Walking down the street, very few people expect to be assaulted, let alone feel prepared to take on an attacker. Since July 2012, former Margate resident Greg Dziewonski has offered classes in krav maga - an Israeli self-defense course - at the Milton and Betty Katz Jewish Community Center in Margate in order for its shore town residents to "prepare for the unthinkable."

"Trust your training. … Only (your attacker) knows if the gun is loaded," the Mays Landing instructor said to his six krav maga students on a recent Monday night.

Krav maga, which translates to "contact combat," prepares students to defend against multiple attackers and disarm an active shooter or an attacker, Dziewonski, 45, said.

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Originally developed by Imi Lichtenfeld for the Israeli Defense Forces following World War II, the practical self-defense techniques once intended for the security field have since caught on with everyday civilians.

"We had tried (Krav Maga) here a couple times without success," Sheryl Rubin, the center's program director said. "It takes time and commitment (to maintain a program), and I think Greg is the first (to provide that). … I was impressed by his experience."

Dziewonksi, a brown belt, trained under Master Alain Cohen, founder of Krav Maga Federation of America, became an instructor last March and since then made his mission to bring krav maga to South Jersey.

Yet, only five years ago, Dziewonski, a native of Poland, found his health failing. After seeing a television program highlighting krav maga, he was convinced it would change his life. Martial arts had always been familiar to him, but the fluidity and ease of the Israeli form intrigued him, he said.

"Once you engage, you just continue. Punches and kicks have to flow without stop," Dziewonski said, referring to the Israeli technique "retzev" - or continuous motion.

On a recent night, prior to the adult session that meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the newly instituted children's program let out. Aldona Lupa, of Ventnor, brought her son, Nickolas Zdybek, 8, for his second week of training. In three sessions, he had learned proper kicks, punches and flips, Lupa said.

"He always wanted to do karate," she said, "but we know Greg from our Polish community, and he explained to us how (krav maga) is different. Karate is mostly focusing on how to attack, and this (teaches) how to self-defend," she said.

The adult class just recently added a third day to its schedule, and the JCC already has promised a larger training room as the program becomes increasingly popular, Dziewonkski said. The class demographics run from teenage female to 67-year-old male.

"I think everybody should try it just to feel safer," he said. "It's for everyone."

Cassanda Mears, 17, the only female in the room that night, never imagined herself practicing krav maga, but kept up with the men, practicing flips on mats and disarming staged attackers.

"My uncle is the instructor," the Egg Harbor Township High School student said. "He asked me to try it out, and I just kept coming back. I didn't think that it would be my thing because I've never done sports before. It's fun though."

Mears, the youngest in the group, who is training to receive her orange belt at the end of the month, also recommended the class to females.

"Girls should definitely do the class because you'll feel better walking on the streets," she said.

Marcin Kaczr, of Ventnor, has experience in the martial arts of aikido and taekwondo and is involved in physical activity for work and leisure, he said. But the yellow-belt practitioner does see benefits in learning the techniques of krav maga.

"After a few months, I feel better on the streets," he said.

And Dziewonski assures both the ease of the course and its effectiveness.

"You can learn something in one class that can come in handy and save your life," he said.

Krav maga involves mental preparedness as well as physical ability, Dziewonski said, adding that he had to defend himself against seven instructors simultaneously in order to become an instructor himself.

In class recently, he ran drills of sprints, push-ups and jumping jacks, as well as staged attacks on his students in the dark, while asking them to keep their eyes closed.

"We're getting our students ready for the situation they would never think could happen to them," Dziewonski said.

The instructor, who expects to have his black belt by July, emphasized the importance of self-defense, especially in light of recent senseless tragedies. The basic welfare of civilians, however, remains the most important, he said.

"Why be in a fight when you can avoid a fight? It's not about who is better. It's not about street fighting. It's about being safe."

To learn more about Krav Maga, visit kravmagafedera

tionofamerica.com or call the JCC at 609-822-1167.

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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