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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Krav Maga mixes self defense with fun

Steven Spooner

Jesse James Tucker leads a Krav Maga lesson in Rising Phoenix Fitness & Defense in Tucson on Feb. 2.

Krav Maga is a close-combat martial art utilized by the Israel Defense Forces that focuses on responding to threats and neutralizing dangerous situations. The art originates from Israel and is influenced by a smorgasbord of other disciplines; notably boxing, aikido, wrestling, judo and KAPAP. 

The system, developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, utilizes natural body mechanics and form in order to train the mind and body to respond better to the fight or flight response. 

Lichtenfeld created the discipline in reaction to anti-Semitic riots in Bratislava shortly before World War II. He sought to give those within his Jewish neighborhood a tool to defend themselves, and thus developed a system of techniques for self-defense. 

All of this may sound intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from trying it out. It’s an art for any and everyone, military or civilian, young or old, bouncer or sorority girl, full-time student or full-time mom. There’s many places in Tucson to train, and there’s even a club at the UA.

UA Krav Maga is a student-run and student-led club. You may have a little trouble finding them at first because they train in the shadows like ninjas. On Wednesdays, in between the Ina E. Gittings (Physiology) building and the Stevie Eller Dance Theater, the group meets and drills. 

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The club is run and organized by president Stephanie Flores and vice president Esmeralda Zaragoza and instructed by retired U.S. marine Bruce Montoya. The three work together to create a welcoming yet challenging atmosphere that encourages members to grow, and it seems to be working.

Jacob Little, a UA pre-business freshmen who has been attending the club for a semester, said he feels safer and more confident since joining.

“I had very minimal martial arts experience before joining,” Little said. “[It’s a] good starting point; [it] gave me awareness of how I should defend myself.”

When members of the club meet, they perform drills that emulate real-life scenarios. They practice getting up from the ground after being knocked down and defending against numerous attackers. Even though the students were training to break an attacker’s tracheas, the atmosphere was light and productive. 

Montoya described the club’s interpretation of Krav Maga as “the art of preventing further violence” and described them as a “training group, not a fitness studio.” He is certified in both Tucson and California as a Krav Maga instructor. He teaches a variety of classes at the fitness center that delve deeper into military combat techniques.

If Krav Maga interests you but you’re busy on Wednesday nights, there’s gyms that offer classes out in town. Rising Phoenix Fitness and Defense is a hidden gem in the vast desert city of Tucson. Although the studio is Krav Maga-centric, it offers a variety of programs. These include personal training, Jiu Jitsu, weapon tactics, competition fighting, martial arts fitness/yoga and nutrition. 

Rising Phoenix Fitness and Defense is the brain child of Jesse James Tucker, the owner and senior instructor at the studio. At 24 he felt a calling to teach Krav Maga. He saw it as a vehicle to help thousands of people and save lives.

Tucker is the epitome of a small American businessman. He built his gym from the ground up, living out of his car and teaching in a park for 10 months before buying his studio. 

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Regardless of turmoil, he turned a profit within the first year of his business and continues to run it successfully. He’s been teaching for over 12 years, has experience with both MMA and Krav Maga and has earned Israeli validation. He also has a black belt in Krav Maga through the United States Krav Maga Association. 

He described the gym as, “a real Krav Maga gym but taught in a way that’s comfortable for everyone.” 

Their philosophy is the use of Krav Maga as a vehicle to get in good shape and encourage growth of the mind, body and spirit.

There is a reoccurring theme in Krav Maga of preparing for real-life situations. On Tucker’s command, the group played a game of shoulder tag in the dark with a strobe light and music. This orchestrated chaos created a pseudo club. This game was merely training in disguise. The activity allowed the class to practice footwork and coordination, breaking away from the monotony of traditional workouts. Many of his classes are conducted this way. The instruction is stimulating and fun. 

Cristin Coppock, a mother and gym member, has been training at Rising Phoenix Fitness and Defense for a year. She has found solace and community in this little gym on East Broadway Boulevard between Campbell Avenue and Tucson Boulevard. 

“[They] start off as friends [and] end up as family,” she said. She thanks the gym for making her feel safer when she goes out in public, especially with her kids. 

Don’t let lack of experience discourage you. Anyone can learn self-defense and doing so can have a serious positive impact on your life. Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Who knows? Krav Maga might be your next passion.

For more information on Rising Phoenix Fitness and Defense, contact the gym at or 520-838-1592.  

Follow Jack Dana on Twitter.

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