Paula Meyers was trying to coach her students on how to aggressively go after the slight, friendly woman standing in the center of the mat.
“Attackers,” Meyers said during the class last Monday, “I don’t want you to be Minnesota Nice.”
Sue Brophy, the woman who was now surrounded by her larger classmates, welcomed the challenge, eagerly kicking, kneeing and elbowing her way through as they closed in on her.
For the past nine months, Brophy has been taking classes in Krav Maga, a self-defense discipline that simulates real-life scenarios and teaches the most effective reactions. A principal teaching of the Israel Defense Forces, Krav Maga is having something of a moment. Everyone wants to learn it: cops, Marines, the FBI, women, kids and Hollywood’s elite, including Angelina Jolie and Ashton Kutcher.
Brophy attends as many sessions as she can, tracking down Meyers’ classes in Edina and Chaska — sometimes four nights a week, and then a Saturday morning class. It runs in the family, too: One of the larger classmates who was rushing Brophy on Monday was her son.
“I love it so much, I can’t stop showing up,” Brophy said. “There’s a rush. You get to beat people up and there’s no consequences.”
More important than that momentary rush, she said, is the calm she’s begun to feel when going out alone, knowing that she can take care of herself.
Boiled down, Krav Maga’s central tenets could be summarized thusly: Inflict maximum damage and, as Meyers instructed more than once during her class, “Run like hell.” The damage comes through what might, at first, seem “dirty.”
At its core, said instructor Mike Ramsden, Krav Maga is artless and heartless. Sometimes classes head out to the parking lot, where students practice jamming their fingers into halved oranges to simulate the unnerving feeling of poking someone’s eye out.
“In sports, it’s about ‘play fair, be fair,’ ” said Ramsden, who is also a black belt in taekwondo. “And here we have to train people this is not sport, your life depends on it. Kick him in the groin like your life depends on it.”
Meyers likes to keep her class fresh and situational, often basing it off trends and recent events. Earlier this week, they demonstrated how to break out of a “crowding,” a sort of scaled-down flash mob. Last month, following the Boston Marathon bombings, Meyers spent the week teaching what she called “terrorist takedowns.”
The realism is part of the draw, said students. That, and Meyers herself, who is endlessly demonstrating different scenarios — “Like, if I was to punch you in the face,” she said, extending a remarkably muscular arm — and explaining, in the most upbeat way possible, her advice of last resort.
“We always say, when in doubt, beat the crap out of them,” Meyers said.