The topic of women and self defense are almost inseparable. When the two are combined, a third topic inevitably arises: empowerment. The novelty of a female who can hit back has created a new cultural zeitgeist — an emergence of women taking power into their own hands by learning how to fight. Even in popular culture, the number of “strong female fighters” is increasing, and one can find that even princesses in children’s movies know martial arts. Not defaming these wonderful occurrences, one must be able to differentiate idealism versus hard reality. We must acknowledge the less glamorous aspects of women’s self-defense by coming to accept the real, and difficult thing that it is. With statistics from the Center For Disease Control reporting that nearly 1 in 5 women experience rape at some point in their lives, one should remember that beyond the social and fitness components of training, Krav Maga is a tool of survival.
I came to Krav Maga with this same level of urgency. On an evening in September 2011, I was walking home from a friend’s house who lived close by. I had noticed earlier that there was a man walking behind me at a considerable distance. The man was closing the distance between us, walking at a brisk pace, and I perceived this as the usual behavior of a rushed New Yorker trying to get to their destination. Despite being near people who were chatting on a stoop, I never would have imagined of what would soon occur next. Instead of walking past me, the man immediately slowed his pace as he approached and I had the sudden realization of the stranger’s true intentions. In the panic, I ran and he went after me. He grabbed the back of my neck and I shouted “Back the f*ck off!” the loudest I could to the draw attention of anyone nearby. Pushing me face first against a fence in a dark section of the street, he wrapped one arm around my neck in a chokehold (I know now that this was an air choke) and felt a sharp sensation on my lower ribcage, where he was holding a sharp implement (potentially a knife) in his other hand. I tried yelling, and was unable to breathe due to the increasing pressure against my throat. Any attempts to break away were met with the sharp knife-like object being pressed into my ribs. Deciding that my life was not worth my possessions, I raised my right hand, handing him my purse and watch. He quickly released me, and then just as quickly, disappeared.
The trauma of my experience did not disappear — it haunted me for a long time. I replayed the scenario in my mind, horrified by my helplessness. I was thankful I wasn’t hurt; grateful that the only thing my mugger wanted were my belongings. Earlier that year a number of sexual assaults and robberies in the more affluent neighborhoods surrounding where I lived sent a pang of fear throughout the borough. People began realizing that if violent crimes like these can occur in one of safest neighborhoods in New York City – then an attack can happen anywhere at any time. This in addition to being robbed blocks from home affected my sleeping patterns, and my mental health. I sometimes panicked on the train ride home, thinking that my attacker could have been any one of the people I was sitting with. What if he recognized me? What if he followed me home? What if he already knew where I lived? I could not walk without fear. It was paralyzing my life. I needed to regain control of the situation and started searching for solutions. I began researching fighting systems that were practical, with weighted importance on effectiveness in real-world scenarios. After sharing my thoughts with a friend, they had told me about their positive experiences with Krav Maga. With no previous martial arts training and zero athletic ability, I step foot in my first Krav Maga class in November of that year. It was an absolute necessity for me to learn how to protect myself should I experience a dangerous encounter again. This was the moment that set the ball in motion.
It’s been over 2 years since I’ve joined Krav Maga Institute NYC. Since that September night years ago, I am now part of the Assistant Instructor Development Program where I help instruct beginner classes and assist students in their training. I’ve helped with a Women’s Self Defense seminar, and have introduced some of my closest friends to some Krav Maga class in New York. It has been a transformational journey for me, one that continues to push me and challenge me to this day.
Though I only speak from the point of view and reflections of my experiences, I believe the different facets behind the principles of self-defense are ones that should not be romanticized or overlooked. While the aspects of physical dominance, newfound confidence, and increasing popularity are very attractive, I believe it’s important to respect the skill beyond these traits and understand the purpose of it’s utility. Self-defense is more than the reclamation of power for women — it allows ordinary people to do exceptional things when given the tools to do so. For me, this is the pinnacle of self-defense and my personal journey with it. Krav Maga classes in New York empowers men and women, like myself, by giving them the techniques, tact and conditioning to protect themselves in a dangerous situation. Through training our minds and bodies, it is an opportunity to transform behaviors into something that could save your life. Having this knowledge now, I no longer live in the shadow of my past experiences.
In the words true to Imi’s philosophy…
I now walk in peace.