Krav Maga: It’s the official hand-to-hand combat style of the Israeli Defense Forces, but it’s also gaining momentum Stateside as a great workout combining cardio, strength-training, and easy-to-understand self-defense techniques.
I first heard about the class through a friend, who entertained me with the story of how Jessica Alba used the IDF platform to get in shape for her upcoming role in “Mechanic: Resurrection.” I was sold on the concept, but also for a much more serious reason: “Could you defend yourself if that man attacked you?” she asked, pointing at the large, 230-pound man walking adjacent to us.
My immediate reaction was to politely call her crazy. So I told her. I could not defend myself against a man that size. Could anyone?
But then, in that moment, I realized that if there were a way for someone like me to defend myself from someone like him, I needed to learn how. I wanted to feel like I could protect myself if I had to.
I walked into the Krav Maga Academy in NYC nervous but determined to understand the practice behind IDF. Our instructor, Matan Gavish, a former Krav Maga officer and instructor for a special-ops unit in the Israeli Defense Forces, was already on the mat preparing for our session.
I took a look around and began to stretch, first observing there were more women than men in the class. In fact, there was only one male in the class, who I happened to bring with me as a very supportive companion on my combat journey. (Gavish later told us that at most of his classes looked like ours.)
The class is unique in that you role-play real-life scenarios and effective ways to remove yourself from danger: You learn how to remove a knife fron an attacker’s hand, or even a gun, and how to free yourself from sexual assault and abuse.
“You don’t need to aspire to become the greatest warrior of all time, but you do want to have a few tools in your back pocket, a little ace in your sleeve just in case you have to use it,” Gavish says. “And the only rule of Krav Maga is there are no rules.”
We began our class with an intense warm-up including jumping jacks, push-ups, leaps, and sprints followed by a tutorial of jabs, punches, kicks and combinations. Then we moved on to the hard part: practicing on a partner. “Remember, we do whatever we have to do to cause as much damage to our attacker and get out of the situation as soon as possible,” Gavish told us. “If that means I have to bite, gouge, use my nails [or] kick soft spots, then that is what I am going to do.”
After an hour of sweating, my knuckles were sore, my heart was pounding and I was confident I’d be back to attend another class. Here’s why:
Anyone can practice Krav Maga.
“The moves are simple — they are based on already existing instincts,” Gavish told us. “In Krav Maga, we are not interested in causing pain to our attacker. Pain is subjective; damage, on the other hand, is objective. I don’t care if the person feels the pain associated with a shattered kneecap, but if he can’t stand on his leg, then he can’t chase me.”
You learn survival techniques to real life situations.
Krav Maga teaches techniques to fend off an attacker who might have an advantage in size, speed or weaponry, to name a few. “This is not about having a fair fight,” Gavish said. “I’m going to use everything in my power to cause as much damage as possible to get out of the situation I am in.” Krav Maga classes can also help pre-plan the steps for an effective escape or counter attack — something that’s a bit harder to do when danger is imminent and adrenaline is pumping.
It’s a great workout.
On top of everything, Krav Maga is a great workout. This unique style of combat combines conditioning, strength-training, and easy-to-understand survival practices. You’re breaking a serious sweat and burning a ton of calories, all while learning to how-to’s of avoiding dangerous situations and defending yourself.
You feel empowered.
Although this was only my first class, I walked home with a sense of empowerment — a liberating feeling that I had accomplished something. I was proud of my Krav Maga class and all of the people who are determined to learn a little something to keep themselves safe.
This article originally appeared on Fox News Magazines.
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