You’re leaving a restaurant where you’ve had dinner with friends. You’re walking back to your vehicle, when you sense someone is following you.

Then you hear the words.

“Don’t move, or I’ll blow your head off."

What would you do?

Most of us react instinctively, and depending upon who you are, where you are, and what you’ve been taught, your response could mean the difference between life and death.

Vinay Chary, owner and chief instructor of Triumph Krav Maga in New Orleans and a second-degree black belt in the discipline, says there are certain things to be considered.

“If you don’t have training, compliance is the first order of business," he said. "I tell my students that if they want your keys, your cellphone, or your wallet, my best advice is to take your things and throw them as far away from you as possible. As the criminal runs after your belongings, you hightail it out of there. The rule of thumb is always to avoid conflict, and to escape.”

Unfortunately, escaping is not always an option.

“If the perpetrator wants more than your belongings, or wants you to get into a car, or walk to a different location, your fight instinct must kick in right away,” said Chary.

“It’s imperative you channel your aggression to destroy this person. And never be taken to a second location. Most people die at crime scene two, so we say fight with all you have at crime scene one.”

How and when to defend oneself, using flight or physical force, is the essence of Krav Maga.

The self-defense system of the Israeli military has been gaining popularity across this country for over a decade.

Krav Maga teaches situational awareness and psychological strengthening. It uses the body’s natural instincts for specific defensive moves, so they are easy to retain, instructors said.

This isn’t about winning medals. There are no competitions.

“I came here for a six-week challenge to get back in shape, which incorporated Krav Maga training into the physical workout," said student Stephanie Young.

“I ended up losing 20 pounds, but continued on with the Krav Maga defense program. That was over a year ago. I’ve kept off the weight, and lost an additional 26 inches, but the bonanza is that I’ve become fierce," she said.

"I was the victim of an abusive marriage, an episode in my life I thought was well behind me. However, as part of one of my classes last year, there was a choking exercise. It triggered memories of rape … experiences I thought I had long ago overcome," Young said.

"I froze … then snapped out of it, and continued the training exercise. But Vin (my instructor) was so intuitive that he waited until after the class and asked me if I had trouble with some of the elements.

"I burst into tears and then explained the flashback.”

Young benefited from work with the Sexual Assault Council, through which Triumph brings in survivors and counselors, all pro bono.

This gym also conducts classes for teens who are being bullied and helps newcomers who don't speak much English assimilate into American culture.

It’s all part of a confidence-building program, which, in turn, translates to the streets.

Young said she was recently followed to her car in the lower French Quarter by a tall man screaming, "Hey baby!"

“I told him if he came one step closer to me, I was sorry, but I’d have to hurt him. He came at me.

"I did one of my advanced kicks to his chest, and he went flying. I then made a beeline for my car. I was so worried about him, I called the French Market, where they have cameras. I was later told he did get up … eventually.”

Tales like that are music to instructor Chary's ears.

“We train people to use their own bodies to fight back, when threatened with knives, guns, and multiple attackers," he said. "We even give free training to our law enforcement officials twice a week. But, most importantly, we open people’s eyes to what they are capable of, to save their own lives.”

*************

SEMINAR

Triumph Krav Maga has a free two-hour Women’s Empowerment Seminar on April 22.

Algiers (soon in Metairie) (504) 324-5705 (Call for details … space is limited.)

************************

SELF-DEFENSE COURSES

New Orleans Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Uptown) (504) 250-1760

Shaolin-Do Kung Fu & Tai Chi (St. Claude) (504) 944-1880

Mid-City Martial Arts & Fitness Academy (504 309-7018)

Crescent City Self Defense Studio … Karate (Fairgrounds) (504) 913-5683