Photo: Benzo Harris

Time to fight for your rights

Photo: Benzo Harris

Photo: Benzo Harris

Harry Tattersall Smith

We find ourselves in sinister times. The news treats us to a daily deluge of general unpleasantness; so much so that even now a simple trip to the shops can leave us with a sense of impending doom.

On my first arrival in Glasgow from the comparative safety of Edinburgh and the East Coast a native imparted on me some wise words that have followed me through over one year of mugging-free existence: “You’re in a pretty safe area but I probably wouldn’t venture too far north, south, east — or west for that matter.” In essence, Glasgow can be a pretty nasty place, and although it’s hardly time to start training for apocalyptic-style street warfare, the knowledge of how to defend yourself should be imperative for everyone.

Krav Maga is rough, it’s tough and it’s downright dirty. It hones the primal instinct of self-defence through a policy of “anything goes”. I think this is perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of Krav Maga: the respect that seems to legitimise every method of dirty fighting I ever adopted in the days of savage sibling warfare. Biting, gouging, hair-pulling are all kosher as people are expected to sink to the very depths of savagery in the name of self-defence.

Krav Maga, Hebrew for “contact combat” was developed in Hungary in the 1930s by Jewish guerilla warrior Imi Lichtenfield. It was originally developed as a means of street fighting in Jewish districts against Nazi militias, but given its effectiveness, Litchenfield was charged with the responsibility of training up the Israeli Defence Force after the state’s formation in 1948.

It may not be pretty but aesthetics seem irrelevant when it comes to street survival. There seems to be a mantra behind every technique taught: If in danger, kick your attacker really, really hard in the genitals and run away. Whilst other martial arts avoid dealing with weapons, Krav Maga is grounded in reality, and seems to evolve with society. As we see knife crime infiltrate our society at an alarming rate, so Krav Maga adopts new techniques to deal with the threat.

Whilst attending one lesson has left me with a sense of invincibility all week, I still have the fear that in actuality, putting the skills into practice would be my downfall. The fear is that my enthusiastic, if misguided, fists of fury would be mockingly dismissed by some Glasgow thug before he took it upon himself to single-handedly beat me into oblivion.

And obviously it is impossible to recreate the intensity of a real life fight situation, yet Coach John Miller talks of achieving a state of muscle memory: “Eventually you should get to that stage where you get to the point where your body acts instinctively. That is what Krav Maga does — it taps into the body’s animal instinct to survive.”

Whilst some martial arts can be intimidating due to the intense levels of training required, there is something refreshingly inclusive about Krav Maga. You don’t have to be a Bruce Lee ninja warrior or of an Arnold Schwarzenegger physique to effectively defend yourself. It is about highlighting your own personal strengths and utilising them to effectively overcome any attackers.

Coach Miller argues: “It’s all very well being able to kick someone in the head, but realistically, how is that going to help me if someone attacks me with a knife?”

And he is right. In my youth I briefly struggled with judo, before the horrible realisation that although it came with martial arts status there was nothing cool or glamorous about it, and I can safely say that if faced with a Saturday night street brawl the last thing I would want to do is attempt to grapple and pin my knife-wielding would-be assassin. At times it can be easier to adopt the ostrich approach to life: a sense that avoiding any notion of nastiness will make it disappear. Yet it is foolish in these times, and with the resources we have so readily available, to not be in someway able to defend yourself. As elegantly surmised by Miller: “Better to have the know and not need it than to need it and not know.”

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