GET her on the ground!” is what I hear from the sidelines as I grapple with a stranger who’s grabbing my face like a bowling ball, his fingers almost in my eyes.
For the past four weeks this is how I’ve been spending my Monday evenings; engaging in some rough but controlled combat in an industrial lot in Newhaven. It’s not that I fancy myself as a Tyler Durden type (or I wouldn’t be talking about Fight Club), but I’ve signed up for lessons at Edinburgh’s only Krav Maga school.
Not so much a martial art as a form of self defence, Krav Maga originated in the Israeli army in the 1930s and is used by the military today. There’s no competitive element, it’s simply about getting out of a potentially dangerous situation, quickly. And unlike martial arts, it’s completely acceptable to stick your fingers in an assailant’s eyes or kick them in the groin before running away. Krav Maga (meaning “contact combat”) utilises elements from many different disciplines – Muay Thai, ju jitsu, boxing and grappling for a style that’s quick and dirty and, hopefully, very effective in a real-world situation. This is good news for people like me who feel they need/want to be able to protect themselves should the occasion ever arise.
An hour-long class will begin with some warm-up exercises – these could be combinations of burpees, squats, lunges, kettle bell swings or crunches – until everyone’s sweating and panting. Then, typically, two instructors will take the group through drills which range from getting out of a choke hold, defending against punches and kicks, or from a knife attack. The gym is kitted out with punch bags, punch pads and gloves as well as fake weapons such as knives and guns. On my first week I learn how to strike someone with the heel of my hand rather than with a fist – potentially much less likely to damage the small bones in my hand. I then learn a progressive flow of punches. Using sparring pads I can make impact without causing any harm to my partner. As the weeks go by I learn how to quickly get someone on the ground when they attack me, how to get someone’s hands off my throat and how to get the most power out of a kick.
Instructors encourage us to be “humane” ie to use no more force than is necessary, but there are no Queensberry rules here. The idea of weekly practice is to hardwire these moves into the brain until they become second nature. So, in the event of an actual attack I’ll be well able to defend myself. It’s surprisingly fun to spend an hour throwing punches and kicks, and immensely cathartic to fling another person onto a crash mat. At the very least it’s a workout that might one day save my bacon.
• Krav Maga Edinburgh, Combat Ready Gym, Bonnington Mill, 72 Newhaven Road, Edinburgh (0800 028 9320, www.kravmagaedinburgh.com)