In the movie Enough, Jennifer Lopez's character defends herself against her abusive husband using Krav Maga (krahv ma-GAH), a self-defense system developed for the Israeli Defense Forces.
"Krav Maga can help women attain new athletic goals, increase muscle definition, self-confidence and mind/body coordination as well as assist in stress reduction," said Katrina Kothe, a New York Krav Maga instructor and the highest-ranking female student in the U.S. "Krav Maga uses elements of physical fitness to tone muscles and help with coordination. You're burning calories and we incorporate standard calisthenics, but the primary reason people come to us is for self defense. Toning and losing weight is not the main goal but many women say they see results during the training."
Unlike other self-defense and aerobic programs, there are no required steps or rules in Krav Maga. Instead, Krav Maga techniques are practiced in simulated, ever-changing attack situations.
According to John Whitman, President of Krav Maga Worldwide, Los Angeles, where Lopez trained, being in top physical shape is not necessary to start the program. Instructors push students to work as hard as they can but not to compete with one another.
"Krav Maga is very aggressive and dynamic in itself," Whitman explained. "Basically, as [Lopez] was training in the technique she was going to use in the movie, she was also working out. You work up a huge sweat just doing the motions, and it's actual contact. You're punching pads and being grabbed by people. It's as real as we can make it."
The fitness advantages of programs such as Krav Maga lie in the short, high intensity explosiveness that occurs in muscle fibers, explained Melyssa St. Michael, founder and president of UltraFit Human Performance, Inc., Baltimore, MD. "When you are building up kinetic force, you are developing really strong neurological pathways from your brain to your muscle, which helps instincts and reflexes. Any type of really short, intense workout helps elevate metabolic rate and burn more fat," St. Michael said, adding that students performing Krav Maga expend 20 to 30 percent more energy than during a less intensive activity such as step aerobics.
However, St. Michael warned that explosive movements can also put students at risk for tendon injuries.
To prevent injury, proper instructor training is critical, Kothe said, recommending that students check that instructors have been properly certified by the Krav Maga Association of America or by the government of Israel. Instructors take every precaution to ensure that students don't get hurt, and require the use of protective equipment in simulated fight situations. "We take safety very, very seriously," she said.
It takes the average woman between two and nine months to become adept enough at Krav Maga to be able to effectively defend herself, Kothe said. However techniques taught in the first class will help immediately. "Women shouldn't be intimidated by Krav Maga. It's really easy to learn, and it's something that could potentially save their lives," she said.