Marc West tries his hand (elbow and knees) at a martial art designed to keep him safe on the streets

In my younger days (many moons ago), Cowley Road was considered to be a rather dangerous place and it is said that students were positively discouraged from crossing Magdalen Bridge and entering East Oxford after dark.

Despite my parents’ best intentions at that time, I was never put off cruising the strip and thoroughly enjoyed OX4’s vibrant nightlife – never once encountering any kind of trouble.

However, despite the area being an enclave of multicultural middle-class mediocrity these days and therefore considered a much safer place to be, incidents of violence are still known to occur.

So, in light of this, a group of undergrads have brought a modern martial art from Israel to our city to help empower students and residents alike with the ability to defend themselves effectively should the need arise.

Developed in the 1930s, Krav Maga teaches you, first and foremost, to use common sense, to trust in your instincts and carry yourself with confidence to avoid potential situations in the first place.

It’s only in the case of actual confrontation that effective strategies are then employed to de-escalate and diffuse an issue.

Now, given the chance of fight or flight, my natural instinct would of course be to scarper at the first sign of any danger. And, being a keen runner, I'm fairly confident I'd quickly create some distance. But, what could I do if confronted?

Hosted by exciting new physical theatre company Justice In Motion, this workshop was inspired by true accounts of social injustice.

Beyond the fun and physical aspect it was designed to teach effectiveness in real-life situations. To begin, we play out a simple every day scenario.

I’m sure we’ve all felt our personal space may have been invaded (perfectly harmlessly) by someone at some point – maybe when simply walking through Cornmarket on any given day. We’d normally think little of it. However, imagine if that happened while alone in a dark alley at night and I’m sure you can now appreciate it’s a whole different scenario.

Many martial arts claim to teach self-defence, but Krav is among the very few that actually prepares you to deal with such threats.

It doesn’t rely on size or strength – therefore can be used to defend against a bigger and stronger opponent, making it the perfect choice for women.

Our passive and polite group are taught to get in the mind set that the best defence is actually a counter attack – within three to five seconds or less.

A series of blows – in the form of elbow and knee strikes in addition to hammer fists – can be used to stun the opponent and hopefully neutralise the threat. I think all of us in the group struggle with the moral difficulty of justifying such violence.

Oxford Mail:
The self defence class members 

But, we all also recognise the need and lawful right to appropriately defend ourselves and instructor Olga Kuznetsova puts it all into perspective in her concluding comment: “I hope you never have to use anything we’ve shown you today.”

If you too would like to learn effective techniques to defend yourself (in a safe and controlled environment), Oxford University KO Krav meet for two hours every Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon at Iffley Road Sports Centre.

Classes are open to all and details can be found at