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How a Krav Maga Class Gave Me More Than Self-Defense

Though hesitant at first, I was awarded for stepping out of my comfort zone


My family would describe me as anything but a risk-taker. “Grandma drives faster than you!” my youngest likes to tease me. So when I announced I was going to veer out of my comfort zone and sign up for a self-defense class, my children, my husband and even my mom with the lead foot were a bit skeptical.

I searched online for self-defense classes and kept finding this term: “Krav Maga.” In Hebrew, it means “contact combat.” This method of self-defense, created in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld and used by the Israeli army, is a hybrid of several techniques, including boxing, wrestling, judo and Muay Thai (Thai boxing).

A gym near my house was offering a free, two-hour session. I submitted my name and phone number and for the next five days leading up to the class, I questioned whether yoga would have been a wiser and safer choice.

Summoning the Courage

The morning of the class, I pulled up to the gym, grabbed my water bottle along with the small dose of courage I brought with me and walked inside. A bald, stocky guy with arms the size of my thighs, stepped out of his office. He smiled, introduced himself as the chief instructor and handed me a clipboard with a release form. I signed the form and joined a group of men and women gathered on the mats.

“When some students first come into the gym, they feel intimidated,” says Brian Meyers, owner of Catalyst Krav Maga Academy in Overland Park, Kansas. They’re afraid of getting hurt or hurting someone and are very cautious. When the fear goes away, they really start to progress.”

By the time the class ended, I was full of energy, like I had downed a triple-shot espresso.

After a brief orientation, our instructor taught us the neutral stance and the fighting stance. Then, we learned how to kick and knee someone where it counts and how to strike using the palms of our hands.

After the instructor demonstrated various choke-escape techniques, I thought “What did I sign up for?” Seconds later, I reminded myself I was on a quest to push my boundaries.

We reviewed a few more moves before he directed us to pair up. As a woman in my 50s, I wasn’t sure anyone would rush to be my partner.

OK, Maybe I Can Do This

Lisa Kanarek (left) does some punching training with fellow Krav Maga student Kendra Hernandez.Credit: Lisa Kanarek
Lisa Kanarek (left) does some punching training with fellow Krav Maga student Kendra Hernandez

I looked around and spotted a woman at least 20 years younger than me. She agreed to work with me on some self-defense scenarios. With her back facing me, I tugged on her ponytail. She placed her hands over mine, turned and delivered a few swift pretend kicks.

Then it was my turn. I followed the same steps, escaped her grip and felt my confidence swell. No one had to tell me I was unstoppable. I could feel it in my bones, the same ones attached to the muscles I knew would be sore the next day.

By the time the class ended, I was full of energy, like I had downed a triple-shot espresso. All I needed was a cape and a Spandex outfit with built-in Spanx.

This was unlike any other classes I had taken, especially ones related to fitness. During the entire session, I stayed alert, especially as I held a pad large enough to protect my chest and thighs while my partner punched and kicked.

“The overall health and fitness benefits that you get with doing the Krav Maga workouts keep you healthy, moving and active,” Meyers says.

Newfound Confidence

Before I entered the gym, I never imagined I would have the confidence and courage to throw a punch or an elbow strike that could deter someone twice my size.

Almost two years later, I still attend classes three times a week. And as one of the oldest females in the class — a few are half my age, while others are between five and 15 years younger — I push myself to keep up, to try harder and, more importantly, to not quit.

“You don’t have to be a twenty-year-old athlete,” Meyers says. “Krav Maga is more about where and how to strike, as opposed to being a super athlete.”

Finding a Community

In addition to sharpening my skills, I’m making friends. I’m part of a community that includes computer programmers, students, teachers and small business owners.

Not only do I enjoy spending time with my Krav Maga classmates during training sessions and at get-togethers outside of class, I know these friends figuratively have my back and literally would stand alongside me to protect it.

“The women I have trained are looking to get in shape, but are also looking for the community aspect,” says Anne Kirk, director of women’s self-protection for Krav Maga Universal in West Chester, Pa. “It’s easier and there is more accountability.”

Power and Pride

Through taking Krav Maga classes, I’ve gained a sense of power that extends beyond the gym. Whether I’m walking to my car or strolling through my neighborhood, I’m more aware of my surroundings.

I know that defending myself is not about strength, it’s about strategy. At the same time, I’m calmer and less anxious — a perk my family enjoys.

On particularly stressful days, I’ll leave my home office, slip on my boxing gloves and pummel the heavy bag hanging in my garage. I’ve increased my strength and I feel confident about protecting myself (although I hope I never have to test my skills outside of the gym).

I’m proud of the risk I took in signing up for classes. As for my driving, not much has changed. After a recent lunch date, my mom, in her 80s, suggested I accelerate to at least the speed limit. She didn’t want to be late for her tennis match.

By Lisa Kanarek
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reader’s Digest, among others.

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