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Krav Maga – Not pretty but real

Jason Mark is a cop. You need a sense of humor to succeed as a cop, and Jason is a funny guy. He will most likely laugh at your “Bad cop! No Donut!” bumper sticker, maybe I’ll ask you for a bagel instead. And you can get rid of stereotypes; watch what Jason does in his spare time and you’ll realize that not only is this gym rat in better shape than ever, but he’s a martial arts expert capable of kicking your ass twenty times by Sunday and you could even me I feel stupid for having that bumper sticker in the first place.

Thursday, 8:00 p.m., Penn Oaks Fitness Center: Nearly a dozen men and women, drawn in hoodies and T-shirts, alternately slapping hands and holding punching pads, pummel each other with fists and feet, scene overlapped with the beat of a heavy. metal CDs. They’re sweating and panting as Jason just had them do push-ups and sit-ups. Now he’s running between them excitedly like a loose bulldog in a chihuahua parade, yelling, prodding, shoving, “What was that, Kevin? You call that a punch? Kiss harder than that! It’s a punch: “punch a hand against the glove and the guy holding it staggers back. “And this is an elbow-” Boom! The boy stumbles further back. “Look, that works too! Use everything you’ve got. And whatever you do, don’t stop. If you stop, you’re dead…” Moments later, he’s demonstrating how to escape a wall chokehold: “M “move…one arm up, twist and go down…okay Sue…okay Steve’s tall…whatcha gonna do? Right, go ahead! Make him a soprano…”

Let’s get something straight: Krav Maga (“krahv magah” or “Contact Combat”) is as ugly as it sounds. The official combat system of the Israel Defense Forces does not care about aesthetics. It is designed to be simple and efficient, by necessity, brutal, unpleasant. All the things you’re not allowed to do in the other martial arts – kicks to the nose, slits to the eyes, elbows to the throat – are not only encouraged in Krav Maga, they’re taught, expert. Sound like a street fight? Is.

“There are no rules in Krav Maga except one: don’t hurt yourself,” says Ernie Kirk, owner of the busy Kirk’s Martial Arts Academy on Kennett Square, where Jason also teaches. “It’s about survival, so anything goes.” Unassuming, if solid, Ernie wears glasses and speaks softly, evoking his old schoolteacher more than a whup-meister who holds fourth degree black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido, a black belt in Goju-Kai, and advanced brown belts in aikido and judo. But it should be, as ordinary people looking for practical self-defense will not relate to a Van-Damme clone.

While Ernie lacks Jason’s constant bulldog frenzy, his ferocity quotient turns into a dime. “Relax,” he actually says to two students who are facing each other. “Take a stand, you will be too focused on one thing and something else will hit you.” A moment later he’s yelling “Keep going!” stop a room full of matched beaters and grab one of them to demonstrate. “You don’t stop at the head; you go through it, through it!” His fist whistles past the guy’s ear. “This is to stay, not to win points.”

To survive. Real. That pretty much sums up where Krav Maga stands in relation to other martial arts disciplines. You won’t find any “kata,” grasshopper stances, crescent kick jumps, and all that other choreographed cinematic gee-whiz that everyone knows exists for viewer value alone. Ernie, who was for years the first licensed Krav Maga instructor on the East Coast, acknowledges that many of the things he loves about martial arts would get him killed on the street: “There are inherent self-defense weaknesses in these other arts. since they are oriented towards sport and competition”. One may wonder how he is able to separate them in practice, considering that such a level of reflection leaves little time for thought. The street demands fight or flight, mutilate or be mutilated, without a doubt. Whatever you do, you better mean it.

Therefore, there are no competitions in Krav Maga. There are also no “uniforms”, and although belts are awarded for levels of competition, no one wears them. Most wear T-shirts and sweatpants along with coats and other protective gear. Except for a ritual bow at the end, classes are informal and eclectic. One minute you’ll be doing conditioning and calisthenics, the next hitting or kicking a pad held by a partner, then practicing escaping from a particular hold or attack.

“Every move is based on your natural instincts,” explains Katie Bevard, an attractive former high school teacher (another teacher… kids in school today must be a handful!) who instructs and manages at Kirk’s a full time. “So you don’t have to think about which of a dozen moves to use. If someone grabs you by the neck, your instinct is to grab their wrists. spent that instinct -it’s called ‘pluck-‘ (demonstrates a jerky grab-and-pull motion) and make it work as an escapement. It works for anyone, from any direction. And prepares you for the counterattack. All Krav Maga moves do that: one escape, multiple counters. Whatever you do should be instantaneous and followed by crippling blows.”

Since the movements are so simple, the learning curve is minimal. Unlike other martial arts where the beginner may spend months punching and kicking the air or performing stances and other seemingly pointless rituals before engaging an opponent, Krav Maga emphasizes contact from day one. Punches and kicks are delivered deliberately into an opponent’s face, neck, groin… and stopped by a punch pad of one sort or another. The point is to remove inhibitions about such impolite exchanges. you can’t just show punch in the throat or kick in the groin… to make it automatic and instinctive, you have to experience handing it over

Since there is no competitive hierarchy, Krav Maga classes democratize the learning process: at Kirks you’ll find neophytes paired with advanced, instructors urging everyone to switch and “experiment with different body types.” A stocky boy with a shaved head looks at a skinny woman old enough to be his mother: “I want that pencil! Give me that pencil!” He hits the pads she’s holding. She recoils under her assault, but continues to return to him. A stress drill: The best way to prepare for the physical confrontation is to enjoy it. Some time later, there is a stress/fatigue drill in which one student, surrounded by four others, must kick and punch his pads non-stop, while another harasses him from behind. Everyone takes turns in the middle, everyone ends up exhausted, dripping, happy.

And sometimes bruised. Katie nods emphatically. “Every now and then we turn off the lights and fight in the dark. Sometimes you get touched. We all have bruises, scrapes, cuts. Nothing serious, but it’s a great learning tool. It makes it real. Tae-Bo?” She laughs. “I remember that. Fun… good exercise. But that’s everyone it was. And you never had these…” She proudly shows off a bruise.

Is it any wonder Krav Maga is taking the country by storm? Initially adopted by the military and law enforcement, it has gained media attention and become widespread, helped greatly by recent events. Ernie says enrollment is up 35% in the Philadelphia area since 9/11 and he’s adding new centers in South Philadelphia, Center City and Conshohocken. In many of the classes, women outnumber men. Teenagers and older adults bump and wrestle happily. Ernie has even been invited to teach Krav Maga in elementary schools.

Saturday, 1:00 pm, Kirk’s Martial Arts Academy: The end of a three-hour seminar is nearing. One of Ernie’s instructors in Philadelphia is present, a petite 19-year-old film student from Temple named Greta, who is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Although she is suffering from a cold that has left her nearly groggy, Ernie repeatedly calls Greta in front of her to demonstrate. She’s kind of a star at Kirk’s – the other instructors rave about her – and Ernie likes to show her off. He unleashes a barrage of punches at her, quick shots from every direction, and Greta stops them with the precision and ease of Lara Croft, an astonishing display of reflexes that leaves little doubt she could seriously hamper a masher’s style. Ernie lets her go and starts handing out rubber knives. “Ok, pair up! Knife attack with wound simulation. Forget the movies: you’ll get hurt in a knife encounter. Guys, I apologize in advance to your wives and girlfriends. We’re putting lipstick on these. And turning off the lights …”

Ernie is also a fun guy.

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