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To walk in peace, armed with knowledge

It only took a few minutes for Borhan Jiang to realize he'd found something he would be passionate about for the rest of his life.

It only took a few minutes for Borhan Jiang to realize he'd found something he would be passionate about for the rest of his life.

While on a trip to Israel in his early 20s, Jiang - already an accomplished student of martial arts and an army reservist - was encouraged to try out a class in Krav Maga.

Krav Maga (a Hebrew word that translates into "contact combat") is a self-defence technique developed in the 1940s, based on a variety of martial arts and hand-to-hand fighting methods.

"I was in the class and I got paired up with a young woman," he recalls.

Looking at her, he figured he had the advantage - she was slight and slim; he was bigger and stronger.

"But her first punch - wow, that was it, she had me," he says with a chuckle. "Your gender, your size, it doesn't matter."

He was hooked. Now, after nearly a decade of training and traveling around the world for certifications, he and fellow local Krav Maga instructor and former Israeli soldier, Jonathan Fader, are helping others learn how to protect themselves the same way.


Krav Maga, for all its practical purposes, has a history that sounds like something out of a Hollywood drama.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, a young man named Imi Lichtenfeld - a Jew born in Hungary and growing up in Bratislava, Slovakia - found himself taking to the streets alongside fellow athletes, mostly boxers and wrestlers, to defend their neighbourhoods from violence.

Anti-semitism and fascism were on the rise, and riots and attacks on the Jewish neighbourhoods was not uncommon.

Lichtenfeld soon discovered that competitive wrestling or boxing was a very different beast than the fight-for-your-life battles taking place on the streets of Bratislava.

On the wrestling mat or in the boxing ring, he fought for points - to win the match or the round. But up against a thug who was determined to injure him, or worse, Lichtenfeld needed to be able to quickly subdue his opponent - and then get out, alive.

Figuring out how to do just that was the seed that would become Krav Maga.

Later, Litchenfeld would escape to Palestine on the last refugee ship leaving Europe in 1940; from there, he formalized the fighting technique, and later, when the state of Israel was formed, he became an instructor with the Israeli Defense Forces.

To this day, Israeli soldiers - male and female - are trained in Krav Maga.

Other military organizations around the world have taken notice; so have individuals interested in self-defence, from famous Hollywood actors training to do their own stunts, to people like Jiang and Fader.

The Krav Maga instructors and business partners run Urban Tactics, currently running two full classes each week, off Hastings Street near Boundary.

Both are hoping to see the business grow in the coming years, particularly for women who are still under-represented in most Krav Maga training facilities.

Chances are good they'll be able to do just that - Krav Maga is fast becoming a household term, helped along by word of mouth, a bit of Hollywood glamour in the form of devotees like J. Lo and Angelina Jolie, and the impressive testimonials from those who've already learned more about this "contact combat."


Leon Underwood, a North Burnaby resident, is symbolic of the demographic most popularly drawn to Krav Maga up till now.

He's been in the military for 10 years, including a deployment to Afghanistan and emergency rescue operations here at home.

He notes that many who start training in Krav Maga are those who work in risky situations, but he says the ability to protect yourself quickly in any environment - plus the fitness benefits - are a boon to anyone.

"You don't have to go to a place like Afghanistan to find yourself being threatened and Krav Maga is a great answer to those concerns," he told the NOW. "It focuses on real world situations where the environment is uncontrolled and threats could come from anywhere at anytime."

Where martial arts like karate or judo may operate on a system of points in a competitive setting, Krav Maga teaches how to stay safe and get away fast - with your life.

"If you're being mugged and all you need to do is throw a kick to the groin and run away to stay safe, then that's what you do."

Warren Chow, on the other hand, represents another demographic in Krav Maga that is slowly on the rise: those unrelated to military or policing who simply see the benefits, physical and otherwise, to the training.

"I'm a manager in the IT field and a family man with two young children," he said.

Though he notes he's not often in a setting where he might need to fight, he says knowing how to do so is a comfort.

"If I ever find myself in the situation where I need to protect my family, then I'll be ready - and in the meantime I'm keeping fit," he said. "My worst nightmare would be to face a situation where I had to protect my family and I wasn't able to do it."

But Krav Maga, he says, is tough business.

"(It) will test you, both physically and mentally."


Jiang agrees with that assessment - Krav Maga is intended to be challenging. Though masters can take a lifetime to perfect their art, the basics can be learned quickly and effectively - if you commit to it.

"This is not a fitness class, it's not an aerobics class to (get fit); it's to learn to fight, to protect yourself," he says.

The training - from pushups and sit-ups, to sparring with each other - will push people to their limits and ultimately improve fitness, but the true benefits come from within. Fader says the confidence that comes from feeling strong and capable is profound.

"There have been times since I have learned (how to protect myself) where a physical confrontation or bullying (situation) has been avoided due to my ability to confidently present myself," he says. "Had I not known I could handle myself, other people may have picked up on that and I may have found myself in a bit of trouble."

Both Fader and Jiang experienced bullying in younger years, but both have grown into confident men eager to teach others the lessons they've learned through Krav Maga - which, ultimately, isn't about how to fight.

"The founder (Lichtenfeld) often said that Krav Maga was important 'So that one may walk in peace.' It's not to fight for the sake of fighting - to walk in peace, to be confident, to be able to protect yourself and others."

To find out more, see www.burnabykravmaga. com.