“So that One May Walk in Peace…” An interview with Pawel Cichowlas, founder of Krav Maga Detroit

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In 2005 Pawel Cichowlas opened up the training site, Krav Maga Detroit. On the 10th anniversary of its operation, along with Xavier Swiecki, who also happens to be a member, we visited the club located at 15 mile Road and Crooks, in Troy, Michigan. The visit provided an opportunity for congratulations on the anniversary, to wish continued success and also to learn from the owner, pawel Cichowlas, about both the club and Krav Maga itself.
In Hebrew, “Krav Maga: means as much as “contact combat” but in practice it stands for a peculiar self-defense system. Peculiar, because it was designed to address the needs of the Israeli military, police and special task forces, and furthermore advance also the civilians living in that spot of the earth so often troubled by conflict and war. The motivation was simple, Pawel Cichowlas explains. The originator of the system, Imi Lichtenfeld, designed it so that “everyone may live in peace.”
Pawel Cichowlas comes from Krakow, where he studied English at the Pedagogical University.

How did it start; why Krav Maga?

– It was in August of 2001 when I first heard of it on Today Show from New York. A month later the 9/11 attacks happened and that was the decisive moment when I felt the urgent need to do something, to be able to do something. I realized that I would not know what to do, how to act in a situation when I am being attacked. I searched online and found the place where Krav Maga was taught. I began immediately, in September. The fact that prior to my coming to America I had trained in the eastern martial arts has helped. Krav Maga was coming along well and I was learning fast. The instructors saw that and sent me to the instructor’s courses. At the beginning of 2003 I became one and in 2005 I opened up my own training site. It started with just two students. Today our school has around 300 students. As the time was moving on, our offer expanded. We now have classes designed to teach how to defend one’s self against an attack with a knife or any kind of weapon, pretty much. But if someone simply wants to come and improve their physical condition, this is the place to be as well. There are plenty of exercise options while Krav Maga remains the foundation and the focus of our efforts.

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How can you best describe the system?

– Krav Maga is not a sport; there is no “competition” or “competitive” training here as everything has one goal in sight: to foster the self-defense. Therefore the trainings are designed to best serve the purpose; they are very practical applications of the system’s foundations to the real-life combat situation. The main objective is always to disable the attacker from being a further threat to us. Our defense as well as our own attack ought to happen in as simple and quick a way possible, regardless of the position we are in and while taking the least risk upon ourselves. As a defense system, Krav Maga does not pursue some philosophical attitudes, as other martial arts often do. The main line of thought is simply “If your life or safety is endangered, you have the right to defend yourself through all means available.” The important part of training involves teaching the ability to foresee – anticipate – risks, teaching the skills how to avoid such situations, and development of the clarity of mind needed to effectively react in highly stressful situations. Krav Maga utilizes the natural, human instinct-based reactions. All techniques are aimed to give maximum effect with the minimal amount of movement; it can be as simple as a purposeful punch, kick or smart use of any available object – a purse, for example. Target of the defense, which evolves into an attack, is any sensitive area on the human body.

The Krav Maga’s creator and his idea, has it preserved its core or become corrupted, snatched, if you will, in any way?

– Imi spent his childhood and youth in Bratislava; his father was a chief of police there and managed his own gym for many years. Under his guidance Imi trained various disciplines, different sports, from gymnastics through wrestling and boxing. In the mid 30’s Bratislava, like most of Europe, has become witness to an increase in fascist and anti-Semitic sentiments and movements. The Jewish population was forced to resist more and more brutal attacks occurring more and more frequently. Going to the movies or simply walking the streets with his friends, Imi realized that neither boxing nor wrestling will do in the face of multiple attackers. In addition, during a regular street fight no rules of sport are binding; nobody cares if they punch you “legally” or if they hit you in the back of the head or groin etc. In 1940 he was ultimately forced to leave his native town and flee Europe to Palestine. But the journey was dangerous and took two whole years. Once he reached Palestine he began to train the Jewish fighters. When in 1948 the state of Israel was formed, he became the chief of the military training. Israeli Defense Forces are formed and Imi becomes responsible for its training. He fulfilled that role until his retirement in 1968. During his 20 years of tenure he mastered the unique methods of defense, perfected the contact combat techniques and trained the cream of the crop among the Israeli soldiers, educating generations of the future Krav Maga instructors. It was the need of the army which dictated the ultimate shape and character of the system: techniques which are quick to learn, their adaptability to various dynamics of the changing situations, including effectiveness in the most highly stressful scenarios. Once Imi retired he began the process of making Krav Maga available among the civilians, popularized it so that they, too, may “walk in peace.” The methods were adjusted so that they are accessible to anyone regardless of their gender or age; man, woman, boy, girl, old and young. They all may at some point be in need of tools to save their lives or those of their families; they all may at some point be in need of using the survival skills, minimizing the risk of injuries, defusing the threat regardless of how the attack happened or why. The credo for him was to live in peace, to preserve and defend dignity and to assure safety for himself and to those he loved. That preamble still shines upon us; we still live by it, continue to cherish and foster it. What are you going to do when suddenly someone threatens you or your family in the middle of the night, on the street, in your car or even in your house? Do you know how to act and survive the time before the police might get there? To us, Krav Maga is the answer. It is our self-defense.

Is it for everyone?

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– Definitely. My school is for regular people; not just for gym-buffs or professional athletes. Our training system not only teaches self-defense but simply improves one’s quality of life. Imi, the system’s inventor, always stressed that the options are out there; he thought “I will show you what, how and when to do, and you choose what fits you best.” And so the school is for everyone, regardless of gender, age, or even physical condition; some are more fit than others but everyone can train according to their abilities. Please, feel free to visit us; come and see how we train, spend the day with us and feel like safely at home here in our school at 950 E. Maple Rd., Suite D; Troy, MI. Feel free to call with any question at 248-6889501. IMG_6841
Many thanks for the time and the warm welcome here at your celebration.
We wish you much and continued success and key-daah!

Alicja Karlic and Xavier Ksawery Swiecki

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