Students of Krav Maga aren’t interested in tournaments, trophies, or recognition. Their only goal is to disable their attackers, said Rhon Mizrachi, the highest-ranked Krav Maga practitioner in the country.
"For us, it’s war," Mizrachi said. "We don’t compete. We train for one purpose only."
Mizrachi, who co-founded the Krav Maga Federation in New York, was in Teaneck on Sunday to help launch a Krav Maga class at Training Grounds & Body Shapers on Cedar Lane. About 100 people turned out for the information session and demonstrations.
Unlike other martial arts, Krav Maga, or contact combat, doesn’t have rules of engagement. It focuses on exploiting the vulnerable parts of the body. Krav Maga doesn’t teach people how to fight, though, Mizrachi said. A fight is two individuals sparring with rules, he said. "That’s not what we do."
Rhon Mizrachi of the Krav Maga Federation in New York explains the Israeli self-defense system at Training Grounds & Body Shapers in Teaneck.
The federation’s style of Krav Maga is "very difficult, very high quality, [and] very effective," Mizrachi said.
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The art was created by Imrich "Imi" Lichtenfeld, born in 1910 in Hungary and raised in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, where he became one of Europe’s top wrestlers. When Germany passed the Nuremburg laws in 1936 and attacks against Jews began to rise, Lichtenfeld started using his wrestling training in self-defense. After a long journey to reach Palestine, he joined the Haganah and began teaching his own self-defense technique, called krav panim l’panim, face-to-face combat.
Lichtenfeld spent 15 years in the Israel Defense Forces teaching this new discipline. Haim Zut was one of Lichtenfeld’s students in the 1950s and is today the highest-ranked Krav Maga practitioner in the world. Mizrachi and the federation’s president, Dror Bikel, were Zut’s students and now teach his technique in America.
"Our Krav Maga is very hard Krav Maga," said Bikel, who was also on hand Sunday. "Students are often looking for a transformative experience," usually in gaining self-confidence, he said.
The art has three components, Mizrachi explained. First is hand-to-hand combat, which teaches students how to utilize their limbs for fighting. "We have to make you feel comfortable in the environment," he said. "The minute you stop thinking intelligently you have problems."
The second component is self-defense. "The only thing that’s going to make an aggressive individual go away is to put him away," Mizrachi said. "Self-defense and hand-to-hand combat always go together."
Lastly, Krav Maga utilizes special techniques, which the average person does not need to know, as they are meant for law enforcement, Mizrachi said.
Over the past year, the federation offered private lessons at Training Grounds and at the Krav Maga Contact Combat and Contemporary Fitness Center in Ridgewood. After watching these sessions, Training Grounds’ owner David Kaminsky decided to make formal instruction available to the public. "I think this is going to be a big hit," he said.
Isaac Weinberger of Teaneck, who came to the training session in Teaneck with his 6-year-old grandson, Daniel, said that he was intrigued by how his friends in the Israeli army used hand-to-hand combat. While the 59-year-old said he felt safe in Teaneck, he liked "the idea of having some kind of internal security."
"I’m looking forward to seeing what this is all about," he said. He’d also like Daniel, who takes karate, to give the Israeli art a try.
For additional reporting on the demonstrations, see The Jewish Standard’s Website, www.jstandard.com