Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing this letter as a thank you for allowing me to share my articles with your readers. This week I’d like to share a nachas story that will also help to remove the mystery behind the Israeli self-defense martial art known as Krav Maga.
A few years back I was contacted by a reader whose eleven-year-old son had been molested by a member of our community. The mother was distraught and full of guilt as the molester was a person the family knew. After a conversation with my wife, who, thankfully happens to be a therapist, the mother decided to start her son on a self-defense training regiment.
The boy and I discussed what happened and, as is my standard procedure, we reenacted the traumatic event – with the “lights along the way.” What I mean by that is if an untrained person is involved in a fight, it’s like trying to get out of a dark room. You don’t know where you are going and you are bumping into everything The first step to turning on the lights, so to speak, is to know certain positions or reference points from where you have clusters of defense and counter attack options. I showed him those reference points along the molestation occurrence that opened up opportunities for defense and counter attack.
You may ask, defense and counter attack by an eleven-year-old boy against a full grown man? Yes. A lion cub may be cute, but his bite still hurts. Keep in mind, we are not talking about fighting fair. We are talking about knowing enough in order to escape a bad situation.
Now for the technical part.
At my organization, Shomer360, we break down self-defense into four quadrants. They are weapon defense, marksmanship, striking and finally grappling. If a student comes to us specifically to address a traumatic event, we place the event into a quadrant and start there.
It’s fairly simple. If a student was held up at gunpoint, we start with weapon defense. If a student was punched and kicked we focus on striking. If a student was grabbed and held down, we start with grappling. Whatever traumatic event is weighing most heavily on the person’s mind, we address that first. In this case, the young boy had been overpowered and held down. So for him, it made sense to start in the grappling quadrant.
Most people living in a civil society will panic if a larger, stronger person grabs them. But there are very simple techniques (perhaps to be covered in a follow-up article) that change the victim paradigm into an empowerment one. I like to say it changes a G-d forbid situation into a thank G-d situation.
In the grappling quadrant, Krav Maga incorporates a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu technique into its repertoire that is referred to as the arm bar. By the way, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army have also incorporated this technique into their self-defense systems called the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) and Army Combatives System.
One of the “lights along the way” or reference points in a grappling self-defense situation is called the “closed guard.” Imagine having an attacker on top of you, but his body is trapped in between your legs. Most untrained individuals would view this as a G-d forbid situation and panic. However, we actually use the closed guard to control, defend and attack the rodef. If the attacker would extend his arms to pull the hair, choke or punch his intended victim, we have a golden opportunity to break his arm by using the leverage and concentrated power of our hips and legs against the attacker’s elbow joint. G-d forbid just turned into a thank G-d. And this is just one of many attacks and escapes that are available with the closed guard.
Another very critical aspect of Krav Maga self-defense training is stress inoculation. Having a bigger person on top of you with violent intentions is extraordinarily stressful. The stress leads to exhaustion which leads to a potentially catastrophic event. So to inoculate our students against this stress we use a training method of sparring against a fully resisting training partner.
Of course we build in safety mechanisms where each student can “tap out” by saying “tap” and tapping the partner when he feels uncomfortable or realizes that he is caught in an inescapable submission hold.
Beyond that we nurture a culture where we train competitively, but do our utmost to keep our training partners safe. For example, sometimes a person’s ego may get in the way and he refuses to tap, or perhaps he is too new to realize when he is in a bad position. It would be up to his partner to keep him safe and not take the submission to the breaking point. Imagine a few months of training where your friends are trying to execute joint locks, chokes and crush you into tapping out. At first the experience is stressful, but after a while a student can actually relax and think as he is attacked.
Back to our story. After a few months of training, life happened and the boy stopped training with me. Fast forward a few years. The boy is now fifteen. He and his family are visiting Israel and he is attacked again. He remembers our training and executes an armbar from the closed guard. For whatever reason, he has rachmanus on the rodef and does not break his arm. Rather he uses the arm bar as a control position, hammer-fists the man’s face a little bit and then sends him on his way shocked, surprised and with tail between his legs. His mother immediately contacted us with a heartfelt thank you.
This sort of training is not just for kids. Adults train as well. In fact, one of my training partners is 72 years old! If you are interested in learning Krav Maga in a frum environment, Shomer360 has adult training in Brooklyn and Cedarhurst. There are possibilities for private training as well as for yeshiva programs.