‘Push the person opposite you backwards with all your strength, and I really mean all your strength’, says the broad-shouldered trainer as he gives his assistant a vigorous push, sending her several metres backwards. ‘Shout at the same time, even curse if you want. Really go for it. Because that’s what it’s like in real life when you’re attacked.’ As they start the exercise in pairs, the people in the sports hall laugh amongst themselves, possibly because they feel slightly awkward. But after some serious encouragement from the trainer – ‘what are you doing with that finger? No one’s going to push you with their finger, you know’ – there is some angry pushing, cursing, falling and defending.
Arrive home safely
They are all learning Krav Maga, a Hungarian-Israeli martial art based on people’s natural reactions in dangerous situations. ‘And it’s suitable for everyone’, says trainer Stephan Wattimena. He himself came across Krav Maga more or less by accident after trying out numerous forms of self-defence and martial arts. He has now been an instructor for almost a decade, as a member of the Krav Maga Association, the IKMF. ‘A friend once said to me: Krav Maga would suit you. At the time, I only knew it from YouTube and associated it with aggression and weapons. But that’s exactly the opposite of what Krav Maga is.’ So, what is it then? ‘A way of enabling everyone to arrive home safely.’
In the group, Levi stands out from the crowd. He gracefully moves his tattooed arms and legs as he spars with a young man who is training for the first time today. Levi is patiently demonstrating a series of techniques to him. As he takes a swig of water at the side later on, Levi explains why he’s here. He himself has experienced physical violence and suffered PTSD as a result. He is currently receiving treatment for it. ‘It was also recommended that I do something about my self-confidence. What I like about it here is the friendly atmosphere. The thing that deters me from normal sports training is all the macho men it attracts. I feel watched, like I’m an outsider.’
Many LGBTI people can feel intimidated at conventional gyms or training clubs, agrees Jan Pieter de Lugt. As the chair of the Pride and Sports foundation, the Dutch national platform for LGBTI people in sport, he should know. In that capacity, De Lugt is also involved in the Tijgertje sports club and has been a regular at the Tuesday evening Krav Maga sessions for years. ‘Our aim is to create a safe space here that our community is otherwise lacking. And it works. I can also say that our membership covers every letter of the alphabet and all colours of the rainbow.’
Roze Zaterdag riots
But they don’t only come for the atmosphere, adds De Lugt. ‘This community is often confronted by violence and really needs the physical and mental resilience. Many of our members also come because they’ve had bad experiences or are scared of being confronted.’ This is exactly why the Tijgertje sports club was founded almost forty years ago. In the summer of 1982, a gay and lesbian march in Amersfoort ended up in rioting, and some people were attacked. De Lugt: ‘The Roze Zaterdag (Pink Saturday) riots proved traumatic for the community. At the time, they said: if no one will protect us, we’ll have to do it ourselves.’
In the meantime, the sports hall is now full of people running backwards and forwards. ‘Stephan likes to tire us out at the end’, laughs Florine, gasping as she completes her sprint. The session has finished and everyone is now chatting on the sidelines. Florine has only been to eight Krav Maga sessions so far, she tells us. ‘I’ve never had any violent encounters, by the way, but it feels good knowing what to do if it happens. In fact, Jan Pieter just said that I’m looking more self-confident than when I first came. And guess what? I found out about the sessions from an advert on Instagram.’ Someone taps Florine on her shoulders. It’s Levi. He is going around the group with a plastic container and pushes it under Florine’s nose. It contains cookies full of Smarties in every colour of the rainbow. ‘I baked them for you all myself’, says Levi proudly.
Text: Iris Cohen