When you first meet Ryan Hoover, he seems like a low-key, unassuming, regular guy.
What you might not know is that he is also a world-recognized expert in Krav Maga and has been teaching this unique form of self defense since 2001.
Krav Maga originally was developed for the Israeli defense forces. They needed a self-defense system that would work with both men and women of varying fitness levels and could be performed under stress and without prolonged training.
Those aspects are what distinguishes Krav Maga from other forms of self defense or martial arts and makes it suitable for civilians, law enforcement and military purposes.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
The practical, real-life applications make Krav Maga ideal for those whose main goal is to defend themselves from a physical attack.
Classes are spent honing the skills that enable a person to react instinctively with the most effective response to an assailant.
Stop attack, get away
Perfecting aesthetic form is not the focus; neutralizing your attacker and getting away safely is the goal.
Hoover and his team of instructors teach more than 400 students to "get into shape and learn a skill that could potentially save your life."
A native of Gastonia, Hoover, 36, is a married father of two young children. He began martial arts training in college, eventually obtaining several black belts.
Although he gained invaluable knowledge, Hoover found a lack of true-life representation in his training. So when he read an article in Black Belt magazine about Krav Maga, he knew it was something he wanted to pursue.
Hoover traveled to Krav Maga headquarters in Los Angeles and undertook the training to become a certified instructor.
Monroe Road site
Upon returning to Gastonia, Hoover opened training center Ryan Hoover's Extreme Karate in 2002, which is 10,000 square feet. In 2008, he opened Charlotte Krav Maga on Monroe Road.
Hoover has continued his training over the years, eventually becoming a second-degree black belt and the highest-ranked person in Krav Maga on the East Coast.
He is a sought-after instructor who has traveled worldwide to teach and conduct seminars.
In addition, Hoover has co-written three books on Krav Maga.
There are different levels of classes that get progressively more intense.
At the average rate of two classes a week, it takes about 18 months to complete the program.
After that, students can go on to weapons training, which teaches how to defend against edged weapons, blunt objects and handguns.
'Fit to Fight'
Hoover also offers other classes, including heavy-bag training and "Fit to Fight" - which he describes as similar to but safer than traditional mixed marital arts - as well as a kids program.
There are different pricing options, but for a monthly fee of less than $100, students can take unlimited classes.
Tackle your fear
Hoover's classes are a supportive, encouraging environment, where camaraderie and collective energy propel students to tackle their fears and push themselves beyond their comfort zone.
"Growth is in the discomfort" is one of Hoover's mottos. It refers to students pushing themselves beyond what they thought possible, both physically and mentally.
"Everyone has internal struggles, and through training you can better develop inner strength," Hoover said.
You do not need to be in good shape or have previous training to do Krav Maga, and students vary in age.
Unlike traditional martial arts, no uniforms are required; you wear whatever is comfortable.