Written by Jen Offord


Let’s Get Physical: Krav Maga

One-time couch potato Jen Offord is now a fully fledged sportsaholic. In the spirit of #thisgirlcan she’s trying out different activities for Standard Issue. This week she’s not entirely sure all this windpipe poking and shin-kicking is a sport at all.

Jen practising a kicking move

Jen doesn’t usually greet strangers in this manner.

I might have mentioned that I’m about to embark on a senselessly over-complicated journey of female empowerment, cycling across America on my bike, Beyonce. It’s a strange story, how this has come about, but it’s fair to say I’m in no way qualified to undertake it.

People get quite excited when I tell them this, and I’m often met with one or a combination of the following reactions: 1. “That’s a long way”, 2. “That’s brilliant!”, and most commonly 3. “I hope you’re taking pepper spray.” Apparently it worries people because they think I’ll get chopped up by bandits or funny people living in sheds, by the side of dusty, deserted roads. I tell them I’ve no more reason, and in fact less, based on personal experience, to suspect there are a proportionately greater number of funny, choppy-uppy people living in sheds by the side of dusty, deserted roads in North American towns than in rural Essex.

So this week’s ‘sport’ is inspired by the fondness for pepper spray apparently held by so many dear to me. A pal of mine used to attend what he affectionately termed “fight club” of a Friday lunchtime, a ‘sport’ called Krav Maga, and has since been encouraging me to try it out. Suddenly, with all this talk of the risk of physical violence, it seemed so much more appealing.

Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli army, using elements of a bunch of different fighty sports, like boxing, wrestling and judo, of which you should by now know, I am a fan. But shortly after arriving at a fancy-pants gym, Gymbox in Covent Garden, for my class, I realise I’ve cocked up this week’s ‘sport’ a bit. I say this because it’s not, it transpires, actually a sport.

Krav Maga lesson in Israel

Krav Maga lesson in paratrooper school in Israel.

Initially, I’m none the wiser. We run around, this way, that way, the other way, knees up, heels kicking back – all pretty standard for the average fitness class. Though, oddly, we’ve got our hands up in front of us like we’re about to wring someone’s neck.

When we’ve done this, we pull out some very heavy bags which we proceed to punch, slap, elbow, knee and kick the shit out of. It’s hard work, all this fighting with a heavy, inanimate object, and I’m a bit worried that I’m not going to be able to write this up, given how similar it feels to Muay Thai. That is until we put the bags away and I’m buddied up with Monica, the only other woman in the class, and instructed to stick two fingers in the hollow of her neck and give a hearty poke.

Jen in a headlock move

It may not be a ‘sport’, but Jen keeps her head anyway.

Isn’t this a bit dangerous? “You’re not going to hurt them; you’re just going to make them feel a bit uncomfortable,” says my instructor. He’s not wrong: it really is quite an uncomfortable sensation, being poked in the windpipe, but Monica insists I can use more force. Monica would definitely have me in a fight, but even if poking people in the neck came naturally to me, Monica is quite a bit smaller than me and I feel a little uneasy about it all. Ditto the instruction: “It’s fine, you can kick me; I’m wearing a guard.”

This is a bit of a weird ‘sport’, right? The response to which is, “It isn’t a sport – it’s self-defence.” This makes more sense: the funny hands, the talk of employing a neck poke on a drunken assailant outside Liverpool Street Station… I see now that these would be strange conditions for a sport by almost anyone’s standards.

Next I’m learning how to claw someone’s hands off my neck, how not to pass out should I find myself in a headlock (turn your chin to the side and down – ain’t nobody crushing your windpipe from that angle, apparently) and how to shimmy out of it. But for a more authentic experience of being attacked when drunk outside Liverpool Street Station, we try it with our eyes closed after spinning around a bit.

After kicking our opponents from the unfortunate position of having already been knocked to the floor, we do some sparring, but this isn’t like my version of sparring, which happens against a punchbag; instead we are holding our hands up over our faces for protection from the blows our opponent is raining down on us. I only get biffed on the nose once.

It’s hard to argue against the endorphins caused by physical activity and I’ve had a cracking night, even if it did involve kicking a complete stranger in the junk. More importantly, I got some moves for any of those North American choppy-uppers.

Jen tried Krav Maga at Gymbox, Covent Garden.



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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen