Feature: How to get fighting ready for dangerous scenarios on the streets of St Albans and Harpenden
PUBLISHED: 08:00 24 June 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2017
“Hit me!” the self defence instructor commands, widening her stance to expose her crotch, “this is where it would really hurt them.”
Trainee manager Kirsty Alexander is wearing a groin guard, but it still feels intrusive - this is normally the area most people would deliberately avoid, especially with a person they only met 10 minutes ago.
I lightly pat her and in true British manner immediately, instinctively, apologise.
This is maybe not what was expected when the Herts Ad was invited down to try an increasingly popular form of self-defence, catered towards protecting yourself against dangerous real-life situations.
A small but dedicated community of people looking to protect themselves is slowly growing in St Albans and Harpenden, increasing from only 14 members last August to now being 40 strong.
They are learning Krav Maga, a hand-to-hand combat fighting style originally created by the Israeli Defence Forces, but toned down to make it both less aggressive and more accessible to the average Joe and Jane Public.
It aims to stop any confrontation as soon as possible, cutting it off before it properly begins - using only the necessary force in order to temporarily destabilise an opponent and give the victim a chance to get away.
Director and chief instructor at the club, Sanjeev Mehta, has already taught me how to get out of a headlock, a choke-hold, a hair-wrench and a wrist grab, as well as disarming someone with a knife or pole.
Most of the techniques revolve around putting the attacker in a position where you can knee them in the goolies; punch them in the face, ear, or nape of the neck; or smash their chin.
Sanjeev encourages people to follow through with their strikes, if their practice partner is wearing a guard, lest they might intentionally feign in a real life emergency.
I listen in horror as he tells me about a woman in Leeds who was waiting at a bus stop when she was dragged backwards by her hair into the bushes.
“Explode it, zero to 200,” he keeps repeating - Sanjeev is encouraging me to do quick and sharp movements, taking the attacker off guard. I’m not very good.
But he is upbeat anyway, praising my efforts, especially when I accidently smack Kirsty in the crotch so hard the guard cracks loudly.
His particular school is looking to offer free counselling sessions for members, and often fund-raise for Welwyn Garden City’s Isabel Hospice - a charity which provides free-palliative care to terminally ill people.
Kirsty says the self defence has empowered her to battle through depression: “I thought it would be a good way to become more confident, and talk to and meet more people.
“I joined just over a year ago, and I had experienced depression for years, I knew I had to do something. If you go to the gym you don’t know anyone, not even the instructors’ names sometimes.
“But the first time I came I was the only woman here and I wasn’t sure - but everyone was so friendly. Sanjeev is fantastic, for my depression it’s fantastic.”
At the club, people are periodically sponsored to achieve grades, and they have already raised more than £500 through the scheme.
Sanjeev said: “We are not here for financial gain, we are more than that, we want members to stay because they love the way the club is.”
A group of assistant junior instructors and their parents have come along to my session to offer their insight.
One described it as a “big family”: “It’s fun, we are learning how to defend ourselves, everyone is comfortable with each other.”
Another, 14-year-old Katie Stott, said: “I thought it would be a good way to become more confidant and meet more people.” All of the parents felt safer, with Katie’s mum, Abby, noting how her daughter is coming to the age where she will be going out late.
There are different classes for men, women and children as the situations they might face differ - and for more information, click here.