Should women and children train in Krav Maga after a traumatic experience?

Our training center is a family to us, and long-term friendships develop between us, our
instructors and our students. We love what we do, and we feel a huge responsibility
toward everyone who walks in our doors. We do our best to make it a welcoming,
friendly and safe space for all who want to learn.
We get a variety of reasons for people walking in our doors: fear of violence and
recovery from trauma are big ones. Our experiences on the mat must be shared with
other instructors, so we can constantly learn how to be better instructors.
Our topic for the essay is:
Should women and children train in Krav Maga after a traumatic
experience?
David seems to have it all: At age 66, he has a successful career as an internal
medicine surgeon, a nice home and a loving family.
But the bullying he experienced as a child stays with him all of these years, robbing
him of his ability to feel safe and to feel like he can protect his family.
“When you are bullied as a child, it never goes away,” he says, after a private lesson in
Krav Maga. “This is the only thing that makes it go away.”
When faced with bullying as a child, he told his father about it. His father told him: you
have 2 choices, you can tell the principal or you can fight back. “But you’re not a
fighter, so I don’t recommend fighting back.”
David regrets not fighting back. He just endured it. When asked if Krav Maga would
have helped him then? “Absolutely!” He says. As an adult, he worries about being
attacked in his work as a doctor by an angry patient, as a citizen on the streets and by
terrorists.
He found Krav Maga nearly a year ago, and this training helps him deal with those
fears, and mitigate those feelings of vulnerability. It’s nice to know there is
SOMETHING, I can do, in these situations, he says.
Is Krav Maga the cure for all trauma?
Gail and Dante’s first reaction is YES! Anytime they hear about something bad
happening to someone, their initial reaction is: they need Krav Maga. They frequently
reach out to people to offer training, in hopes of helping them recover.
But the reality is, our reality-based training may be too much, too soon for someone
who has been attacked and suffered trauma.
Many situations need time, and even counseling, before a person: man, woman or
child, is ready to train in Krav Maga, according to Rezma Menakem, a certified trauma
therapist and counselor who specializes in adults and children suffering with PTSD
(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Rezma has more than 30 years of experience as a
counselor, and worked as a contractor for the US Army for 2 years in Afghanistan,
helping soldiers heal from the traumas of their demanding jobs.
Rezma also trained in Krav Maga for a couple of years, and so has his teenage son. He
believes in Krav Maga, and frequently recommends it to others.
The realistic training is a very powerful tool for healing and rebuilding self confidence;
but it can also trigger flashbacks and re-traumatize someone, if they are not ready for
it, he says.
“It’s best that the trauma be over, if you are trying to train them,” he says. “People can
start doing it too early, and their body never settles. They are trying to override the
trauma.”
And everyone responds differently to a traumatic situation. For some people, they get
stuck in the response to trauma, and training too soon can send them back into the
moment of freezing, panic or disassociating.
“It’s important to find out where they are in the healing process,” Rezma says.
Krav Maga instructors should have some type of assessment tools: questions they ask
of every new student, to see if there is a history of trauma in this person’s life, Rezma
says. And they need to be prepared with some “psychological first aid” should
someone have a problem during class.
Just be with them, assure them you are there, walk with them and support them, he
says.
Dante and Gail agree with this.
Gail does most of the initial contact with new students because she manages the
business and answers the phone:
She will always ask: what are you looking for from the training? She will describe the
class structure and environment, so people will have an idea of what to expect.
Especially for women. She explains the difference between the regular classes and the
women-only classes. Without flat-out asking if that person has been attacked, she
instead suggests that a woman who is uncomfortable training with men, or has been
attacked in the past, might be more comfortable starting with a women-only class.
That opens the door for that person to bring it up, if they are ready to share that.
Sometimes, we recommend they start with private lessons if the trauma is too fresh,
and they express concerns. But more often than not, they request that right away, if
that is a concern for them. They can train with a friend or loved one, so they can work
on their recovery without the social concerns of a class environment.
Equally important, as instructors Gail and Dante watch the students closely for
indicators of panic or someone who is struggling in class. If we know they have a
history of assault, we partner them with a more experienced and trusted student or
another instructor.
With women, it’s usually a meltdown of some sort, and crying. Then they become
embarrassed and want to avoid being the center of attention. With men, it can be a
dangerous panic, especially someone with a military background and suffering with
PTSD. We also have some recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who train with us, as
well; a lifestyle that is often associated or stems from an abusive life. We make a deal
with them: They must be clean when they attend classes, and we will support them as
best we can. This process often takes them through a range of emotions as they
struggle to face their history of trauma without depending on their drug of choice.
For Danae, Krav Maga turned into the perfect tool for healing her trauma that ironically
stemmed from her time living in Jerusalem.
Her sense of adventure and eagerness to do good things in the world, drew her to take
a job with a Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. Her husband Steve found a job as an
accountant, and they moved there together in 2013.
Things were relatively calm at first. After the 2014 kidnapping and murder of the Israeli
teenagers in Hebron, tensions escalated quickly. The violence around her took it’s toll
on her sense of well being. Cars were being used as weapons to ram into people, so
the sounds of revving and braking vehicles started to scare her.
In October 2015, her husband moved to Minneapolis ahead of Danae. She stayed in
Jerusalem alone, during what people were calling the “knife intifada.” There were 3 to 4
stabbings a day along the route that Danae walked to work. Her employer asked her to
drive to work, for her safety, but then she was targeted by the Israeli police for stop and
search because she lived in a Palestinian area.
She received texts daily from the UN, telling Americans where they could and couldn’t
go to be safe. Danae finally asked her employers if she could leave a week early,
because of the stress and fear she was experiencing. That request was denied
because of financial reasons.
Danae finally joined her husband in Minneapolis in October 2015, a new home for them
both.
“I did not leave my apartment for a week, and I didn’t leave the skyway (hallway) for 3
weeks after that” she says. “I couldn’t handle people walking behind me.”
She started therapy, trying to overcome these fears.
After 3 months, she needed to do more. She found our school, not even knowing that
the roots of Krav Maga are in Israel.
In her first class with a male instructor, and only one other female student, she found
herself fighting back tears. But her male partner was very nice, and helpful and
encouraged her to come back. She left the class in tears, but she did come back.
Fast forward to 2018, Danae practically lives at our training center. She has tested
through P-5, and proven to be a fierce and talented fighter. Embracing each challenge
with a tenacity that inspires us all, she refuses to let the past define her any more.
“I fucking love this stuff,” she shouted one day while shooting photos of our training.
Danae works hard to help us make our school a welcoming place for all. She recalls
how difficult it was for her to walk in the door.
She also does marketing for a living, and has taken over most of our marketing work
and has rebuilt our web site, in exchange for classes. She rocked CIC part 1, and
assists other instructors with teaching. She looks forward to finishing the CIC so she
can share Krav Maga with others.
She especially feels there needs to be more women in Krav Maga, as students and
instructors. In her full-time job, she works for a non-profit agency that helps teens
experiencing homelessness, and she will teach Krav Maga there once she is certified.
She felt so intimidated that first day; she could have just as easily turned around and
left without even taking the class. Now she is an invaluable member of our IKMF
Minnesota family.
It’s really important to allow the student to determine if they are ready to face their past,
and use Krav Maga to mitigate their fears. We can encourage and push them, but if we
push them too hard to soon, they will leave and not come back.
Here is a great example of that situation: Two women attended one of our Stay Away
intro seminars. Dante and I were teaching. They were obviously friends.
Both struggled to keep going at times; one stepped away in tears several times. The
other woman almost panicked, but she was able to use her rage to keep going. We
allowed them to do what they needed to do to get through the training, without making
a big fuss. They both sought us out to talk at the end, and explain what they were
dealing with. It was hard for them, but they appreciated the training.
A few weeks later, these two women attended our 3-hour Ground Defenses Seminar
for women only. Again, both struggled greatly with the training, and frequently burst
into tears. But they both were determined to reframe their trauma and kept going back
again and again, fighting off a bad guy in a protective suit, each time feeling stronger.
They refused to give up, and kept working through the fear and the pain. It was an
amazing experience to be there, helping them, supporting them and seeing them
reclaim their sense of safety and control over their bodies.
In another case, a woman brought in her 15-year-old daughter, who had been gangraped
at a party by a group of classmates a couple years earlier. The daughter refused
to report them, or name them, so her mother did what she could to help her recover.
The teen was very passive and withdrawn; she had been cutting her skin. She was very
tall and thin with little muscle. Some classmates who knew about the assault, had been
harassing her, and calling her a whore. Her mom enrolled her in our 10-part womenonly
series, with her consent.
She struggled in every class, often retreating to the couch in tears. But then she would
often seek out Dante after class, and ask him to work through some of the techniques
afterward. By the last day, she had built up some confidence, but she didn’t want to do
the obstacle course at the end. So we let her watch the others. She sat in a fetal
position in a chair, looking terrified. But all of a sudden, she decided to do it. She went
all the way through, did pretty well, and finished shaking. Back to the chair. Then she
wanted to do it again. This time, she rocked it! Fighting her way through with
aggression and determination. The last stop was the ground attack, and watching her
kick the crap out of Dante and escape was amazing. This time, she finished with a
smile on her face.
But I’ve also seen the opposite happen. Usually when working ground defenses. One
woman spent much of the time in the office sobbing. She just wasn’t ready for it, and
she finally left, and I have not seen her since. Another woman took our whole 10-part
series, but when it came to the ground defenses, she tried a few times with a female
partner, and then, said, I’m not ready to go there.
In addition to advanced screening of students, it’s important to pay attention to them
during class. We encourage our students to police themselves, physically and
emotionally, while pushing them to push themselves. It’s a delicate balance.
I’d heard horror stories from male Krav Maga instructors, talking about how a woman
had “freaked out” on them during class, again, often during a ground defense. The
instructors seemed totally shocked.
This is why the Stay Away program, and the WIC is SO IMPORTANT!! Even if an
instructor only teaches co-ed classes. The training is so eye-opening for men, and we
have been through it two times now. The first course was outstanding, the update was
so much better.
But Gail wanted to learn more, so she attended a 40-hour course that certified me by
the State of Minnesota to be an advocate for victims of sexual assault. She has never
done that work, but the training was outstanding for many reasons.
I learned some ways to help someone get through a “freak out” during class. Being a
support without prying.
Some highlights of the course:
It’s never the woman’s fault, no matter what the circumstances; and it’s
important to tell them that.
You don’t give advice, you offer resources. At a time when a woman feels like
she has lost control of everything in her life; it’s important to let her decide how they
want to move forward. Options not advice.
Don’t push them to report to the police. We have mixed feelings on this. You
can’t stop the bad guys without pressing charges, but the group contends that, a
woman should not have to carry that responsibility for future crimes. They taught us to
provide the resources: tell them if they get the rape kit performed, that doesn’t obligate
them to report it, but they have the evidence collected, and they can decide later on.
The contention is, your job is to provide unbiased support for the victim of the assault,
not to help the police, unless the victim chooses to.
Another topic addressed transgendered people, and how they often attacked for
sexual assault and for their lifestyle. Minneapolis has a large “trans” population, and
they show up for classes on a more regular basis. This creates a new challenge for us,
helping them decide what classes will serve their needs the best.
We offer on-going women-only classes at our school once a week, in addition to our
on-going co-ed school. Some of our female students train in both classes; some prefer
the women-only classes; some train in the co-ed classes only.
One female student, who has attended most of our women-only seminars and did a
fantastic in those seminars, also attends our co-ed classes. While quiet and kind of
shy, she did fine in the co-ed class, and really unleashed with aggression when doing
her defenses. So I was surprised when she told me how much she appreciate having
the women-only classes. She told me “I always feel so stupid” in the co-ed classes.
This horrified Gail! She had no idea, and re-enforced our decision to have that option
for women.
This student works in a very dangerous school, with adult-sized emotionally disturbed
teenagers, and they often have to search the kids for weapons themselves. She
worries a lot about her safety on her job, and that is what brings her into our classes.
Our school rarely sees women who will come in soon after an assault. Usually, a loved
one will call to ask about classes on their behalf. A frustrated boyfriend, parent or friend
will call, searching for a way to help their loved one recover.
The women will often show up after a close call: Something has scared them, made
them realize that something terrible could have happened to them.
Parents will call when their child has been bullied or assaulted, seeking training to help
their child.
We don’t work with children very often, even though Dante and I are both KIC certified.
So we reached out to Latasha Hamann, one of our longtime students, who works with
children and adults in her job as a psychologist. Latasha loves Krav Maga, has
completed CIC part 1; our VIP bronze course and has tested through P5.
In general, Krav Maga is a great tool for kids who are recovering from trauma, she says.
But it varies from child to child.
“It can help build their confidence, and positive image, teach self awareness and self
control, empathy,” she says. “Perhaps it can also help create new friendships with
peers.”
It’s also a great opportunity for movement and physical fitness.
Traumatized kids will often isolate themselves and avoid interaction with others, stay in
their room, avoid going to school, avoid exercise, and all of that contributes to
worsening of depression and anxiety related to PTSD and trauma.
The danger to bringing them into a Krav Maga class too soon, is risk to other kids and
themselves. They need to learn self control and boundaries.
“Often times kids who have been traumatized display violent, aggressive, and
destructive behaviors,” she said “For these kids, it would be most appropriate to focus
first on therapy for emotional/behavioral stabilization before looking at options of extra
curricular activities.”
Those decisions have to be made on a case by case basis, in discussions with parents,
therapists and teachers, LaTasha says.
Krav Maga has helped Mat, one of our instructors, heal the wounds of a sexual assault
by a male friend and mentor at age 21. He also thinks it would have helped him prevent
it, but he didn’t discover Krav Maga until many years later. The assault wasn’t violent,
but Mat froze and couldn’t make himself resist. Mat was a larger, stronger man, and he
trained in Muay Thai and had been a wrestler in high school. This only exacerbated the
guilt and shame he felt for not fighting back. Becoming an instructor and helping others
learn Krav Maga has helped with his own healing.
Mat’s situation is the more common cases of sexual assault. A known and trusted
person takes advantage of your trust and abuses it, and you. In these cases, Krav
Maga training builds the confidence and awareness and fighting skills to either say no,
fight back, or recover from a time when you didn’t fight back.
Conclusions
Krav Maga is a fantastic solution for preventing, surviving and recovering from trauma.
The training pushes us out of our comfort zones on many fronts, making us stronger
and more confident. But when a person has been traumatized, woman, man or child,
each case must be evaluated for when that training should happen.
An IKMF instructor has the responsibility to evaluate their students, and guide them to
make the right decisions for themselves. We must also realize that we may not be the
best person for the job at hand, and refer a student to another instructor who might be
better suited for working with a specific student.
So all may walk in peace!

 

Gail Boxrud: Krav Maga training for more than 15 years; IKMF instructor for 10 1/2
years.
Dante Pastrano: Krav Maga training for 11 years; IKMF instructor for nearly 10 years.
Together we own Krav Maga Minneapolis in Minnesota, USA.


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