Israeli self-defence system takes off in Britain

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The Independent Online

Krav Maga, a highly effective form of unarmed combat pioneered by the Israeli Defence Force and adopted by security professionals, has become the fastest-growing self-defence system in the world.

Adapted to civilian needs, the system, which is based on natural human survival instincts, is now practised by more than 200,000 people globally and has been adopted by Hollywood celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Kristanna Loken and Shannon Elizabeth as both a means of defence and fitness.

The growth of Krav Maga in Britain comes as an increasing number of Britons turn to martial arts and self-defence classes as a way of gaining both fitness and a skill useful for modern life.

While traditional martial arts such as karate, judo, kickboxing continue to gain popularity, Krav Maga fills a growing demand for a highly effective form of self-defence which is quick to learn.

"People are more aware than ever of the risks they face from violent crime or terrorist incidents and want to do something which makes them feel more in control," said Simon Leila, director of Krav Maga Scotland and a self-defence instructor for more than 25 years.

Unlike most forms of combat sports, Krav Maga does not take years of training as it is based on natural instincts to create a highly effective defence and range of techniques to thwart a mugger or disarm a hijacker. "The beauty of Krav Maga is that it does not require any previous skill or years of practice to be effective," said the 41-year-old former international sportsman, who is the only qualified instructor in Scotland, and one of only about 150 in the world outside Israel.

There are already a handful of classes in England, mostly in London and the South, which have seen the numbers of students increase in the past few months as violent offences reach record levels.

Police figures for England and Wales show that there were more than 1,035,000 violent incidents against the person, excluding sexual offences and robberies, last year, a 7 per cent rise on the previous 12 months. At the same time, gun crime was up by more than 6 per cent and in Scotland, where arrests for possession of offensive weapons have reached an all-time high, police have described the knife culture as an "epidemic".

"People are reacting to what is happening in society," said Paul Clifton, publisher of Britain's leading martial arts magazine, Combat. "Knives are easy to come by and so, increasingly, are guns. People are looking to get fit and stay safe."

There are up to 7.5 million martial arts practitioners in the UK, about a 40 per cent increase in the past four years.

"A few years ago people did martial arts to get fit and self-defence was a by-product. Now they do it to learn self-defence and fitness is the by-product," said Mr Clifton, who added that there was also a growing trend for whole families to get involved in classes.

However, it is not just individuals getting involved as there has also been increased interest from companies and organisations looking to teach staff basic self-defence.

Business travellers, doctors, lawyers, hospital workers, students, bankers, emergency service staff, teachers and even vicars have sought lessons as their jobs or lifestyles make them increasing targets for random threats of violence.

Krav Maga, which is based on an individual's own natural instincts and automatic responses, uses hands, forearms, elbows, knees, legs and heads to strike vulnerable parts of a body including ears, eyes, throat, groins, knees and anything else which achieves the aim of its one and only philosophy of "protect and survive".

Classes often involve the use of rubber knives or guns to simulate various scenarios as students are trained to deal with a variety of situations.

"Victims of an attack can be caught off-guard while lying down, unable to move, trapped in a confined space or while stuck in a car, bus, train or plane," explained Simon.

"The world is not perfect and such distractions are often present in real confrontations and have to be dealt with."

Students of Krav Maga say that the system teaches almost as much about recognising potential threats and avoiding them as it does contact combat. "Physical contact is the last line of self-defence," said Mr Leila, who is also a qualified triathlon coach and a swimming instructor. "Age is not a barrier and programmes can be adapted for less able-bodied people such as those in wheelchairs or disabled in other ways."

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