Health & Medicine

The Commando's guide to safety

One compelling testimony to the power of Krav Maga is that the Kentucky State Police uses it for self-defense training. It figures, when it's a call between an endangered trooper and possible injury or death, the Israeli-developed martial art is a potent weapon.

Krav Maga — pronounced ”krahv ma-GAH,“ meaning ”close combat“ in Hebrew — is part martial art, part fitness, part strategy.

Even though Krav Maga has been popular around the United States for close to a decade, it's now catching on around Lexington.

On the Oscar red carpet, actress Hilary Swank sang the praises of Krav Maga training and the bloody knuckles it gave her. Jennifer Lopez studied it to fend off an abusive husband in the so-bad-it's-good movie Enough. University of Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart was an early student in Lexington.

The Israeli martial art rests on one basic idea: When it comes down to you and the threat of death, you'll be glad to know that you have options.

”It's easily learned, it's easily retained,“ said Mike Ray, assistant defensive tactics coordinator for the state police. ”For what we do, it's been the best I've seen so far.“

On the attack

Courtney Spragens is being repeatedly attacked — by knife, by gun, by choke hold.

Initially, she seems to submit, putting her hands up, murmuring comfort to her attacker. Then, in a matter of seconds, the tide turns. Spragens steps out of the line of damage, takes the weapon, saves herself.

And the next attack begins. It's four minutes of choreographed random violence, and Spragens maneuvers, slides and rolls through it all.

The guns and knives aren't real. The drills are practice. And Spragens, a National Guard band member who gave birth to her second son four months ago, isn't deterred by being the only woman in the ­Commando Krav Maga class at Lexington's Legion ­Fitness gym.

She and her husband, Philip Hathorn, had seen a Discovery Channel program on Krav Maga, then a Legion Fitness commercial and decided to sign up for classes.

She's encouraged that the men in her class don't back down because she's a woman.

Learning to be safe

Dion Guest's day job is working as an attorney for the UK development office.

But on this Monday night, the former Marine is introducing a dozen men to Krav Maga — by wearing them out.

The men work as pairs, kicking and tagging and running out of breath.

Guest is among those planning a Krav Maga-centered gym — Krav Maga Kentucky — for southwest Lexington. For now, the classes meet at downtown's Urban Active Fitness gym.

”The main objective is to stay safe — do whatever you need to get away safe,“ Guest says.

But also: ”You'll get fit and you'll learn to fight,“

Steve Mansfield, who runs the Commando Krav Maga program at his Legion Fitness gym, calls Krav Maga ”a more realistic, street-survival type of martial arts.“

Many martial arts, he says, involve stylized movements, follow rigid guidelines and use weapons such as spears and swords.

Krav Maga involves defending yourself against an immediate threat in a modern setting.

Krav Maga was developed in Israel, where all young people undergo mandatory service to country. Pacifistic assumptions don't get far: In Krav Maga, you want to alleviate, neutralize and counterattack, not establish a conversational bond. And you want to know how to do that intuitively. As a result Krav Maga classes work well for fitness: They wear out students before subjecting them to Krav Maga situations.

”When you're attacked in a real-life situation, you're not going to be at your best,“ Guest said. ”You're going to be tired.“

It's not treadmill for the sake of cardio or weights for the sake of definition: Krav Maga is a skill.

”You walk out the door with a sense of confidence,“ said Curt Hall, who works with Guest.

”It's not a fight class,“ says Guest. ”It's not a fitness class. We are here to teach you to stay safe.“