My self-defense experience started with seven pounds and a bad dream.
I know where the seven pounds came from, but I’m not sure about the dream, which I kept having over and over. In it, I’m in a parking lot, a driveway, my house — any place where I suddenly find myself alone — until I realize that I’m not alone and not safe. A man with bad intentions suddenly appears, and I’m always completely helpless, frozen with fear and unable to protect myself. I awake rapidly breathing, my heart pounding.
One too many restless nights, combined with those seven pounds that forced me to unbutton my jeans every time I sat down in my car, first made me consider taking a self-defense class. I may be a little bit lazy when it comes to exercise, and I’m definitely a lover, not a fighter, but I vowed to no longer live in fear (or buy bigger pants). I needed to take control of my health while also learning how to defend myself if my nightmares ever became real-life scenarios.
My friend, Tess, mentioned a self-defense class called Krav Maga. “It’s extremely practical and very physical, ” she assured me. “It was developed by the Israeli military and is all about real-world situations. And it’s an amazing workout.” There are two groups of people in this world who I believe know what they’re talking about when it comes to self-defense: the Israeli military and fearless women like Tess. So I signed up for a class at ATA Martial Arts on Hillcrest Road before I could change my mind.
What is Krav Maga?Krav Maga is Hebrew for “contact combat.” Instead of focusing on katas
(choreographed patterns of movement)
like in traditional forms of martial arts, Krav Maga is designed to make specific movements and reactions become instinctual in perilous situations. There are four key concepts emphasized in Krav Maga training:
• Avoid encounters by staying aware of your surroundings and being confident, but cautious.
On the first day, I was warmly welcomed into an obviously tight-knit group. Everyone was pleasant, and the warm-up exercises weren’t intimidating. “OK. I can do this, ” I thought, my palms sweating inside my gloves.
Then, I quickly realized if I wanted to actually learn self-defense, I was going to have to practice hitting and kicking people and, in turn, be hit and kicked around a little myself. I have never been in any kind of aggressive physical situation in my life — I didn’t play sports, wrestle with my siblings or get pushed around at school. I am wimpy to the core. But I was here, and I was taking control. A few steadying breaths got me ready to rumble.
The first activity of each class involves a game in which partners try to tap each other on the knees while simultaneously blocking the other person’s hands from touching their own knees. I fought the urge to apologize every time I whacked my partner’s hand away. Throughout the 45-minute class, my apologies continued as we practiced — elbowing, sidekicks, throwing someone off who has you in a chokehold on the ground — even though my partner and I were protected by the large padded shield that absorbed most of the impact. It all just felt so … violent.
Despite being completely out of my comfort zone, halfway through, I realized I loved it. I let myself hit the pads as hard as I could. I felt powerful. I was sweating, laughing and socializing while learning that my tiny female body is stronger than I give it credit for.
Just to be sure my partner wasn’t humoring me, I went home and made my husband pretend to choke me on the floor and, sure enough, I rolled him off me and jumped up victoriously. One Krav Maga class left me confident, extremely sore and feeling good about my body. Each subsequent one has reinforced my self-esteem, and I have so much more energy and awareness of my surroundings.
And the best part? I haven’t had a bad dream since I began training.
text by Jill Clair Gentry • photo by Matthew Coughlin