I totally did this!! So clearly I was born with some good survival instincts! Although I think my 6-year-old self would be oddly disappointed to know that I’ve yet to encounter a situation that required my stellar lava-jumping skills.
Krav Maga is here. After years of me searching for it, it has finally found me. You’d think I’d be elated at this serendipitous turn of events – I once literally tried to call Israel looking for a certified local instructor – and yet I’ve already missed the first two classes. Now that it’s real, I don’t know if I can do it.
For those of you as confused as everyone listening to the Presidential debate tonight (was it not hilarious when even the moderator got sucked into the “you-said-this-no-I-didn’t” argument over the President’s Rose Garden speech?), Krav Maga is the official self-defense program of the Israeli Defense Forces, widely considered to be the most brutal and lethal program of its kind. Unlike many other disciplines, Krav Maga encourages aggression and brutality when provoked. These guys (and gals) don’t mess around. You fight with them, you fight for your life. The program is described as being relatively simple to learn and quick to gain proficiency in. It focuses on fighting in “realistic” scenarios including ground fighting, weapons, gang attacks and (I’m just assuming) unruly presidential candidates. (Not that I’m advocating lethal force for pulling statistics out of thin air but maybe a good shoe-scuffing would be appropriate?)
But it’s the aggression and brutality that make it both beloved and hated. On one hand it teaches skills so effective that one of the most twitchy countries in the world swears by it for their renowned military. It is also touted as being equally effective for men or women, small people or large, and even children. Many people call it empowering. (Ashton Kutcher reportedly uses it to prepare for Armageddon.) But – and this is a big but – it teaches people to be killers. There’s also a growing argument that much of what we call “Krav Maga” is a watered down version of the technique that more resembles MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting than self-defense. According to one military self-defense expert, “In short, the ‘combat effectiveness’ of what is being taught as Krav Maga to civilians is overwhelmingly advertising.” He also adds that people need to understand that fighting and self-defense are not the same thing and that the former is illegal. (His whole post is really good. If you’re interested in the intricacies of Krav Maga theory I highly recommend you read it.)
Of course it’s also said to be a hardcore sweatfest. Which you know calls my name!
So why haven’t I tried it yet? (And taken lots of ridiculous pictures and posted about getting my butt handed to me, which I surely will?) Because for me it’s not really about the workout. It’s also only tangentially about self-defense. My real draw to Krav Maga? Trying to rewrite the past.
Years ago I was sexually assaulted (it’s no secret, I’ve written extensively about it) and one of the things that bothered me most was how little I fought back at the time. There are various reasons for that and the fact that I’m alive means it wasn’t a totally crappy decision but still, it’s always bugged me that when my life and safety was threatened my instinct was… to do basically nothing. I’ve tried various things to help me “get over it” or “get empowered” or, you know, just learn to protect myself but they haven’t had the desired effect. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made a TON of progress over the years, particularly over the last year in particular – and I might have never thought of Krav Maga again. Until it landed in my lap.
The original reason I first started looking into it was because one of my biggest reasons for not fighting back – the fact that the guy had 8 inches and 80 pounds on me – isn’t an excuse in Krav Maga. They make a big deal about how with their technique it doesn’t matter the size of your opponent etc. Looking back on it, I cringe at the few ways I did try to protect myself. That night, before I even left with him, I was worried. I could tell from his voice something was off and the previous months had showed me enough of his dark side to be scared. And so before I left, I dressed in a black turtleneck, baggy overalls, a sweatshirt over that, a parka zipped up to my chin and my hair pulled back into a bun. Basically I tried to keep myself safe by making myself as ugly as possible. Baggy overalls as self-defense: not brilliant. And yet if I was scared enough to wear a turtleneck (which I hate – gah, I’m being choked by a turtle!) why didn’t I trust my instincts and stay home?? People always tell me (in an attempt to make me feel better, I think) “oh there’s nothing you could have done” but isn’t there always something that could be done? Something better than ugly pants??
I tried to answer some of these questions with my Karate training several years ago. One night, after getting particularly upset over my inability to defend myself, Sensei Don told me that he felt like I was trying to make myself into something I’m not – that some people have the instinct to fight and kill and others just don’t. He used an analogy about sheep and foxes and how 90% of people are sheep. He said that trying to change myself from a sheep to a fox would just be a lesson in frustration because I don’t have that in me. In fact, he specifically discouraged me from ever pursuing Krav Maga because he said to do it how it’s meant to be done, it would either break me (as in I’d have a mental breakdown) or I’d have to dissociate from who I really am to get through it and both results would be bad. He also doesn’t agree with the overriding philosophy of it, seeing danger in teaching people to kill without giving them the skills to understand the import of such a decision. He’s probably right. He usually is.
I don’t like seeing people in pain. (I haven’t been in a haunted house in 20 years for this very reason.) I really don’t like inflicting pain. I don’t really want to have a killer instinct – I’m an inherently gentle soul and that’s not a bad thing. And yet part of me still wonders if I’d find the answers – answers about myself – in trying it. Would it kill me to just try the class? Probably not. I mean that kind of thing can’t be good for business. But I’m not going to delude myself into thinking it would be just another workout experiment, like I’ve done in the past, only to be surprised by my emotional reaction in the moment. It would be hard for me. I know it would. But the question is: would it be hard for me in a way that makes me stronger? Or would it only make me second guess myself (for the 2,000th time)? Could that night have been different? And if so, does it matter anymore?
I need help – Is Krav Maga a good idea for me? Do you believe that you either have that fighting instinct or you don’t? Have you ever tried to protect yourself by making yourself ugly? (And for those of you who will suggest I need more therapy, I agree with you and I assure you I’m still in therapy. My next appointment is Monday and I plan to bring this up!)
UPDATE: So I realized after posting this that I’m just a few weeks away from the anniversary of the assault. I don’t know why this never occurs to me in the moment. I always have trouble with this anniversary. And it always surprises me.