Choke hold

“There are two kinds of chokes,” said Amanda Wingate, ’09, “blood chokes and air chokes. We’re going to learn both.” We started Wednesday night’s beginning Krav Maga class with air chokes, the less scary of the two, in Wingate’s opinion, because with blood chokes “you don’t know how dangerous it is until it’s too late” and the blood flow to your brain is cut off. I found air chokes intimidating enough.

I went to the class to learn some self-defense, but I had little clue what I was in for. Krav Maga is the Israeli Defense Forces’ form of martial arts. Slow motion is not a part of learning the technique; bodily contact is. After demonstrating our first move, called “forward choke with a push,” Wingate, who has studied Krav Maga for six years and taught it for five, split us into pairs. I stood on the defense side of the room across from a stranger named Sam. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” I said. We switched places so I could be on offense. I hedged for a moment. Then I stepped forward and closed my fingers around his neck.

He responded as we’d been shown: he stepped back, pivoted on his right foot while arcing his right arm over mine to release my grip, caught my arms with his left, and threw his right elbow inches from my temple. We did it over and over, at least a dozen times. “Are you really choking him?” Wingate asked as she walked by. She encouraged me to use more intensity. “He has to feel the adrenaline,” she explained, to be prepared for a real encounter. If we were actually hurt or uncomfortable, Wingate had told us earlier, we could tap twice on partner, body, or floor. “If I ever, ever see anyone not stop immediately after a double tap,” she warned, “you will be out of this class.”

Finally I moved to defense. The first time Sam attacked I lost my balance, panic making me forget to pivot. By the fourth or fifth time, I was better. I had a painful, burning sensation on my neck—an unsightly bruise still marks the spot. Sam and I didn’t make much small talk; all I know is his first name.

I left with an adrenaline high, feeling empowered and ready to show off. But underneath the exhilaration, I’m frightened by what I didn’t know before—like which part of the fist to punch with—and by what I still don’t know. I felt nervous and jumpy in the Henry Crown practice room, as though preparing for danger makes it more likely—a trick of the mind. It was disconcerting how quickly I got used to acting violent. But I’m willing to risk heightened fear and being desensitized for some personal security, and I’ll keep going back.

Shira Tevah, ’09

April 17, 2009