By Jenn Director Knudsen
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Part of Mark Blake's job is to choke people.
Blake, 48, is not a professional criminal. Rather, he's a certified Krav Maga instructor.
Blake doesn't choke his Krav Maga students to show off his quickness and brute strength.
He's doing it for his students' sake; they don't call it a wrap until the students learn and demonstrate how to get out of the stranglehold.
People who want real-world, practical self-defense training practice Krav Maga, says Blake, a fifth degree black belt in karate and the owner of and chief instructor at Krav Maga Self Defense & Fitness in Raleigh Hills, Portland's only Krav Maga studio.
Krav Maga's popularity spikes
Krav Maga's popularity is on the rise, appealing to teenagers and adults of all ages, including those looking for something other than traditional martial arts.
Martial arts practices, such as karate and Tae Kwon Do, also are very popular but include ritualistic aspects some don't care for.
"Krav Maga is no-nonsense training for real-life situations," says John Whitman, 38, president of Krav Maga Worldwide and lead instructor at the National Training Center in Los Angeles, Calif., responsible for licensing the 600 Krav Maga instructors at 180 locations around the world to date.
Only five years ago, there were only 15 studios in the United States and Canada, Whitman says. He adds that at his L.A. center alone, there were 300 members when it opened seven years ago, and today 2,000 people practice Krav Maga there.
"Our goal is to make as many people safe and as strong as possible," Whitman says. "And this system is a system that will do it." For more information, visit kravmaga.com.
Origin of Krav Maga
Krav Maga, (pronounced Krahv ma-GA) is Hebrew for "contact combat" and was developed in the early 1950s by a Czechoslovakian boxing and martial-arts expert whose family fled Europe in the World War II era and landed in then-nascent Israel.
Imi Lichtenfeld was asked to develop a fighting- and self-defense system for the Israeli Defense Force.
Nearly five decades later, the IDF continues to practice Krav Maga. In 1999, Krav Maga Worldwide Enterprises was formed to expand and promote the self-defense system in the United States and internationally.
Generally, Krav Maga's practitioners include firefighters, members of this country's local, state and federal police agencies and also celebs, such as Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie, who took it up in preparation for her 2001 film, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."
It's believed roughly 10,000 people around the globe now practice Krav Maga.
As opposed to a martial art that relies heavily on perfect forms and rituals like bowing and colored belts, Krav Maga relies on a few key moves that can be altered easily for whatever scary situation a person may find himself in.
"People want their training to work for them," Blake says. "There's nothing artistic about it," Blake says. "We want it to be based on reality."
He adds people gravitate toward Krav Maga when they hear it's a system the IDF uses.
"They appreciate the fact it's been battle-tested," Blake says of Krav Maga students. "Obviously, it's been used enough times in Israel; they use it every day."
Those who have latched on to Krav Maga take it not only for the self-defense training, but also for fitness and to build self-confidence.
Mason Rivlin, 34, a computer programmer from with a brown, close-cut beard, recently was warming up for one of the two classes he takes each week at Blake's studio.
Rivlin and his 12 classmates were jogging backwards and forwards, doing pushups and crunches and whacking industrial-strength pads held by a partner, before getting into the system's more serious kicks, blocks and attempts to wiggle free of strangleholds.
He has a background in martial arts, but says in those disciplines, "it's just punching air."
Rivlin instead wanted to learn a few key moves and practice them over and over again to gain muscle memory. That way, if ever attacked by someone, his body would react faster than his brain to successfully thwart an assailant.
"The best way to get used to getting hit is to get hit," says Rivlin, who has been honing his wiry 175-lb., 6-foot, 2-inch frame for Krav Maga for about a year.
He has never had to use his Krav Maga on the street, but knows if he did, he'd be ready.
Another of Blake's students, Margaret Strader, 39, took up Krav Maga only two months ago. The school nurse, who also works a second nursing job at night—and, thus, often finds herself in dark parking lots—wanted to learn how to protect herself "in any situation" and get a great workout, she says.
Krav Maga is the answer, says Strader, sporting the Krav Maga uniform: black sweat pants with white lines running down the side; non-marking sneakers; hand wraps; mouth guard; and a white T-shirt emblazoned with the Krav Maga insignia of two Hebrew letters (Kauf and Mem) that make the "K" and "M" sounds.
Classmates Rivlin and Strader are typical of Krav Maga enthusiasts: they enjoy practicing a self-defense system that works on the toughest of combatants.
Says Blake: "(The IDF) wouldn't choose a system that wouldn't work for them."
For more information, visit kravmagapdx.com.