Virginia Commonwealth University

'Krav Maga' Black Belt Teaches Students a Lesson

Ryan Farr

Issue date: 11/16/2006 Section: News

Personnel in various government agencies have received training in Krav Maga, including the FBI; the Marine Corps; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Treasury Department; and the CIA. Police departments in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas also have utilized Krav Maga techniques.

Sweating bodies slammed into the carpet. Amid shouts and grunts, a panting man fought to escape a chokehold. With wide eyes and a broad smile, a woman pulled a knife to her friend's throat.

It was all in the name of self-defense.

Israeli fourth-degree black belt Moshe Katz taught "Krav Maga," a mix of different martial arts techniques, to a class of 48 students on Sunday afternoon. Working in the University Student Commons, Katz imparted the wisdom of practical self-defense he normally shares with Israeli special forces and police officers.

Using simple techniques complemented by hitting pressure points, clawing faces or kicking groins, Katz emphasized that Krav Maga is about simple self-defense moves that work.

"With Israelis, it is, 'If it doesn't work for me in the next five minutes, give me my money back. I am getting the hell out of here,'" Katz said. "Literally that is how it works. When I teach security guards, not one of them will comply. They will resist. You have to prove it to them every time and show them that it works.

"It has to be easy to learn, easy to apply and easy to remember," he said.

Numerous moves Katz taught had names he made up to better remember them. The "Barber Shop" means stepping on the back of someone's calf, forcing the person to squat down. With a fake gun pointed at the back of his head, Katz advised using the "Dreidel Move," in which he put his hands up and then suddenly spun around, knocking the attacker's arm and gun away with one of his arms.

"I Dream of Jeannie" describes what to do when an attacker grabs one's shirt. The victim is supposed to lay his or her arms over the attacker's hands and push them down to force the attacker to release.

The "Twist and Shout" refers to what Katz recommended doing when bear hugged from behind: hit the attacker where it hurts.

"I grab, twist," he said about the genitals. "He shouts."

Slovakian boxer Imi Lichtenfeld first developed Krav Maga, which loosely translates from Hebrew to "close combat," in the 1930s to help Jewish people in his country defend themselves during anti-Semitic riots. Finding that boxing moves did not help in real fights, he pooled ideas from various styles of martial arts and self-defense. After fleeing to Israel in 1940, Lichtenfeld began teaching the hand-to-hand combat of Krav Maga to those in the Haganah, the Israeli underground army.

"Whatever worked stayed; whatever did not work did not stay," Katz said. "Krav Maga has always been evolving. There is no loyalty to tradition. If it does not work effectively now, drop it."

Katz taught last spring a similar Krav Maga class at VCU, only this one included storytelling, including the story of David and Goliath.

Noting El Al Israel Airline's perfect record against hijacking, Katz told of two suspicious passengers on a flight in 1970. After being profiled and kicked off the plane, the two boarded Pan Am Flight 93 and promptly hijacked it. Katz said El Al stays safe because it dares to discriminate, a technique necessary for effective self-defense.

"It is not politically correct," Katz said. "In Israel we profile, we discriminate, because we have to."

After sharing anecdotes, Katz taught the class "yad-mul-yad," or "hand against hand." In a situation where a stranger grabs a person's arm, the move requires quickly twisting the arm and pulling it free.

"It is a common technique we work on, because often in Israel somebody will grab a hitchhiker and pull him into his car," Katz said after the class finished. "There have been incidents of people being captured, taken to villages, tortured for days and then killed."

As a result of the unexpected nature of many street attacks, Katz said self-defense techniques must be able to work in the worst possible conditions, noting that Krav Maga is often taught to police officers and soldiers.

"Israeli martial arts is trained in a way that is based on fatigue," Katz said. "You have to be able to fight when you are wearing heavy equipment, when you are exhausted beyond belief, when you are bleeding and so forth."

Katz said he recently spoke to a former student, now training to be in the Israeli army.

"He said they stand in a room where they are attacked by 30 guys, and then they do it again and again and again," Katz said. "You are doing it when you are half asleep, when your eyes are covered in blood. That is effective self-defense. If it can only work when you are well rested and you have a complying partner, it is useless."

While such examples of the need for self-defense may seem extreme, Katz noted numerous examples of the need for protection in everyday life.

"One out of every four women that go to college will be sexually assaulted at some point," he said. "One student in New York told me she was held at gunpoint twice and knife once. That was pretty scary."

Although Katz normally teaches self-defense classes to police officers and citizens in Israel, he has toured colleges across the United States over the past year and a half.

After visiting New York University and VCU as part of a 17-day U.S. trip, he will teach similar courses at Florida State University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others, he said.

Sophomore mass communications major Patrick Kraft said using fake orange guns and plastic knives for demonstration was his favorite part of the event.

"A lot of kids get in fights and get in chokeholds but (being held at gunpoint) never happens, so it's nice to practice just in case. I mean, it is Richmond. You never know what's going to happen," Kraft said.

Fellow Krav Maga attendee and junior social work major Abigail Sedaghatfar said she felt the same way.

"Richmond can be a dangerous area," said Sedaghatfar, adding that she worries sometimes about her safety while walking in Oregon Hill, where she volunteers at William Byrd Community House.

Sedaghatfar said yad-mul-yad was especially effective, and she will probably remember it better than other moves.

"It is good to know just in case you get yourself in a bad situation," she said.

Although he said he thought the class was interesting, freshman music major Jordan Rothenberg said he did not feel a need for self-defense in the real world.

"I don't get attacked on a regular basis, so I think I'll be fine," he said.

Since Katz began teaching self-defense classes, he has heard from two former Israeli students who were attacked. One person was grabbed by a stranger and another nearly raped, but both evaded the threats by utilizing Katz's techniques.

"Krav Maga has always been evolving. There is no loyalty to tradition. If it does not work effectively now, drop it."-Moshe Katz

Craig Hoovler, a second-year masters student in biomedical engineering, organized the event with Hillel @ VCU, with Hasbara Fellowships cosponsoring it.

Although the event was sponsored by Jewish groups, Hoovler noted the mostly non-Jewish crowd that attended.

"There are only about 10 Jewish kids here," Hoovler said. "The majority of those showing up to these events are non-Jews who want to become more educated about Israeli culture."