On a gloomy Thursday afternoon, a chorus of “yessir” rises above the heads of a dozen little kids. As part of their youth training at the Santa Barbara Krav Maga Family Self Defense Center, they’re obediently practicing how to break a fall. The kids giggle as lead instructor Pedro Sanchez runs toward them with a giant padded cushion, about as wide as the kids are tall. As much fun as they’re having, the youth program at S.B. Krav Maga is putting them to the test. A few feet away, a motto stamped on the front desk reads, “Train like your life depends on it … because it does!!!”
Krav Maga (Hebrew for “contact combat”) is the training technique used by the Israeli Defense Forces and emphasizes real-world fighting scenarios. Instructors build both situational awareness and fear and stress inoculation in students. Newcomers pick up on the techniques quickly, Sanchez said, reaching a high level of proficiency in a short amount of time. More important, the programs teach people not to abuse the skills they learn. While the classes teach students how to respond quickly and aggressively to an attacker, Sanchez said that the real lesson is that they’re in a place where they won’t freak out and can easily get out of trouble. “Our philosophy is to take our students and give them tools to fight back in any situation,” Sanchez said.