If you’ve seen me behind the bar, you’ve seen me presented as my “best” self: cocktail dress, heels and smoky eyes. What you might not know is about an hour before I came to work, someone was dragging me across the floor by my ankles.
For the past six months, I’ve been training in Krav Maga at the Karate America in Neenah. For reference, Krav Maga is a hand-to-hand combat system created for the Israeli Defense Force. Known for its focus on real-life situations, Krav Maga teaches you how to defend yourself and counterattack if necessary through a mix of martial arts, boxing and wrestling. I’ve learned how to throw a proper punch as well as block one, built power behind all kinds of kicks, break out of countless chokeholds and flip someone who is pinning me to the ground off of me by using my hips. Though our curriculum includes fighting techniques, each class reiterates to use them only as a last resort to defend yourself until you feel safe enough to get away.
Here’s the thing – I’ve never been an athletic person. Aside from yoga, this is the first fitness-related thing I’ve ever voluntarily signed up for. This all started as equal parts being sick of feeling less than enthusiastic about the state of my physical self and filling a desire to learn self-defense (also, I had just wrapped a major ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ binge-fest which basically left me with a hankering for a new mini skirt and a desire to kick someone in the face). It took me three months to get up the nerve to schedule my first class and pretty much begged my friend’s sister to go with me when she showed interest. After our first class, we were totally hooked.
I learned immediately that personal space issues go out the door when you take the class, which sounds awful but is actually pretty awesome. Something about your partner’s sweaty face print on your t-shirt really bonds you together, while also trusting you will each have enough control over your movements not to harm one another. Occasionally a limb goes rogue and strikes where you weren’t intending. Perhaps my reaction of total glee leaving class after taking a punch to the eye was unconventional, however, it was a moment I realized how far I’d come from day one. What I tell every single person who asks me about Krav Maga is you don’t even know how strong you are and how strong you can be.
It’s an interesting dynamic in class – we’re in the middle of a drill meant to burn us out and teach us how to fight when we’re fatigued. In the background, the instructor is shouting for us to keep going, reminding us that when other people get tired, we won’t be, that we’re going to keep going… and I totally believe him. There was a particular class where my instructor took a moment to talk about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable and learning how to own that under pressure. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you how this translates as a metaphor for so many things in life. But really, I hear it in my class and it sticks with me. It’s taught me how vital practice and persistence is and what it means to be motivated by something you want for yourself. It’s taken me 30 years to learn how important it is to have goals. So what motivates you?
To anyone looking for a change, whether it’s for fitness or personal reasons, try Krav Maga. It’s an incredible feeling to walk in the world with a little more confidence, feeling safer because of what you know you’re capable of. I might not be the biggest, the fastest or the strongest, and I’m sure that punch to the eye won’t be my last. I’m going to make a lot of mistakes as I go. But if there’s one thing I know to be true – you lay a hand on me and I’ll put up one hell of a fight.
Text: Jillian Dawson
Photos: Jayda Ekholm