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Learning to Turn On the Aggression

BU Hillel director teaches students to be fast and furious in their own defense


How to “turn on the aggression” is one of the more important lessons imparted by Rabbi Michael Beyo in his weekly class in Krav Maga, a self-defense system used by the Israeli Defense Forces. The acting executive director of the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House makes the point very loud and clear, repeatedly urging students in his class to scream furiously during fights with attackers.

“Fear is important,” says Beyo, “because it can drive us to react, but for somebody who does not study and does not train, fear often makes them freeze, and you don’t want to freeze in a situation. You want to react.”

Fear, in fact, is what compelled Caitlin Coons to enroll in the class. While traveling abroad Coons (SED’15) was assaulted on a subway, and to her great distress, she froze.

“You always think you know what you’re going to do when you’re attacked,” she says. “But it’s important to be able to power through the fear and defend yourself.”

Beyo makes the sessions lively, even fun. In a recent class, students demonstrated ways to escape from various grips and attacks, struggling intensely one moment and bursting out in laughter the next.

“Krav Maga, first of all, is not an art,” says Beyo, because martial arts focus on the perfection of specific techniques and may involve many classes before students get to actually fight. In contrast, he says, “Krav Maga is much more immediate and uses natural reactions instead of trying to impose new techniques to our body.”

Rabbi Michael Beyo teaches Krav Maga Israeli self defense system at Boston University BU Florence and Chafetz Hillel House

Melissa Lesh (CAS'15) (left) and Shreya Deshmukh (ENG'15) work together to disarm Beyo.

Ideally, says Beyo, Krav Maga (or “contact combat,” קרב מגע, in Hebrew) is not about fighting. It’s about ending fights: the main goal is to neutralize a threat and finish a fight as quickly as possible. The defense system combines techniques from boxing, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and grappling with realistic fight training.

Beyo’s classes are open to all students, and he tailors the scenarios to the campus environment. “The most important thing,” he says, “is for the students to be aware of their surroundings because so much can be avoided by doing the right thing at the right time.” He compares the real-world emphasis to that of BU’s rape aggression defense (RAD) classes.

The technique was developed in Bratislava, Slovakia, in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld, who defended the streets of the Jewish quarter against anti-Semitic thugs, along with a group of Jewish wrestlers and boxers. Today the defense system, which has been refined over the years, is officially used for combat training in the Israel Defense Forces and has been adapted internationally for civilian, police, and military applications.

“It is an extremely useful and versatile self-defense system,” says class member Andrew Filippi (CAS’15). “I’ve taken several in my life, but this one is probably the best.”

Beyo first learned Krav Maga in Milan, Italy, where acts of anti-Semitism and targeted vandalism were common. “There were many situations where I or other Jews would be harassed in the streets because we were Jewish,” says Beyo, who lived in Milan until age 16. “So I decided to learn Krav Maga in order to start learning how to defend myself and defend others.”

Rabbi Michael Beyo and students, Krav Maga Israeli self defense system class, Florence and Chafetz Hillel House, Boston University

Beyo went to rabbinical seminaries in London and Paris and ended up in Israel, where he worked for a counterterrorism special unit under the office of the prime minister. The job made good use of his skills in Krav Maga, taught in every branch of the security apparatus of the State of Israel.

In 2005, Beyo moved to New York, where he consulted for international real estate conglomerates, then to Atlanta, where he helped build a solar and wind renewable energy company with partners in Israel and Italy. He was a guest lecturer on intra-Israeli conflict at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at Emory University, published two books on bioethics and Jewish law, and taught Krav Maga. He came to BU in August 2012 as a rabbi and associate director at Hillel, and in January, he took over as acting executive director while Rabbi Joseph Polak (Hon.’95) is on sabbatical.

Krav Maga is free and open to all BU students. The spring 2013 classes end with the semester; check for information about fall 2013 classes on the Hillel House website. Students must register ahead by e-mailing Jen Gutman at jrgutman@bu.edu. Visit Rabbi Beyo’s blog here or email him at mbeyo@bu.edu.

Erin Thibeau can be reached at ethibeau@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @erinthibeau.


14 Comments on Learning to Turn On the Aggression

  • SMG Student on 03.07.2013 at 8:47 am

    Glad someone is finally teaching Krav Maga over BU’s near useless RAD class.

  • David on 03.07.2013 at 10:20 am

    This is great. I have studied martial arts for years and finally located a Krava Maga instructor two years ago. Hands down the most efficient, effective self-defense system there is – and you can learn it very quickly. That is why the FBI is trained in it.

  • Not impressed on 03.07.2013 at 11:25 am

    Woo! Let’s all learn IDF tactics, the most offensive and oppressive military in the world!

    • David on 03.07.2013 at 11:48 am

      Anti-semitic much?

      • Learn to argue on 03.07.2013 at 6:17 pm

        Learn to argue like an adult. You can’t cry anti-semitism for everything, its old and no one believes you.

        • Rupert Manlove on 03.08.2013 at 10:00 am


        • David on 03.11.2013 at 2:46 pm

          No argument was offered. A tire, childish, ignorant comment was.

          I do not call everything anti-semitism. Just… anti-semitism.

          • David on 03.11.2013 at 2:47 pm

            Should read *tired*

      • anonymous on 03.08.2013 at 9:35 am

        Anti-Zionism isn’t the same thing as antisemitism.

        • David on 03.11.2013 at 2:44 pm

          I did not know this video was about Zionism.

    • Impressed on 03.07.2013 at 1:11 pm

      the D in IDF actually stands for defense, not offense

  • Anne on 03.07.2013 at 4:05 pm

    This is wonderful! I’ll definitely be participating after spring break if there’s room in the class.

    Also, I’m sick and tired of the anti-Israel haters that keep popping on posts like this–and I’m not even Jewish. The only thing I’m “not impressed” with is the ignorance of commentators who don’t understand crap about the world.

  • The Hebrew Hammer on 03.08.2013 at 10:03 am

    קרב מגע!

  • Rabbi? on 03.13.2013 at 10:17 pm

    No more Orthodox Rabbi?

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