PIKESVILLE, Md. - More twenty-somethings and young adults are turning to self defense classes in the wake of high-profile workplace mass casualties.
"We're definitely seeing an increase in the amount of people who are coming to take self defense classes," Tzviel "BK" Blankchtein, owner of Masada Tactical, said. "As a general rule, because we are strictly self defense and not a martial art or a sports fighting type system … we see a lot more of young professionals [like] lawyers, attorneys, teachers, physicians and nurses."
Masada Tactical is a self defense gym in Pikesville with instructors who specialize in Israeli Combat Systems.
Blankchtein came to the States from Israel in 1999 and opened the gym in Pikesville in 2007. The popularity of his specialized, intensive self defense training has forced Blankchtein to expand operations across the street from his Reisterstown Road perch to a larger space. He said he has plans to install gun ranges at his new gym.
Blankchtein has a degree in counter terrorism and a masters in security management. He's an American citizen although he's still a reservist in the Israeli military. He says Israelis have been combating active terrorism since 1972. The schools in his home country are all staffed with armed guards.
The idea of armed guards has been floated more than once in this country following school shootings in Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School and most recently a mass stabbing that left 20 people injured at Franklin Regional High School in Pittsburgh.
"It's unfortunate that we see on the news all the time that our world is not getting any safer," Blankchtein said. "If anything, things are getting worse. As things are getting worse on the streets we need to provide people with the opportunity to defend themselves.
"We need to give people the tools to defend themselves," he said.
In his Thursday night class, he watches over about a dozen young students learning at an intermediate level. He along with principal instructor Ber (pronounced bear) Bulua guide the students through two-on-one fight scenarios and techniques to disarm gunmen. But it starts, he says, with behavioral analysis and being in tune to one's surroundings.
"In the United States it has slightly a negative connotation--profiling," Blankchtein said. "But the reality is, if something feels odd, out of place, an individual who shouldn't be there, a car that wasn't there … giving teachers the tools to identify those things and raise that red flag can keep them that much safer.
"At the end of the day, best prevention is always going to be reaction," he added. "It's always going to be better for them not to get into a bad situation. If they can notice that something is wrong, by experience or training, they may be able to call police before a situation goes to 'shots fired.'"
Teachers from Baltimore County, Blankchtein said, are starting to take his classes in groups.
"We found out that teachers are worried. That's the bottom line," Blankchtein said. "Teachers understand that this should not be their go-to. They understand that they may not want to go hands-on with an armed assailant, but that said, they should have that option. If the situation gets bad enough that there's a shooter, God forbid, in the classroom with them and there are kids that they need to defend they may be the last line of defense."
As the class progresses, Bulua orders the students to assume a new position with the attacker--armed with a rubber gun--pinning down his or her victim.
"In the military we had to unfortunately use all of these skills at one point or another," Blankchtein said. "As we're seeing on the street nowadays, everybody has to learn these skills. This is a typical mugging situation or a shooter. The shooter at Virginia Tech came into a classroom found himself over a teacher just like we're seeing right now. This is a very realistic position."
He harkened also to a recent spate of home invasions in Pikesville that has area residents on edge.
"Living in Pikesville, we have a lot of home invasions and attacks on civilians," Blankchtein said.
Joan Kauffman is a 27-year-old nurse working at Johns Hopkins. She said she has been taking the class for about a year and a half. Nurses are ranked high among the professions with the greatest risk of workplace violence, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"I feel safer and more prepared," Kauffman said. "Even though I'll always be weaker than a lot of guys, it makes me aware of my surroundings. I'm always thinking what if something happened and what would I do? Especially working downtown in Baltimore, it's not the safest area."
She moved to Baltimore about two years. She wasn't working at Johns Hopkins when Warren Davis shot Dr. David Cohen in the stomach. Davis, 50, was disgruntled over the care his mother was receiving. He killed her and them himself. Cohen made a full recovery.
The incident she said weighs on her
"I think it's very important," Kauffman said. "A lot of people may not think they're ever going to have to use that … but it's really not worth the risk if you are attacked at some point and you're not prepared. It's your life. It's the safety of your friends and family."
At the end of class, Bulua addresses his class who stand -- breathing heavy and sweaty -- at attention, in line.
"Any questions," he begins. "If you remember one thing--"
The class shouts: "Get out the line of fire! Stay out of the line of fire!"
He responds, "Whatever you do stay out of there. Keep punching. Keep striking. I don't care if you got shot, stabbed. Keep going. Because it's not over until you stop breathing."