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I Tried Krav Maga So You Don't Have To

Self-preservation at its most primal, taught by the nicest guys you could meet.

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Hi, I’m Jody, and I have always been obsessed with having “non-traditional” skills. I don’t like being exactly like everyone else, but I’m just shy of being creative enough to proactively learn something really unique. Basically, if everyone’s learning how to play guitar, I’ll want to learn how to play the harmonica.

Is hockey the most popular sport? Forget that, I want to be the first effortlessly talented female hurler. Speaking French will open up job prospects in the future? BORING. I want to learn Gaelic, a mostly dead language spoken predominantly by drunk 90-year-old men in rural Irish bars. What could be more fulfilling than to be able to tell them “my name is” or “close the door” in their mother tongue?

I decided one day that I wanted to learn how to better protect myself in a mortal combat situation. Continuing in the tradition of learning 1/10th of a cool new skill, I sought out and located the only Krav Maga facility in my city.

Krav Maga, if you haven’t heard of it, is a military self-defense system developed for the Israeli army. If I could sum it up in one sentence, the philosophy at the core of Krav Maga is “anything goes”. The first trial class is free.

Here's what happened:

I ran infinite laps.

Illustration by Bryan Murdoch

I arrived in yoga pants, runners, and a mouth guard. Nobody laughed at my mouth guard, but it became immediately clear that Level One doesn’t require that kind of protection. I slipped it back into my gym bag, stealthy af. The instructor was a short, red-faced man who yelled at us literally the entire time. I ran seemingly infinite laps.

I ran from one end of the gym to the other with a woman strapped to my back like a baby lemur.

Illustration by Bryan Murdoch

This was actually super fun for me because I got to show off my sneakily strong legs and nobody believed I could do it but if you doubt me I will grow stronger.

I grabbed, lunged at and gripped people by the neck.

Then the instructor yelled at them to do the same to me. My personal bubble, carefully constructed, was invaded time and time again. I was distraught.

He explained to us that the idea is to put yourself through stress, through discomfort, to have your bubble invaded time and time again and to learn how to react when you’re facing an opponent who is actually trying to hurt you.

The first thing that happens to most of us in these scenarios is that we go into a state of shock. Krav Maga, through constant exposure to physical threat (or to the perception of physical threat), can train you to react immediately. This is an incredibly powerful thing.

Later, I would attend their Women’s Self Defense course (free with membership or very reasonably priced without) and spend several hours getting the hair pulled out of my scalp in clumps. My enthusiastic partner would drag me from one end of the gym to the other, throwing me gleefully against the wall as if I were made of putty. I am not exaggerating when I say that this class is very full on.

Nearing the end of the class/ordeal, we were instructed to lie on our backs on the floor and close our eyes. As I lay there, the instructors explained that some volunteers were going to come and lie on top of us. They told us to pay attention to our bodies while this was happening – to be cognizant of our heartbeat, how we were breathing and what we were thinking.

I felt uncomfortable, and then more uncomfortable as a creature of maybe 200 pounds stole the breath from my body. I could hear the instructors’ voices; heard them describe the fear swelling in my chest, the helplessness in my heart that was causing me to remain motionless.

They told us to open our eyes - which was worse. Locking eyes with an uninvited stranger was the last thing I wanted to do. Then they told us to “remember we had legs”.

They pointed out, quite rightly, that the person on top of us was the one in a vulnerable position. Their soft bellies were exposed, and they were perched directly atop the most thoroughly dangerous parts of the human body: the motherflippin’ knees. My knees are especially bony and pointed. “Yes,” I thought. “I can work with this”.

I will never forget that lesson. Over the course of half an hour the poor volunteer on top of me tried to pull open my legs, to get the better of me, but could not. As I mentioned, I have secretly muscular legs but that really had very little to do with it. Once empowered to realize that I had weapons to defend myself with, I was no longer afraid. I felt like I finally had some control over a situation that has long terrified me (and my gender).

I can’t thank these men enough – from the instructors to the volunteers who let 40 women knee them in the crotch for 4 hours – for giving me this feeling. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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