Staying safe

You’re never too young or old to be safe and protect yourself – from all threats – and learning the skills to do this is possible at any age. It’s never too late to start learning a martial art, and it is never too soon to learn how to protect yourself from a bully on the playground.

By Chandrea Serebro

Fanchento – the way of the cobra

When older people are asked if they think that they could offer themselves any form of self-defence or learn to do so, they will almost always respond that they might have in their youth, but that these days their bodies do not work so well, or their legs are weak, backs are gone, or they have lost their strength. The same goes for youth, too. Either they don’t have the skill, the powers of observation, or strength. The martial art Fanchento flies in the face of these common misbeliefs, and takes the approach that if you can move your head, then you can at least head-butt, or if you can make a fist, you can throw a punch. Just seeing people dawn with the realisation of this simple premise brings a smile to Toni Roomer, Second Dan and Vice-President of the South African Fanchento Martial Arts Federation.

Striking effectively when needed, the cobra is a deadly snake that aims its venom directly at the heart of the problem that it faces. When it must attack, it does so with full force, leaving little room for failure. Fanchento (the way of the cobra) is a form of Jujitsu, both a self-defence and combat Martial Art, as well as a sport and a form of fitness exercise, which starts with the fundamental that ‘strength is relative to how it is used’. Fanchento incorporates aspects of Judo, Jujitsu, boxing, and traditional Kung Fu. The self-defence aspect of Fanchento is 70% awareness – which is what you think and see – and 30% skills for the fight. “Our awareness programme is based deeply in the psychology of self-defence and body language,” explains Toni, and this is why most instructors and accomplished martial artists will tell you to get out of the fight before you get into it, or to use the best weapon you have – your legs. And run away.

“This has nothing to do with cowardice or a lack of belief in one’s abilities. Firstly, one has to be very aware and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no rules in a real fight. It is common knowledge that there have been and will be skilled fighters that have been taken down and will be taken down in a real fight. So the best prevention is actually to look for a way out of a real fight. Secondly, if you can’t get out of one, you should develop the awareness that you don’t have to be big and strong in order to come out on top. You just have to know what to do if a fight is inevitable.” For this fundamental premise, Fanchento focuses particularly on women and children who might not have the physical prowess to overcome their attackers, by teaching them to fight, not with strength, but to focus on the attacker’s weaknesses.

“Awareness teaching enhances mental acuity, and fitness and fighting enhances physical acuity. We concentrate very much on the fighting that will potentially work well in a real fight. We do not want to give our students a false sense of reality. But if a real fight were to occur, our students would have a ‘good fighting chance’.” Fanchento says yes – a punch is a punch, and a kick is a kick – but it goes on to offer its students the proper techniques to use, so that your punch is not just a punch but a knockout out punch.

It appeals to all types of people. People who want to develop their fitness and simultaneously want to acquire fighting skills, irrespective of their starting level; those who want to challenge themselves and are prepared to try something new, irrespective of their age; and even children who don’t want to be bullied and want to be respected. “Young and old feel very inspired to empower both their mind and body.”

Take for example the highest Dan, Head instructor and Executive member of the Federation, Mickey Davidow, one of the highest ranking martial artists. Grandmaster Edward Liang was a student of Bruce Lee, and founded Fanchento using Lee’s principle: “Absorb what is useful and reject that which is useless,” which has become one of the most quoted statements in martial arts circles in recent years. Lee did not have one particular style that he trained. He taught that one must not bind oneself to the restrictions of a single style, and so Fanchento began.” Davidow learned from Liang himself, and, starting from his garage in Joburg in the 60s, developed the art in South Africa.

Now, decades later, he is still strong and still very active in the affairs of the federation and instructing – the archetypal example of how Fanchento can be learned and excelled in at any age. SOSA (Shiur on Sally’s Alley, a NPO for the older people in the community) has teamed up with the Federation with the aim of encouraging the older people to learn some self-defence skills and strengthening exercises. And as part of the self-defence aspect of awareness, Fanchento also includes some programmes run by Koleinu to merge efforts in the fight against abuse, and Technical Advisor Michele Engelberg runs women and girls only classes as well. Girls can excel at Fanchento because it eliminates gender inequalities and teaches that you can do it no matter what society might tell you, and some girl’s high schools now offer it as part of their sports programme. Kids as young as four can get involved, through games and exercises adapted to developing fighting skills, like throwing a ping pong ball related to throwing a punch, and games using different scenarios teaching what can be done in each.

Fanchento has four components: Nage Waza, (throwing techniques); Katame Waza (which includes arm and wrist locks, strangulation techniques, finger bends and breaks, as well as leg locks); Atemi Waza (strikes and kicks); and Kobu-Jitsu (weaponry). Through the instruction in these areas, one not only learns fighting and awareness skills, but also skills for life: how to use one’s energy to the fullest; how to generate power; how to work one’s mind and body in tandem; co-ordination; and strength. And for those looking for a fitness device more than learning the skills of a martial art, Fanchento cardio box is set to start soon, introducing basic fighting skills and fitness to music, which, Toni says, is a “fun way to experience the flow and rhythmic movement that is so encompassing to any form of physical art”.

For more information contact:

Toni roomer: or

Barry Milner:

Body and mind

Body and Mind is an international programme that promotes self-empowerment through the knowledge of self-defence techniques and by raising awareness of one’s surroundings, which is the start of being safe and empowering oneself. The programme is based on principles that work together to improve self-confidence, self-discipline, emotional regulation, and respect for others, based on elements derived from civilian Krav Maga. Krav Maga is the self-defence system developed by the IDF using elements from other martial arts and ‘street fighting’ techniques. The course is run by the CSO, explains Tamara Lee of the CSO, and is open to men and women and sees participants ranging in age from 14 years to 75-plus, and there is an anti-bullying course for younger participants.

“It is no secret that levels of violence, anti-Semitism, and terrorism are a reality. Every person in the community should be empowered – with a good level of awareness as well as the knowledge of what to do if they are ever, G-d forbid, in a compromising situation,” says Tamara, which is why the CSO actively runs this course, in which awareness and disengagement are a big component. “The participants are taught about the different levels of awareness, given safety tips, and told what to look out for as well as how to disengage if possible. The participants are also taught effective defence techniques, using everyday items they usually have on them or may find around them. At the end of the class, we discuss what was learned, ask the participants how they felt, and answer any questions. This discussion at the end of the class is key, as the participants don’t leave with fears or questions playing on their mind, but rather leave with a sense of empowerment.

This course empowers people to face the disturbing global reality in a safe environment, and gives them the tools to avoid the situation in the first place, or do something about it if there are no other options. Each participant finds their inner strength and confidence to deal with any situation which may arise –nempowering them. At the end, the participants get to implement all they have learned against instructors in a scenario setting. “It is amazing to see how the participants grow in ability and confidence from the first session to this final session. “We teach people that they need not be victims, but rather masters of their own circumstances. You cannot always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you deal with it. This course gives people the mental and physical tools required, they should ever need them, G-d forbid.” And the sense of freedom to admit your fears, but then to be given the tools to address these fears is liberating and empowering.

For more information:

Email Tamar:

or visit

Brazilian Jiujitsu

Mila Ben David’s fighting name is “Mila the Cheetah”. She is an eight-year-old learner at King David Linksfield with a beautiful smile and long brown hair. She helps all the kids in her class, has a special softness for the little ones who are just starting out, and she shows both her coaches and the parents, who watch from the side-lines, impeccable manners. That said, Mila is certainly not someone you would want to meet in a dark alleyway. When the Ben David family arrived in South Africa from Madrid when she was five, her father, Amir, wanted her to start training in Judo for the great benefits it provides, both physically and mentally, and because he wanted her to stay fit even from so young an age as well as give her the space to process her emotions and her experiences.

Not being able to find a club in their area turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Ben David’s, when, at the recommendation of a friend, they joined Gracie Barra in Illovo which was a Club specialising in Brazilian Jiujitsu which also offered Judo for children once a week. “Mila was hooked on BJJ immediately. She loved it so much she never wanted to skip a class. She was very into all her sports, including tennis, rock climbing, chess, ballet, and swimming – but from the first moment, BJJ trumped them all. The rest all took a backseat.”

Her coach, Brazilian David Aghion, had never seen a kid that loved BJJ so much, and he recognised a spark in her that he could fan. The kindle might have come from Amir himself, for whom an education in martial arts was also very important. “I did Krav Maga my whole life, and I believe that if you put your child in martial arts, you give him a gift for the rest of his life.”

Only three years after she started, Mila is the World Champion for her age and weight bracket. After winning in South Africa, her coach David began encouraging her to compete on the international stage, not only because he believed she would go far, but also to further her training with more challenging fights after dominating the South African BJJ for so long, winning all the SABJJF in (SA BJJ Federation) including the boy’s divisions, causing many a boy to cry at losing to a girl.

Mila went to Los Angeles, California to compete in the International BJJF (IBJJF) kids competition – the biggest and most prestigious kids BJJ competition in the world, where she won all her fights by submissions, championing against a Brazilian girl in the quarter-final, an American in the semi-final, and a Japanese girl in the final. Earlier this year, Mila also won the Israeli Spring Open, beating the two-time winner and current Israeli champion at the final. But Mila’s achievements in a sport which encourages submission and dominion does nothing to alter the fact that she is a typical eight-year-old girl in many other ways, and becoming great friends with the Israeli champion showed this not only to Mila’s parents, but also to those who practise the sport.

She has become a role-model to her friends (some of whom have joined the sport because of her), because she is a fiery example of how keeping fit and healthy, having fun, and learning an art can enhance your life from even so young an age. Mila excels in BJJ simply because she loves it, and she trains very hard, almost every day, and has done so since she was young. One can start BJJ from five years old and continue with it for your lifetime, and while it is a martial art, it is safe and even non-aggressive. The focus is on causing your opponent to submit by joint locks or chokes in a very controlled, masterful way, employing some Judo and wrestling techniques to bring your opponent to the ground and to control his ability to fight back.

As a martial art, BJJ was proven to be effective after Royce Gracie won all of the first UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events – created solely to test which martial art would win when pitting black belts from all the different styles against each other. “The BJJ won again and again, even though Gracie was always the smaller guy. It is to the body what chess is to the mind. You win by displaying more knowledge and experience than the other person in the game.”

But, above and beyond the wins and the championships, Mila is keeping her body and mind fit. BJJ encourages healthy and social interaction based on mutual respect. You gain fitness and strength, develop motor skills, and, of course, acquire self-defence skills for life. And she is also learning the meaning of hard work and dedication, using her secret recipe – especially since she started to train in kickboxing in the last couple of years as well, only adding to her repertoire of pressure and accomplishment. Plentiful sleep for good recovery, healthy nutrition for the body, maintaining other hobbies and relationships, and mental support from coaches, especially before competitions, seem to be the answer – and it seems to be working.

“Mila, a very competitive girl, is very proud of her achievements. She likes to compete and remains undefeated, with a record of 38-0. Just last month she won the SA wrestling competition held at the Mall of Africa. She was the only girl who went on to defeat eight boys in the division by submission.” The next big goal for Mila is to excel at the upcoming competition, IBJJF European Championship, which takes place in Dublin, Ireland in November 2019. And with her Cheetah totem, Mila is sure to take the prize swiftly and stealthily and continue to light her way across the BJJ arena, while staying the same, sweet eight-year-old that she is.

In a box with the photos I sent you please:

Dov Drishner, 9½ years old, is a grade 3 pupil at Torah Academy, who has also been training in Brazilian Jiujitsu at Gracie Barra in Illovo since the age of 4. In December 2018, he won a gold medal at the South African National Pro competition. And in March 2019, he won a silver medal at the Africa Continental Pro competition in Stellenbosch.

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