Honor, sacrifice, courage, and perseverance perhaps sound like admirable virtues exclusive to the military or to those of another era. However, Hezi Sheli and the staff at the Israeli Martial Arts Academy (IMAA) are instilling these virtues in the next generation through their world-class training in Krav Maga and mixed martial arts.
Hezi Sheli is one of the highest ranked and experienced Israeli Self Defense instructors in the U.S. His gym, the Israeli Martial Arts Academy, teaches martial arts and self-defense classes, including Krav Maga. Krav Maga, literally “contact combat,” has sometimes been described as the most practical—and lethal— of the martial arts, combining the most effective techniques from jiujitsu, judo, karate, and other fighting styles. It was developed as the national martial art of Israel specifically to fight against street terrorism. Hezi, one of the world’s few 6th degree black belts in Krav Maga, indicates that it focuses on the “martial” more than the “art,” and “it works,” as he knows from personal experience.
Hezi’s career in Krav Maga began when he was seven years old. Born into a rough community in Israel, Hezi recounts the type of violent bullying that was rampant in his town. When he was seven, he decided to learn how to defend himself through enrolling in one of the top Krav Maga gyms in Israel. By the time he was 16, he had earned his brown belt and was teaching classes alongside his instructor.
Hezi’s mastery in Krav Maga set him apart in the military. Though all Israeli citizens—both men and women—are required to serve in the military, Hezi had always wanted to serve his country on the front lines. He was drafted into a battalion of 500 soldiers and was selected to participate in a 20-month-long vetting process for the special operations reconnaissance unit. After 20 months, only 90 of the original 500 soldiers in the battalion lasted without quitting. Out of the 90 who lasted, only 20 were selected to join the special ops unit, and Hezi was one of them.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Hezi is one of the best-trained soldiers in Israel. He spent 5 years as a part of the special ops unit, going on resonance missions behind enemy lines in Gaza, Egypt, and the West Bank. He recounts how his Krav Maga training was vital in these missions, from fighting Hamas terror cells in Gaza to disrupting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ten years ago, after moving to the United States, Hezi opened up the Israeli Martial Arts Academy in Westlake Village to bring his world-class training to the citizens of the Conejo Valley and the Los Angeles area.
Hezi’s gym, the Israeli Martial Arts Academy, is located just past the intersection of Agoura Road and Lindero Canyon. The academy teaches children as young as six to adult beginners, as well as adult advanced classes. The Krav Maga training involves hand-to-hand combat and gun, knife, and stick defense, as well as offering separate classes for women’s self-defense and firearms training at an offsite range. Everything taught in the gym is practical because, as Hezi says, “we’ve all done it in Israel. We’ve tried it, and it works.”
However, it’s not only the world-class training that sets the Israeli Martial Arts Academy apart from others, it’s the sense of community. Hezi’s gym is truly a labor of love. He notes that his motivation behind the gym is “to see people become stronger, to help people, to help people take control of their life.” Hezi says, “We are not a typical gym where you do your workout and you go home. What we have tried to do here, and I think we have done successfully, is to build a community. We are not trying to defeat each other, we are trying to build each other, and that is a big difference.”
Many people have come to the gym having experienced trauma, such as assault. Hezi says the community at the gym “always tries the best that we can to pick them up and push them forward.” This unique community sets the gym apart, and Hezi says that it is the people’s love for the community that has kept the gym open during COVID. As Hezi says, “This gym still exists because of the community, and people realize that if the gym closes down, we will lose the community we have worked so hard to build.”
The year 2020 at minimum has been a year of uncertainty. The Israeli Martial Arts Academy prepares its community for such a time as this. Whether six years old or 80, students learn about the virtues of honor, sacrifice, courage, and perseverance, and it is those virtues that strengthen character for times of uncertainty. Hezi says that the key lesson for his students is “‘even when it is hard to keep on going, you don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when the fight is over.’ In this time, you see who are the really strong ones.” Hezi and the IMAA staff equip their students with the strength to persevere in the fight.
Hezi is a nationally recognized and esteemed martial arts instructor, and his gym is equipping the Conejo Valley with the strength to get our community through these trying times. To meet the renowned Hezi Sheli and learn these timeless virtues, sign up for a free class on the IMAA website, https://selfdefensela.com/.