‘When you feel you are using your own abilities to help yourself, your family and your community, you feel much safer,” says Magen David Adom official Yonatan Yagodovsky – an ethos that couldn’t ring truer right now, amid a rush by members of the public to equip themselves with self-defense tools and/ or brush up on their self-defense and lifesaving skills, in the wake of a period of relentless lone-wolf terrorism across the country.
Yagodovsky is the director of MDA’s International and Fund-raising Department, and says the rescue organization has seen a spike of some 25 to 30 percent of people participating in first-aid courses over the last few weeks.
The concrete guidelines MDA has put out to the public detail the immediate steps witnesses to a terrorist attack can take in order to assist the victim.
“Every person can assist and save lives with basic maneuvers,” Yagodovsky tells the Magazine. “In the case of a stabbing, the first thing to do is to remove the victim’s clothes and see exactly where the wound is. If it’s bleeding, we need to find the source of the bleeding and then take any type of cloth and put pressure on the wound, in order to control the bleeding.”
At the same time, he says, the first-aider should ask someone else to dial the MDA emergency number, 101, to inform them of the location and details of the incident. While paramedics will be dispatched to the scene, an operator will provide professional support over the phone.
The next important step that MDA advises is to check whether there are any additional wounds, to speak to the victim and ask if they have any pain.
He stresses that in cases where the object is still stuck in the body, as has been known to happen, one must not remove it but apply pressure on both sides of the wound to reduce external bleeding.
“People automatically want to remove the object,” he notes, “but sometimes it’s blocking a hemorrhage, and taking it out can cause additional damage to the organ and external tissue and can cause more bleeding.”
The MDA employee states that having this basic knowledge “can make the difference between a very sad outcome and really saving a person’s life.”
Yagodovsky opines that people should find their own ways to have the utmost personal feeling of security, a desideratum which is likely the main reason why so many people are suddenly flocking to self-defense courses.
Yehudit Sidikman, CEO and co-founder of women’s self-defense nonprofit El HaLev, says, however, that a single self-defense workshop won’t cut it.
“We believe that everyone should learn the basic tools for self-defense, and we teach it all year round,” she tells the Magazine. The Jerusalem-based organization especially caters to populations most vulnerable to violence: women, adolescent girls, the elderly, children and individuals with special needs.
“Terrorism is a whole different animal.
To combat it you need to have a much higher level of training,” she says, dismissing beliefs that a few self-defense classes will be enough for someone to know how to take care of themselves in any situation.
“It may make you feel better,” she acknowledges, “but if you want to feel safe in every situation, you need to train and learn how to protect yourself against random acts of violence by the hands of terrorists or someone who has lost touch with reality. Unless you train against random acts of violence, your ability to protect yourself is limited.”
Sidikman notes that her organization has increased the number of workshops it is running, due to increased demand, and has tailored them to deal with the type of threats that the Israeli public has been grappling with over the past few weeks.
“Our goal is always to encourage people to do more, train more and learn more,” she stresses. “I don’t think 10 minutes of training and pepper spray are going to fix it.”
Fabrice Fourment, a martial arts expert, echoes the sentiment of Sidikman’s message. He recently brought the Red Shark Academy to Tel Aviv – an international school that combines the best of Krav Maga, karate and other martial arts and combat sports.
This week the newly launched school held a free hour-and-a-half training session at Tel Aviv Port to help people learn what to do if they find themselves at the scene of a terrorist attack.
“The idea of this session is basically to explain what not to do, and what to do if the worst comes to the worst and a person is hurt by a knife,” he says.
“To learn how to defend yourself from a knife is very difficult,” he asserts, clarifying that this is not something that can be learned in one session. “It’s like music. When you’re playing the piano and you learn do-re-mi, you can’t suddenly play Beethoven or Bach.”
Fourment drives home the same mantra as Sidikman: You have to train.
“There is no other secret – your body has to memorize the movements that you have to do, because your mind won’t work properly when you’re in a stressful situation. It takes time.”
Nonetheless, the French immigrant felt it was important to put on a free session to encourage people who wouldn’t usually attend a class to come – “to give people that little bit to make them feel more confident and less frightened.
We’re [Israelis are] one big family and we have to help each other in hard times.”
He adds that his experience in working with schools, mothers and children enables him to teach techniques that don’t necessarily involve muscle.
Likewise, Krav Maga instructor Oren Mallul offered a free class this week with a special focus on how to deal with knife attacks – after being inundated with requests from new students – a class attended by almost only women.
“I feel obligated to give a service to the public and give them an opportunity to experience a session like this that can encourage them to continue with it – and even one move can make the whole difference to your own or someone else’s life,” he says as he waits for his students to file into the lobby of Tel Aviv’s Guf Rishon gym where he teaches.
Mallul asserts that Krav Maga gives people the tools to handle physical attacks on themselves and to help other people. Krav Maga is the first system that gives us direct and productive tools for self-defense, he emphasizes, explaining why it is more practical than other martial arts, which he describes as beautiful and traditional.
“When someone is attacking us in the street we don’t want to do anything that is artistic – we just want to go home safe,” he says.
Of course, from just one session, one won’t suddenly transform into “Superman or Wonder Woman,” as Mallul puts it. But beginners will be exposed to a different philosophy that will give them the confidence to understand that if you practice – even for a month – there is stuff you can do to protect yourself, that can make the difference between life and death. He cites the founder of Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld, who said the system was created “so one may walk in peace.”
Sabrina Acha, from France, shows up at Guf Rishon for her first Krav Maga lesson, stating that it is frightening on the streets and she wants to learn how to defend both herself and others.
Similarly, Stephanie Schneider, from the US, says she felt it was a good idea to gain some self-defense skills, noting that she has read many articles over the past few weeks in which bystanders have helped fight off attackers.
“You don’t have any warning,” she says of the current situation. “Anyone can come out of anywhere, so you have to be aware,” she says, adding that she has started making a conscious effort to stop looking at her phone while she is walking – a bad habit many could identify with.
Not all attendees were new, with some having already attended classes for months, such as one young woman from the US (who did not wish to be identified) who has been practicing Krav Maga as a hobby for the past five months.
“Obviously, it’s more relevant now,” she says, but adding that the current security situation is not her main motivation.
She confirms that since she has taken up learning the self-defense system, she feels safer on the streets, noting that Mallul’s classes usually cover a wide range of real-life situations.
“I feel kinda badass,” she laughs.