Tall and muscular, Tzviel “BK” Blankchtein sports a jet-black beard and walks in a purposeful manner. A former Israel Defense Forces infantry reconnaissance team member, he wastes no movements or words.
His wife of five years and former student, Phaygi Chinn-Blankchtein, an elementary school teacher, is lean and fit. Like BK, she exudes a certain self-confidence and sense of mission.
With a cadre of instructors, the Blankchteins teach self-defense classes in a second-floor gym in a building along one of Pikeville’s main arteries. BK is the owner and operator of Masada Tactical LLC, which offers cutting-edge training for civilians, military, law enforcement and security organizations.
Students in the classes learn Israeli-style combat shooting and defensive tactics. Participants include men and women coming from an array of backgrounds, from high school students to physicians, lawyers and rabbis, all eager to enhance their personal safety on the streets.
A sabra, or native of Israel, BK moved to Maryland in 1999. He established Masada Tactical in 2007, and from 2008 through 2011 was the lead defensive tactics instructor for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions.
BK’s passion for sharing the tactics and lessons of the IDF intensified when he offered free trainings to teachers and school administrators worried about their own safety and that of the children in their care after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 in Newtown, Ct.
“We get an immense satisfaction when a student comes back and shares how what we taught them kept them alive,” BK said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
He also works closely with victims of domestic abuse and has received accolades and awards for his efforts.
“I began working with victims of domestic violence in 2008,” BK said, “and it quickly became one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. It is always a pleasure to see a woman walk in timidly and leave with her head high and a sense of worth.”
BK, who has a bachelor’s degree in counterterrorism and international security from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in security management from the American Military University in Charles Town, W.Va., said virtually anyone can benefit from the lessons taught at Masada Tactical.
“Not everybody needs to be a ninja, but they should all have a basic understanding of situational awareness, risks around their environment, and the knowhow to avoid bad situations. And if the situation is such that no other option exists, then be able to defend themselves,” he said.
Sarah Knapp, a Pittsburgh native who moved to Baltimore to study at the Peabody Institute, has taken classes with Masada Tactical for two years. She joined at her parents’ urging because they were concerned about her safety and tendency to jog alone at night.
“My two favorite things about Masada are the challenge and the camaraderie,” said Knapp, 24. “I love that all of the instructors know individuals well enough to really push them to their limits, but I also love that there’s always a feeling that we’re all in this together.”
Brian Petry, 47, an attorney with the federal government, has taken lessons with Masada for 18 months.
“It’s learning practical self-defense techniques of both the IDF and the [Israeli] Special Forces [Unit] from experienced and qualified instructors that makes me a huge fan of Masada Tactical,” he said. “[BK] is a phenomenal instructor who, in addition to his wealth of experience, also leads by example.”
BK said he named his business after the famed desert fortress in southern Israel, where Jewish zealots revolted against the Roman occupation, because “I love the site and its history. More importantly, as part of the military training, there is a ceremony [for IDF soldiers] held on top of Masada following an especially grueling march where the line, ‘Masada shall never fall again,’ is recited. For an organization that aims to teach fighting, doing the right thing and never giving up, it made sense to follow that tradition.”
That lesson wasn’t lost on Yehuda Ruttenberg, 17, who began studying with Masada Tactical four years after one of its instructors visited his school.” Yehuda recently moved to Israel and plans to join the IDF.
He said Masada Tactical’s overall message is “that you always keep pushing, no matter how much you want to quit. I try to apply that to everything in my life, not just exercise or self-defense.”
BK said much of his inspiration for teaching self-defense and public outreach on safety issues comes from his family.
“I have three kids — Isabella, Boaz and Ari — who at the end of the day are my motive for everything I do,” he said. “My daughter trains at our program as well; the younger boys are too young, for now. I want to make sure they grow up in a safer world. By helping our community, I can shape the environment in which they grow.”
Masada Tactical LLC is located at 1414 Reisterstown Rd. For information, visit masadatactical.com.
Haydee M. Rodriguez is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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