By Shannon Craig
When I was seven, my mother enrolled my younger brothers and I in a community karate class. I liked the robe and the belts and not having to wear any shoes, but other than that, I wasn’t into standing in line with a bunch of other dirty children and screaming “HI-YA!” In a ceremony at the end of the first round of classes, I was required to spar with another student to receive my new belt. But when the pint-sized warrior came at me, I dashed. Not even the allure of the gold belt was enough for me to defend myself.
For nearly 16 years, it has been clear to me that I am neither a lover nor a fighter, the latter being something I have tried especially hard to avoid. So when I received an email from my former boss, Zé, asking me to meet him at Custom Fit gym so that he could “build his confidence” as a Krav Maga instructor, I tried to come up with a decent excuse.
According to the website “Krav Maga Worldwide,” Krav is “the official self defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has been taught to hundreds of law enforcement agencies and thousands of civilians in the United States.”
Having failed to get out of it, I felt entirely ignorant on my way to meet with Ze. I figured that Israeli’s had been fighting the good fight with Palestinians for quite some time and they hadn’t made much leeway, so maybe things wouldn’t be so bad. Besides, Krav Maga is a truly ridiculous name.
We started with a swift warm-up. Squats with the medicine ball, some balance exercises, not too much different than gym class in junior high school. I was sure that I was on my way to being an excellent novice Kravist.
It was when Zé asked me to put on some gloves and an old karate belt that I realized that I was in over my head. I finally came to understand that building my boss’ confidence meant that he was allowed to literally beat my ass for an hour.
As it turns out, Krav Maga is beyond intense. Yes, it has guidelines like karate, Jujitsu and Taekwondo, but a person learning Krav is taught from the very beginning that their primary goal is not to get into a fight, but to dominate an aggressor so brutally that they are left with no other option than to give up or die.
I was told to bear hug, choke, knock over and punch the other participants. They were told to try to break my wrists, gouge my eyes, palm my nose into my brain and crack my ribs, all at the same time, while harnessing me by the karate belt. My seven-year-old self cried inside, reminding me that indeed, I was never meant to wear one of these belts ever again.
Laying on the floor of the gym, head throbbing, listening to my assailants make claims like, “well that wasn’t so bad,” I came to the conclusion that it may actually be more scary to mug someone than to be mugged by someone.
Zé walked over to lend me a hand and a crisp $10 bill, but I gave it back. To me, striking it rich had never been worth being hooked in the face.
Contact Shannon Craig.