Krav Maga is a non-competitive Israeli fighting system, commonly referred to as “street fighting”. It has been adapted for application to military, law enforcement and civilian defense systems. It preaches a “by any means necessary” mental/physical response to violent attacks. Sometimes one must be chaotic in order to survive chaotic situations.
Near the end of 2011, my ex co-worker (KM practitioner, office fashionista) introduced it to me:
“You should come”
“Maybe…But what exactly is Craw-Muh-Ga?”
Though I had long wanted to learn self-defense, I was intimidated.
A couple months later, after an exhausting (though enlightening) work project on the East Coast, I was eager to find a new non-work outlet. At this time, my Krav Maga center hosted its annual “Friends and Family Day”: sample as many classes as you want, for free, for a full day.
I can’t recount every detail of that first class, but I do remember that by hour end, one thought resounded: I wanted more. I stayed for the next class, and the same thought resurfaced. I signed up for membership that day. I trained 4-5 days a week, 2-4 hours each day. Prior to this, I had never been so drawn to a physical activity (a great deal of KM is also mental), but there were good reasons why it particularly resonated:
1) There is something poetically inspiring that such an aggressive, violent fighting system stems from humble, peace-oriented roots. The history of how KM came about is a touching one.
A professional wrestler/boxer took to the streets in Slovakia when his Jewish neighborhoods came under anti-Semitic violence. Imi Lichtenfeld wanted to protect his community, but to his dismay, the techniques that thrived in competitions proved futile in real life. It’s one thing to fight for sport in rule-controlled rings. It’s another to fight for one’s life in rule-less reality. The latter requires a different mindset, different approach, different techniques.
Hence, Imi began developing what would become known worldwide as Krav Maga (Hebrew for “contact combat”). He later became the Chief Instructor of the IDF, where he “tested” and refined his system in the real battles of the Arab-Israeli wars. Even as he developed increasingly efficient means of contact combat, Imi never lost sight of his (and his system’s) underlying drivers – the desire for peace and the right to protect.
2) At the Krav Maga center, women are expected to be agentic and rewarded for being aggressive.
“Great aggression – love your aggression”. When I first joined the training center and heard this affirmation, I was both taken aback and grateful. This was the first domain I’ve been in that rewarded me for being mentally and physically aggressive. The instructors and “regulars” expected me to surpass my self-perceived limits and encouraged me to demonstrate no lenience or passivity.
We often worked in pairs to practice combatives and defenses, and partners would discourage me from hastily apologizing for tagging them, b/c the habit to “be a sweet girl” doesn’t serve well in dangerous situations. As criminal expert Gavin DeBecker avers, the social pressure to “be nice” can induce many women to ignore their intuition, to inadvertently risk their own safety for worry of coming off as “rude” (Gavin DeBecker, The Gift of Fear).
Unlike many other institutions, at KMSF, women were not expected to be docile or to merely observe. Our bodies were regarded not as objects of sexual fantasy but as agents of strength and finesse.
3) Krav Maga empowers one to take charge of one’s own safety through awareness and efficacy.
I am reminded constantly through catcalls/sexual slurs/advances into my personal space that women’s bodies are at risk of being violated for the powerless to gain a false sense of power. And I consider myself lucky – many women suffer extreme atrocities and must spend their time preventing and recovering rather than creating and discovering. Even for those who haven’t suffered physical violence, the threat of it is intrusive. The night has a different feeling for us. Being out in nature has a different feeling for us. Being alone has a different feeling for us. (Disclaimer: many groups, in addition to women, suffer from sexual violence including men, intersex, and those who do not identify within gender binary.)
I recognize that there are many variables that drive how one fares in violent situations, and nothing guarantees one’s safety. However, Krav Maga offers a means to at least work towards better defending one’s safety through the practice of constant vigilance and well-tested techniques. In training KM, one arms oneself with technical and tactical tools that could improve the chances of survival by even the smallest margins (that may make all the difference).
In sum, I would highly recommend Krav Maga to anyone looking to learn some intuitive, practical self-defense techniques (if you’re around the Bay, I’d suggest checking out KMSF). It’s an efficient, physically demanding (and sculpting) system that commands a clear line of sight and is rooted in grounded principles.
One quote by the founder captures the KM spirit beautifully. When asked why people should learn such a devastating system, Imi Lichtenfeld replied simply, “So that one can walk in peace.”
Peace, after all, was all he wanted.
And peace, after all, is what so many of us want and deserve.