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.
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:
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):
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 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.
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.
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.
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.