“The fear is that [in a moment of danger], you have three options- the three F’s. Fight, flight, or freeze. Freezing is the least favourable, and so we try to eliminate two of the 3 F’s through training.” – Joel Gelfand
The Jewish people have been tied to fitness and martial arts for centuries. From the early 1930s boxers to indications that ancient Egyptian Jews practiced self defence, it has long been a part of our culture and history. In the last decade, self defence practices have seen a resurgence in popularity, especially in the jewish community where anti-Semitism has become a significant threat to personal safety. Joel Gelfand, founder and head instructor at House of Combat, attributes the rise in popularity to the commercialization of Ultimate Fighting Championship, better known as UFC, which was followed by a boom in self defence gyms opening, and YouTube videos demonstrating the instruction and history of these techniques.
Self defence training boasts many benefits, on top of the exercise and movement. Those who practice report emotional benefits in the form of stress and tension relief, psychological benefits in the form of confidence, both on and off the mat, and physical benefits including body awareness and strength. Gelfand notes that in youth group classes, he sees a dramatic rise in friendship, bonding and trust. While it’s meant to be a self improvement activity, there is quite a bit of team work involved, and building trust with those you train with to make you better.
House of Combat is a community gym with a focus on self defence for physical fitness, but also works towards confidence in self protection. With classes for all ages in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, boxing, and krav maga, they have become the go-to in the Jewish community for recreational self defence classes, but also personal safety. In fact, Gelfand himself has found himself in a unique role, as he is not just instructing in the gym, but given the current climate of hate, he has found himself contracted out to various Jewish affiliates to train krav maga, consult, and assist with community safety.
Krav maga is taught as real world combat to handle realistic situations. As a martial art, it is less beautiful and more gruesome, with one key goal of survival. The origins of krav maga lie in Israeli combat and street fighting, which pulls the most simple and effective parts of boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo, and more to suppress an opponent. It focuses on training the body and mind to work as one and become the ultimate weapon. Each move is a combination of attacking and defending in providing the most efficient form of protection. It is for this reason that many women train, as it builds internal confidence and security when walking alone, or dealing with attackers. It is through relying on the body as your main weapon that you will be the safest.
The Toronto Jewish community has responded favourably to this type of training, and while it may have taken time for this trend to build itself up, it’s now a practical choice among parents, community leaders, and those interested in a way to keep themselves or loved ones safe.
Gelfand finds the security aspect spilling over into his clientele. On top of his regular clientele who are seeking the many health based benefits of training, Gelfand now sees community groups for krav maga, with the intention of boosting personal and collective safety. He has also noticed a shift in private clients with a newfound fear based on the ever increasing rise in anti-Semetic attacks.
Gelfand feels it’s important for organizations and synagogues to have security, but also trained members to become eyes and ears at services or events. He calls this “increasing the line of defence in the community” noting that “the minute we feel we’ve been comfortable for a hundred years, historically that’s when something happens, and the best thing we can do is prepare our bodies and minds for it. We have to protect our community and our homes, and nobody will do it better than ourselves”.
Training the body, no matter the purpose, is an excellent outlet for health and wellness, and boasts many benefits that are crucial for an all around healthy lifestyle.