Volume 74, Number 39 | February 2 - 8, 2005

Krav Maga: Learning how to hit ’em where it hurts

Erik B. Frank, left, and Howie Young throw “eye punches.”

By Judith Stiles

A few months ago, if Lindsey Wieber was asked to “kick’ em in the groin or chop’ em sideways with a good swift kick to take out the kneecap,” she would have frozen and not known what to do. Today, in the Krav Maga contact combat class at the Sol Goldman Y on 14th St. near First Ave, Lindsey skillfully practices the best way to kick an attacker in the groin, guided by the thoughtful and lively commands of her instructor, Matt Suroff, a Krav Maga expert.

Krav Maga is the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has been taught to hundreds of law enforcement agencies as well as civilians throughout the United States for over 20 years.

Krava Maga was founded by Imi Lichtenfield, who during the 1930s honed his fighting skills to protect himself from fascist thugs who were terrorizing his Jewish community in Bratislava, Slovakia. He developed a combat system that was effective for both men and women, in which the fighting was not based on individual power versus the opponent’s power. Instead economical movements, surprise attacks and disrupting the opponent’s balance became key elements of the combat, in which the emphasis was to create instinctive reactions in a dangerous situation.

“For most people, the brain takes too long to react when being attacked,” says Matt Suroff a 14th St. Y Krav Maga instructor for beginners. “That is why we train the body to react,” he adds reviewing the mechanics of punching an attacker in the eye with his co-ed class. He shows the class how to properly fold the hand into a fist and explains, “The tissue around the eye is the thinnest so you twist the fist around the eye to make the attacker bleed so he cannot see.”

Suroff is very level-headed about disabling an attacker as he explains in a matter-of-fact way that of course you want to make your attacker bleed. “Ever bleed around the eye? You can’t see and it’s like having soap in your eye,” he adds.

Besides drilling the students on the proper form of kicking an opponent in the kneecaps and groin, Suroff reviews the psychology of being attacked. It is commonly understood that in a robbery situation it is most prudent to give up your wallet or purse to the attacker without incident, but if the confrontation does not end there, what is a person to do? This is where Suroff says instincts come into play. He points out that each scenario will be different and there is no exact formula for protecting yourself. However, he adds that in many cases, when you hold your hands up, palms facing out toward the attacker, it is body language that says you do not want to fight. This can confuse or momentarily relax the attacker, creating a split second for you to strike. He suggests that if you are being attacked and choked from behind, don’t struggle against the attacker, rather walk forward with the attacker which gives you a split second to turn and strike.

Over and over again these types of movements are practiced in the class and for a good 15 minutes at least 10 people can be seen simulating choking their partners from behind.

The class is designed to give a condensed version of what Krav Maga Worldwide Enterprises teaches in their center in Los Angeles or in the military schools in Israel.

The kicks and punches are initially done in the air for a few weeks and then later the students punch and kick bags before they finally practice on men who wear groin protection for the drills.
After the class was over a few women are quietly asked if they think they could make the leap from class to actually using these techniques in a real-life situation. One woman giggles and says, “I don’t know. . .I would probably be terrified and just try and run away!” Another woman chimes in tentatively, “That is not a bad reaction, but if running away is not an option, hopefully after taking this class I’ll instinctively know how to protect myself.” She takes a few swipes at the air, puts on her coat, gives a swift kick to an imaginary attacker and then runs out the door into the New York City night where anything can happen.

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