Foreign defense


Rule number one from a former Israeli Sea Commando and fourth-degree black belt in Krav Maga:

"Don’t get hurt," Amir Perets says with a smile.

But if one is being physically attacked, there are two choices: Do nothing and probably die, or do something to increase your chances of survival, said Perets, whose former military unit is the equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALS.

He cited the heroes of Flight 93, who sprung into action at Todd Beamer’s now-legendary cue of "Let’s roll." The passengers became casualties of Sept. 11, but were able to overtake the hijackers on their plane.

Perets, an Israeli and U.S. citizen who lives in Israel, also was a military combat instructor and his country’s former heavyweight full-contact fighting champion.

He brought his deadly hands and impressive credentials to South Philly last weekend for a showcase of the self-defense methods he has used successfully for years.

Krav Maga (pronounce the syllables like "Bob"), Hebrew for "contact combat," is the official defensive-tactics system of the Israeli military and anti-terrorism units. It was designed specifically for the Israeli military by Imi Lichtenfeld, a Czechoslovakian Jew who fought in the Israeli War of Independence. He later refined the technique to suit civilians.

"The Israeli military has had to deal with terrorism more than any other fighting force," noted Darren Levine, U.S. chief instructor of Krav Maga and a Los Angeles deputy district attorney specializing in the prosecution of accused cop-killers.

Personally trained by Lichtenfeld, Levine holds a sixth-degree black belt in Krav Maga, while his wife Marni is the highest-ranking female Krav Maga instructor in America.

Along with Perets and Bas Rutten — one of the most respected mixed martial-arts fighters in the world, holding international championships — the Levines were in town last weekend for "The Ultimate Combat Seminar."

Hosted by Krav Maga Pennsylvania (PA), which has a studio at 1155 S. Ninth St., the two-day seminar was held at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 19 on Columbus Boulevard. Students and instructors from all over the United States attended, along with everyday folks who just wanted to learn the art of self-defense.

Krav Maga teaches basic yet aggressive self-defense and weapon defenses.

"It’s practical and it works. It is based on real-life problems that exist now– not thousands of years ago," as opposed to forms of Asian martial arts, Levine said.

Every bit as lethal as it looks, Krav Maga is not about kicking someone’s butt. Instead, the focus is on extricating oneself from a threatening situation, the instructors noted. Some of the simpler but effective methods include poking an attacker in the eye or delivering a kick to the groin.

In the United States, the system has been adopted by more than 200 law-enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Perets and Levine have taught Krav Maga to American law-enforcement agencies, as well as extensively to anti-terrorist units throughout the world. The crime-fighters have learned how to apply the techniques to handling hostage scenarios, explosive devices and crises on airplanes, among other scenarios, Levine explained.

Last weekend’s seminar featured dynamic, realistic scenarios that Perets and Levine have experienced firsthand in their decades of working with law enforcement and military units. Participants learned knife and gun defenses, defending a knife with a knife, third-party protection, multiple assailants and shotgun/submachine gun defenses.

With any attack, Perets noted, the potential victim must think fast.

"Reaction must be immediate," he said.

The system builds confidence and aggressiveness so one is able to respond to an attack. "An element of fear is natural. With understanding and training, you can lower the level to a point where you can perform a thousand times better," Perets said.

Above all, Krav Maga teaches principle, Perets explained.

"If I teach you 1,000 scenarios, in the street, you may encounter 1,001. If I teach you principle, you just need to follow principle. We use scenarios only to illustrate examples," he said.

In his 13 years as a prosecutor, Levine has interviewed defendants and experts in thousands of cases — many of which made national headlines.

"I understand how street crime and violence occurs, and I have introduced that into the way we teach Krav Maga. Bottom line is, it helps make the system reality-based," he said.

Several years ago, Levine and his instructors began teaching Hollywood actors Krav Maga. Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez used the training for their movies Tomb Raider and Enough, respectively, he said. The self-defense moves also will be on display in this fall’s Tomb Raider II and this summer’s Terminator 3, Levine noted.

South Philly might be the last place one would expect to find an Israeli martial-arts studio. But Ernie Kirk, the president of Krav Maga PA and chief instructor, who runs five similar schools in the Pennsylvania suburbs, has found a local audience. Everyone from housewives to prison guards is learning Krav Maga.

"It’s probably the hottest form of martial arts in self-defense out there, and has been for the past five years," Levine said.

Kirk thinks that’s because, unlike for other martial arts, students don’t have to don a white robe, remove their shoes and address the instructor as "master."

Greta Hotmer, one of only two female instructors with Krav Maga PA, teaches in South Philly.

Hotmer holds a blue belt in Krav Maga and studied under Kirk, first learning Tae Kwon Do. The Temple University communications major said she’s always had an interest in martial arts and believes Krav Maga is the most practical of them all. "You’re not prohibited by your size or strength. Anyone can really use it," she said.

Because Krav Maga is fun, practical and useful, it’s quite popular with women. Perets is a strong advocate of women learning the art.

"It’s important to know there are things you can do to protect yourself against an attack," he said.

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