Tough Enough? Try Krav Maga.

By Dena Levitz
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 28, 2008

Knock your partner to kingdom come! Go ahead! Knee them!"

I was just 10 minutes into my first krav maga session at Krav Maga of DC in Chinatown, and I knew that this would be different from any other self-defense course I've taken.

"Punch as hard as you can, without worrying about how you look. Then we'll sculpt you and teach you to do it right," my instructor, Chris Torres, informed me and the other students, as if we were lumps of clay about to be fired into hardened pots.

My partner, another woman close to my size, at first acted offended that I wasn't whacking her hard enough. Who was I to argue? So I let loose and pretended she had just stolen my favorite pair of jeans.

Loosely translated from Hebrew as "contact combat," krav maga (pronounced KRAHV ma-GAH) is the self-defense system developed for the Israeli army 50 years ago and brought to the United States two decades later. As someone who has tried boxing and taekwondo, I thought krav would be an easy, or at least similar, experience.

I was wrong. Krav maga took those classes, chewed them up, spit them out and then -- just to be sure they wouldn't spring back into action -- head-butted them to the ground.

Within just the first two sessions of krav class, students work to master jabs, crosses, knees to the groin and several hard-core ways of slamming their elbows into their attacker's ribs or chest. In most exercises you're also told to imagine that a swarm of assailants is gunning for you. Obviously, this was not one of those self-defense classes where the moves are as graceful and pretty to watch as in "Swan Lake."

The stance used is similar to a boxer's but morphed to emulate a cobra: shoulders hunched, back bent in a slight C shape, with fighters holding their fingers spread, ready to strike at a moment's notice. The moves are rehearsed at full speed with students hurling their fists at pads as if the pads were a stranger in a bar who tried to cop a feel.

Self-defense classes too often don't allow participants to get their hands dirty, making it hard to leave feeling confident about your newfound abilities. With one session of krav maga, my hands were dirtied and bloodied. My knuckles were swollen and cut up by the end of the long hour. Truth be told, I felt like a tough chick.

And presumably that's the goal.

Close to 70,000 people worldwide are studying krav maga, up from 55,000 two years ago, says Ken Highland, marketing manager for Krav Maga Worldwide, the group that trains instructors worldwide.

Highland says those in the industry attribute much of this surge to Hollywood and the rise of mixed martial arts. "You have movies like 'Enough' with Jennifer Lopez showing krav, and it gets people interested," he says.

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