his eyes opened. Those who had been training Kalah already understood it better. Everybody had understood the difference between “playing” self defense, and the real deal. It was a good day.
Eventually we handed out the certificates outside, on the stairs at the entrance, because of a little miscommunication about the timer of the alarm of the building that got us locked inside temporarily.
At dinner with Flip and his family in their home in Amsterdam Noord, we could look back on a wonderful weekend. Over a delicious Indonesian dinner, Flip’s son, who took part in the seminar, asked everything he always wanted to know about the military (he wants to be a marine, Pascal was in the French army for 19 years).
The next day I dropped off Pascal at the airport. In the car we were already making plans for the next edition.