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."
Jeet Kune Do
In 1965, the elders of San Francisco's martial arts community decided to teach Bruce Lee a lesson. They didn't like the fact that Lee had been teaching kung fu to Westerners, so they challenged him to a fight. Naturally, Lee accepted, went up against their best man, and took him out in just three minutes. But for Lee, that wasn't fast enough. He set about deconstructing everything he knew. The result was Jeet Kune Do, or "way of the intercepting fist" – now widely considered the world's most complete fighting system.
In constructing his new style, Lee was shameless about stealing the best moves from other disciplines. Today, a JKD student might learn a wrestling move from Brazilian jujitsu or footwork reminiscent of fencing. But Lee did more than merely put together a martial arts grab bag – everything he borrowed he also stripped to its most essential elements and reassembled in the most effective way possible. At Dino Orfanos's street-fighting JKD class at the New York Health & Racquet Club, for example, one of the first things you learn is how to punch.
Instead of the classic Western-boxing stance, in which you lead with your weak hand, Lee decided that you should lead with your strong hand, to shorten the distance between your strongest weapon and the target. He also realized that while most other systems step and then punch, a person could deliver more power if his punch landed before his feet hit the ground such that the whole force of his body is moving forward into his opponent. And that's just one of the hundreds of moves Lee Bruce invented before he died.
Indeed, many upper-level JKD classes are like graduate seminars in which advanced students from other disciplines come together to relearn everything they know through the Tao of the master. Of course, if you've never set foot in a martial arts class before, there's also an argument to be made for learning the most brutally efficient means of doing things right from the start.
When to use it: Late one night, as you walk alone through a garage to your car, two muggers pick you out as an easy mark. Man, are they in for a surprise.
How to use it: After positioning yourself so both are in front of you, you stop the first guy midrush with a leading right stop-kick to the knee. That guy collapses, and the second attacks with a wide right hand. Before the punch even lands, you step in and crush the guy's face with an intercepting fist, and follow with the opposite elbow, leaving your attackers simply to wonder: I thought Bruce Lee was dead?!
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