Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Way of the Israeli Warrior

When I moved to Israel I had several things in mind that I wanted to do with my life. That is to say there were several motivations I had for making such a move.

1) I wanted to be in my ancestral homeland.
2) I wanted to be in a place where kosher food was everywhere.
3) I wanted to be a part of the struggle to make Israel a better place.
4) I wanted to train in the ancient Israeli martial art called Abir.

English Video About Abir

Israeli Fighting Traditions

When one looks in ancient Biblical and Israeli texts one finds numerous accounts of Israelite warriors who often took on impossible odds and won due to their faith and their skill. The Western view of course focusing more on their their faith rather the truth being a combination of the two.

According to the Midrash Sefer Ha-Yashar [Chapter 56:9], it was the request of the Biblical patriarch Jacob on his deathbed to his son Judah that the Hebrew combat art be passed down to his progeny forever:

ויאמר יעקב אל יהודה: ידעתי בני כי גביר לאחיך אתה ומלך עליהם ובניך ימלכו על בניהם עד עולם. אך למד נא את בניך קשת וכל כלי מלחמה למען ילחמו את מלחמות אחיהם המלך בכל אויביו

And Jacob spoke to Judah: 'I know, my son, that you are a master to your brothers and king over them, and your sons will reign over their sons forever. However, please teach your sons Qashath [the Hebrew weaponless combat art] and every weapon of war, in order that they will fight the wars of their brother the king, against all his enemies.

This fighting tradition was the very distinguishing mark of a Hebrew from an Egyptian. The Sefer Ha-Yashar explains that when Yoseph, whose identity was unknown to his brothers, orders his Egyptian guards that Shim`on be incarcerated (Genesis 42:18-24) and his guards attempt to seize him, Shim`on lets out a roar that utterly confounds and frightens them. Finally, Yoseph orders his own son Manashe to arrest Shimon. It is mentioned that in the process Menashe and Shimon engage in boxing each other when Manashe delivers a him a blow that humbles Shimon instantly. As he is being taken away before his astonished brothers, Shim`on calls out to them (Sepher HaYashar, parasha Miqetz):

איש מכם אל יאמר כי מכת מצרי הוא, אין זאת כי אם מכת בית אבי

Let none on you say that was the strike of an Egyptian; this is none other but a strike from the house of my father.

Often the post Biblical stereotype of the religious Jew is one of weakness and the constant target of persecution. Very few people know of the religious warrior poet Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid, who was the leader of a Jewish army in Spain. Even fewer people know that there was a Jewish community in Mali (West Africa) who had an army of 1,500 fighting men in the early 16th century. Yet, even less people know that warrior Jews of Habban and Dagastan. In the past I have posted about the Jews of both Habban and Daghastan and I have written an article on Wikipedia about the Jews of West Africa (The Songhay Empire)

The Aluf Abir Preparing to give a lecture to the class on Torah

The Starting Point

About a month after I moved here I began to train in Abir in Jerusalem, until we moved to Tel Aviv. From the start I wanted to make sure my commitment to training was serious. You see I had trained in Karate as a kid and later I trained in Caperiera as an adult. Yet, in both situations I never was able to commit myself to them fully and thus I never went far in them. Looking back it was because on some level I never felt a connection to them. I wanted a system that I had a connection with, and that on some level was just as much me as my internal organs. So when I found out about Abir and its history, I knew that I had another reason I needed to be in Israel.

The Aluf (Grandmaster) Abir Yehoshua Sofer Training our class in Tel Aviv

I have only posted a few times about my training in Abir a few times, mainly because I hadn't taken any pictures during class until recently. At the time of this post I have been training in Abir for more than a year, and I enjoy every moment of it. I was told by the Aluf Abir Yehoshua Sofer (Aluf means Grandmaster in Hebrew) that he has seen good progress in me and that I pick up many of the movements really quickly. I still have a long way to go, and I am still working on building up my endurance level.

Me Training with Yitzhaq

Several months ago my cousin and I here in Maale Adummim started sparring with each other on Friday mornings in a local park. He was training in Akido, but I needed someone who had never seen any of the Abir techniques to spar with. Unfortunately, our training together didn't last long because I accidentally hurt him with a move he wasn't expecting. He also has a daughter now that needs more of his attention. Personally, I think he just wimped out. ha ha.

There are several important factors that I wanted to master within myself, that served as a side reason for taking Abir. One of the major reasons was because when I was a kid I was picked on a lot, and it gave me a complex about trusting people, and also it gave me fear of what people would do if they had the chance to stab me in the back. So I had been searching for something that could help me get past these two issues I have, but with a focus on doing it the way that applies itself to an Israeli/Jewish Torah based lifestyle.

Ehav and Yitzhaq Training

My focus has also been to build up my reaction time and skill. In any fight the first 1 to 2 seconds, and the first 1 to 2 moves are extremely critical. In martial arts it is important to be able to react in a number of different ways to a threat. The reason is because a person never knows in a real life or death struggle what the other person, or persons, will do.

Why Train in an Israeli Martial Art?

That is the question I get often, or better yet why train in martial arts at all. In my daily walk here and there I get a lot questions about my I train in martial arts so much. I once dated a woman who just didn't get it, even with all of the things that happen here randomly. I even have a co-workers who make jokes about having to watch out for me or I may break them. There side of the question has come up in the few times I have been injured during training. I was once dropped on my neck, I have hurt my arm, and I recently pulled some muscles in my hand. Yet, I am the kind of guy who simply bounces back from things like, and I don't mind getting hurt while training. These thins happen when one trains, but with time you learn how to minimize injuries with proper preparation and exercise.

The Grandmaster of Abir training students

My personal perspective on why I train, and even better why I train in a Jewish/Israeli martial art, is that in these days and times we Israelis need to get back to the practice of being both religious and able to defend ourselves. We have a long history of our ancestors having both elements, and there is a need for Israelis who can combine both. The other issue is that Abir is not a "sport" martial art in the sense that it is strictly a self defense oriented fighting skill. The difference being that in a sport you compete for points, while in a self defense situation you are fighting for your life or the lives of others.

As we learn in Abir, no matter how good you are and no matter how much you train we know that if Hashem (G-d) is not with us our ability to win or lose is up in the air and subject to the whims of chance.

If your interested in reading more about Abir you can read the article by Rabbi Michael Shlomo Bar-Ron here or the web-site I am creating on Jewish combat skills here.

Ehav Eliyahu Ever an Abir Warrior

אהב אליהו עבר ספרא וסייפא של אביר


Rachel said...

Wow, fascinating post. I haven't heard of any of it before. I especially loved hearing the anecdote about Shimon and Menashe.

I'm just not 100% clear on this- Is Abir the same thing as Qashath or a derivation of it?

In any case, you mentioned that Abir is wholly self-defense oriented. It's interesting to note that the Jewish form of fighting isn't about offense and harming your opponent, rather only self-defense. Says something about the peacefulness of the people. :)

Rafi G said...

that looks cool. I never heard of Abir before...

Ehav Ever said...

Rachel - If you haven't already you should read the Sefer Ha-Yashar. It has a lot of interesting history in it. In ancient times the Jewish fighting techniques were known as both Qashath and Kle Milchamah. In all cultures, hand to hand martial arts were used on the battle field when a person was disarmed and it was necessary to get another weapon in order to keep fighting. What the Aluf Abir teaches is called Abir since his family was also known as Banu Abir. It is the masorah of Qashath and Kle Milchamah that they received.

Actually, when I mention that Abir is self-defense that is contrast to a sport martial art. Sport martial arts are primarily based on the rules of competition. For example, hits for points, grappling positions scoring points, etc. Self-defense martial arts are based on the idea that a person may have to do anything (offensively and defensively) to win in order to survive.

There are situations where a sport martial art is no good in a street fight because in a street fight anything goes. There are a number of sports martial artists who have said that they have no idea how well they would do in a street fight. That is because their training is primarily based on the rules of being in a ring. Defeating an opponent in a real fight may be more difficult than defeating him in a ring with rules.

So for example, martial arts that were created for ancient combat and have continued to be taught in the same manner are more often called self defense martial arts. That is because now a days there are no standing armies fighting that way anymore. Yet, in a self defense situation you may have to act offensively to protect yourself, you may have to severely injure your opponent(s) to protect yourself, or you may have to kill your opponent(s) to protect yourself. As an example, if I were attacked by Arabs or any antisemites whose goal was to kill me I would have to do ANYTHING it takes to survive. That is because as it says in the Torah.

אשר יעשה אתם האדם וחי בהם

and as the Rambam puts in Sefer Zemanim, Halakhoth Shabbat.

ולא שימות בהם

The Aluf Abir says, a real fight isn't about being nice or being a gentleman. Just as the halakhah states that before an enemy is engaged physically they first have to be given the opportunity for peace. We would prefer to not fight, but if they persist to threaten any of Am Yisrael we have a mitzvah to protect Am Yisrael and then the gloves come off.

Further as the Rambam puts in Sefer Melachim and Milchamoth.

שלשה כתובים שלח יהושע עד שלא נכמסו לארץ
הרישון שלח להם מי שרוצה לברוח יברח
וחזר ושלח מי שרוצה להשלים ישלים
וחזר ושלח מי שרוצה לעשות מלחמה יעשה

The major difference in Abir as compared to any other martial art, is that our ability to be victorious in any situation is based solely on our connection to Hashem and Torah. Our actions have to entirely be predicated on Torah and Halakha. Other martial artists rely on their particular faith system, their person skill, etc. where we rely on Hashem, Torah, Ruach HaQodesh, and our personal skill.

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Rafi,

It was good meeting you at the bloggers conference. Yeah, Abir is really cool. I enjoy learning it. The Aluf Abir has been teaching it publicly for about 6 years. It is just starting to get on the radar. Abir is now officially recognized by the Wingate Institute.

Rachel said...

Ha, was I wrong! *blush* (As you can tell I know naught about martial arts.)
In any case, thanks for the clarification. Learning something new everyday.... ;)

Rachel said...

Me again. I was still thinking about this and, tell me if this is way off, I'm wondering: If we go according to the idea that Asians, such as the Chinese, are part of the Ten Lost Tribes, would it be a possibility that their form of martial arts take root from this?

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Rachel,

I can see you really like this post. (smile) I must admit that is fast becoming my halakhic area of expertise.

What you have to remember is that not all Chinese or Asians descend from the Lost Tribes. Only certain ethnic groups do. For example, in China they liked Israelites in ancient times because Israelites kept to themselves and for the most part were not concerned with trying to join the hierarchy of Chinese society. Yes, there were Israelites who married within certain Chinese ethnic groups, but for the most part not the ones considered elite within the Chinese mindset, Han being at the top.

There is a good book called Jews in Old China by Sidney Shapiro that analyzes the history of how Jews came to China. For the most part the majority of Jews who entered China did so after the 7th cent. The Kaifeng Jews never considered themselves a Lost Tribe.

In China, ID's mark ethnicity of an individual, and those who descend from Jews still have Yehudi on their ID. Even though these people no longer live as Yehudim.

Also, EVERY culture on the planet developed martial arts. Ancient martial arts typically come in 3 forms. 1) Family fighting systems, 2) National Military fighting systems and 3) Elite military fighting systems. So if that be the case any culture where there are families, military, and military elite has a fighting system.

Also, we know from the Torah that Avraham Avinu was the son of Terah. We find in the Sefer Ha-Yashar that Terah was the שר צבא for Nimrod of Bavel. So we understand where Avraham learned how to fight since his father Terach was the warlord of Bavel. We also learn from the Seferim Ha-Hitzunim that during the time of the Migdal in Bavel the Benei Ham were אנשי חיל וחגורי נשק and the Benei Shem were בחיל חלוצי מלחמה.

So we see that no one culture can really attribute martial arts, in the general sense, to themselves. Every culture in ancient times was connected until after Bavel was broken up. Yet, we do know that certain martial arts did originate in Mesopotamia and made their way east.

Muze said...

wow. your blog is so educational. i really dig that.

IsraeliGirl said...

I was born and Israel, and I live here as well, and I never heard about Abir until now. Thanks for this enlightening post. I've posted it in StumbleUpon for the benefit of my fellow stumblers.

Ehav Ever said...

Muze - Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind words. I really enjoy your blog, so right back at you.

Israeligirl - Thanks for stopping by my blog. Also, thank you for post it on StumbleUpon.

Miriam said...

Hey Ehav,

Thanks for posting these pics! We were just talking about this last Shabbat. (we had a guest who's partner teaches ??krav maga -the Israeli very non-artistic self defense)

Jacob Da Jew said...

I haven't see da grandmaster in over 9 years.

Check out my post about when I trained with him in Kook Sul Wun.

Chop N Slash

Great pictures, you have good form, I can tell. Good luck with it.

Ehav Ever said...

Hey Jacob,

How is everything in NYC? Yeah I remember your post about Kook Sul Wun. I read it a while back when I was looking up information on the Aluf Abir. Do you still train in Kool Sun Wan?

Thanks for your comments on my form. That last photo was a little hard for me because I have flat feet, and the guy taking the picture couldn't figure out how to get my camera to work.