When it comes to martial arts, centuries-old techniques such as karate, kung fu, and taekwondo are merely competitive sports. Kew Gardens Hills resident Avi Avramcheyiv calls them “merely dancing,” in contrast with Krav Maga, the Israeli-designed self-defense method that he teaches at his Queens studio.
“Krav Maga is for self-defense. It is a fighting system that kept changing with its predators,” said Avracheyiv, founder of the New York Self Defense Academy. Translating roughly as “contact combat,” the fighting technique was developed in Slovakia by Imi Lichtenfeld, a boxer, wrestler, and gymnast who borrowed elements of the sports he practiced to create a self-defense technique against local fascist gangs. After making aliyah to British Palestine on the eve of the Holocaust, he trained members of the Haganah militia and later the Israeli Army on how to resist attackers. Over the years, Krav Maga incorporated elements of judo and aikido as it evolved over time. “When a stabber strikes, it used to be a straight arm in defense and many officers died,” said Avracheyiv. “Krav Maga changed the 90-degree pose to a 120-degree arm raised. Today we deflect the knife out of the way using the momentum of the attacker against himself.”
Avracheyiv’s career in martial arts began at age ten when his parents enrolled in the local “Dennis Hisardoot” classes that led to jiu-jitsu and Shotokan karate. Having second thoughts, they tried to withdraw him from martial arts, but by then it was “too late.” At age 16, he earned his black belt and competed in international competitions, representing Israel. After service in the Army, he moved to New York and opened up the New York Self Defense Academy.
Despite its short history, Krav Maga’s following has picked up in New York, prized for its practicality and authenticity. “I’m certified by the Wingate Institute,” said Avracheyiv. “It is a place like no other, a sports city where I was trained for more than a year.” Until recently, Avracheyiv’s academy had two locations, one on Kissena Boulevard in Kew Gardens Hills and another in Forest Hills. He closed the latter location in preparation for an expansion of a single center. The classes are led by Avramcheyiv, along with fellow Wingate Institute alums Riki Quinn and Yoav Elbaz, Georgian karate champ Beka Goginashvili, and yoga instructor Moria Magen Mordechai.
Keeping a busy schedule of programs, the academy includes kids’ martial arts, yoga, and Krav Maga for adults. Avramcheyiv also reserves an hour on certain Sundays to train officers from the 107th precinct – free of charge. “I’ve also done public events with State Senator James Sanders and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on responding to ‘knock-outs’ and sexual assaults with demonstration techniques.”
The shomer Shabbos studio is in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood, but its students represent all backgrounds that are found in Queens. “You’d be surprised to learn how many Chinese students are interested in Krav Maga,” said Avracheyiv. “It’s simple, straight to the point, and made of natural movements.