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Getting Schooled

Krav maga teaches students to take care of themselves


Late one night, on your way to your car, you suddenly find yourself alone on a dark street. You eye an alley up ahead; what was that noise? Does it seem to be getting closer? What do you do if someone tries to jump you?

If you were a student of krav maga, you would either A) avoid the situation altogether, or B) quickly and efficiently take control by incapacitating your attacker and protecting yourself.

And by protecting yourself, we're talking elbows to the face, knees to the groin or a vicious onslaught of punches that can send an attacker curling to the ground.

"It's no-nonsense, real life, street self defense," said Meridian-based krav maga instructor Jim Neitzell, owner of Idaho ATA Martial Arts.

Based on the self-defense technique used by the Israeli army, krav maga combines multiple fighting disciplines with reflexive action to deal with a variety of attack situations with ruthless efficiency.

For the past six years, Neitzell has been teaching krav maga alongside traditional martial arts like tae kwon do. And while both are self-defense techniques, krav maga makes no pretenses.

There is none of the beauty, philosophy or the intense concentration on forms found in the martial arts. Krav maga teaches students how to kick someone's ass using whatever technique works. The only philosophy is to not be the victim.

"It's mostly martial with very little art," said instructor Paul Lamon, who owns the Boise Idaho ATA Martial Arts school and works closely with Neitzell.

It also is one of the fastest growing disciplines around, due largely to exposure from good old Hollywood.

Since it was first brought to the United States in the early 1980s, the fighting style has been featured in numerous action movies like The Mummy, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, as well as television shows like Discovery Channel's Fight Quest, in which two professional fighters travel the world learning different fighting techniques.

It's also part of the mainstream self-defense world. Black Belt magazine's April cover story is an interview with Darren Lavine, head of Krav Maga Worldwide, the organization that trains and certifies instructors, as well as authorizes official schools in North America, Europe and Japan. The same magazine calls krav maga the "best defense against weapons." Neitzell and Lamon are both certified by Krav Maga Worldwide.

One variation, commando krav, broke away from the main body and is no longer affiliated with Krav Maga Worldwide.

Nampa instructor Jerry Edwards has studied both styles and said commando krav places a greater emphasis on combat. Since opening his studio, Aki Kaze Dojo, last summer, Edwards has started teaching a hybrid of the two forms in addition to traditional martial arts.

But in recent years, krav maga has moved from being just a self-defense style to a fitness trend, with the body-conscious lining up to sweat out their aggression.

Both Neitzell and Lamon have seen marked jumps in enrollment recently, with most new students having no previous training in martial arts. A large portion of those students are women, who come looking not only for a good workout, but to learn some useful skills.

And while it may seem intimidating to train to kick the stuffing out of someone, all three instructors believe krav maga is uniquely suited for women since the discipline was designed to be used by anyone of any size and ability, and the basics can be learned quickly.

"It's based on instinctual movements of the body," Neitzell said.

Rather than depending on one fighting philosophy, krav maga mixes styles like judo and karate with moves from boxing and wrestling. It's a form that's always in flux, as new techniques are added.

"It's what works the quickest and the best," Lamon said.

"The only rule is you go home safe," Neitzell added. "Everything else is OK."

That means anything: a quick elbow to the face, a kick to the groin, a kidney shot or a wrestling hold on the ground. Whatever it takes. Lamon calls krav maga a stripped-down technique, in which responses to attacks become reflex, allowing the victim to defend themselves and counterattack at the same time.

Because it translates easily into the real world, instructors like Lamon and Neitzell are seeing more and more soldiers and police officers coming in for additional training.

In order to emulate the stressful conditions of an attack, krav maga instructors keep their students' hearts racing throughout class, which is exactly what makes it such a desirable workout for many. Even while resting, participants hold heavy target bags for their partners to beat the bejesus out of.

It seems like hard work, but many find the adrenaline rush addicting. "No matter how hard I work my students, they're always ready for the next thing," Lamon said.

Neitzell often runs situational drills with his students, turning off the lights and coming at them in the dark or even surprising them in the parking lot. He said it's not a matter of making students paranoid, but heightening their senses to what's going on around them, so they can "not walk around afraid, but empowered."