Elijah Ferrian learns about the enigmatic Israeli self defence art, Krav Maga, that’s finally being taught in Vietnam. Photo by Vinh Dao.

There’s a powerhouse martial arts and fitness gym in town that got a bit more interesting in the past few months. Saigon Sports Club hired what is now Vietnam’s first accredited Krav Maga instructor, Stephen Davidson, and he has a crazy history to coincide perfectly with the intensity of the variety of self defence he teaches.

Krav Maga, hebrew for ‘contact combat’, was developed by the Israeli Defence Forces as a specialised system emphasising aggressive neutralisation tactics for self defence against attackers. The art focusses on brutal counter movements, training in true-to-life scenarios, and constant drilling of technique while utilising faux weaponry to drive the gravity of each situation home.

Davidson describes practical application of Krav Maga as such: “You’re either going to walk away [from a confrontation], or you’re going to do something quite violent.”

While the discipline can be violent, the core principle taught to students from day one is to avoid confrontation. However, there are times in life when avoidance is just not an option. Whether an attacker is dead-set on harming you or a loved one, or you are being confronted by a violent person with a lethal weapon – self defence training in Krav Maga can save your and others lives.

Davidson speaks from a storied history with all types of martial arts training, “Basically, I started training kung fu up in a Shaolin temple in China as a young guy. I did karate and stuff as a kid, and started taking kung fu quite seriously. I competed in Chinese boxing. That’s when I started learning about different weapon systems. I got into Thai boxing, and then had a serious street fight that really started me questioning certain aspects of my training. I started training Krav Maga in London and Israel, which led into a job in VIP protection.”

Davidson has four black belts. One in each discipline of Jeet Kune Do, Japanese Shidokan karate, Shaolin Kung Fu, and Krav Maga. He started training karate at eight-years-old. It may come as a surprise that someone with such a deep knowledge and practice of such a wide variety of martial arts would ever begin to “question aspects” of their training, but that’s just what happened.

In short, Davidson was attacked by someone armed with a lethal weapon, and even with all the training he found himself at a loss for what to do in that specific situation. That’s where Krav Maga steps in. This brutal art assists those outmatched by an armed opponent, and trains the mind and body to override fear and hesitation in the face of a sharp blade, or loaded pistol.

“Krav Maga teaches preemptive attacking, targeting vulnerable parts of the body like the groin, neck and throat, and pressure points,” Stephen explains. “When someone is intending to end your life you need to have training for that amount of intensity.”

All of the techniques practised in Krav Maga are centred around a maximum efficiency so that the opponent, no matter how big or well armed, will be neutralised with as few movements as possible. It’s a sort of best defence is a good offence, and best offence is a good defence, but occurring simultaneously with quick, lethal strikes, gouges, and disarmament techniques. In addition to the rather gruesome sounding aspects of the discipline, students are taught just as well how to establish detailed awareness of their environment in order to mentally map escape routes and get help.

So, why has this Israeli Defence system come to Vietnam?

“[SSC] wanted Krav Maga from a coach that was already teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu here, [but] that didn’t work out, and then basically my name was put forward.” Davidson says. “There’s not that many KM coaches around. Probably two in Asia. This is the first time it’s being legitimately taught in Vietnam.”

Saigon Sports Club has a lot of things going on. They have fitness classes, professional fighters training every day, plus classes in boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, Brazilian jiu jitsu, mixed martial arts, yoga, CrossFit, you name it, basically. I was curious how this new art was being received by the local populace. Especially after being familiar with the long road mixed martial arts has taken to become perceived as the legitimate sport that it is in the West, in Vietnam.

Davidson is wholly optimistic, “I think martial arts here are going to grow. Not everyone wants to be the next UFC champion, or the next K1 fighter. There’s more of an environment of wanting to learn skills for self preservation. Enrollment has increased quite dramatically. From one or two people training, to five times that amount in the past few weeks. The first grading [test of proficiency] we did there were 20 people in attendance and it was a success. Everyone passed.”

The speed in which martial arts is catching on with locals in Vietnam, matched with the unique discipline Davidson is able to teach with his special proficiency and training history, shows a promising outlook for self defence training in Saigon. Why not give the only instructor in Vietnam of a world-respected system a shot? Worst that could happen is you run away.

For those looking for some serious training with some welcoming instructors, check out SSC’s class schedule at saigonsc.vn.