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."
From the moment you begin a class in Krav Maga, the official hand-to-hand combat system of the Israeli military, the instructors instill a relentless, never-say-die spirit in you. Starting with the push-ups you do during warm-up, the teachers at Krav Maga Inc., in Manhattan, tell you that when your arms give out, drop to your knees and just keep on going, and when you practice how to get out of a bear hug (one of hundreds of real-life scenarios covered), do not stop the routine once you free yourself. Press the attack just as you would in a street fight, bombarding your partner (who, for good reason, is wearing a cup) with a flurry of elbows, kicks, and punches.
Krav Maga is not about the one perfectly executed strike that will finish off your foe: It's about overwhelming him with a barrage of such viciousness that he immediately gets the message that he picked the wrong guy to fuck with. Head-butts, eye-gouges, kicks to the groin – all the moves that other styles shy away from are specifically taught in Krav Maga. A Krav Maga student will throw hot coffee in your face, he will come at you with a car antenna, and, yes, he will bite you – whatever it takes to survive. As such, Krav Maga is also arguably the most effective fighting system for situations in which you find yourself badly outnumbered and need to quickly level the playing field.
"I remember when I first came to this country," says Rhon Mizrachi, who's now the head trainer at Krav Maga Inc. "People were like, 'What is this, some kind of Jew-jitsu? Do you throw matzo balls?' " And if the matzo balls were scalding and could blind the other guy before he could get a punch in? "Sure," Mizrachi would retort, "I'd do that."
When to use it: You're at a bar when a fight breaks out, spilling into the street and drawing you into the action.
How to use it: Forced to defend yourself, you get in a position that angles as many raging drunken fools as possible in single file in front of you then throw a bottle at the closest (and biggest) attacker. As the guy tries to protect his face, you deliver a swift right kick to the man's groin. A left-right combination of punches follows, then a head-butt, before you shove the guy's crumpled body into his friends. Repeat as necessary.
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