For David Rubinberg, Krav Maga is a family affair.

As a young Jewish boy growing up in Newburgh, New York, Rubinberg was taught the martial art by members of his family, including several who had fled Eastern Europe for America before World War II.

Known for blending various fighting styles, Krav Maga’s close-combat techniques were developed by a Hungarian Jew to fend off would-be attackers, namely anti-Semites and fascists. The same man later introduced the system to the Israeli military.

At the core of the fighting style’s philosophy is its emphasis on self-defense, a tenet Rubinberg makes sure to impress upon his students at FEKS Martial Arts Center in Forest. He teaches them to fight only when they are threatened.

“Krav Maga is love,” Rubinberg, now 71, said in a recent interview. “We’re not trying to kill anybody. You’re not trying — or wanting — to really hurt anybody. What you want is simply to go home, because Judaism fundamentally surrounds itself with family and community.”

Today, Rubinberg’s son Bruce carries on that legacy as the owner of FEKS, which was once owned his father. Though David Rubinberg is retired from his day job as an elementary school principal, he still instructs students in the art of Krav Maga.

Five times per week, the fighting system is taught in the more than 7,000- square-foot gym turned martial arts studio in Forest. The sound of instructors yelling commands and bodies crashing into each other echo through the FEKS studio. Israeli flags hang from the ceiling and Hebrew phrases are written on the walls.

Krav Maga has become the most popular of all the martial arts taught at FEKS — outpacing karate, kickboxing and the fast growing sport of mixed martial arts.

It wasn’t always that way. Before Bruce took over the studio, the elder Rubinberg rejected the idea of teaching Krav Maga. The fighting style was deeply personal to him and he did not want to see it become commercialized.

But eventually Rubinberg changed his mind after making his son promise that they would teach it “the right way.”

It soon became a hit, in part because of its practical nature. Students are taught to be efficient in their movements.

“Krav Maga believes in simplicity, not complexity,” Rubineberg said. “And in its simplicity, it is very efficient. It’s got to be able to work imperfectly as much as perfectly, because Krav Maga doesn’t believe in perfect.”

According to Rubinberg, the courses attract a wide range of professionals. Police officers and members of the military have made up the bulk of those enrolled in Krav Maga classes but local doctors and college professors have also taken classes at FEKS.

Locals were not the only ones to take notice.

Last month, Rubinberg was awarded an eighth degree black belt in Krav Maga by Avi Nardia, a major in the Israeli Defense Forces and a counterterrorism expert who teaches the fighting system around the globe.

Impressed with the rigorous training offered at FEKS, Nardia decided to bestow a “lifetime achievement award” in the form of a belt and to name Rubinberg as a state representative to the Federation of Israeli Martial Arts.

When he was given the award at a surprise ceremony at FEKS, Rubinberg could not help but think back to his youth. Who could have guessed a child learning Krav Maga in a New York gym from his relatives would be recognized by an international authority on the subject?

“I am what you would call homeschooled in Krav Maga and he is worldly schooled,” Rubinberg said of Nardia. “And to be accepted is a great honor.”

Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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