According to the Department of Justice, roughly 52 percent of women have reported experiencing physical violence in their lifetime. In 2018 Mollie Tibbetts became a statistic—a college sophomore who was stalked and murdered during an evening jog. And then there was Wendy Martinez, another jogger randomly attacked with a knife, who stumbled into a Chinese restaurant in an unsuccessful attempt to save her own life. And let’s not forget the possible abduction attempt just off UNCW’s campus earlier in the semester.
Stories of assaults, kidnappings and attacks are what keep Justin Gates teaching women’s self-defense at his business, Port City Krav Maga (PCKM), for the past two years. Krav Maga was developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) more than 60 years ago and is known for its focus on real-world situations and efficient counter attacks.
“It was derived from street-fighting skills developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld,” explains Gates, who has been practicing Krav Maga since 2009 and teaching since 2011. “He made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler as a means of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in the mid-to-late 1930s.”
Krav Maga includes a combination of techniques sourced from aikido, boxing, judo and wrestling to create a realistic fight-training program. What separates Krav Maga from other forms of defense is the system’s awareness and response to real-life threats that can occur anytime, anywhere. There is really only one goal with Krav Maga: Get home safe.
“Krav Maga assumes there will be more than one attacker,” Gates notes. “It’s not a ring or mat sport . . . [it] is the embodiment of Bruce Lee’s quote, ‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless.’”
Gates has designed a Krav Maga training seminar for females, called W.omen E.mpowered (WE). The two-hour class is cultivated around the specific needs and concerns of women ages 13 and up. Women’s self-defense is somewhat different than men’s, in that women are more likely to be targeted. According to NCADV, one in five women in the United States have been raped or sexually assaulted, and over 19.3 million women have reported being stalked in their lifetime. Because of such statistics, women are generally encouraged to be hyper-aware of their surroundings, travel in packs and never walk alone—situations very few men have to consider.
Generally, women are smaller than their attackers. As Gates points out, no one can choose their attacker and where or when, even if, it happens. The only variable to control is how to respond. Due to a combination of factors such as size, speed, skill, strength and intent, women can learn simple and highly effective striking and kicking, as well as how to escape various grabs and holds.
“Most importantly, [women] will learn how to give themselves permission to use their power,” Gates reveals. “Culturally speaking—and this is changing—women and girls have been taught to be polite and soft spoken, to be passive. Participants will be encouraged to tap into that inner power and assert themselves verbally and non-verbally. Self-defense implies YOU are worth defending.”
Krav Maga isn’t just a useful sport, it’s an exhilarating, liberating, empowering approach to discover inner strength. The fighting is loud, the punches are hard and the bodies are sweaty. Whether the goal is learning self-defense, getting an insanely effective cardio workout, or just letting out pent-up stress via roundhouse kicks and rear-naked chokes, everyone can find something beneficial.
“We’ve had a ton of positive feedback,” Gates notes. “Many have said they feel more powerful and confident, which is fantastic. One of our students said to me, with tears in her eyes, ‘I feel like I have my life back.’ . . . That is one of the best things you can hear as a teacher.”
Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, PCKM has decided to offer the WE seminar to collect donations for ILM’s domestic violence shelter. One in three women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner, and of the 72 percent of murder-suicides that involve an intimate partner, 94 percent are women. “It is part of our mission to give back to the community that has given us so much,” Gates says.
While the October seminar is officially at full capacity, pre-registration for the next WE class in February is now open. Gates encourages folks to sign up in advance since classes fill up fast.
A two-hour seminar is just a small taste of what continual Krav Maga training has to offer both the body and mind. PCKM offers group classes for various skill levels, one-on-one training, small group training, corporate training, and various seminars, like WE. PCKM also has a drop-in policy, which can be viewed at https://portcitykravmaga.com
“If you have ever felt threatened or been physically abused and didn’t know how to fight back even if you wanted to, we can help you,” Gates assures. “If you are a parent and are concerned about your daughters and sons having the ability to defend themselves, we can help you. If you are looking for something different than your big box gym atmosphere, we have a great group of like-minded people. If you say to yourself, ‘I’m too old,’ know that we have students who are in their 60s and 70s! If you think, ‘I have to be in shape before I start,’ we have beginner’s classes that you can check out to see for yourself how much fun it is…Everyone starts where they are. The scariest thing to do is show up! You may find this is the spark that ignites your fire.”