Soldiers find skills, fitness tests in dojo

By Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin/19th Public Affairs Detachment on September 21, 2012

RENTON, Wash. - Sweat-soaked, bruised and exhausted, a group of 15 participants have wrapped up another session of Krav Maga, or "contact combat" at a Renton dojo. Rapidly increasing in popularity, classes teaching the discipline, a noncompetitive, self-defense system, are popping up throughout the area and attracting military students.

Developed more than a half century ago to train the Israel Defense Forces, Krav Maga, unlike other popular martial arts, was not developed for the controlled environment of a fighting ring or cage and is not governed by a set of sportsmanship rules. Students are taught to fend off an attacker or aggressor in a real-world scenario by striking at the most vulnerable parts of the body (e.g. face, neck, groin or joints) and train to repel multiple armed targets.

"Krav Maga focuses on what the average person can do, with the least amount of training, in a real-world scenario," said Richard Chung, owner and chief instructor of a Renton martial arts studio that specializes in the discipline. Chung has trained for 28 years in a variety of martial arts principles but picked up the program in the last two years.

"In class we work to understand the fight and handle the emotional state of being attacked. We try to replicate the stresses which happen during the fight: the speed, the fear, the anxiety. If we can train the students to handle fear, stress and anxiety at a high enough pace, then when they are in the actual fight they will not be overwhelmed."

To cultivate the feeling of stress, Chung pushes his classes through a series of sparring exercises to include striking, kicks and hold escapes. The only breaks are for gulping down water or switching training gear. The end result: on average, it burns up to 800 calories per hour.

"It has definitely improved my PT score," 1st Lt. Timothy Samms, 191st Infantry Brigade training officer said. "It's like having the worst ‘smoke session' of basic training times five. I'm probably in the best shape of my life." Samms has 14 years of combined enlisted and officer service in the Army and Air Force. Based on his combat experience, Samms said he preferred the Israeli program's emphasis on standing fighting techniques rather than ground grappling.

"I would recommend Krav Maga to other service members and their families.," Samms said.

Despite the pace and intensity of the classes, Chung insists the program offers a very accessible fighting style. With the focus on ending a fight quickly, students are not forced to master intricate techniques or balance, breathing and timing in the same regard as a traditional martial arts discipline. "The beauty ... is that it's about effectiveness," Chung said. "It's functional and it works. The average person can come twice a week for four months and progress out of level one, which means they should be able to handle most situations in a stand up attack."

In addition to Renton, other locations offering Krav Maga are available in Puyallup, Tacoma and Seattle. Classes are offered six days a week and students can attend as many classes as they like in their skill level.