We are warning you now — don’t mess with Kathy Ross.
In a new martial arts facility just in Hamilton Township, Ross and 25 others go through their paces. Wearing mostly T-shirts, sweat pants, and sneakers, the men, women, and children of all ages and fitness levels learn to kick, punch, and defend themselves as their instructor, David Kahn, walks among them, imparting knowledge and giving encouragement.
Ross, 58, has been studying the Israeli fighting art, Krav Maga, for the past five years. She is short, round and friendly, but she is also deadly. “I’ve got the element of surprise,” she says with a laugh. Ross, who introduced her husband Bob to the art, is confident in her ability to defend herself. If someone attacked her, “I’d kick them in the groin,” she says. But “we also learn that it’s OK to walk away” from a confrontation. “But if you can’t, and you feel your life is in jeopardy, you can protect yourself.”
“It gives me physical fitness, confidence, and it challenges my mind,” says Ross, of northeast Philadelphia.
Last month Kahn, along with younger brother Abel, opened Israeli Krav Maga U.S. Training Center in Whitehorse Commercial Park on Route 206 in Hamilton.
On Sunday, March 18, at 7 p.m., the Kahn brothers host a Couples Krav Maga Night, sponsored by the Jewish Community Center, entitled “Wanna Fight Tonight?” Couples will have an opportunity to exercise and learn self defense.
Krav Maga (the emphasis is on the last syllable) is the official martial art of the Israeli military and the Israeli Ministry of Education. It is a no-holds-barred system that teaches its practitioners to finish the fight as quickly and ruthlessly efficiently as possible.
The name is Hebrew for “contact combat.” Kravists are taught to defend themselves by any means necessary. Kahn and other instructors emphasize that there are no rules on the street. If a situation is dire, the defender must do whatever is necessary to overcome the threat. This may include multiple strikes to the groin, throat, and kidneys, a finger planted into an eye, shouting into an attacker’s ear, a head butt or a bite to the neck.
In krav maga, the term “combat” includes armed and unarmed combat. On one wall of Kahn’s training center are replicas of several combat assault weapons, including Uzis, AK47s, and various shotguns and small arms. During one practice session last week, Kahn showed several area policemen and other law-enforcement officers several ways to disarm and apprehend knife and gun-wielding suspects. The art teaches adherents how to defend themselves against grenades, blunt instruments, and even rocks.
David Kahn, 34, has been teaching Krav Maga since he was turned on to the art while a student at the University of Miami’s law school. A graduate of Princeton High and Princeton University, where he played cornerback on the football team, Kahn operates Intellicoat, his own roofing business, when he is not teaching martial arts.
He is also the author of a book, “Krav Maga: The Contact Combat System of the Israel Defense Forces,” and is working on a second, “Advanced Krav Maga: The Next Level,” to be published by St. Martin’s Press in the fall. His other business, Hammerhead, is more closely involved with Krav Maga; it provides global security consulting, training and risk management to government and corporate clients.
Kahn studied with Haim Gidon in Netanya, Israel, which was home to Imi Lichtenfeld, who began developing Krav Maga as a young man in what is now the Czech Republic before World War II. Lichtenfeld began to develop the art in order to teach Jews to protect themselves from anti-Semitic attacks. After the war Lichtenfeld moved to what became Israel in the late 1940s and began instructing the Israeli Defense Force.
Gidon is Lichtenfeld’s highest-ranked student and is considered the grand master of the art. Kahn goes to Israel frequently — he was there five times in the past year — and has also studied with Rick Blitstein in Miami and Allan Feldman in Philadelphia.
The Kahn brothers are the sons of Alfie Kahn, a well-known Princeton businessman. The elder Kahn was proprietor of Abel Bagel, the Witherspoon Street store that recently ceased operations. David Kahn is a medium-sized, wiry man with a ready smile. His prematurely gray hair belies his 34 years in one way, but the fluid way he demonstrates his art belies them in the reverse.
It is obvious that Krav Maga is not an Asian martial art, but the discipline has taken some small points of inspiration from them. Many of its throwing, striking and grappling techniques come directly from arts such as karate, muay Thai, and judo.
Before and after class, the kravists and their instructors bow to each other, and Krav Maga has adopted a ranking system directly from the Asian arts. Around Kahn’s waist, wrapped in Asian style, is a black belt which, as in Japanese and other Asian arts, signifies not total mastery of the art but qualification to instruct competently.
But while the emphasis of most martial arts is just as much on sport competition as it is self-defense, effectiveness in combat — in its most elemental sense — is the goal of Krav Maga. There are no competitions in Krav Maga, and you will never see a Krav Maga practitioner in mixed martial arts.
“I am trained to take out somebody’s eye. We are trained to hit soft tissue. In groundwork, we are training to break bones, not to make someone tap (signal defeat),” says David Kahn. “We’re trained for the battlefield.”
Krav Maga has a niche both locally and beyond, says Abel Kahn, 31, who handles the finances for the studio and is his brother’s assistant instructor. “I believe we have the potential to explode,” he says.”
As far as the latter goes, he has already sold out the facility’s law enforcement seminar, scheduled for Monday, April 2, Abel Kahn says. The studio currently has 45 students and is offering seminars for corporate entities and law enforcement. So far its clients have included FBI SWAT teams, U.S. Marshals, U.S. Coast Guard, New Jersey Transit Police, Mercer County Sheriff, and the Hamilton and Princeton township police departments. Costs for students are $129 monthly for unlimited training and a $79 introductory fee.
David Kahn says Bryce Thompson Jr., a real estate broker and family associate, suggested the location for the facility. The Kahns themselves designed the 2,900 square-foot facility — complete with garage doors in the back so they could bring in cars and teach 7 students how to deal with carjackers — and built it with the help of general contractor Jimmy Styles. Kahn is a lawyer but is not practicing; the attorney who works with the Krav Maga center is his former classmate Brian Goldberg.
You may not need to be a “tough guy” to learn Krav Maga, but one of the most famous television tough guys is a fan of this martial art and has invested in the Kahns’ enterprise. For five years David Kahn has been training James Gandolfini, the actor who plays Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos” series. Gandolfini made what Abel Kahn terms “a substantial investment” in the facility.
Couple Krav Maga Night, Sunday, March 18, 7 p.m. at 127 South Route 206, behind Champion Fitness. “Wanna Fight Tonight?” Sponsored by the Jewish Community Center, the evening is entitled “Wanna Fight Tonight?” Couples exercise, learn self-defense, schmooze, and nosh. $36 per couple. RSVP to Sue Millstein Weiner at 609-219-9550 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.