[UPDATE Monday, 3:46 p.m. with correct website link]
Gershon Ben Keren wants to train 200 women in self-defense by the end of the year.
The owner and head instructor of Krav Maga Yashir Boston in Charlestown offers a free women’s self-defense class every Saturday morning, from 10-11 a.m. at his new facility at 200 Terminal St. Open each week to new students, the class runs on a rotating basis, starting again about every three months. So far, Ben Keren and his assistant instructors have reached about 178 women.
Krav Maga Yashir Boston also offers full Krav Maga training for men and women ages 17 and up, from all backgrounds and fitness levels (their most senior student is a 61-year-old woman).
Originally from the United Kingdom, Ben Keren started a Krav Maga school in London, then handed over the reins to other instructors and moving to the Boston area about four years ago. He has been teaching Krav Maga for about 20 years and recently brought his U.S. school to Charlestown, to a 16,000 square foot space in a building located under the Tobin Bridge.
Ben Keren talked with Patch recently about the key components of Krav Maga, the qualities of a good self-defense program and his plans for filling the new space.
How did you end up in Charlestown? [After moving to the United States] I was set up in the Cambridge YMCA, then moved to Medford and rented space in a Tae Kwon Do studio there, and then we grew to a size where we just couldn’t share the mat space or get the times we needed to train, so it was time to leave. We looked around at various locations. It became a toss-up between Somerville and Charlestown; Charlestown won it because of the parking we have here. We’ve been in here since April.
What are your plans for the space? By January, up to that [back] wall will be fully matted, and then there’s another 5,000 sq. ft. behind it. What we’ll do with that is turn it into a reality-based training area, so we’ll bring a car up and we’ll set up street scenarios, bar scenarios, that kind of thing.
How does the free self-defense class work? We ask that women sign up for the first session [to ensure a mix of regular and new students] but from then on you just show up. The idea is really every three months or so people get to revise material, or if they only stay for x number of weeks they’re at least given comprehensive training, as much as you can do in that time.
What kind of self-defense do you teach in these classes? We teach an approach to violence, whether it’s this or a regular class, along the basis of a timeline, and then we break that timeline down into phases, because violence against an individual is largely predictable. There are two things which always lead to a violent incident. There are pre-violence indicators—these are the things that the attacker does, so one of the things that any attacker has to do to be able to assault you is synchronize their movements to you, whether it’s following you, waiting for you or intercepting you. If I can notice somebody making that synchronization of movement, that’s going to alert me that there is danger coming my away and I might have the ability to step off that path.
We also talk about victim facilitators, which are things that people do which put them on the radar of predatory individuals. This is not the same as victim blaming; this often gets confused. It’s like turning around and saying, ‘I have every right to leave my front door open at night,’ and you’re not to blame if somebody then comes in and assaults you, but you’ve done something that facilitated that, so you helped them on the way.
So we teach what those particular victim facilitators are, what those pre-violence indicators are, and basically our belief is that by good situational awareness, 80-90 percent of any potentially violent situation can be avoided, maybe the remaining 10 can be avoided through the de-escalation of a disengagement when you start understanding what’s happening. That leaves only a small fraction that actually requires a physical solution.
I have a master’s in psychology, and my research papers were done on violence and women, so we bring a lot of that academic research and case studies from real-life violence and then merge that with my background in security, especially in the Middle East. So we put that together and then present something that is culturally relevant, not just to the Middle East but to people in the U.S.
What is the main difference between Krav Maga and other martial arts? The idea of Krav Maga was, when Israel was ready to declare independence, it knew it was going to get attacked on all sides and they knew they had a limited time to train their population to be able to fight. So there was a guy, Imi Lichtenfeld, who came up with this concept—which was being developed in other parts of the world at the time—which was how do you actually instinctually react to violence? Not how would you like to act but how are you going to act? The system is based on actual reflex and instinct. We have a flinch reflex, so anything that hits our periphery, we flinch. So where traditional marital arts would say if an attack comes in this way, I’m going to make this ripping strong block and break the person’s arm, we’ll turn around and say you’re probably not going to do that in real life. You’ll flinch.
So really where we differ from a lot of martial arts and self-defense systems is we say, look, that is a really good technique, but you’re not goin to do it unless you’ve had 30 years of training. So we’re going to take that natural instinct and we’re going to apply good body mechanics to it, and work from there.
Is there a strength factor to learning Krav Maga? Reality-based self-dense has three components, which are: simple techniques, because your body can’t perform anything complex under stress; an aggressive mindset, so when you are attacked we talk about turning from prey to predator; and physical fitness. It’s part of it’s an empowerment thing. If you’ve been led to believe that the only people who are going to lift logs and stones are huge, musclebound people, and I can take a woman who’s like 120 pounds and get her to lift one of those stones [huge stone balls used for lifting], suddenly there’s a switch that changes. It’s a complementary thing, not as a substitute or even as an essential, though I think for some women it works very well to just take a perception and turn it on its head and say, you don’t have to be the victim here; you have a choice.
Krav Maga Yashir Boston
- Features: Krav Maga classes in a range of levels and a free women's self-defense class on Saturday mornings
- Located: 200 Terminal St., third floor (In the Charlestown Maritime Center, underneath the Tobin Bridge; click here for detailed directions)
- Parking: Free, on-site
- Hours: Classes taught Monday through Saturday
- Website: www.bostonkravmaga.com
- Telephone: 339-224-8005
- Free classes: To sign up for the free women's self-defense classes, visit www.womensselfdefenseboston.com