When I arrived in Israel in 1990, I was looking for a place to train. I was not thinking about Krav Maga, just some hard hitting full contact fighting like I was used to at the USA Oyama dojo in New York. I started looking around when a friend gave me a flyer and said, "This is Itay Gil, he is the real thing, this is what you are looking for." Little did I realize I would be training with one of the martial arts leaders of this generation.
The training was, is, very tough. Often my friend would see me limping home and would say, "Sorry I sent you there." But I would say, "No, no, I thank you every day, it is just what I was looking for."
We trained in an old gym in Jerusalem. The walls were falling apart, the place leaked when it rained, was icy cold in the winter and terribly hot in the summer. I recall watching one of the students grappling with Itay while rain was dripping on them. This was no Country Club. I worked hard and earned my ranks. I recall after my brown belt test people had thought I was a victim of terrorism. My body shook, convulsed, for three days. I never complained.
Today Itay no longer teaches the regular classes, only Special Forces and elite units. Recently two American fighters traveled around the world to make a documentary for the History Channel. Itay was prominently featured on their Krav Maga episode. Only four instructors made the final cut. Many well known, high ranking instructors were disappointed as their footage was deleted during editing. Itay is the real deal and the editors could see that. During my recent teaching tour of the USA and Canada I found that he had become well known. Many people have seen the show and were impressed with his skill and his no nonsense approach. Today Itay travels abroad periodically to Australia, New Zealand and other countries teaching Israeli Defensive tactics to elite fighters and units. He has become an internationally known expert. Those of us who have had the privilege of training with him did not need the TV to tell us how effective a fighter he is; we learned it firsthand.
clip of training, I am the 'bad guy' in the green T shirt
The Talmud tells us that "The seal of God is truth". Over the many years I have known Itay I can say that he is one of the most truthful people I have ever met. Sometimes the truth hurts, sometimes we might be a little embarrassed to hear it but one thing you can be sure of; Itay means what he says and says what he means. That is the way of a warrior. On the battlefield there can be no falsehood; it is not a dress rehearsal; it is the real thing. On the battlefield falsehood can get you killed. Itay's way of life is based on the reality of life, the hard knocks, the brutal truth. Over the years many students have come and gone, many could not handle it.
Every belt test was a challenge, every test involved showing all the techniques we had learned, and this was followed by full contact fighting. The fighting included first Kickboxing, then grappling, and finally "Free Style", the term MMA was not yet known at the time but that was in fact what we were doing. No rules, everything goes. The candidate stood in the middle of the room and faced one fighter after another until the final bell rang. With each belt level the number of fights increased.
Testing your desire to live
I recall my brown belt test; it was one of the most difficult tests I ever had. I prepared for it for months, training 15 hours a week in addition to the many hours in the dojo (training hall), and still, it was tough. I knew what I was up against. I lifted weights, ran up hill and ran up steep stairs, I jumped rope and of course practiced my techniques endlessly. And finally, the moment came to prove myself. The fights were so hard I felt I could not go on, but I did, I could not fail my teacher. At the end, as I was bruised and tired beyond belief, he said to me, "I was not testing your ability to fight, I know you can fight. I was testing your desire to live, to survive." That is reality; that is a lesson I have never forgotten. The truth of battle; that is the truth of Israeli combat.
I feel very privileged to be able to train with Itay, as these days he rarely teaches civilians. Despite his many years of training Itay continues to look for better ways to defend against the threats that we face today in Israel.
His approach is based on the reality of life in Israel today, not in Japan 200 years ago. As such he is still innovating; he is at the cutting edge of reality self-defense. While many Krav Maga teachers are, sadly, teaching out dated techniques, Itay is training to stay at the top of his game. I am privileged to be able to train with him and hear his advice.
How to be an effective martial arts instructor, read article Martial Arts Instructor
What have we learned from the Krav Maga episode of Fight Quest, and The Human Weapon
Come to Israel, participate in intensive Krav Maga training, study the land and culture, meet the people and taste the food. Open to all levels.
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