“I was once asked in a B&B in Ennis would I really gouge someone’s eyes out if attacked? ‘Oh, absolutely’ I replied”, says Ruth Savill, a mother-of-six. A “star pupil”, according to her trainer, she’s been doing Krav Maga since July 2011. “It’s fantastic, magic. Nothing beats doing it in a room full of sweaty individuals. I’m hooked”.
Krav Maga is a self-defence system developed in Israel and used by the Israeli defense forces, which emphasises defending yourselves in street fighting situations, rather than perfecting the “art” of fighting, like in karate or taekwondo. The skill was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld in 1930s Bratislava, who wished to defend the Jewish Quarter from fascist groups.
The Israeli army is the only army in the world that conscripts women, which demonstrates that this is a technique designed for both men and women to use, argues the man who brought Krav Maga to Ireland in 2001, Patrick Cumiskey. “I was looking for something that teaches people how to protect themselves on the street and found other martial arts forms aren’t structured in that way”, says Cumisky who is also a black belt in karate.
With recent tragic attacks on Irish women Catherine Gowing and Jill Meagher in Wales and Australia, women are more aware than ever of the need to protect themselves and avoid dangerous situations.
A heavy emphasis is put on the concept of personal space. “Why is it a problem if a stranger is closer than arm’s length away from you? Because he shouldn’t be there!”, screams Cumisky during the course.
“Luckily, I’ve never been attacked, but there’s been a few dodgy situations. One time, in a not-too-nice part of Dublin, I saw a group of youths. Two crossed the road towards me. I mentally prepared myself for how I’d get out of it. They didn’t try anything, but I made sure to look them in the eye as they walked past. It’s good to know I’ll fight if necessary”, says Savill, who is the owner of Paris Bakery on Moore Street in Dublin.
During the beginner course pupils learn how to escape from headlocks, various chokes, grabs, as well as striking actions such as face palming, kneeing and elbowing. Learning defence against knife, stick and gun attacks are trained at more advanced levels.
“Most street fights only last, on average, 5-10 seconds and most attackers are untrained and use the element of surprise”, says Cumiskey. Therefore, if you can learn various techniques, which even might only serve to disrupt the attacker, generally the bad guy won’t stick around to finish the job.
In fact, the techniques aren’t the most important thing. “People sometimes say ‘Oh, I didn’t do the technique right’. I reply ‘but did you get out of it?’, that’s the most important thing”, says Maria Poole, who has been learning Krav Maga for three years and is an instructor. She sees people, both men and women, walk in quite timid and unsure, and change totally throughout the course. “At the start you see people crumple up crying, but then suddenly a switch gets flicked, they go nuts and are willing to beat people up. Seeing people change is the most rewarding thing”.
Cumiskey, who is a trained psychologist, comes across as ebullient and good-natured throughout the course, but unleashes an ostensibly manic aggression, when demonstrating techniques and imagining scenarios of being attacked.
It is that aggression, which he and the other instructors wish to bring out in people that, they believe, can save people from attack. “Modern industrial and urban societies teach us to be quiet and calm, but when someone is coming towards you aggressively, I want you to scream, really scream, “Stay back, get away, stay back!”, orders Cumiskey to his class.
Cumiskey points to examples like that of an Irish woman who was attacked down an alleyway in Hong Kong by several males. She didn’t complete the entire Krav Maga course but just remembered to scream her head off when attacked. As a result, several police officers from a nearby bar heard her screams, intervened just in time and arrested the attackers. “That principle, while simultaneously raising your hands to protect yourself, is the most successful technique to avoid being attacked”.
No doubt the course brings out that aggression. It would be difficult to complete all aspects of the course without it, as it is designed to push you to the level of an all-hell-breaks-loose street situation, where instinct, rather than rationale sets in.
“I now feel confident that I know what to do if I find myself in a life threatening situation where somebody wants to do me harm”, says current trainee Patrick O’Hare. He and a friend were attacked and mugged by five men late at night while walking home. The assault, during which he suffered several head injuries, prompted him to take up the self-defense course. “The course has really changed my perspective on how to protect myself and my loved ones”.
“The thing that gets people the most after being attacked is that they did nothing. They froze. This course aims to make you feel like you’ve been in a fight, so you have a reference if something bad does happen”, says the Krav Maga Ireland founder.
Orders like “OK, this time, I want to you facepalm twice, elbow, elbow, rip the face, gouge the eye, rip the ear and bite” become normal. This is simulated on another person, or done full-force on a striking pad.
Krav Maga Ireland offers beginners either a 12-week course for one and a half hours per week or a weekend course, consisting of eight hours a day over two days. For further training, participants can join the academy. For further information, see their website http://www.kravmagaireland.com/