Imi Lichtenfeld was born in Hungary in 1910. His father was a police officer and a former circus acrobat, so he brought Imi up with the self-defense and gymnastic skills that he had honed over the course of his two careers. Imi proved a natural athlete, and would go on to win several boxing and wrestling championships during his young manhood.
Being tough was a good quality to have for a Jew in 1930’s Eastern Europe. In response to the threat posed by violent anti-Semitic gangs, Imi led a team of fellow pugilists to defend their neighborhoods. Imi quickly learned that boxing and wrestling were not the soundest fighting styles for use in vicious street fighting, however, so he began developing the moves needed to deal with weapon-toting assailants out only for blood.
The violence forced Imi’s family to emigrate to what was then Palestine. After Israel declared their independence in 1948, the Israeli Defense Forces asked Imi to develop a combat style based on his experience. Imi thus invented Krav Maga (Hebrew for “Contact Combat”), a martial art combining natural self-defense movements followed by decisive counterattacks. The versatile school of fighting proved so effective that Krav Maga is still used throughout the world to this day.
When Gail Boxrud felt she needed to learn how to defend herself should her job as a police reporter ever put her in a rough and tumble situation, she naturally gravitated toward a martial art which emphasizes simple efficacy over flair and style. She took her first Krav Maga class nearly 16 years ago, and became hooked immediately. Gail attended local classes as often as she could, and sought special training as well: first at a conference in Philadelphia, then in Israel, and then again in Israel five more times.
Gail earned her instructor certification in 2007, and now owns and teaches at Krav Maga Minneapolis along with her partner Dante Pastrano. As ranked experts under the Israel-based International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF), Gail and Dante are certified to teach civilians, law enforcement professionals, bodyguards, and women and children alike. Gail also serves as director of the IKMF for the state of Minnesota. Although modest about her command of Krav Maga, Gail’s cool confidence projects the aura of a lady whom you’d simply never want to mess with.
“Krav Maga can complement any other martial arts training,” said Gail. “But it’s especially great for people with no training at all. Krav Maga teaches you to never give up. That mindset will make you more formidable in public, and less likely to be targeted by an attacker. Knowing how to fight means you’re less likely to have to.
“Many fighting styles prohibit groin kicks and biting, but Krav Maga teaches you to do whatever you need to defend yourself. Krav Maga is great for women for that reason, as we teach them how to attack vulnerable areas of the body while defending themselves.
“Women may train alongside men in our regular classes, but we also offer special seminars and classes exclusively for women that are taught by female certified instructors. These are great for women who might be apprehensive about training with men, or who have been attacked in the past.
“Krav Maga doesn’t just work in the training center. We frequently train in cars, buses, airplanes, nightclubs, and outdoors, and we offer special seminars in those topics.
“One of our specialties is self-defense on a bicycle. We started to develop the program several years ago, after two of our students had been chased on their bicycles. They were able to outrun the bad guys, but that got us thinking about how we could adapt Krav Maga for cyclists.
“We trained and got certified as security cyclists with the International Police Mountain Bike Association, and developed our own program for civilian cyclists where we teach biking and fighting skills according to the principles of Krav Maga. The training takes you from bike to fight: mounting and dismounting skills, how to fall to reduce your chance of injury, and use the bike as a self-defense tool.
“Krav Maga teaches people to defend themselves against the most common attacks on the street, using awareness and stress drills. We teach how to defend against punches, kicks, and grabs, as well as armed attacks, based on timelines, principles, and multiple attackers. We make the training as realistic as we can, all while emphasizing safety.
“We teach serious stuff, but the training is fun,” Gail concluded. “I love to empower people with the skills needed to improve their confidence and safety.”
Krav Maga Minneapolis is located at 2905 Garfield Ave in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. To learn more about their other classes including law enforcement training, Russian kettlebells, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, please visit kravmagampls.com.
By David Scheller