TRIGGER WARNING: This true story from one of our students contains a graphic depiction of physical assault and domestic violence which may be triggering to survivors.
When I first returned to the Bay Area, broken from a recent violent life experience, I reached out to Danny Zelig. I told him that I was convinced that training in Krav Maga with him years before had kept me alive. Not so much by some fancy moves or crazy technique, but by the basics – and the muscle memory that had laid dormant for some time.
One night, I found myself in a situation that I had sworn up and down I would never be a part of: I was pinned on my back to my bed, immobile from the waist down, with a gun pointed straight at me. I was looking into the face of someone I loved, but that person had changed into a violent, abusive bully who was desperately trying to keep me from leaving him.
That night was the culmination of violence that had begun some time prior in my relationship, and would be the second and last time I tried to call 911 to keep him from ending my life. Both times, he grabbed the phone from my hand and threw it across the room before I could finish dialing. That particular night a large, drunk, angry man was on top of me, he was not going to let me walk out the door, and there was no one coming to help me.
So, how did Krav Maga help me? I had not trained (or, let’s be honest, worked out at all) since I had left the Bay Area years before for school and my “opponent” was a combat-trained professional. Beyond his training and his physical stature, he used my feelings for him against me – I wanted him to get help and I didn’t want to hurt him.
Krav Maga trained me in ways that mimicked high-stress, every-second-counts types of altercations that happen every day in the real world. It is unfortunate that this is the truth, but to get help, you must first be able to call for it or get someone’s attention another way. Krav Maga taught me to use all of the tools I had to get out of a situation safely – if possible, to de-escalate, and if necessary, to fight my way to a safe place.
I had called a close relative to say that I was leaving to find a safe place to stay for the night, and I let them know that the situation was getting out of control. I had tried to remove myself from the situation to a place of safety, but I was blocked. Once I had been physically prevented from reaching an exit, I screamed loudly at my boyfriend to leave me alone and let me leave, yelled for my neighbors to call the police, and tried to dial the police with my own phone. That is where things went from bad to life-altering for both of us.
As soon as my boyfriend knew that I was really leaving him, that changed the entire dynamic. He had previously threatened suicide “if he ever laid a hand on me again” and he had a firearm in his hand. Within seconds, he was on top of me and had me expertly pinned to the mattress.
As he gestured with the gun, I was able to stay out of the line of fire by moving my torso/upper body as much as I could. I had learned this technique both by drills in a gun defense seminar, and by regular practice learning how to avoid and deflect straight punches from above while pinned to the ground. It was basic muscle memory. The gun could have fired at any point, and I was somehow able to keep most of myself out of the line of fire in the case that it happened.
There was a moment that he laid the gun down on the bed next to his hand and leaned in over me, threatening me. I used what I had learned to talk to him and try to keep his attention on my face while I attempted to knock the gun behind the bed, out of his reach, by keeping it in my peripheral vision.
When he lunged for the gun as it almost left his reach, I realized that this was the moment I was probably going to die. He was going to regain control of the gun, and he was going to kill me. Because of that, I got my hand on the gun and would not give it up. We struggled for control and, as we did, he swung the loaded gun over both himself and me multiple times. Even if he didn’t intend to, he was going to shoot me – this was made obvious by the way he was handling the weapon. I was starting to lose my grip as he tried to wrench the firearm away and swung the barrel over my face without even flinching. I realized that I had maybe 5 seconds before I had no control over any part of the weapon.
In that moment, I am convinced, the high-stress drills from my Krav Maga days came into play and helped to save my life. I had remembered in class how my body was giving up and how I wanted to let myself give up – but then Danny, the other students, and the other instructors told me, “You have to keep fighting, even if you are exhausted. Even if you are really hurt and maybe might die. Nobody is coming to help you – you only have yourself. Don’t give in. Don’t give up.”
I am convinced that those drills saved my life because, at that moment on my bed, I wanted nothing other than to let go of the gun and believe that everything was going to be OK. At the same time, I wanted to stop fighting because I knew that I was never getting out of this alive, anyway. I wanted to give up, hit the reset button, and start over. I wished that I wasn’t there, that this wasn’t happening, that I had time to process any of the things that were happening simultaneously, and that I could put everything on “pause” and talk to my boyfriend to tell him that all I wanted was to let all of this go and leave.
None of my wishes were going to come true. There were going to be no do-overs. There was no one coming to help me and, if there was, they were probably not going to get there in time to do anything but find me dead or dying.
To this day, I struggle with the decision that I was forced to make that night. I decided to fight for my life and that had a very real, human cost. But I am alive. I was convinced in that moment, and am still convinced, that my boyfriend was not going to let me out of the room alive. I suspect that he did not plan to leave alive, either.
That split-second decision is what Krav Maga was made for. Not necessarily a life-or-death situation like mine, but at any number of crossroads that a person may find themselves. If a person is coming towards me and looking aggressive – can I de-escalate? Is this person dangerous or benign? Can I just get out of the way, or is this person intent on violence? Do I knock that knife out of their hand, or do I have the chance to run? Will this person hurt someone else? All of these situations are common and can happen at any moment.
I wish that what happened in my own life was not such a common occurrence – but it is. One thing that I have found since opening up to talk about that night is that there aren’t many women out there for me to talk to who have been through the same thing. Most don’t make it out alive. Most probably have not had the help or the luck that I have had.
I am not, in any way, advocating violence, firearms, or “duking it out” over getting law enforcement involved in a dangerous situation. I am, however, hoping that Krav Maga can help other people like me, who end up in situations where they are in danger, under attack, isolated and might only be able to depend on themselves.
Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 or visit their website (from a safe, non-shared computer) at http://www.thehotline.org/ for help and resources if you are experiencing violence in your relationship or know someone who may need assistance staying safe in theirs:
1-800-799-7233 / 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)