One very early Monday morning in March, Nolwenn Christiaens was followed by a man as she got off a friend’s bike and walked 50 meters or so into her house.
As she closed the gate, she was shocked to see the man stand outside, expose himself and begin to masturbate. She yelled and punched him in the face through an opening in the gate.
The man, clearly not expecting such a response, fled into a narrow alley in Hanoi’s Dong Da District.
The 21-year-old French expatriate credits the courage and confidence she found at that moment to “Krav,” a short form for Krav Maga, a martial art form developed in Israel.
It “gave me the strength to react this way instead of just running,” Christiaens said, adding that one of her friends was helpless as a stranger followed her and grabbed her breasts as she was driving her bike.
The French woman has been learning Krav Maga from Yuval Miodovsky, as Israeli trainer who has been conducting classes in Hanoi.
Krav Maga can be translated from Hebrew into English as “contact-combat.” It is a self-defense system originally developed in the late 1930s by Hungarian-born Israeli martial artist, Imi Lichtenfeld, for the Israeli army. It is a combination of techniques sourced from akido, judo, karate and other martial art forms. With no rules, it aims to help people avoid dangerous situations or end a threat quickly and decisively.
Yuval Midodovsky trains a student to neutralize an attack. Photo by Trong Giap
Miodovsky, who has been learning Krav Maga since she was 7, got her first dan black belt in 2011 and got a trainer certificate from the Wingate Institute in Israel. During two years in the compulsory military service, she outdid 150 male and female conscripts to become a combat instructor at Givanti Brigade, an Israel Defense Forces infantry brigade.
She has been living in Hanoi for the last 8 months, training both Vietnamese and foreigners. The 24-year-old says she wants to share her knowledge, meet locals and introduce the new martial art form to the country.
In her class, she teaches students to neutralize six types of chokes, bear hugs, punches. She also teaches them to use whatever they can get their hands on, whether it is a phone or even a selfie stick, to defend themselves.
“We have three situations: fight, flight or freeze. Most of us, when dealing with situation right on the spot, will freeze,” Miodovsky said.
Therefore, she added, she trains her students to be calm and to develop an instinct to react when needed, as the street is “a mess and a mystery.”
Her classes have already helped several people in gaining strength and self confidence.
She remembers clearly a female student in her late 20s who was a victim of sexual assault by her own family member. “When she first came to my class, she was a shy person who always kept a distance from people and felt nervous when practicing with partners.”
Once, in teaching defense against bear hugs, Miodovsky slightly hugged her student from behind, but was asked to stop immediately. “Her hands kept shaking as memories of the assault flashed back.”
However, after several months of training, the student became stronger, more confident and started laughing.
According to a report in 2014 by ActionAid Vietnam, a non-governmental organization, 87 percent of Vietnamese women and girls experience sexual harassment in public places like streets, parks, buses and public toilets.
When violence or harassment happens in public, 47 percent of women and girls keep quiet instead of reporting the crime or warning others.
In 2016, VnExpress also reported on sexual assault and harrassment cases that shook the expat community in Hanoi.
Miodovsky’s work can play an important part in dealing with this serious problem.
However, despite her expertise in martial arts and her work in helping others learn it, Miodovsky is not eager to deploy Krav Maga in real life.
She uses the confidence it gives her to engage in non-violent adventures. She once rode a motorbike alone for 1,150 km from Ho Chi Minh City in the south to Dong Hoi in the central province of Quang Binh.
“I believe that if I keep walking with a smile and sunlight in my heart, nobody will try to harm me,” she said.
After leaving the military, she traveled to several countries in the Middle East and Europe. In 2016, she settled in Vietnam with her then boyfriend after a trip around Southeast Asia, as she found a job as a biking instructor in a large scale gym in Ho Chi Minh City. She worked there for 8 months before moving to Hanoi to do what she’s most passionate about: teaching Krav Maga.
Her ex-boyfriend was also a Krav Maga practitioner with second dan black belt.
However, it does not matter whether her next boyfriend knows how to fight well or not, Miodovsky said, smiling.
“I am a peace lover.”