“Have you seen the Jason Bourne movies?” Krav Maga Dallas instructor and family law attorney Dana Stewart asks people who have never heard of krav maga. “There are krav elements in all of that,” he tells them, describing the Israeli self-defense system that was created in 1948 by Imi Lichtenfeld, a national champion in gymnastics, wrestling and boxing, and later integrated into the Israeli military.
In 2010 krav maga arrived at Parker and Independence in Plano, as one of the few officially licensed Krav Maga Worldwide National Training Centers in North Texas. To become an instructor for Krav Maga Worldwide, everyone is required to take a full day of training for seven consecutive days, designed to push one to his or her limits.
Krav teaches to address the immediate danger and “change the attacker’s structure,” something that owner Erik Hicks repeats in class often. Imi designed krav maga so it would model real life situations and use natural movements and reactions for defense, combined with an immediate and decisive counterattack so that one may walk in peace. It is based on using leverage, not strength or size. For that reason, anyone can pick up krav maga, including someone with no martial arts or sports background or someone who is not physically large, like myself, who stands at five feet and three inches.
In the six months I have trained at Krav Maga Dallas (previously Krav Maga Plano) I have experienced firsthand what instructors told me from the start: Krav’s benefits are trifold – a transformation of physical form, mindset and self-image. It wasn’t just that krav taught me how to protect myself, but it gave me the confidence to believe that if I were put in that situation, I had it in me to finish the fight.
“No matter how bad the situation gets, you’ve got a toolbox of techniques you can rely on to help you get you out of that situation and home safe,” instructor Becky Madison Kier said at the annual three-hour women’s empowerment seminar Krav Maga Dallas hosted for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
When she was 17, Becky witnessed a robbery at the Dallas CiCi’s Pizza she was working in. One Saturday afternoon, a man came in and set a note on the counter reading, “This is a robbery. I have a gun. Give me the money that’s in the register.” At 17, Becky didn’t know how to handle that situation, and at any age, most people wouldn’t have, either. But after that moment, she realized she wanted to learn.
In college, Becky took up traditional martial arts, but was still left with feelings of uncertainty that led her back to the robbery. She wondered, “What happens if someone is choking me or breaks into my house and pins me to the ground, or pulls a gun on me?” She came to observe a class at Krav Maga Dallas in 2010, started training in 2011 and was hooked. “I like that they have a very logical reason for why they do things the way they do,” she says.
At Krav Maga Dallas, there are separate adult and kids classes Monday through Thursday evenings and on Saturday mornings, and it is inspiring to see a mix of ages, ethnicities, genders and sizes show up to train.
“Krav maga’s a good way to start kids on a healthy path for life,” Dana says, and he practices what he preaches. He’s teaching his 13-year-old daughter krav maga and the importance of situational awareness, so that she can have the confidence to stand up for herself. She is learning to be secure in who she is – something he wishes he had felt as a kid who was bullied.
At Krav Maga Dallas, there are students on all ends of the spectrum – some who have spent their lifetime training in diverse martial arts and who exhibit extraordinary control in each movement, and then students like me who find this completely out of their comfort zone and just need time to adjust.
I came in with very little exposure to martial arts, and I have never been innately aggressive. On the second day of class, when my partner asked me to choke him, I looked up at him uncomfortably, gently placing my hands on his neck. He laughed out loud, saying, “That’s not a choke hold; that’s a neck rub.” That day, to my astonishment, I also found out the krav maga handshake is a kick to the groin.
Krav maga empowers students with tools to defend themselves with, if they are put in a life-threatening situation, but it never condones initiating violence. And though we are taught to “strike as many times as it takes until the threat is neutralized,” instructors remind us that if we’re given the chance, we should try to get away safely, to escape.
There are five levels altogether, and in level one, we learn basic strikes, defenses from chokeholds and groundwork (how to fall break safely and get back up quickly). In level two, we get to add the counter attack as well. Gun and knife defenses don’t come in until levels four and five. Each level builds on the foundations, and everything is interconnected so that it becomes intuitive.
I grew to love the expected energy and intensity of krav classes. Krav instructors perpetually keep us on our toes. We practice exhaustion drills with multiple attackers, which force us to keep fighting – to not give up. Other drills are aimed at replicating the panic that comes with suddenly and unexpectedly being attacked. Half the class will be standing in the center of the room with their eyes closed, and the other half will attack them randomly with techniques we may have learned that day. Toward the end of the women’s empowerment seminar, Erik came in wearing a helmet and body armor and attacked us at random, testing our ability to fight back. He came out of nowhere, and grabbed me from behind, covering my mouth – an attack we see often in the movies.
“Elbows are a girl’s best friend, not diamonds,” instructor Katherine Williams said to us during the women’s empowerment seminar, and when her elbow came crashing into the bag with a sudden bang, we were convinced. For us women smaller in size, aggression makes all the difference, Becky explained.
Krav Maga Dallas also hosts other seminars, like a “Send Your Daughter Off to College” self-defense seminar. Katherine’s friend introduced her to krav when she was 18 and about to start college, and she accounts krav for giving her the confidence to move away to Austin. “There’s no way I would’ve done that if I didn’t first know how to protect my physical space,” she says.
In addition to the krav maga classes, Katherine teaches 6 a.m. KravFit classes Tuesday and Thursday for full-body toning. Her classes are unfailingly challenging, but completely worth it, teaching proper form, speed endurance and to many of us, who lack upper body strength, how to master triceps pushups – something I am proud to have finally mastered.
Krav maga instructors also encourage us to attend the KravYoga class, which is every Saturday morning, and taught by Cara Hartoon, a physical therapist and yoga instructor. In KravYoga, Cara focuses on stretching muscle groups that are prone to injury in combat sports, as well as working on stability. My first class, she reminded us to trust our bodies, to stay on our mat and not compare ourselves with anyone. “Slow down. Take this hour. Let it be about you. Embrace it. Exist in the moment. Whatever is going on is still going on. You’re just giving your brain permission to let it go for the next hour,” she said.
Every hour I spend at Krav Maga Dallas, whether it is the Krav Maga, KravFit or KravYoga class, leaves me feeling infinitely empowered. What drew me to krav maga was what it stands for – being able to protect myself. But what made me stay was the genuine passion and care I saw in the instructors. They are here because they love it, because they know it works. Because they want to pass it on to others to help us feel safer and more prepared.
Going into it, I was afraid to try krav maga. Like many people, I knew very little about it and had my doubts, but I am glad I stuck to it. In June, I took the level one yellow belt test and it felt wonderful to move on to level two, to get proof of the progress that I had made. We were tested on conditioning, aggression and skill level for over three exhausting hours, and I was proud to transform from the timid girl I was six months ago to someone who fought aggressively, unapologetically and with purpose.
I have a lot left to learn in krav – four more levels to be exact – but what I have learned so far has taught me to believe in myself, and in my own presence.
If you are on the fence about trying out krav maga, I would repeat Dana’s words: “Just do it. You can. Everybody can do it, and you’ll be better for it.” I certainly am.
Krav Maga Dallas offered me three months of complimentary membership, but this did not affect the opinions expressed in this story. I have continued a paid membership following the story.Krav Maga Dallas >