During October, Krav Maga Worldwide™ Official Training Centers around the world will be teaming up with STOP CANCER™ and I.C.O.N./Cure for a Cause for the fifth annual Krav Maga Worldwide™ Fights Cancer Fundraiser titled “Fighting For The Cure.” All proceeds will be donated directly to the “The Marni Fund” in memory of one of Krav Maga Worldwide’s founders, Marni Levine (1969-2006), who passed away after a long and courageous fight against breast cancer.
Krav Maga Worldwide's Annual Fights Cancer Event is a milestone for me. It was the first big campaign I worked on when I started working here a little over a year ago. Before I began working on this event, I didn't know much about it and I had no emotional connection to it. I never knew anyone with cancer.
That's the thing: It's unimaginably hard to empathize with someone who's going through something you've never dealt with. And it's even harder if you have no connection to that person.
This event is also a milestone for Krav Maga Worldwide, especially for those who knew Marni Levine, because they're reminded of a living, breathing person they loved and lost and miss so much. For many, she was the furthest thing from a statistic – a mother, a wife, a daughter, a teacher, a hardworker, an inspiration, a friend.
One of her closest friends was Michael Margolin, who, like Marni, was one of the founders of Krav Maga Worldwide. I never met Marni, and though I'll never get the chance to interview her, today's interview feels as much a profile of her as it is of Michael. You still won't know Marni Levine the way her loved ones do. Words can fall short in matters of the heart. But maybe, just maybe, you'll care a little more.
KMW: Tell us about yourself – how old you are, where you grew up, what you do, etc.
MM: I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where I started doing Krav Maga in 1981. Darren Levine was my teacher. I was 11 so that makes me 39, so you don't have to do the math. I'm turning 40 in two months. It's not on my mind or anything. [laughs] I'm one of the founders of Krav Maga Worldwide with Darren Levine, Marni Levine and Howard Mallen. My job title is...[looks for his business card]...Executive VP, Operations and Training Centers. Basically what I do is I oversee the day-to-day operations for the overall business – the training centers and licensing. I pretty much stay out of the Force Training division. Operations is my job. In another company, my title might be COO and I kind of share that with Jon Pascal. He concentrates more on the Force Training side. I do the training centers, some of the licensing division...that and I teach...and I'm involved in the instructor development with Kelly [Campbell] and Tina [Angelotti].
KMW: You said you started training when you were 11?
MM: Started when I was 11 and went to Israel when I was 15. That was in 1985. We went to Israel for an assistant instructor course and we trained basically 8 hours a day and toured on the weekends. We also did training wherever we were touring. I just remember going up to Masada and training on top.
KMW: How did you start training?
MM: I went to Heschel [Day School]. I was a student there, and they offered Krav Maga. We were required to do a semester's worth, and Darren was my teacher, and I loved it. Darren is obviously so dynamic and I really looked up to him, so I stuck with it. Actually, it's pretty incredible if you think about it. There's a group of us who've been doing it since we were kids, and I think that's largely because of Darren. People gravitate toward him.
KMW: How long have you been an instructor?
MM: In 1985 we went to Israel and got our assistant instructor degrees/certificates. I came home and started teaching right away. I was 15, and I'm 39 now, so it's been about 25 years that I've been teaching.
KMW: What made you decide to become an instructor?
MM: Back then, to me, it was the coolest thing ever. We were really into it. We were hungry to train and to learn, and we wanted to go to Israel. We were assistants basically, Darren would be teaching, and we would lead a warmup in the beginning. I remember I got a night to teach. They were all adults. They all seemed really old and mature to me, though they were probably 21. [laughs] And I guess then I didn't realize how absurd it was that I was a 15-year-old kid teaching these adults. Darren just kind of made it seem ordinary, so we didn't realize it. We just did it. I remember a time – I was 17 or 18 at the time – and I had these two students who had been training for a while. They were both lawyers in their 40s, and they started to argue and then fight with one another so I had to reprimand them, and I'm like 18 years old.
KMW: It sounds like Krav Maga has been a big part of your life.
MM: It was one of those things that was always a big part of my life. Especially feeling good about yourself as a teenager. Psychologically, emotionally, feeling strong and whatnot. I knew I would kind of always do it. When I graduated from school, I had a few career changes. I was in school to be a psychologist/therapist. I got my master's and counseled for a little bit. When we opened the training center here in 1997, I was doing Krav Maga and I was doing counseling and I was in the Ph.D program. And right when we opened the business, I just remember always wanting to be here. There was a lot to do, cause we were just starting out. I remember I would go back to school and go to the counseling center, and I enjoyed it but I always wanted to be here. At one point, I decided I didn't want to do anything else. I wanted to do Krav Maga only.
KMW: What advice do you have for people who are new to Krav Maga or training in general?
MM: I would say a couple things. Number one is pick an amount of time, like say I'm going to commit to this for 4 months. And come religiously. Even when you don't want to. And make it a habit. But in doing that, it also has to be something you enjoy. Pick the classes and instructors you enjoy, the time you think you'll be able to make it, and stick to it. And if you enjoy Krav Maga level 1, find a good partner. Put all the external factors that get in the way and design them so they're in your favor so you can stick to it. Some people have no problem sticking to fitness programs, but a lot of people... they love it but life gets in the way, time gets in the way, they get lazy or tired, and they don't show up. But if you can fit it in your life so that it's a habit, then you'll get to a point where you can't live without it. And I think that's a good habit to have.
KMW: What's your involvement in Fights Cancer?
MM: I'm not that involved in the preparation and planning. The person who's most involved and should get all the credit is Karla [Nystrom]. She's amazing. I will follow Karla's lead – whatever she needs. I'll be there to participate and work and do whatever it takes, but Karla is the one. For me, it's important because the cause is so dear to us. And because of Marni. And because of our family.
KMW: How close were you to Marni Levine?
MM: I have 3 sisters. I used to refer to Marni as my 4th. I've known her since i was 11. She was one of my best friends – one of my very closest, closest friends.
KMW: What was she like?
MM: Marni had this heart that – this doesn't say it – but she was good through and through. She cared about people, about integrity, and she was a hard worker. I remember when she was in the last couple years, she was doing chemo, working part-time, and racing back and forth to do carpool and pick up her kids. And people complain about how busy they are or how hard their lives are. She worked hard and she was a great mom. Really, really, really amazing. She was just good, and talented too.
The integrity piece kind of stands out to me with her, and this is something that's a big deal to us as a business. And I think a lot of that comes from her and who she was and her influence. It's hard to explain but she was very fair-minded to staff and employees. She wanted to do well by people, even when there's conflict, making sure we're handling ourselves as a business in a fair way.
She was unique. I hate saying stuff like that because it's so broad. It's so often said that it doesn't mean anything, and it doesn't capture it, but it's so true in her case. She was kind, very kind. And fun. And funny and, at times, silly and playful.
KMW: What was she like when she did Krav Maga?
MM: Marni was tough, training-wise. She was a good athlete. The thing that I used to love watching was when she would be teaching and I'd walk by the room. Her 12:15 daytime classes always had 15 to 18 people and they would be all men, and all big dudes. And they would just be like, Yes, Marni. Whatever you say, Marni. And she wasn't big. She was 5'4" but she commanded the room and she was strong. She was super, super strong as a teacher, as a person.
I wish she was here though. We're growing and things are happening and much of it is because of her, and I think she would be proud. It would be fun to do this with her. To grow and open the center with her. I'm not sure we'd have the green wall. [laughs] We definitely wouldn't have the green chairs. Maybe we would. [laughs]
Fights Cancer is on October 3rd at the Original Farmer's Market at the Grove LA. For more information or to register for the 5K Run/Walk, visit www.StopCancer5k.com.