Article by IKMN Head Instructor Heath Leavitt, Sept '15

United Krav Maga's Air Marshal Course: On the Inside

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United Krav Maga's Air Marshal Course: On the Inside

I hear Andrzej's muffled voice through the ear plugs yelling "Shoot!" Drawing the CZ 9mm from my right side, I snap the slide back in one smooth motion to chamber a bullet, stand from my seat and fire into the target in front of me. Suddenly, an assailant seated diagonally to my left stands and points his pistol in my face. Without conscious thought I reach for his weapon and clamp my left hand vise-like around it, attacking visciously to neutralize him. I shove his body sideways and move forward to engage another target further down the simulated aircraft until the slide on my pistol locks back, magazine empty. I check all is safe with the weapon and return it to the holster. End of the exercise. Only now do I realize how weak my legs are from the adrenaline. Live bullets will do that to you.

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Welcome to United Krav Maga's Air Marshal Course, five days of intensive work in one of the most complex environments you can imagine. Led by Tomek Adamczyk and Andrzej Marczak, the course covers the basic tasks of the air marshal, tactics and techniques, the psychology behind different types of on-board assailants, what to look for in passengers (body language), firearms proficiency, and Krav Maga in one hell of a claustrophobic environment.

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 Andrzej Marczak (Expert 4) & Master Tomasz Adamczyk

Tomek Adamczyk, United's leader, looks as if he might have been the captain of a 19th-century clipper ship in another life, or perhaps a history professor. Don't be fooled. I have seen him gracefully perform a high kick that would rip your head clean off with his 44-magnum of a foot, Dirty Harry style (in regular jeans no less. No Chuck Norris stretch denim for Tomek). Tomek lends a unique brainy side to the training as well, having been educated as a psychologist.

Andrzej used to work in a circus as a performer. As I watch him move preternaturally from cover to cover, crouch, kneel, spin and lie down, all the while aiming and firing his pistol effortlessly, it is easy to imagine him swinging from a trapeze or juggling torches. He probably pryed a few lions' jaws open just to have a look inside as well back in the day. Now, however, he is a kicking, punching, joint locking, shooting whirlwind of teaching energy that makes you tired just to watch. If you want to bring any or all of the above -ings to the next level, go see Andrzej.


The rest of the group are my friends and colleagues. To some degree, I have to trust them with my life and visa versa. Sounds dramatic but the shooting is live fire. When I was young and learning to hunt with my father he told me something I have never forgotten: once you pull the trigger, you can't bring the bullet back. There are no do-overs.

An Air Marshal is responsible for dealing with a dangerous offender quickly and without harm to others on board. The Air Marshal must remain sensitive but not paranoid. He or she only makes their presence known when there are no other options available and passengers and plane are in grave danger. Sounds simple enough.

It isn't. Consider just the types of people who might be bent on disrupting, hijacking or destroying a plane. These range from the mentally ill to the disgruntled, and all the way up to the most extreme examples.

We learn about them and their behavior, what happens with their bodies and brains, their neocortex and their amygdala. The work of Gavin de Becker is also discussed.

We learn about the first 20-minutes of a flight, as well as vulnerable points thereafter.

Tactics are discussed at length, particularly the difference between immediate and delayed action. We are taught to focus on goals, with prevention of an incident being the highest priority. If you choose action, limit and control the attacker's motions, neutralizing with locks, leverages, chokes and on-board items like seat belts. The last resort is to neutralize completely.

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All of us are given numbers. My number is 2. I'm uncomfortable, stressed and sweating profusely inside the Boeing 737, which is baking on the tarmac in 30-degree heat. "Two!" Andrzej yells. The commotion is at the front of the plane, close to the cockpit. I see bodies intertwined and a knife jack-hammering back and forth. Shit. I spring from my seat in the middle of the plane and sprint as best as I can down the isle. No pretty techniques now as I focus my efforts on controlling that knife and neutralizing the brain behind it. It takes more time than I would like. Finally, it is over. I notice drops of something on the blue upholstery of the seats. My sweat. In reality, it would have been sweat mixed with blood.

I am tired but listen intently to Tomek's lecture on the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which respectively control adrenaline and cortisol and the hormones that neutralize them (allowing our heart rate to drop). This is important stuff because we need to learn how to control our breathing, especially if we decide not to intervene directly in an on-board incident. We learn to breath, hold, exhale.  11942281 1081326791879230 3045600034497341227 o

The days take on a rhythm of stressful and demanding range training drills for hours on end, and Krav Maga work in our own private metal coffin. In the evening we return to our vast rooms at the hotel (much welcomed after the claustrophobia of the plane), too tired for anything but a shower and dinner. I quickly lose track of which day it is.

A drawing on the white board outlines the interior of an aircraft. It is covered with x's and o's like a tic-tac-toe game gone wildly out of control. In fact it represents just some of the possibilities relating to your position on the plane relative to an assailant, and your options regarding possible courses of action. We discuss these possibilities for hours, and each of us writes ceaselessly. We know we will be tasked with working them out in our lab, the plane.

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Finally, the end. We finish on the shooting range and return to the hotel. As if they hadn't already covered enough, we continue back at the hotel by dealing with threats in a parking garage or a space such as a large terminal hall. I want to go home and see my family.

I receive my diploma and plaque and pose for a group photo in the warm sun. Satisfied with my achievements I say my goodbyes and pack my bags. We have added another unique specialization on our Krav Maga journey and are proud.


Warm thanks to all of my fellow participants and instructors and of course United Krav Maga! - Heath Leavitt, Expert 3, IKMN Head Instructor.


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During the course, the participants were visited by Czech news television who made a small tv segment about the course, check out the video here :


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