What to Expect at a Krav Maga Class

Need a lesson in self defense? Just one class of the Israeli combat system might do the trick.

Krav Maga is hand-to-hand combat system developed for the Israeli military. It emphasizes practical techniques for self-defense scenarios. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user maxim303.

While packing my workout bag for an introductory Krav Maga class at Krav Maga DC Monday night, I clicked on the promotional video on the gym’s website to find out what I was in for.

What I was in for, according to the video: punching and kicking. Elbows and knees flying everywhere. And, according to the glowing testimonials from earnest participants, the increased confidence that comes from knowing you can thwart an armed robber with a swift kick to the groin.

“If someone jumped me, thinking they were going after an old man, they’d be surprised,” a gray-haired, bespectacled man declared during the video. “I’ve learned to defend myself.”

That old man could kick my ass, I thought. I kept watching.

I learned that Krav Maga was developed as a hand-to-hand combat system for the Israeli military in the 1940s and ’50s, when the Israelis were essentially recruiting all comers to join their military. They needed a self-defense system that would work for a wide range of ages and strength and fitness levels. Krav emphasizes practical techniques for realistic self-defense scenarios. I headed to Krav Maga DC’s Chinatown gym feeling excited–and a little bit nervous.

The 6:30 PM intro class started with a brief primer on the basic stance and punches–the jab and the cross, familiar to anyone who’s taken a kickboxing class. Instructor Felipe Torres demonstrated the movements before having us imitate them, and when he punched, he let loose a terrifying, guttural noise–less like a declaration of human force and more like the bark of a very large, very strong dog.

“Your voice is one of your most powerful weapons of self-defense,” he told us. “Your attacker wants you to be as quiet as possible.”

We started the official class by jogging around the large, padded gym in a straight line, follow-the-leader style. We add some dynamic stretches, such as high knees and butt kicks, then moved on to a series of calisthenics, such as squats, pushups, and burpees. After about ten minutes of that, we were all panting–and that was just the warmup.

For our first drill, we paired up with a partner, then attempted to touch our partner’s shoulders while avoiding our partner’s attempts to touch our own. The effect was like a grown-up game of tag. I had to resist the very un-Krav-like urge to giggle.

After reviewing the basic punches, we transitioned into a series of partner drills with pads. In the first drill, one partner held a pad while the other threw punches according to Torres’ direction. In another, called the “fury drill,” the student throwing punches simply performed one jab-cross combo after another, screaming at the top of his or her lungs–which was more cathartic than I could have imagined (after I finished, I had an overwhelming urge to beat my chest, or at least high-five someone).

We repeated the process with knee and groin kicks–both with our partners holding a pad, of course. The groin kicks underscored a key difference between Krav Maga and some other forms of martial arts. In Krav, the emphasis is on real-world self-defense techniques, so hitting below the belt is not only allowed, it’s encouraged.

“You’re not aiming for your opponent’s groin, but his head,” Torres told us, giving us pointers on our groin-kicking form. “You want to split him in half.”

We finished the hour-long class by combining all three skills in one big fury drill, with a few baseline-style sprints thrown in. My heart rate and adrenaline stayed sky-high as Torres congratulated us on a good class and the owner explained how a student progresses in Krav.

Walking to the Metro on my way home, I felt happily exhausted and a little sore–especially on my knuckles, which would have benefited from gloves during the punching drills. Surveying the dudes lurking around the entrance to the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro entrance, I felt the same confidence portrayed by the gray-haired gentleman in the promotional video.

“If someone jumped me, thinking they were going after a little lady, they’d be surprised,” I thought to myself. “I may only have one class under my belt, but I know now I wouldn’t go down without a fight. A very loud fight.”

An introductory Krav Maga class at Krav Maga DC is $20. It’s $179 per month for an annual membership and $209 per month for a monthly membership. 616 H St., NW; 202-328-1201;