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Kahn has studied krav maga in Israel.

June 5, 2002:

Take that!
David Kahn '94 teaches New Yorkers self-defense

Until recently, hailing a cab at rush hour and finding a rent-controlled apartment were the major survival skills learned on Manhattan's Upper West Side. No longer. At Makor, a community center a few blocks from Central Park, David Kahn '94 teaches krav maga — a self-defense system developed for the Israeli military — to young urbanites. Kahn, who played football for Princeton until he suffered a shoulder injury junior year, discovered the fighting technique while attending law school in Miami; he liked it so much that he went to Israel to study with Haim Gidon, the world's highest-ranking instructor. Now he sits on the board of the Israeli Krav Maga Association and has been designated Gidon's East Coast ambassador.

Krav maga, which translates to "contact fight" in Hebrew, was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld in prewar Czechoslovakia. He refined it further in Israel during the late 1940s. It's taught throughout Israel, but remains fairly unknown in the U.S. Krav maga, says Kahn, stresses the practical aspects of self-defense. After all, when it comes to a street fight, there are no rules, and the ultimate goal is fairly straightforward: survival. So instead of the ritualized moves and poses seen in other martial arts, krav maga teaches defenders a range of responses to an attack, including fingers to the eye, biting, and head butts to body parts you'd probably rather not have touched. At more advanced levels, students learn how to disarm assailants who have guns, knives, or rocks.

Civilians can pick up the techniques relatively quickly, says Kahn, who has also started teaching police departments. In the basement of Makor, beginning students pair up and take turns throwing practice punches and reacting to them. By the end of the class, they're sweaty, exhausted, smiling — and more confident. "That's terrific," Kahn told one of his students recently. "Do you feel empowered yet? You should!"

By Katherine Hobson '94

Katherine Hobson is an associate editor for U.S. News & World Report.