Learning to feel confident and unafraid
The only thing I’m touching is the floor, trying to do my first set of push-ups, in, well, forever.
The heat in the Krav Maga class, at the Jabula Recreation Centre in Sandringham, is rising. “Star jumps! Groin kick! Push-ups! Palm strike!” Segal is in full throttle. Everyone, about 20 of us, is sweating bullets but obeying his commands. The windows are steaming up. I take my pulse.
A nearby woman takes pity on me. “It’s okay. Everyone gets fit really quickly.”
I’m soon in a CQC – that’s close quarter combat – the essence of Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defence system based on using offensive measures to get out of a dangerous situation alive. It doesn’t matter whether it’s using distraction to get help, or run away, or disarming an attacker with a knife or gun. “It’s simple and workable. It’s a get-in and get-out idea,” says Segal. “You are the weapon.”
A self-confessed coward, I am clearly the worst weapon in the room. But it’s hard not to start believing in yourself with Segal’s strong directives. Though friendly and engaging, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be the sucker who tries to take on Segal in a dark alley. Yet, here he is, being extra patient.
“Hammer fist! Right hand.”
“Er, no, other right hand.”
I learn to keep my elbows up to protect my face and jaw. When Segal puts both hands around my neck, I learn to step out the way.
Earlier, he’d told me there’s more than one kind of Krav Maga – which means, he says, close touching.
“There’s military Krav Maga, security Krav Maga and civilian Krav Maga. It’s not just about the physical, it’s more about awareness and the ability to detect something before it comes into your personal space.
“It’s been developed so anyone can learn to get out of a situation quickly and safely. Mastering Krav Maga is putting you in a comfortable space of learning what’s happening to you without doing anything irrational. If it means surrendering to the activity and making yourself safe by obeying what an attacker says, and you’re not in life-threatening danger, you surrender.”
If a firearm is a metre away from you, I learn, there’s no way anyone can close that distance safely to get to that firearm, but, says Segal: “If a firearm is on your chest or against your head, then it’s close quarter combat – and that’s where Krav Maga hits home.“The closer a weapon is, the better it is for us to work with.”
So, now I’ve got a (play-play) gun to my temple.
If talking your way out of it is unsuccessful, central concepts include the three Cs, says Segal. “Clear, control, counter! You get clear, you control the weapon or situation and counter-attack.”
In practical terms, I’m taught to move to the side of the barrel while simultaneously grabbing the gun from underneath with two hands making a fist over the slide. Move towards his shoulder to use as a lever – bringing the gun towards the attacker where the slide is facing him. Move the gun in a circular motion, breaking it on one of his hands.
“Do not stop until your attacker is down or running,” says Segal.
Darren Morris is here after years of martial arts.
“You don’t come here to learn how to count in Japanese. This is not a sport. You come here to learn what to do if somebody grabs you by the throat, how to disarm them, and get away. You’re not here to be a YouTube street fighter, you’re here to save your life.”
Krav Maga works on a protocol called AAPC: Avoidance, Ability, Purpose and Circumstance.
Avoidance is: “I’m going to avoid a confrontation. If I can’t avoid it, a woman’s first ability against a male is her voice. Use it to create an awareness around you so someone can help. Say something like ‘Stay away’, ‘Help!’
“If there’s no alternative, your purpose is to fight quickly and effectively – even if it’s just hitting him in the groin and running,” says Segal.
Your circumstance prevails, he says. “If he only wants your car, its only your car. But if you’re about to be thrown back into a car, you have to know how to fight back.”
Krav Maga originally started as something called Kapap, which means a bit of everything, a breakaway group called the system Krav Maga. Fine-tuned during World War II by Imi Lichtenfeld, who organised members of his community to fight anti-Semitic violence in Czechoslovakia, Lichtenfeld eventually trained members of the Israeli Defence Forces.
“Each person created different strains – and each person and each school brought their own spice to a technique, developing it and enhancing it,” says Segal.
“Techniques differ, but it still gets to the end result.”
Mark Norton has been attending classes for about five years. “It’s not just the physical techniques – you don’t win a fight with just your fists, you win it with your brain. Combine the two and it feels like a spiritual experience.”
At 17, Gavriel Marks is an apprentice instructor. “My dad introduced me to it when I was about 10. Immediately, I knew this was the best thing I’d ever seen. Since then, I’ve gone brown belt, I’ve got my instructorship. I was in a tricky situation recently. I took out a baton and the guy ran away. I was perfectly happy with that.
“It’s a huge mental thing,” says Marks. “About 80% of people don’t fight back. But knowing I can do something is life-changing.”
Says Segal: “If defusing the situation doesn’t work, Krav Maga gives you the tools to do something rather than nothing, and this builds confidence. Some are here for cardio and weight loss. Some are here because they’ve been bullied or have low self-esteem. Some are here to master the practical side of it. Everyone is here to gain strength.
“But anyone can teach me, too. It happens when someone says: “I don’t like this technique and this is what I’ve developed.’ I’m open. I’m not here to shut it down. Everyone can bring something to the party. We teach the IKI (Israeli Krav International) syllabus, but it’s Darren’s Krav Maga or Mark’s Krav Maga. Because everyone brings their own special element to it.”
Alex Mcloughlin says: “When you attack, you attack high, then low. You’re continually moving. High, low, high, low. You’re also stepping in, which most people don’t expect, especially from a woman.
“It tones your body, tones your mind, and tones your awareness. It’s getting into the idea of ability, that you are actually capable of defending yourself. I feel more confident. If someone had to start attacking me, I’d know what to do.”
I can’t say the same after one class. But something’s shifted. In a small part of my soul, I feel just a bit braver.
* Classes are divided into 5-8 year olds, 9-15 year olds and 16 to older seniors.