Even if you haven't heard the name, you've seen it in action. Daniel Craig as 007, Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, this issue's cover star Jason Statham as an ass-kicking man of mystery—they're all disciples of Krav Maga, a mainstay of Israeli military training that has become a staple among Hollywood's hard bodies and is now the hot fitness trend among civilians.
"Directors are coming to us because they want realistic fight scenes," says Darren Levine, founder of Krav Maga Worldwide, whose two Los Angeles schools are A-lister favorites. "We trained Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond. He was out of shape when he first came to us, and he left rock-solid." Levine's instructors also prepared Daniel Craig for the role of James Bond ("He was very impressive—all business") and Tom Cruise ("superb to work with") for Mission: Impossible. "It's the in thing, for actors and performers, not just for the skills they learn," Levine says, "but because it's fun. Their shoulders are ripped, their core is defined, and their legs get really muscular."
David Kahn, U.S. chief instructor of the Israeli Krav Maga Association, says the emphasis on "continuous combat motion" provides the toning you'd get from boxing, with better full-body results. One of Kahn's students is John Mayer, who trained with U.S. Marine Corps martial-arts instructors. "The marines put him through a conditioning challenge they call the Crucible, and he showed real toughness," Kahn says. "Most people are never going to have to use the fighting skills, but they're going to come out of a workout feeling empowered."
One such empowered devotee is Ashton Kutcher, who practices Krav so he can "save the people I care about" if and when the world descends into lawless chaos. "When you start training," says Kutcher's instructor, Jarret Waldman, "you envision yourself as a bad- ass." But whether you're preparing for Armageddon or a role in an action-movie franchise, or you just want to look the part, perhaps the best thing about Krav is that it's "simple and easy to learn," says Waldman, who serves as Krav Maga Worldwide's lead instructor. "We can bring people to a high level of proficiency in a short amount of time."
Choose the right class for you: From hard-core self-defense to the fitness-focused noncontact variety, here are America's best KM studios.
Full Metal Jacket, Krav Maga Federation
Ten schools across the country, the flagship of which is Krav Maga NYC. Fitness-through-fighting in the military tradition.
Faux Fight Club, Krav Maga Academy
Young Israeli Defense Forces alum Matan Gavish brings a military-fitness emphasis to his NYC classes.
Self-Defense School, Israeli Krav Maga Association
Offers a full range of KM and fitness classes.
No-Holds Sparred, Krav Maga L.A.
The Santa Monica-based studio has introduced acrobatic jujitsu-type techniques.
Pacifist-Friendly, Krav Maga Worldwide
Two schools in the L.A. area and more than 240 franchises nationwide. Emphasizes fitness over fighting.