Fists of Jewry

Amy Touisithiphonexay brings krav maga, the Israeli art of self-defense, to South Florida

The system has been adopted by over 150 agencies, including the Burbank, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills police departments. Outside California the Illinois State Police and Lubbock, Texas, police use krav maga as standard issue. In South Florida its study by law-enforcement officers is strictly voluntary.

Al (who requests that his last name be withheld) is one of Amy's cop students. He's a 15-year veteran narcotics officer for Miami-Dade County and says that krav maga is far and away a better system for self-defense than what his agency teaches its officers. "Our system is very, very basic," he says. "On a scale of one to ten, it's like a point-one. For you to be proficient in anything, you have to practice it on a regular basis. And we just don't." Al has been in many hand-to-hand situations over the years. In one particular incident, during a routine traffic stop, a six-foot-two, 230-pounder started trouble. He tried to grab Al's gun and gave the five-foot-seven, 175-pound cop the fight of his life. It was about that time that Al decided to step up his street restraint techniques.

"I can see a practical use for this for anybody," he says. "Anybody. I don't care if you're a housewife or if you're the postman or if you're an editor. Down here, you honk your horn at the wrong person and they may confront you. You can defend yourself and hopefully, God willing, not get hurt and terminate the incident and control it. It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it."

Valeria Coumson practices kicking a man when he's down with Patricia Lopez
Joshua Prezant
Valeria Coumson practices kicking a man when he's down with Patricia Lopez
Coumson gets choked from behind by Lopez, which is all fair game in krav maga
Joshua Prezant
Coumson gets choked from behind by Lopez, which is all fair game in krav maga

Indeed, civilians have come to appreciate krav maga as well. Student Waymon Byrd had a martial arts background before coming to Amy. But this is a new sort of art, he says. "In other martial arts, there's more style and tradition to it," he says. "With krav maga, there's not as much technique involved. It's easy to learn; it's not as hard to remember. And it's more practical on the streets."

He offers as proof an instance a couple of months ago when he was jumped by seven people after a pickup basketball game. "I walked out without a mark on me," he boasts. He's learned to flip the proverbial switch. He went from passive to aggressive and reacted. His victims didn't have a chance to rally against him.

"I was able to defend myself; I was not harmed at all," he says. "I had on white pants, and they weren't even dirty. A lot of stuff I learned in krav maga was a lot of stuff I used. I got hit, but they didn't get my face. Let's just say I made contact with quite a few people, too."


Currently, about 100 krav maga instructors are certified nationwide, up from 40 just a year ago, and of that number, only about 15 are women. Amy Touisithiphonexay wasn't always that kind of hard-hittin', in-your-face type. Fourteen years ago, while she was living in Miami, Amy Losek got into martial arts for her health. It toned her body, but even more, it sharpened her mind. "In the beginning it was a way of looking good in Coconut Grove," Amy says, now in street clothes and looking like a put-together mom again. "But now I have a love of kicking ass."

She was taking a tai chi class from her future husband, who at the time was living on a shrimp boat and moonlighting by teaching martial arts.

"I was so good at tai chi that Nee recommended I start taking kung fu," Amy says. She wasn't too shabby at kung fu either, earning a second-degree black belt before venturing to Los Angeles to become certified as a krav maga instructor.

That, she says, was probably the biggest obstacle of her life. While her classes involve contact, they pale in comparison to the wringer she was put through at the Krav Maga National Training Center on Olympic Boulevard.

"I had black eyes, finger marks around my neck," she says. "One guy was six-seven, and he beat me up pretty good. I was a mess. It was very, very hard." She considers herself American to the core, but her Jewish identity is important to her -- and Israel represents a key touchstone of that identity. "Growing up as a child," she says, "when things were bad, like when America was talking about getting a new President, my father would always say, "We're moving to Israel.' We were a very traditional Jewish family but not religious."

When she was 22 years old, she broke up with her boyfriend (she swears she hurt only his feelings) and decided to go on hiatus for a while. She didn't have to think too hard about her destination: "I was real independent already, but going to Israel made me even more so," she says. "It didn't bother me that men were walking around with machine guns, because that is what they need to do to keep it safe. Israel is the only place we can call our own."

These days she still feels a tie to her Jewish roots. krav maga is, in a way, a connection to her heritage and a reminder of that great trip she had when she was 22. Her toughness has increased dramatically over the years, but it hasn't left her hardened.

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