My “year of Kelly McCann” continued last weekend as I took my fourth class with the iconic instructor (see my previous AARs of Kelly’s classes here, here, and here). As noted in my prior AARs, my rationale for training with Kelly so much this year has been multifaceted. My primary goal has been to become more familiar with violence, and I was told Kelly was “the man” to see about this. Secondly, I hope to improve in at least subtle ways in self-defense skills that do not necessarily include a firearm. And finally, in keeping with my article on training during an ammunition shortage, now continues to be an ideal time to work on these other skills.
Kelly’s course descriptions tend to be a bit sparse on details. This is what his somewhat spartan website offered:
“Come and learn technical striking from the best! This day long clinic will improve your striking abilities across the board whether you are a beginner or a seasoned practitioner. Useful in BOTH combat sports AND combatives, learn how to maximize your potential when you have to throw your hands! Hit the button below to become more dangerous!”
Having missed a class I had signed up for in June due to a bout of strep throat, I still had credit with Kelly and asked if it would be okay to use that credit toward this course, which he confirmed. List price for the course was $125, but I used my $100 credit from the earlier class to pay for this one during a late-summer sale. I am not affiliated with Kelly McCann, Kembativz, or his new company McEntrick, except as a sale-price paying customer.
Kelly moved his gym earlier this year (after the three classes I took with him in February and March). It is still in Fredericksburg, but about five minutes further east from I-95 than the previous location. Class began at 0900. Besides me, there were seven other students, several of whom I knew from past classes with Kelly (and at least one gentleman who has attended some firearms classes with me as well). All of the students were men. All had more combatives experience than me, though striking seemed to be new to several of them.
Kelly began the class with a relatively brief talk about what we would be doing on this day. Kelly explained that proper movement in boxing is the most important thing. We would learn to move our feet and our heads for our own protection as well as to make opportunities happen. We would learn about footwork, about creating and using angles, and how to manage our opponent’s movement. Kelly also went over his little mantra of PSP: Position, Speed, Power, likening it to the groundfighting mantra of position before submission. Somewhere in there he also reminded us that missing strikes/punches uses up a lot of energy because you end up swinging further and because, psychologically speaking, you do not get the satisfaction of the hit. He also told us that, no matter our experience level, we should be prepared to feel awkward in learning and practicing this stuff, as even someone with some experience fighting but who has never been properly taught could struggle a bit with the material (this was confirmed to me after class, as a fellow student—who has striking experience in Muay Thai and other disciplines with other instructors—lamented never having been taught most of this material before).
Kelly also talked a bit about his own experience with boxing/fighting, which is vast. He started boxing when he was only 12 years old, and I believe that he was a Golden Gloves winner at age 17. By age 24, he had fought in 200 fights. Since then? Who knows? But he has also been training fighters for a very long time as well, and enjoyed plenty of success doing so.
Kelly finished by explaining that, in all of the Kembativz classes, we always test everything. So, on this day, that would mean stepping into the ring and testing how much of the material we had absorbed. I should mention here that a naturally anxious and somewhat shy person such as myself would typically visit the restroom at this point and start vomiting. However, there is something about Kelly, about his assistant instructor Rod (who I cannot sing enough praises about), and the students who seem to typically come to Kelly’s classes that puts me at ease. I feel like I will be tested (quite thoroughly), but will always be in safe hands.
All of that out of the way, I changed into shorts, borrowed a pair of boxing gloves, and we started with a variety of stretching exercises. We then spread out around the mats and Kelly began to introduce us to proper positioning. This included where our hands should be and how our legs should be oriented (generally “athletically”, but with our back/strong-side heel up off the ground/mat). He covered moving forward (a step and a catch-up step), backward (never more than two steps, and always with the rear heel up), and to the side. We also covered the side-step pivot. All of these (and some other information) is covered in the following video Kelly filmed in 2020 at the old gym:
The other key aspect of movement that was covered in the morning was moving the head offline, especially while striking. You definitely do not want your head to be where your opponent last saw it while you are punching.
As with all things in class, once Kelly and/or Rod demonstrated the requisite skills, it was up to us to practice them on the mats.
The other two primary instructional blocks from the morning, and the ones that took the most time, involved blocking and punching. These were taught together, in building block form, as from here on we would partner up and have to practice the different punches and combinations, and it is tough to practice the punches without having also taught the blocks (your partner will otherwise hate you). So we started with the basic one and two punches (jab with the weak hand, straight/cross with the strong hand). In time, we would progress to the rest of the punches, such as the weak side hook, the strong hand uppercut, etc.
Throughout all of this instruction and guided practice, we swapped training partners often (typically at least twice per instructional segment). Kelly and Rod circulated among us, making corrections as needed. When they saw mistakes that several people were making, they gathered the group again for some re-teaching/clarifications. Besides getting a bit of a breather during the instructional segments—which usually only lasted a minute or two—we also got longer breaks for water and rest every 45 minutes or so. I must confess that, in the area of the mats where I was typically working, there were hundreds of sweat droplets that formed a rough circle. I made sure to constantly rehydrate throughout the class, but I don’t know that I have ever done so much sweating in a class in my life.
We broke for an extended lunch around noon. I think Kelly likes a longer break, plus it gives those students who did not bring food a chance to run out and get something and not feel rushed. Always trying to be prepared, I brought food and so ate while enjoying some conversation and camaraderie with my fellow students.
We got started after lunch around 1315. Kelly began with a fairly lengthy demonstration and explanation of how he wraps hands. He went over what type of wraps to look for (hint: you won’t find them at Dick’s!) along with what is permitted when it comes to wrapping for actual boxing matches. Much of that information is covered in this video that Kelly made in 2020:
I must confess that, having no real desire to enter the boxing world at this stage of my life, much of this information was superfluous for me. However, I am quite sure that it was fascinating for those who are more interested in boxing, Muay Thai, or MMA.
The main area of focus for the afternoon was in punching the various bags to learn how to properly develop power. Kelly explained that, always being of smaller size, his father taught him from an early age to make sure he hit with real power (one of the many reasons I have been spending so much time with Kelly this year is that, though bigger than me, he is not a very big guy, but is fierce). I had been told by others that Kelly hits HARD, and I got to experience some of his power during the other classes I took with him this year, where even incidental, glancing blows turned me into a ragdoll.
Watching Kelly work the heavy bags, however, was something else entirely, and something to behold. The bags were hung on chains from what amounted to heavy duty carabiners, and he had the bags essentially unweighting and lifting when he hit them. I suppose many boxers could do the same, but most “regular people” cannot.
I must confess that I struggled a bit in this area. Rod worked with me quite a bit on developing the necessary power, constantly telling me to loosen my arms as I threw my strikes. However, one of my issues when it comes to striking is the problems I have with shoulders. Long-time readers of the blog may recall the issues I had with one shoulder a few years back. The fact is, both of my shoulders have been royally screwed up since I was 17 years old. As a result, I tend to keep my shoulders very tight when I anticipate blows/trauma of some type. The result is that my strikes are not nearly as loose and fluid as they really need to be.
After another rest and hydration break, Kelly announced that it was time to pressure test what we had learned. Each of us would fight back-to-back one-minute rounds, one versus one opponent and one versus another. Kelly set a few ground-rules (mouthguards a must, do not go all-out, listen to the referee, etc.), and told us to have other students video record us with our phones. Some of the guys who went before me definitely went pretty hard at each other, and I saw a few guys get their bells rung pretty well (at least one guy had to take a knee). Not wanting to step into the ring to fight the 6’4, 290 pound former college football offensive lineman (boxing has weight divisions for a reason!), I ended up fighting a friend of mine for my first round and then other student for the second. I held my own okay in the first one (video revealed I was not a total disaster), but in the second round I committed at least one cardinal sin (leading with an uppercut), caught the natural counter (left hook), and left class with a bit of a black eye and sore jaw. It was amazing to me how fast things seemed to be happening in the ring, though looking at the video later, nothing seemed to be happening fast at all. I was also amazed at how gassed I was after back-to-back one-minute rounds.
With that, at about 1600, Kelly opened “the bar” (the new gym lacks the formal bar, but there remains a fridge with beer plus other beverages). I must confess that there is nothing like beating and being beaten and then sharing a cold one with your former adversaries.
Of the four classes I have now taken with Kelly, this was probably the one in which I worked the hardest and in which I got most “familiar with violence.” As Mike Tyson famously once said, “everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth”, so it was that I got to experience getting punched in the face and see what I could offer after that. The other main takeaways for me were learning to hit with more power (even though it was a struggle for me, I definitely have a better handle on it now than before), move my head when striking, and then there was all the time we spent on footwork that was of tremendous value.
These classes with Kelly continue to deliver incredible value. In essence, I was receiving professional level striking instruction for a little more than $15 per hour. In other words, someone with Kelly’s resume was teaching me for Target wages. Think about that.
I am so happy that Kelly is teaching more open enrollment classes like these, and I am especially happy that I was pushed by my mentor to take classes with Kelly. I have to wonder if my mentor is surprised that I have so thoroughly immersed myself into the Kembativz world (maybe he figured I would do ONE class?), but Kelly is such a great instructor, so knowledgeable and so skilled but also so sincere, and his classes so value-laden, that I cannot resist.
I am scheduled for TWO more classes with Kelly this year, so please stay tuned for more AARs from those classes. In the meantime, as always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below, as we always welcome civil discourse.