Mercer offers class on ‘anything works’ Israeli fighting style


Image: Thais Ackerman

Will Darragh and James Smith spar during Mercer’s Krav Maga group fitness class.

Hayes Rule, Social Media Editor

One of these isn’t like the others: Zumba, Pilates, Yoga and last but not least, Krav Maga self defense. All four programs are classes offered by Mercer’s Fitness and Wellness program, but one takes a different spin on the concept.

Krav Maga is the official fighting tactic of the Israeli army. Sophomore Morgan Leslie is a certified trainer and brought the class to Mercer in the fall.

“It’s basically like street fighting,” Leslie said. “There’s no rules; it’s not a traditional martial art, because with Taekwondo and Karate, you can’t do groin shots or eye gouges, but that’s all fair game in Krav Maga.”

In Hebrew, krav maga means “contact-combat,” and the phrase “anything works” is a major teaching point. Leslie’s interest in Krav Maga originated from a school project.

For her senior project in high school, Leslie originally wanted to delve into something health care related. But after it was difficult to take pictures and videos because of privacy laws, she went a different route.

“I was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to kind of do a self-defense thing.’ So I kind of researched a bunch of different gyms in my area, and one told me about Krav Maga,” Leslie said. “So I ended up doing that, and the focus on my research paper was sexual assault on college campuses and points for women to empower themselves through self-defense.”

But Krav Maga is not only for females; Leslie said most classes have six or seven people, half of whom are male. One of her students, freshman James Smith, said the classes are fun and provide good, practical skills.

“It’s good physical conditioning, and it makes you a lot more effective and confident in defending yourself if, God forbid, something happens to you,” Smith said.

The freshman was a wrestler in high school and is part of the ROTC program at Mercer. He first heard about the class because of his mentor in ROTC, but he continued to attend even after he wasn’t mandated to do so anymore.

Smith said it has helped him be lighter on his feet.

“As a wrestler, you didn’t spend a whole lot of time on your feet; most of it was on the ground,” Smith said. “I didn’t have a lot of experience moving around, dodging, blocking, striking [and] following your opponent. From all the practice we’ve had, I’ve gotten a lot better at it, and I feel a lot more confident.”

Leslie said confidence is one of the greatest benefits of Krav Maga. While she wouldn’t have called herself timid before taking classes, she said it has certainly helped increase her confidence level.

“If you’re an all-around timid person in day-to-day life, I feel like those are the people that do come,” Leslie said. “I’ve definitely become more confident in myself when going places. I don’t feel nervous around people as much.”

Krav Maga may not be for everyone, Leslie said. In order to effectively learn the material, students need to have a certain level of aggression. She said some students are too timid, and she can tell they’re holding back because they’re afraid of potentially hurting someone.

“But you’re not learning anything that way,” Leslie said. “You have to have a degree of aggression even with somebody you’re not trying to hurt in order to learn the material.”

Since the class began in the fall, Leslie said no one has been seriously injured — broken bones — but some people have gotten cuts or scars on their knuckles or have been hit on the nose. The students use some protective equipment — such as hand target pads or mats — but the program does not have all of the equipment it needs yet.

Because of a lack of equipment, the class focuses more on technique training and doesn’t do a high level of sparring. Sessions are currently offered Mondays from 5-6 p.m. and Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

“I think it’s important for everyone to be aware of their surroundings and be confident when they’re going places — especially with how messed up the world is nowadays,” Leslie said.