Twenty Something Aditi Thakral, who works in e-commerce, often takes the Delhi metro at night. Like so many other women, she’s ever alert to molesters, stalkers, men looking to do worse. Seven months back, Aditi, whose army-family upbringing has taught her to confront tricky situations, started training in krav maga, a modern Israeli combat system favoured by special forces worldwide for its vicious effectiveness. “Krav maga has boosted my confidence,” she says.
Hebrew for contact combat, krav maga was devised in the 1930s by Imre Lichtenfeld, a pugilist-wrestler who trained and organised bands of youth to protect Jewish ghettos in Bratislava from racist attacks. Migrating to Israel, he worked over the decades to train the fledgling nation’s soldiers and covert operatives in unarmed combat, evolving the techniques that came to be known as krav maga. Lichtenfeld had learnt early that what works in the ring fails on the street. Muggers, rapists, rowdy gangs and hostage-takers play dirty; krav maga answers that in coin, aiming right from the start to end the fight with savage moves to neutralise the assailant, using strikes, kicks, locks, chokes, eye-gouges, blows to vital points.
Akhil Kapur, a trainer at the India Fights Factory, Mumbai, says krav maga combines features from muay thai, jujitsu, aikido and karate, but stresses on what is readily usable and works even in enclosed spaces. Indian armymen were the first to learn krav maga; later, it was taught to SPG commandos. “Techniques involving close combat have proved life-savers in hostage situations,” says an armyman who has trained in krav maga. Sky marshals travelling undercover on flights too pack krav maga skills.
The form taught to civilians includes 360-degree defence techniques, involving protecting the face, stomach, ribs using one’s arms. But the real rule of krav maga is simple: break the rules. “I was a taekwondo black belt before I took up krav maga in 2008,” says Ishita Matharu. “The first thing I was taught was to injure below the waist! It was a culture shock, but I realised it works in real life.”
Bollywood action hero Akshay Kumar, a trained martial artist, promotes krav maga as suitable for women at his Women’s Self-Defence Centre (WSDC). Vipul Suru, who teaches at the centre, says, “Today, the scenario in the country is not safe. Everyone—not just women—should know how to defend themselves.”
Vicky Kapoor, chief instructor at Krav Maga India, says it’s the practicality of krav maga that commends itself to women’s safety. “There are easy techniques that anyone can learn and use in street situations—and that boosts one’s confidence. That’s why the number of women learning krav maga is going up,” he says. “Once they get an idea of tackling aggressors in real-life situations, they end up wanting to learn more and totally master krav maga. With practice, they can immobilise a man twice their size.”
Krav maga is finding enthusiasts from all professions and is also reaching smaller cities. Omar Abdullah, the National Conference president, is a practitioner. So are actresses Bipasha Basu and Priyanka Chopra. Rajan Varghese, who teaches krav maga at the International Martial Arts Academy, Kochi, says, “We get businessmen, engineers, docts, software professionals, school students, and lots of middle-aged people too.”
The next time a molester finds himself taken down by a would-be victim, his chin struck by a shooting heel of palm, fingers gouging his eyes, his head twisted back with a vicious hair-grab, all in one swift and brutal motion, it’s probably krav maga at work.