Krav Maga, the `accessible,' practical self-defense system

Israeli technique helps students defend themselves

Business Spotlight Krav Maga Maryland -- Columbia


Eric Nager, an emergency room physician at Franklin Square Hospital Center in Baltimore, said he joined the new Krav Maga center in Columbia because he wanted an exercise system that had a practical element.

Krav Maga, which teaches hand-to-hand combat and self-defense, certainly qualifies.

The techniques, based on a system established about 40 years ago, are used by the Israeli army and by law-enforcement agencies around the country, according to Bryan Inagaki, the manager and chief instructor at the Columbia facility.

He described it as a street-fighting system designed to help people handle armed and unarmed attackers, and he said it has been honed by decades of real-life experience.

Nager, halfway through an hourlong session, was breathing heavily and drenched in sweat. "Even after only three sessions, I feel a lot more confident," he said.

The class, at 12:30 p.m. Monday, featured intense instruction in self-protection. The seven students in the class, three women and four men, were divided into groups and took turns punching and kicking each other - through pads, of course.

All the while, Inagaki kept the pace frenetic and offered detailed instruction as his students pounded away at each other. Sometimes he blasted music, sometimes he opted for silence.

In showing how to block an attacker with a forearm against the chest, Inagaki also advised grabbing skin and muscles on the back of the attacker's neck, and using the knees to attack. "To the groin, to the face, whatever works," he said.

In demonstrating punches, he advised students to keep their fists loose until the point of contact, at which point they should be "like a rock." He also had specific advice about body stance during punches to maximize ease of movement.

According to the Web site for Krav Maga World, Krav Maga was founded by Imi Lichtenfeld, who honed his street-fighting skills as a young man growing up in Eastern Europe in the years before World War II.

When Israel became a state in 1948, Lichtenfeld was asked to create a self-defense system for the Israeli military. The system also was taught to civilians, and in 1978 the Krav Maga Association was developed.

These days, Krav Maga centers can be found throughout the world. In the United States, instructors receive training at the Los Angeles headquarters, Inagaki said. The training sessions are a week long, with grueling instruction for eight or nine hours a day. Instructors are taught the moves, and also how to teach the moves, he said.

Inagaki became interested in Krav Maga in 2002, when he joined a center in Washington. The next year, he became manager of a Krav Maga center in Falls Church, Va. "I've always had an interest in martial arts," he said.

The 10,000-square-foot Columbia location - considered one of the largest in the nation - is owned by David Buscher, who also owns Urban Chic in Fulton, Crazy Lil's in Federal Hill and other ventures. The center has about 200 members and three full-time instructors, said Inagaki. About 60 percent of the members are men.

The spacious, light-filled facility has three rooms for classes and a "pro shop" area where T-shirts, sweat shirts and protective gear are sold. Some of the shirts say "Israeli self-defense." Boxing gloves carry the slogan "Combat for a modern world."

Instructor Jeff Mount said he likes Krav Maga because it is practical. He has been involved with martial arts since he was a child, he said, but he was tired of learning moves that seemed to have no purpose. "Krav Maga is exactly the opposite," he said. "It's extremely accessible."

He said it is easy to learn because it is based on natural instincts. His wife, he said, picked it up right away.

In Columbia, classes are taught to children as young as 6 in a program called km-X, which stands for Krav Maga cross-training. The focus for youngsters is on discipline and other life skills as much as it is on self-defense and fitness, Inagaki explained.

Krav Maga focuses on the mental aspects of self-defense as well as the physical. "Being able to defend yourself properly is about much more than being able to do the techniques," said Inagaki. "It's about being able to use them in the most stressful of situations."

The Krav Maga center in Columbia is at 8865 Stanford Blvd., Suite 141, at Lakeside Shopping Center. Information: 410-872-9194 or

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