Bumps and bruises were par for the course last week as about 20 local police officers punched, kicked and elbowed their way through self-defense training.
The officers spent their work week at Wright's Gym in Crafton, learning the Israeli self-defense and fighting system Krav Maga, which emphasizes instinctive movements and practical fighting techniques in real-world situations.
At the end of the week, officers who passed a test earned certification as instructors, and over the next couple of years they will train about 300 officers in the 19 communities that belong to the Char-West Council of Governments: Bridgeville, Carnegie, Collier, Coraopolis, Crafton, Crescent, Findlay, Green Tree, Ingram, Kennedy, McKees Rocks, Neville, North Fayette, Oakdale, Robinson, Rosslyn Farms, South Fayette, Stowe and Thornburg.
Krav Maga is an easy-to-learn system involving simple movements that officers can quickly recall in stressful situations, said Findlay Capt. Mark Joyce, a member of the Char-West COG's police training committee.
"In the event an officer is presented with a violent attack ... they can much more easily diffuse the violent attack without using excessive force," Capt. Joyce said.
Class instructors Sgt. Michael Davis and Deputy Chris Galassi of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also work for Krav Maga Worldwide Inc., a company that trains members of law enforcement, the military and the public.
Courses are offered at about 240 training centers throughout the world, including Wright's Gym in the Crafton-Ingram Shopping Center.
Dave Wright donated the use of his gym for the police training, Capt. Joyce said.
Robinson Sgt. Joel Hamilton has used Krav Maga on the job and was seeking instructor recertification during the training sessions held March 25 through Friday.
He said the method is effective because the movements are based on natural reactions and instinctive motions.
"For the police, it really addresses a need we've had for a long time to train to defend ourselves," he said.
For example, he said, an officer can use the technique to approach an armed suspect, take control and make an arrest.
"A lot of the idea is to stop any use of force by the subject before it happens, so you don't have to find yourself going up the force continuum," Sgt. Hamilton said. "It kind of allows you to address a situation immediately before it escalates any further."
Krav Maga focuses on using body parts as weapons--including elbows, knees and even the head, he said.
Despite the focus on physical movements, it differs greatly from a martial art, he said.
"It's totally designed for the street rather than competition," Sgt. Hamilton said.
The Krav Maga instruction costs about $580 per officer. Each Char-West community contributes $500 a year toward the police training committee, Capt. Joyce said.
Sgt. Hamilton said the program gives officers new defense tools.
"Everyone's tired of seeing in the news that police officers are hurt or killed in a violent attack, and it's good to have something to protect themselves to make sure they get home safe every day," he said.
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.