When I was 18, an armed robber invaded our home. That night is both vivid and blurry, with my clearest recollection being the sound of the phone ringing… and ringing. No one answered. No one was coming. And I didn’t know how to fend for myself or my family.
Having panic buttons in the house is quite common where I live in South Africa, so, once they were pressed the police arrived. The intruder was arrested, charged and imprisoned. But the fear never left me. A rudimentary google for ‘self-defence’ in my city led me to Krav Maga. I was skeptical; was this the stuff Liam Neeson does in Take,
I pitched the idea at dinner. My dad loved it. “You’ll be like Lara Croft,” he said. We signed up together for beginner lessons on a Tuesday and our instructor met us at the door. He was over 60 and, while stocky, seemed frail.
Krav will teach you many things. The first lesson, reflected upon as my instructor sent my burly dad flying in a floor-sweep, was never to judge based on appearances. The second lesson was to run, talk yourself out of danger, or hand over your valuables. “Cars and wallets are replaceable; your life is not,” my instructor said. I deflated – keen to get cracking with learning the key, most debilitating moves.
We attended Tuesday lessons religiously and, eventually, we joined the Thursday classes for intermediate students, increasing our training to four hours each week. Our instructor would begin our sessions with 100 squats, 100 push-ups, 10 minutes of planking and whatever else he saw fit to include before we started fighting. I was winded, sore, and stronger than I had ever been.
Over the years, we learned how to weaponise our bodies: hand-to-hand combat, floor-fighting, as well as gun and knife defenses. Some moments were triggering – lying on the floor, legs parted, getting crushed by a stranger twice my weight was petrifying. That fear was swiftly eclipsed as, through practice, I learned how to escape from that position by targeting key pain points and using leverage.
I learned that Krav has no rules. Other martial arts have a code, a list of no-go movements. Krav is only interested in ending the fight as swiftly and efficiently as possible, preferably in a manner where your attacker is incapable of pursuing you.
Groin punches, eye gauging and hitting head
I was taught how to hook my manicured nails beneath the jaw to anchor my attacker for an eye-gouge. Aiming for the testicles is discouraged in other martial arts but my instructor would grin and tell us to “go bowling”, the act of swinging your fist towards the groin with the force of propelling a bowling ball down the alley for a full strike.
The men wore guards, so I was able to practice groin strikes without hesitation. For certain sessions, we would wear helmets that guarded our faces with bars and our ears with padding. My palms would be bruised for days from the force of pounding those helmets, replicating the intensity with which I would hit an unguarded face.
In time, the moves became muscle memory. I could protect myself if I felt that I was in danger. And I wouldn’t have to think twice about doing it.
With great power comes great responsibility
In class, we were taught, like Spider-Man, that with great power comes great responsibility. The techniques learned in krav maga can seriously harm someone – and so you must scale accordingly. A person trying to abduct you and a person who won’t stop tickling you do not deserve to have the same level of defense applied to them.
I know that the dojo (the Krav Maga studio) is a different space – one where tapping out is respected, the fighting is monitored by trained professionals and everyone is there to learn and encourage. An attacker in real life is a different story entirely.
Why all women need to learn self-defense
When I asked the women in my life why they wouldn’t learn self-defence, the most common answer was disappointing: “My husband/dad/brother will protect me.” That is only true if he has self-defense training. And what if the person you need to defend yourself from is your husband, your dad, or your brother? It’s a horrific situation to contemplate, but one that many women face nonetheless.
My belief in self-defence accessibility is so fervent that I recorded amateur demo videos for some basic defenses on my Instagram to try to help women who don’t feel that they’re ready for a dojo (it can feel like a big decision) , or can’t afford lessons. It’s the tiniest taster of what Krav can offer, along with improved fitness, increased strength and an awesome appreciation of what your body can do.
Since our robbery, I have not had my life endangered by another person. I hope it never happens again, but if it does, I know I have options: to talk through it, to try and run, and, if that fails, to fight to protect myself like my life depends on it. I didn’t know a stitch of self-defence before I did Krav Maga. Now I go through life perpetually armed with only the power of my incredible body.
Want to get stronger ahead of trying a Krav class out? Head over to the Strong Women Training Club where you can find a training plan to suit your level.
Images: author’s own