January 18, 2020

Jewish Bucket List No 7: Krav Maga

Krav Maga is the first thing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uses to train new soldiers to get up to speed and ready for combat. But it’s also as much about a mindset as it is about fighting.

I first learned about Krav Maga when I interviewed Amir Perets for the Journal last year. He’s the Israeli who popularized the discipline in Los Angeles. I decided to add taking a class to my Jewish bucket list. 

Krav Maga, which means “contact combat,” was adapted for the nascent Israeli state by Hungarian-born Imi Lichtenfeld. However, it originated in the mid-1930s in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where Lichtenfeld grew up and led a group of Jewish boxers and wrestlers who defended Jewish neighborhoods against anti-Semites. He quickly discovered that actual fighting was very different from competition fighting. So Lichtenfeld started to develop the techniques — sourced from boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo, karate and street fighting — to create Krav Maga.

“There’s an Israeli-Jewish history link, [and] there’s a real element of pride in being part of that,” instructor Gabriel Khorramian told me. “Krav Maga is not just for Jewish people.”

A third-degree black belt in Krav Maga, Israeli-born Khorramian has lived in Los Angeles for more than 20 years and has been teaching at Krav Maga Worldwide in West Los Angeles since 2001. 

“I love doing Krav Maga,” he said. “You build the self-confidence to defend yourself in kind of a crazy world. You’re getting in great shape.”

Maybe. But after 10 minutes in Khorramian’s class, I realized how tough it was. What had I been thinking? We started with a warm-up. My partner and I took turns pushing each other and getting out of the way. I worked with Alexis, a strong and talented teen headed to Harvard this fall. After a few minutes of “attacks,” we were instructed to do jumping jacks then one burpee. And repeat.

This mix of fighting and cardio exercise seemed to be way beyond my natural abilities. However, I trained in aikido (self-defense) for nine years and my current exercise of choice is dance (movement and cardio). After I made it through the warm-up, I found my comfort level. Phew. I knew I could survive the rest of the class.

Next, we practiced strikes. Then kicks. Then a combination of both. From there we practiced defense for close attacks. Strikes with elbows. Then knees. Then another combination. 

“We worked on punching and kicking techniques, as well as some conditioning drills,” Khorramian explained. “The goal of these was to teach proper technique, help to develop power in these strikes and use them in some drills that push students out of their comfort zone and make them keep going.”

The final exercise — drills — was designed to mirror a tactical simulation. First, we were told to do a series of fast punches and then go into a plank position while our partner moved to another part of the room. We got up, found our partners and did a series of kicks. Then it was time to plank again. Then another partner search and more fast strikes.

The goal was disorientation and endurance. I experienced both. The training was tough, but it did its job of getting me to tap into my mental, physical and emotional strength.

I’m still seeking items for my 2019 Jewish bucket list. Please send your ideas to deckerling@gmail.com.

Debra Eckerling is a Journal contributing writer.