IDF’s Krav Maga…Coming to a Gym Near You?
Gitty S., originally of Marine Park, now a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, is a single mom of three young kids. She stands tall at her 5’1 stature and petite frame, but you don’t want to mess with her. Thanks to her years of taking Krav Maga classes, in which she initially enrolled to help cope with her divorce, Gitty is one tough lady. She is just one of many who turn to Krav Maga not merely for defense, but also for self-empowerment.
Krav Maga, the official combative of the IDF, translates to “contact-combat” in Hebrew and is a form of unarmed combat. It combines the strengths of other martial arts forms in one streamlined self-defense method that can be applied to real-world situations, like muggings or assault. Today, Krav Maga is taught to FBI members, SWAT teams, and soldiers in countries across the globe…and in gyms worldwide.
So how did the IDF’s official martial arts technique transform into a workout craze lauded by everyone from army generals to Jewish day campers to single moms?
History of Krav Maga
Imi Lichtenfeld was a Jewish boxer, wrestler, and gymnast who lived in Bratislava during the mid-1930s when anti-Semitism was rampant. After witnessing the violence to which his community and others nearby were subjected, he felt that Jews needed to learn to protect themselves and began teaching self-defense. Lichtenfeld moved to what was then known as Palestine in 1942 and joined the Haganah. He soon made an impression on Jewish military leaders who promoted him as an instructor responsible for teaching the Palmach and Palyam, the military’s elite fighting forces.
After Israel gained statehood in 1948, Lichtenfeld was promoted to chief instructor of physical fitness at the IDF School of Combat Fitness; it was during this time that he developed what is officially known as Krav Maga. Militaristically, it was ideal, with easy- to- follow steps that could be taught in just three short weeks, the standard period of training for recruits. After Imi retired from the IDF, he modified Krav Maga so civilians could use it. In 1974, he founded the Krav Maga Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and teaching Krav Maga in Israel and beyond.
A basic Krav Maga course teaches its students skills in increasing the awareness of their surroundings, performing under stress, and how to attack effectively in various scenarios. Dan Nainan has taken Krav Maga classes in Manhattan and Los Angeles. “This was the most physically taxing thing I’ve ever done. Showing me how to fight multiple attackers or those with guns was amazing. I truly think that Krav Maga is the best possible self-defense one can learn,” he attests.
One key move is targeting pressure points (delicate or weak parts of the body that are impossible to strengthen, such as eyes, ears, and throat). This is especially useful for women, children, elderly, or anyone who is attacked by a bigger, stronger opponent. Another basic concept is retzev, continuous combat motion which prevents the attacker from having time to react. Escape is another important principle.
Rafael Hope, a Jewish lifestyle blogger, enjoys taking Krav Maga classes for its practicality. “While many other martial arts forms can help you accomplish similar skills, what makes this unique is its wit and focus on the necessary skills and techniques required to help you survive common physical threats. Krav Maga borrows the best combat concepts from other, to help you accomplish one thing – staying alive,” he says.
Like most forms of self-defense, Krav Maga preaches avoiding confrontation and escalation. If someone asks for your money, most instructors advise throwing your wallet on the floor and running away. But if someone approaches and tries moving you to another location, then you must resist at all costs.
Krav Maga has gained major momentum in practically every corner of the world. Many countries, including the U.S., are training their special forces in Krav Maga (or some modification of it). Grandmaster Eyalv Yanilov, one of Lichtenfeld’s former students, expanded Krav Maga internationally by establishing Krav Maga Global (KMG) in 2010. Under his supervision, KMG has branches in more than 60 countries and has taught over 1,000 instructors worldwide. The Krav Maga Worldwide™ Force Training Division, a subgroup of Yanilov’s KMG, has been providing professional training to over 800 law enforcement agencies in the United States and multiple U.S. military units stationed locally and around the world.
Vikram Kapoor, India’s expert in Krav Maga, trained extensively in Israel before bringing it to the country in 2002. India Today reported that the country’s SWAT teams and law enforcement have all been professionally taught Krav Maga this past summer in a mandatory three-week training session. In Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, and China, Krav Maga is popular due to its holistic, integrated system that reflects real-life situations. KMG China now boasts over 350 members and Hong Kong SWAT team, as well as Singapore’s armed forces, including all law enforcement, use it as their official method of combat.
Krav Maga has also become quite popular in Paris’s Jewish community due to the surge of anti-Semitic hate crimes committed within the past two years. “There’s an explosion in the popularity of Krav Maga,” Avi Attlan, one of the technique’s pioneers in France told JTA. He said that 10 years ago it was taught only in a few Parisian Jewish schools, but today about 20 schools (mostly Chabad educational networks) teach it.
Krav Maga is taught in the Hungarian, Norwegian, Danish, and Polish militaries, as well as in the Dutch marines, Finnish military police, and Sweden’s special forces, among many other countries.
Capt. Even-Esh teaching Jewish camper basic Krav Maga moves
Krav Maga Near You
A simple Yelp search of Krav Maga in New York yields over 50 results with about 10 gyms or academies in the Brooklyn area alone – and that number continues to increase. There are several reasons for its growing popularity. With petty larceny on the rise (based on stats from NYPD’s CompStat 2.0), many New Yorkers feel they need that extra sense of protection. Also, like all urbanites, we are busy and often do not have enough time to exercise properly; Krav Maga offers a quick and effective workout.
Here in Marine Park, we have JSKA Karate, which has offered Krav Maga classes for adults and children with Sensei Thomas Casale since 1986. Sensei Casale warns people that Krav Maga is intense and much rougher than karate. “If your goal is to lose weight and tone up, Krav Maga is for you. Techniques can be modified to accommodate injuries and health considerations,” he says.
Daniel Eliyashev had been involved in security training for many years before deciding to open Crash Krav Maga in Brighton Beach over 10 years ago. He cites safety as the primary reason he became interested. “I have seen a rise in crime and violence in New York,” he says, “and I knew I would be happier if I could do something about it by training people to protect themselves.” Eliyashev’s clientele mostly consists of Russian Jews over the age 35 and under 16. Like many Krav Maga experts, his experience stems from serving in the IDF’s counterterrorism division.
Confidence Booster and Bully Buster
Obviously, Krav Maga is a great workout, but it’s also been praised for raising self-esteem, building confidence, fostering leadership, encouraging teamwork, and even eradicating bulling.
Eliyashev says Krav Maga can combat bullying for both the bully and the target. “There is a confidence in walking around knowing you have this power and knowledge,” he says. Eliyashev offers gender-separate classes. He believes that women must be taught separately and differently since they are attacked differently.
“I wish the world could operate in peace and civil discussions, but it doesn’t, and many need to wake up,” says Eilon Even-Esh, or as some refer to him, Captain Even-Esh. Even-Esh is a graduate of Columbia University and a veteran of both the IDF and the U.S Marines. After his service in the Corps, he became a baal teshuvah, married and moved to Queens. Today, he devotes his time to exclusively teaching Krav Maga to the frum community as the founder of Shomer360, an organization that offers world-class self-defense classes with a Torah observant framework. He is a Krav Maga expert, MMA (mixed martial arts) trainer, and anti-bully educator.
Even-Esh points to the Torah and its commandment to guard and protect your body from harm. He feels that teaching such a skill is a matter of pikuach nefesh. The Jewish community is often a target of hateful crime, and according to Even-Esh, Jews don’t know how to respond. “Jews are being attacked in practically every country throughout the globe, which is why every Jew needs to have the confidence and skills to protect himself and his family.”
All of Even-Esh’s classes are gender-separate. “When you learn Krav Maga at a gym or with another instructor, you can be exposed to coed classes, immodesty, and foul language. At Shomer360, I created an atmosphere where it was void of all that and tailored to the needs of the community.”
Even-Esh often travels throughout the United States giving seminars to groups. He was once hired by a group of Satmar Chassidim for ongoing Krav Maga lessons. In September, he even conducted an active shooter seminar under the auspices of the OU. He is also frequently hired by Jewish summer camps and yeshivas to teach this special skill. “Krav Maga is not just about hitting. If taught correctly, it can also be about self-control and derech eretz.”
Step aside Zumba. Take a back seat, pilates. If you’re looking for an intense exercise regimen that can boost your self-esteem while helping you defeat a potential attacker in any situation, consider taking a Krav Maga class. If it’s good enough for the IDF and armies across the globe, it’s good enough for you. In all seriousness, you may not be an army cadet or live in a hostile war-ravaged country, but you are existing in a progressively challenging political and economic climate, which tends to breed crime and violence. Allow yourself the gift of confidence, power and training and give Krav Maga a fighting chance.
Ita Yankovich is a writer whose articles appear in several Jewish and secular publications. She also teaches Literature at Kingsborough and Touro College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sensei Thomas Casale training a young opponent a Marine Park’s JSKA Karate