Krav Maga Unyted, which opened its doors at 334 S. Main Street in January, has enjoyed a unique landing in a sea of Crossfit options, and it’s easy to see why: their focus on the Israeli martial art, Krav Maga, provides a stripped-down education that is at once accessible and constantly evolving. Over the course of three weeks, I chose to examine the beginner’s path into its teachings — starting with the overseeing influence of Unyted’s owner and Chief Instructor, Jarret Waldman.
A quick Google search will reveal the plethora of celebrity names that Waldman has trained to success, but the far more impressive note is his proximity to Krav Maga’s origins. In 1948, its founder, Imi Lichtenfeld joined the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces], a military unit formed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as a result of the Arab-Israeli War, and during his 15-year service he blended his background of boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, and hand-to-hand combat to create Krav Maga.
Once the martial art caught on throughout Israel, Lichtenfeld decided to spread the word overseas, and in 1983, Waldman caught his first glimpse through Darren Levine, one of the first Americans to go over and learn Krav Maga under Imi.
“When Darren came back to the States, he needed a place to teach,” Waldman recalls, “Derren’s mom happened to be a principal at Heschel, the Jewish day school where I was a student, so she had him teach Krav Maga as sort of a P.E. elective.” Waldman, having already trained in Karate and Tang Soo Do from the age of 9, joined and loved it. He later travelled to Israel in his late-teens to learn under Imi, as well as other expert instructors Eyal Yanilov and Eli Eviksar; it was also there that Imi signed his first black belt certificate.
Waldman credits Levine, a 6th degree black belt considered one of the top-ranking Chief Instructors in the US, as a consistent mentor and influence. In fact, after Waldman worked in management for Hertz and Enterprise, he followed Levine to the Sherman Oaks-based Krav Maga Worldwide in 2006, and began teaching the martial art there as Director of Operations.
After enjoying a number of years at Worldwide, notions of opening his own Krav Maga facility began to take hold. However, a different opportunity, with Brick Sports Performance Training, revealed itself. The company decided to open a Crossfit location in DTLA, and tapped Waldman to helm the process. He temporarily shelved his Krav Maga aspirations, but as Brick quickly found Crossfit to be legion in the area, they fortuitously came back to Waldman’s main expertise.
“[The Main St. facility] was already built out 90%, so [Brick] started making plans to turn it into a Krav Maga facility. It took us about 3-4 months, they sold Crossfit to their old partner, and I signed onboard to run it.”
The motto of the art, Waldman says, is “Live to fight another day,” and as I start my first class in Beginners Krav Maga — others include SpeedX Bag, Weapons and Fight Training programs — I wonder if the saying will hold true. I’m given a pair of loaner grappling gloves, kick my shoes off, and enter the studio – a black-padded space, with mirrors in the front and punching bags swung to the side for later use.
Jarret enters with Carnation, a young, laser-quick co-instructor, and I line up alongside seven others to start the class. There is a bow to the instructor, but the formalities essentially end there. Carnation immediately guides us through an active warm-up of sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping jacks – the routine that forms the beginning to every class. Jarret then steps in to teach us the basic fighting stance: for those right-handed, left foot flat and forward, right leg behind with foot bent, elbows up at eye level, and fists clenched.
From that somewhat awkward position, I still sense the capability to move in a million different directions – Waldman instead wants to hone into a basic physical grammar. “We teach whatever’s necessary to deal with immediate threat,” he explains to me after the class. “In Israel, people don’t have a lot of time — you go into the military at age 17, and then you have to learn all these abilities: how to handle a weapon, and work as a unit. It was designed to bring people from a low level to a high level in a very short amount of time, by using basic principles that are more instinctive to your own reactions.”
My instincts, as I quickly find out, are able but undisciplined; a high-school soccer career has left me with a base fitness, but also one that hasn’t been properly sustained. If you played some form of sport in high school or college, you’ve known the horrifying moment when this fact is realized – if you’re lucky, only a few sore muscles result.
I develop more than a few aches as we learn how to escape a choking scenario, sidestepping a punching bag and delivering a series of precise blows to the bag’s crotch and face. The unfamiliar strain on my upper muscle groups make my movements somewhat sloppy toward the end of the relatively short class (every class is an hour), but already I feel a muscle memory begin to form. I leave the Monday class battered; sleep never comes so quick.
My second class occurs that Friday; Waldman recommends class attendance of two or three times a week, minimum. After sneaking in fight stances where I could do in daily life – the bank queue, the park, making breakfast — I return for the 7AM class, this time run by Unyted’s main Operations Manager, Chris Gors.
Similar to Jarret in his transition of workplace from finance into the gym, Gors grew up in the Valley and has trained in Krav Maga for seven years.
“My passion is still at an all time high, because for me, I’m on both the sales and the operational side, so I see why people choose Krav Maga.” Gors explains. He says law enforcement and military are heavily attracted to the practical self-defense, as well as those who have been mugged or taken part in a street fight, and are looking for basic techniques.
Gors’ dedication shows, as over a post-workout breakfast, he tells me that he’s only had a few hours of sleep, after taking care of his 8-month-old at home. He also teaches the majority of days, and helps manage the facility when he’s not teaching. “Hopefully I’ll be testing for my black belt this year,” he says. “It’s usually about a five to seven year period. For Jarret and I, [Unyted] is a dream come true, to teach, to work, and create this environment.”
After our warm-up this time, Gors takes us through a series of punching, grappling, and kicking moves, with the focus landing on two-to-three punch combos. Gors explains, “We don’t box — we’re not training you for a twelve-round match. There’s no referee, so punch hard. If you can finish the fight on the first punch, please do.” We also learn how to stand and recover from being knocked down on your back – a sweeping of the leg under your body combined with a hand steadying yourself upward.
I nail down the basic moves in practice, but later, when we come to a high-intensity workout with a partner, I lose the order and have to correct myself many times. I get frustrated, but Gors says later that he enjoys the shaky starts.
“You lost the technique a couple times,” he tells me. “I want that. I want you to see that you didn’t get up right. That’s the goal: to do it so many times that under stress, you’ll do it correctly.”
Gors tells me to work on my footwork, to slow it down until I’m able to execute the movements sufficiently, and in my third and final 7am class with Gors, I’m already more physically competent and comfortable with the movements, and the fighting stance. There’s still the sore muscles, the mistakes, and the flailing of the arms, but I realize that the panic that initially accompanied my first class is gone.
In essence, that absence of panic is really all Waldman, Gors and the Unyted staff are looking to deliver to DTLA. The range of classes they offer all tackle different scenarios, and none of them purport to make you an overnight warrior. As Gors says, “We’re not selling magic potion like a lot of people do. It’s not just giving you an equation; it’s giving you the confidence to be able to defend yourself properly.” And at the end of my sessions, I felt a little closer to that equation.
Krav Maga Unyted, 334 S. Main Street #1106A, Los Angeles, CA 90013. (213) 223-6233. http://www.unytedfitness.com
By Charlie Schmidlin