Krav MagaWednesday, May 02, 2012 By Ella Sweet
If you don’t know me, the fact that I regularly take lessons in the second most intense martial art in the world, may come as a surprise. About twice a week, I go to what I usually refer to as my “street fighting class,” but what is technically called Krav Maga. The reason I don’t refer to it as Krav Maga is because either people don’t know what it is and have to ask for an explanation, or they do know what it is and spend the rest of their time completely avoiding me—neither are reactions that I particularly like dealing with. Krav Maga is a relatively new martial art, if it can be called that. A more appropriate term would be martial practice, as there is very little about it that is graceful, pretty, or spiritual. Krav Maga, I feel, is best described as the practice of street fighting; however, I’ve also heard it described as a martial art minus all of the things that make martial arts admirable. It originated in Israel, and was created for the Israeli military as a system of hand-to-hand or hand-to-weapon combat. It cuts past all of the fluff in order to be the most effective way of stopping an attack—which is to say, there are no rules. Okay, that’s not exactly true. There are rules, albeit unofficial ones. Depending on how you define ‘rules,’ the first rule is to survive the fight. It’s a pretty simple rule, and is really a basic tenet. The effects of this rule are woven into the techniques we use in Krav Maga, and set up the mindset that one is supposed to use when fighting. The second rule, to quote my instructor, is “Kick someone in the groin. They’ve already ruined your night, might as well ruin theirs.” This isn’t so much a rule as a suggestion, but it’s still a focus point in the practice. Essentially, Krav Maga is all about playing dirty. There are eight levels, and in level one, one operates under the premise that someone else has started the fight. Therefore, their wellbeing is not your responsibility. Whether or not they incur fatal or life-altering wounds is not your concern; your only concern is survival. To be clear, this probably isn’t a good way to live life. Though my instructors stress that the fight starts when someone approaches you suspiciously, and as a fairly small teenage girl anyone who approaches me should be deemed suspicious, in reality one should not actually use this method (mostly because of the legal consequences). My instructors stress the use of things like groin kicks, scratching, and eye clawing as the way to win fights. I now know, more than I hope, I will ever need to about the best way to pluck out an eye or break someone’s thumb, because Krav Maga is not about playing fair. It is about survival. To be fair, Krav Maga isn’t actually about hurting people. Like I said, the first rule is to survive. Your chances of survival will always be greater if you don’t get into a fight at all, which is why level one is mostly defensive. They may not tell you the best ways to charm your way out of getting kidnapped, murdered, or raped, but they do warn you not to get into a fight that you don’t have to. In level one, the aim is to incapacitate your attacker long enough for you to flee, which is why each class is focused around a self-defense technique. The class starts off with grueling warm-ups and then moves into basic attack drills, such as punching and palm strikes and groin kicks. (At my first class, after we had done the standard pushups, sit ups, bear crawls and the like we were instructed to carry a very large tire over our heads and run up and down the room.)You have a partner who holds a pad for you while you punch them, because while it may seem like Krav Maga is all about unnecessary violence, the people there are all very nice and friendly and don’t actually want anyone to get hurt. You don’t start punching people without pads until level two. After your basic drills, you move into a defense portion, in which you learn how to defend against someone. Sometimes it’s someone who is strangling you; sometimes it is someone who is picking you up; sometimes it is someone who has you in a headlock. Other times, we learn things like how to defend yourself (weaponless) against someone who is swinging a pole at you, someone who has pulled a knife, or someone who is pointing a gun at your chest. These are always the most fun. Though it may seem like fighting someone with a gun pointed at your chest is a lost cause, there are some surprisingly simple ways to stop them from hurting you even if you yourself don’t have a weapon. To make the techniques more realistic, the person who is holding the gun is instructed to say “bang” the second that they see their “victim” move. Surprisingly, the gun is rarely still pointing at flesh by the time the attacker says “bang”. After they show you how to defend against whatever it is that you’re defending against, you and your partner try it out on each other. I always feel bad for my partner, a friend I’ve known since elementary school, because she’s not nearly as aggressive as I am. If I swing a pole at her, I’m very likely to injure her. If she swings a pole at me, I’m still more likely to injure her. This is because there are three steps to getting out of a bad situation, though they never phrase it like that. The first one is to defend, using whatever technique you learn that night. The second one is to attack very soon after defending in order to keep your attacker from being able to continue his attack. This would be something along the lines of punching, kicking, striking, and clawing at your attacker. There is no mercy and no pity. If they were stupid or cruel enough to attack you, they must suffer the consequences. Once you have your attacker sufficiently unable to hurt you, you can move on to the third step: running—as fast as you can and away from your attacker. At the end of class, we do a group activity. Usually, they do something in which one person has to fight everyone in the class at the same time, and everyone has to take turns being that one person. The group activities are centered around whatever defense technique was taught in class that day, and they very much resemble a gang attack. However, they’re very informative. As my partner with whom I learn most of the techniques is just as young and small as I am, it’s hard to know what would happen if I were to use said techniques on someone who is actually likely to attack me. During the group activities, I get to be attacked by multiple large middle-aged men at the same time. After we finish the group activity, if no one h as gotten seriously injured, we all line up with our heels together and end class the same way that we started it: bowing to the instructor and saying “kida”. Everyone in the class lines up shoulder to shoulder facing the instructor to signify that we are all equal. Though such an extreme martial practice seems more like it would be about social Darwinism instead of equality, my instructors, when asked about who can learn Krav Maga, will always reply with “everyone”. They’re not lying. The things that a person learns in Krav Maga will work whether you are a large man or a small teenage girl because the self-defense moves are not about strength. They’re about knowing what to do when faced with a bad situation, and doing it quickly, which is why it is possible to defend yourself against someone who has a gun even if you are weaponless. Most of the defense techniques, therefore, are based on the element of surprise. Ultimately, that’s why I continue to go to Krav Maga classes, despite knowing that I will come home bruised and sore and sometimes bleeding: because everyone should be able to defend themselves. And with Krav Maga, everyone can.