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Hand-to-hand combat training at Krav Maga offers more than self-defense

By Holly Hammersmith   |   Photos by Doug Khrenovsky

Imagine a workout that not only offers a means of protection but also builds confidence, burns hundreds of calories per hour, and provides a means of ongoing education. Enter Krav Maga – a type of self-defense training that uses hand-to-hand combat techniques.

First used by the Israeli Defense Forces, Krav Maga is now taught all over the world and is used by the U.S. military, law enforcement personnel, and the everyday citizen. Fight Fit Ohio , a fitness and self-defense training facility, is the only Northeast Ohio facility to offer advanced training in Krav Maga, according to owner Sarah Fox.

In fact the training has gained so much popularity, it prompted, in part, Fox’s move to open a secondary location in Warrensville Heights in late 2015. Her original facility was opened in Middleburg Heights in 2008, giving Northeast Ohioans more than 10,000 square feet of training space.

“Cleveland is an east side, west side town. Even if it’s only a few minutes, you just don’t cross the river,” Fox says. “They (new students) would try it and love it, but then they would say it’s too far. I had heard that for many years.”

The new east side location offers 20 classes, which complement the 40 classes offered in Middleburg Heights. In addition to Krav Maga, Fight Fit offers group-based classes in yoga, kettleballs, boot camp, kickboxing, TRX suspension training, and more.

Krav Classes are 60 minutes in duration and range from Level 1 to Level 6. Most participants are ages 25 to 45, but Fox says she has had students of all ages. The minimum age to participate is 13.

Krav Maga students come from all walks of life – from young mothers to nurses, schoolteachers, seasoned law enforcement officers, lawyers, and doctors. Right now Fox is offering a special summer membership for college-age students looking to pick up self-defense skills before starting or returning to school in the fall.

“We really try and get high school seniors to understand they really need some self-defense training. Unfortunately what happens is I will get calls about the end of July,” Fox says. “This kind of thing has to be trained in muscle memory to where you can do it under pressure, under stress, fatigue, fear, that’s what this is for – and that takes some time. One or two classes isn’t going to get it done.”

The training teaches people to defend themselves against grabs, holds and chokes and to counter-attack, playing out various possible scenarios.

“Krav Maga is designed to be adapted to any situation,” Fox says. “Level 1, 2, and 3 are considered the basic self-defense. You get into higher levels and you get into weapons defense.”

It takes many months to master training at each level. Fox says she just recently began offering a Level 5 class, the first in Northeast Ohio. Most Krav Maga students attend classes twice per week, but facility membership comes with unlimited attendance.

“People are drawn to the fact that it’s practical, it’s useful. I think really what people are looking for is to feel more confident when they walk around, when they travel, or when they go somewhere by themselves or when they go somewhere with their family,” Fox says. “In the end our self-defense training is not only a matter of just learning techniques but also learning confidence.”

Many students are drawn to Krav Maga for the self-defense aspect. But other aspects of the training keep them coming back, Fox says. Training in Krav Maga provides ongoing learning – which keeps students from becoming bored with their workouts, which is a common problem.

“We realize that what we teach people, they may have to rely on that someday to save their life. Once they train for awhile their confidence builds up. I think people are coming for the realistic part of it and leaving with that realism and also gaining confidence for our training,” Fox says.

Fox, a Northeast Ohio native and a former social worker, trained at a local Krav Maga studio until it suddenly closed down. She was desperate to continue her training.

“I was really upset Northeast Ohio was going to lose Krav Maga. I couldn’t accept the fact that the people who were training were going to lose the opportunity to have this available,” Fox says.

In addition to offering in-classroom training at her two Fight Fit Ohio facilities, Fox often offers self-defense workshops and demos to networking groups, churches, schools and in corporate settings. These demos often bring in new students. Since the opening of her business in 2008, these demos and classes have introduced Krav Maga to roughly 2,000 people.

“People always ask the question, ‘What if that was me. What would I do?’” Fox says. “They need to have an answer before they think about it.”

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