Thwack! Across the room, a female soldier is thrown to the hardwood floor by a much larger male soldier. She races up and readies herself before her opponent. Now he has the knife and it’s her turn. He lunges, and she parries the knife. In a flash, she’s now holding the weapon.
2nd Lt. Edi Halevi stands at the entrance to the gymnasium, her arms crossed, a look of satisfaction on her face. She’s responsible for the fitness of the mixed-gender infantry battalion, Caracal. Fresh off six months of active duty on the Egyptian border, Caracal is now participating in a three-day-long sports fair. Cycling, swimming – and for the first time for regular infantry – Krav Maga, are just some of the special exercises these soldiers took part in.
Behind the officer, male and female soldiers practice how to defend against an attacker with a knife. These aren’t the types of drills they are used to. Usually they wake well before sunrise, strap on large backpacks, combat vests and march with their rifles slung over their shoulders. Or maybe after a 16 hour day, they take part in a small exercise before bedtime. Today, they are dressed in civilian clothes, happily welcoming the opportunity to work out without being wrung out.
Outside, the sun blazes in the Negev desert and another group of soldiers stands in a line on a small soccer field. They are learning how to defend against an attack from behind.
“A volunteer?” the instructor asks, a sly look on his face. No hands rush to the air. “Well?” the instructor asks, tapping his foot. A female soldier wearing white leggings, a black t-shirt and a baseball cap steps forward.
“Once I have your wrist, you’ll need to go to the ground on your stomach,” the instructor says. The female soldier grins. Challenge accepted. Moments later, the crowd of soldiers are yelling, “To your stomach! To your stomach!” The volunteer gasps, and down she goes.
Standing tired on the side – she insists she has exercised enough – is Cpl. Esther Feldhamer, a fitness instructor for her unit and a lone soldier from New York. Back on their own base, she can be called on at any moment by her officer to lead a short exercise. But times like these are rarer and more challenging than one might think.
“This is a week of trying to get into shape after sitting around and doing guard duty. Many complain that while on duty at the border they gain weight. But usually they are just too tired to exercise.”
Krav Maga For All
For many of the soldiers of the Caracal Brigade, this is their first experience with Krav Maga, a sport which had been previously reserved for elite units.
“My whole life I’ve been dying to learn Krav Maga. One of the reasons I joined the army was to learn Krav Maga, but I haven’t had the chance until now,” exclaimed Sgt. Raquel Silverman, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Brazil directly after her birthright trip. She hasn’t been home since.
One of the advantages of Krav Maga is that it can be learned relatively quickly. There is also Krav Maga that is tailored specifically for soldiers, such as strikes with a weapon or how to deal with attempted kidnappings.
There are also different techniques to be learned in Krav Maga, depending on whether the practitioner is a male or female.
“A woman who doesn’t have much body weight will need a different method to break free from a man who has grabbed her,” one Krav Maga instructor said.
The instructor asked a large soldier to grab him from behind. Once grabbed, the instructor wrapped a leg around the grabber’s thigh, leveraged himself to the side creating space to strike the attacker’s vitals repeatedly.
Some of the soldiers were pessimistic about the effectiveness of Krav Maga. Sgt. Lior Vazana, however, had a story of success.
“Once I was walking home when someone hit me from behind and took my wallet. I ran after him, grabbed his hand from behind, twisted it, took him to the floor, and took back my wallet.” After recounting her story, she returned to the exercise at hand – learning how to defend against an attacker from behind. This way, she’ll be ready from the start.