Wed. Jan 19th, 2022

LONDON – The blows of fists hitting hand pillows echoed through the studio as couples of women circled each other, striking blows and blocking them with a unique focus. A solid stab from a woman elicited an applauding murmur from her sweaty partner. Another appeared in anticipation of an incoming left hook.

“Just two strikes! That’s enough!” shouted the instructor.

The women – lawyers, teachers and retailers from across the city – were in the studio in north London to practice the techniques of Krav Maga, a self-defense system.

“When things happen to you, there are lots of things you can do to fight back,” said Jia Li, 26, a business consultant who said she attended the class, in part because a man physically harassed her on the street in year. “You are not just completely helpless and powerless.”

Martial arts such as boxing and martial arts and self-defense techniques such as Krav Maga had become more popular as a form of physical fitness and protection for women in the UK, many instructors say, before the pandemic increased the risk of close contact.

But after a year of isolation and loneliness caused by the virus and high-profile cases of violence against women, fitness centers say there has been a resurgence of interest from women who want to learn to fight and defend themselves.

A fitness center in East London, Fightzone London, said the number of women who wanted to take classes doubled after it reopened this year compared to 2019. At Miguel’s Boxing and Fitness Gym in south London, where about 70 per cent of the members are women, it requires for the boxing teaching is so high that it added several new classes a week. And several branches of Safari MMA, a martial arts gym for women, have waiting lists.

“When we started opening up to post-lockdown, we were manic,” said Khadijah Safari, its founder. She said the waiting lists had become so long that the gym initially had to turn people away. “It was new people coming out,” she said.

Many of the women said they were attracted to self-defense because the physical and mental fitness it requires helped ease the toll they had endured during lockdowns; the training helped them build confidence, relieve stress and make new friends.

“Lots of people hit the lowest ever during the lockdown,” Ms. Safari. “They had a very hard time returning to social situations. And when you feel vulnerable, you look for strength.”

There are differences between sports such as boxing, martial arts and Krav Maga, which were developed by the Israeli defense forces and draw on skills from other martial arts as a way of teaching self-defense. In fact, instructors of Krav Maga say that fighting back should be a last resort when a person is facing a potentially dangerous situation; they advise people to give up valuables by, for example, burglary attempts and avoid confrontation where possible.

Many women said their experiences of harassment or assault were included in their decision to take up martial arts.

“It played a big role in the choice of this sport,” said Shaaista Lalla-Saib, 22, a recent graduate of the university, as she completed a Thai kickboxing class in East London. “I feel more confident.”

She said she was tired of being harassed by drunk men on evenings with friends. “You know at least some movements – not to fight anyone, but basically to be like, get away,” she said.

Sarah Brendlor, an instructor at London Krav Maga, said she received a surge of interest from organizations and individuals seeking to learn self-defense after Sarah Everard, a young London woman, was abducted and murdered by a police officer in March. .

The details of her murder – which triggered a national inventory of women’s safety – became a catalyst for talks on violence, she said. “It brought up a hell of a lot of fear and anger, and it definitely got people sharing experiences,” Brendlor said.

For women who had already taken conventional precautions – walking on well-lit roads and wearing light-colored clothing – Mrs Everard’s murder only intensified the horror.

“When I heard about Sarah Everard, it hurt me a lot,” said Dimple Gorsia, 23.

She said she took up Krav Maga after surviving a violent crime several years ago, as a way to work her way through her post-traumatic stress from the attack.

Mrs Gorsia said she was now hoping to become a full-time instructor. “There was a little part of me that said, ‘That’s why I do self-defense as a lifestyle,'” she said. “It made my passion much stronger to do this as a way of life.”

On a recent Sunday morning, Mrs. Brendlor put a class of about a dozen women through warm-ups before pairing them to do exercises. Several said they had already made use of some of the lessons, for example by creating distance and not turning their backs on potential attackers.

Yet that seriousness was offset by a sense of camaraderie. A poorly targeted shot made one couple laugh. Ms. Brendlor threw in jokes while demonstrating some techniques.

After all, she said, the teaching was meant to be both pragmatic and fun.

“It’s a great place to get in touch with other women and know that you’re not alone in the situation,” Ms. Li, the business consultant, who told that she was attacked on the street a month before Ms. Everard’s murder. “It became real that there is a possibility that something like this could happen to me,” she said. In addition to the classes, she went into therapy to help her deal with the aftermath of the attack.

Gyms have noticed the renewed interest and are trying to accommodate new students and make the culture more inclusive.

“Historically, the martial arts environment was probably a scary environment with lots of aggressive men, and today it’s just not like that anymore,” said James Roach, an owner of Fightzone London. He said the gym was experimenting with a class only for women on the weekends to measure interest.

“A lot of women have a really hard time going to first grade,” Ms. Safari and added that Safari MMA instructors were trained to deal with anxiety and insecurity around taking a martial art for the first time.

“We try to make it as realistic but as respectful and fun as possible,” said Ijaz Akram, founder of Urban Krav Maga 360, where classes are kept smaller to keep them personal. “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”

Although learning martial arts and techniques has given them a greater sense of self-confidence and security, participants said they regretted having to live in a society where such classes were necessary.

“It just shows how unfair it is, because it’s men’s responsibility to stop being predators,” Li said. “But now it’s ended up being our responsibility to take up martial arts or whatever to stop these predators.”

Nevertheless, she said the course had given her a lasting conviction that she was not defenseless after all. “I want to get stronger from what I experienced in class,” she said.

By Victor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *