I arrived at Urban Sports Fitness in Warwick on a hot Monday afternoon in June to find a lovely room floor to floor with mats, where shoes are forbidden. Russell made it clear that the purpose of junior Krav Maga is to teach the kids valuable tools to help them cope with such issues as attempted abduction, physical bullying or even being attacked by several other children at the same time.
Russell Brotherston is the instructor at Junior Safe Krav Maga (JSKM), with two clubs based in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Warwick in England. The Stratford branch opened in September 2013, with children aged 6 to 15. In May 2014, a second class opened in Warwick with children from ages 6 to 12 enrolling, many of which have parents or relatives who are Krav Maga practitioners. Russell works with a P4 level Krav Maga student named Kimberley Warwick who assists with the lessons and takes the little ones aged 6 to 9 for most of the class while Russell works with the 9 to 12 year olds.
At around 4.50pm the first students arrived. Eager and smiling they had on their blue JSKM t-shirts and were immediately running around, laughing and repeating warm up exercises that Russell had shown them in the previous weeks. They seemed super happy to be there and I chatted to Tanith and Dave Swain, parents of a little girl named Evie who is 6. Tanith said “I got Evie to come along as I wanted to give her something to do that would increase her confidence and help her to be able to defend herself.” Evie was clearly happy warming up with her friends, running around playing games and was fitting right in. Dave told me “They learn through playing. Russell makes it fun to the kids and it’s a game for them.”
Andy James is a Krav practitioner and holds the grade of P2. He had four little ones with him; his children Maddie and CJ, and nephews Liam and Tommy, all aged between 7 and 12. He told me “They wanted to do it after knowing I was doing it plus seeing YouTube videos of kids doing Krav in the Netherlands. With CJ it’s a confidence building exercise as he was bullied physically at school.”
As the kids continued arriving Russell let them run around for a little while, explaining that children this young have almost limitless energy and it’s good to let them work up a sweat straight away so they can focus throughout the whole lesson.
When it came to the first “kida!” it was way more fun than the one we do at adult Krav. The kids all knelt with Russell and Kimberley (most of them grinning wildly) and after a brief “hello” they leaned forward, beat the mats with their fists and yelled “KIDA!” as loudly as they could.
Russell was grinning too, clearly enjoying himself as he got the kids into pairs. He said they had to hold their partner down for 5 seconds, and then swap. After a few attempts at this they moved on to trying to flip someone over who was lying face down. The twist was that their partner was roaming the mats trying to flick people and if attacked the recumbent child had to yell for assistance. They seemed to really enjoy this and stuck at if for a while before a water break and then moved on to pile ups and then to bear hugs.
The main differences became apparent here as the purpose of the defence from a bear hug in JSKM works on the assumption that an adult will be the one trying it and is potentially attempting to carry a child away. Russell and Kimberley put on groin guards, shin pads and full-face helmets as the kids went berserk, lashing out with elbows and kicks when picked up. Russell also told them to “run and tell a grown up what just happened and how you feel about it” immediately after escaping. I chatted to Marina Crane, mother of three JSKM students, while lots of sweating little ones ran up to gasp something like “Russell just put me in a bear hug and I didn’t like it!” before rejoining the group.
Marina said “My son Elliot has Asperger’s syndrome and I want him to take a discipline that will help him to control himself. For my daughter Kiera it’s good for her confidence. My youngest one Robin is only 6, full of energy and won’t listen to anything, since she’s been coming here she’s started to listen more.”
We glanced across to see Robin, red faced and grinning from ear to ear while jumping up and down excitedly as Kimberley spoke to her group.
As the lesson progressed the students then moved to a pressure drill. They had to run around while two people threw spongey bags at them. If hit they then had to stand with their eyes closed and wait while Kimberley and Russell roamed the mats and would grab one of them in a bear hug and lift them up. The kids seemed to really get into this, with little Evie kicking Russell a couple of times in the head when he turned her upside down.
When it was all over the kids (by now beetroot-faced and very sweaty) were lined up again and did the closing “KIDA!” with just as much, if not more, enthusiasm as the first one. They then moved to their parents to get a drink and were talking super fast to mum and/ or dad about what they’d just done.
Afterwards I spoke to Russell and Kimberley.
“So what do you think kids this young can gain from doing Krav Maga?”
Russell: “Confidence is a huge, huge part of it. One girl today wasn’t very confident to start with but all she needed was a little bit of encouragement. She was very anxious about being picked up. We adapted and showed her more techniques to not let someone do it in the first place. It’s still the same basic lesson but adapted so that she doesn’t get scared and gets slowly more confident.”
“How different is this to the Krav Maga you teach adult practitioners?”
Russell: “Krav Junior is very different. It’s a lot more game based as their attention span is completely different to the adults. You can only spend about a minute talking about something before they start jostling and pushing each other and moving about. With children you turn it into games and when they are one on one that’s your teaching opportunity. It’s a lot more fast paced. I get more tired than in the adult classes definitely (laughs). They keep going and going. They’re like Duracell bunnies.
Kimberley: “I think it helps increase their self awareness and situational awareness. Also what’s the difference between messing about in the playground and what is bullying and actual physical violence. They learn to differentiate that in the classes and to not take actual bullying.”
Russell: “It also gives them the opportunity to find out what their strength is. Some of the children say to us that they don’t know how strong they are. No one gives them the opportunity to really let loose. Whereas if you’ve got a responsible adult like me or Kimberley they can go quite “nuts” on us if they want to. With other children they can’t do that so don’t have much exposure to that kind of thing. They don’t realise how strong they actually can be. The smaller ones are the ones that really go as hard as they can.”
Kimberley: “They have no fear. The smaller they are the less fear they have. The older they get they’ve had things instilled in them about their environment and what they should be afraid of. The little ones don’t know that and they just go at everything 100%. So it’s good to catch them at about 6 or 7 years old where they’ve got no preconceived ideas about the physicality of what we do.”
Russell: “Some can be a little bit naughty but I think you need that leeway to allow them to be a little mischievous. It has to be fun for them, if you’re too serious they won’t enjoy it and they won’t want to come and it’ll be like a lot of martial arts where they stand in a line and do the same things over and over again. We threw a few things into the pressure drill that they’ve never learned, things they don’t really know. Kids are lot more intuitive that way. Adults have a tendency to try and over think things while kids will just start hitting.”
“Any more clubs in the pipeline?”
“Yes, looking into Coventry and Birmingham and a primary school in Leamington.”
By Lance Manley
Krav Maga Midlands (KMM) – UK