By Becky Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Krav maga saved me from a potentially fatal situation,” said Jesse Robbins as he recalled being surrounded and beaten by six people, three with flagpoles, last October. Robbins was counter protesting at a political rally in South Seattle and credited his krav maga (KM) training, enabling him to escape in one piece. He’ll share his knowledge of this Israeli self-defense and fighting system with students of all ages at Mother Yoga in the Chinatown-International District (CID) on Oct. 24, from 2–4 p.m.
Krav maga means “contact combat” in Hebrew. The combat training was developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld for the Israel Defense Forces in the 1940s. Lichtenfeld combined techniques from several styles of martial arts and street fighting to form a new style of self-defense.
It was later modified for civilian needs in the U.S. by students who attended Lichtenfeld’s instructor courses in the 1980s.
Robbins, already a black belt in Taekwondo, took a class with his wife, Thuy D. Do, at Krav Maga Renton in 2012. They were hooked and signed up for a membership immediately. Within a year, Robbins began to assist-teach at the studio. By 2017, Robbins was certified as a level one instructor, and in 2021, he obtained a level four instructor certification through the L.A.-based Krav Maga Worldwide. Besides teaching in Renton, Robbins also teaches in Bellevue and Lynnwood.
Robbins considers himself a Seattle native, although he was born in Staten Island, to a white father and Filipina mother. The family moved to Seattle when Robbins was two months old. Robbins just turned 40. He lives in the Othello neighborhood with his young family and in a house two blocks from where he grew up.
“I’m very much at home, raising my kids in the same neighborhood I grew up in. I’m raising them to play in the same parks I played at,” Robbins said.
He attended Seattle public schools and received his undergraduate and MBA degrees from the University of Washington. Robbins dabbled in business consulting, but his full-time job is a stay-at-home dad for his two sons.
“I know South Seattle, anything Chinatown south, really much like the back of my hands,” Robbins said. “Throughout high school and college, so many of my friends, we would meet here (CID) for lunch or dinner. I mean, we’re talking about King Café!”
King Café closed in 2004, after 36 years of operation, to make room for the Wing Luke Museum.
Robbins met Tanya Woo when Woo took a KM class in the Renton studio where Robbins practices. Woo also met her future husband, Randy Wo-Eng, there, who. besides being Robbins’ KM classmate, happens to be his Franklin High School classmate.
“I would describe Tanya as the guardian angel of the International District,” Robbins said. “She does a good job advocating for the vitality and the need for the CID to survive.”
Woo’s family owns CID’s Louisa Hotel building, which houses Mother Yoga where Robbins will be teaching KM. Woo, an active voice of the CID community, is a member of the CID Community Watch (CIDCW).
CIDCW is a volunteer group founded in June 2020 after several CID businesses were vandalized by bad actors who took advantage of the Black Lives Matter protests that May. Barely recovering from the vandalism, CID suffered further setbacks with the COVID-19 pandemic, which some turned into racist assumptions erroneously connecting the virus with Asians. Some businesses permanently shuttered, residents sheltered in place, and visitors stayed away. Reduced traffic led to public safety issues at night and vice versa. As extra eyes and ears, volunteers of the CIDCW walk from 9 to 11 p.m. nightly to provide visibility and non-violent de-escalation to evoke a sense of security for the community.
“We have a thousand seniors living in CID. Some of them don’t feel safe being out,” Woo said. “I want to help.”
One Saturday night in July, Robbins joined Woo on a CIDCW patrol.
“During the two-hours, she pointed out this business that got hit a few times. There was an assault on that corner. That building was set on fire. As we walked, she’s recounting all the incidents that happened within the last year,” Robbin said.
“I love this place. I’ve been to most of these businesses, but I didn’t know the CID was hit that hard by anti-Asian racist attacks,” said Robbins. “Of course, there are a whole bunch of other mitigating factors,” Robbin added.
That night, Robbins made an offhand comment to Woo about bringing KM to CID, to which the pre-occupied Woo hastily replied, “Yeah, I know, I know we should.”
In a few months over several conversations during social situations, Woo and Robbins solidified the plan of bringing KM to CID, with Robbins as the instructor. Free introductory seminars for seniors are pending on availability of grants. Meanwhile, Robbins is anxious to teach his beloved community self-defense in real-life, dangerous situations.
Sounding like a doting dad with a Dr. Seuss book, Robbins said KM is for everyone and is about defending oneself while “getting attacked by one person, getting attacked by three people, getting attacked when your back is against the wall, and getting attacked when you’re on the ground.” The aggressive and practical training is applicable, regardless of one’s age, body type, or gender. KM is a series of repetitive skills applied in different scenarios.
The technique is also mental. Robbins wants to help his students step out of their comfort zone and introduce them to new feelings and emotions. While most people aren’t comfortable in hitting back, by tapping into their inner aggression and adrenaline, Robbins believes students can acquire KM skills to become second nature to “kick the groin and gouge the eyes” when they’re attacked. Preparing the mind and acting with the body to respond in stressful situations so one can flee to safety is the goal.
What is Robbins’ own goal?
“I like the idea of me being the new Krav Maga Seattle. If we can start in CID, even better,” Robbins said. “I’d love to have my own studio eventually.” For now, he is renting the space at Mother Yoga, located at 511 Maynard Alley South, for his weekly Sunday classes. There will be no membership to join, just drop-in fees after the Oct. 24 classes. If the numbers work out and there is enough interest, Robbins will add classes for seniors or expand his hours. Classes conducted in another language is also a possibility.
Northwest Asian Weekly readers interested in the hour-long, free introductory class can register at rsvpforkrav.as.me/cidintro, and use coupon code: NWAWKRAV.
Proof of vaccination is required and will be checked at the door.
Becky can be reached at email@example.com.