It was only a tap. But the hulking driver whose bread truck Rhon Mizrachi's Nissan had grazed was enraged. Standing in a jammed Manhattan intersection trying to calm the man down, Mizrachi turned his head for an instant and suddenly felt a fist slam into his temple and his neck wedged in a headlock before crashing to the ground beneath the full weight of his burly assailant. The short-fused bread man could not have known what would happen next. Mizrachi, a teacher of the Israeli martial art Krav Maga, was "already in full fight mode," he says, his brain scanning his encyclopedic repertoire of moves. "There was only one part of the guy I could get to. So I bit the whole top of his hand off. When he jumped up, I just went to town on him."
Perhaps because more Americans are living in cities, more Americans are taking self-defense courses. The problem, according to top martial arts instructors, is that relatively few systems prepare you for the chaotic experience of a hand-to-hand fight. Here is a quick guide to the four that are most effective outside the gym. (Please don't put them to the test without proper training, and then only as a last resort.) They might not be the prettiest, and if you're looking to break boards or balance your chi, you could be disappointed. But, as Mizrachi says, "they get the job done."
It was called the "Gracie Challenge." Starting in the Twenties, Carlos and Helio Gracie, the undersize founders of Brazilian Jujitsu, tested their budding fighting system by extending an open invitation to fighters of any style to come to Rio and engage them in actual combat. In dozens of fights, the Gracies rarely lost, and the string of successes resumed decades later with the arrival of their descendants in America. In the steel-cage Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Gracies went up against the guys everyone thought would win (powerful strikers and kickers), took them to the ground, wrestled them into position, and applied strangles and joint locks that forced them to give in or face broken limbs or loss of consciousness. "Now, all serious martial artists have knowledge of jujitsu," says Helio's son, Rickson Gracie, who runs the Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Center in Los Angeles and is undefeated in more than 400 bouts. "Without grappling, they'd feel naked out there."
Some argue that in a fight against multiple assailants, grappling can leave the attackers free to stomp your head into the pavement. But others point out that against two or more guys, you're pretty much screwed anyway, so you might as well benefit from the superior one-on-one skills of Brazilian jujitsu. "Taking a bigger guy to the ground is like taking a non-swimmer into the pool," says Steve Kardian, a cop and jujitsu trainer who spent 15 years studying karate before switching to BJJ. Jujitsu academies novices are quickly indoctrinated into these anaconda-like skills, practicing their moves by rolling around with a partner, exerting their full force to get him to submit – in a word, fighting. "When I first took the Rickson Gracie seminar, I was a karate black belt," says Kardian. "But guys with just one year of BJJ were able to close the distance, take me down, and finish me." He doesn't say what the second-year students did to him.
When to use it: A pervert is attacking a woman!
How to use it: The attacker sees you coming and throws a right, but you – the gallant Brazilian Jujitsu student – duck the punch, close the distance, and lock your arms around the back of the attacker's thighs. You lift up, push forward, and throw the creep to the ground. Instinct tells the perp to turn over. When he does, you apply the Mata Leao ("Lion Killer"), your biceps and forearm cutting off blood flow in the carotid arteries, resulting in unconsciousness in seconds.
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