Although the decor at Israeli Krav Maga on Springdale Road includes a gun rack stocked with replicas of AK-47 rifles, owner-instructors David Kahn and Don Melnick insist their business objective is not to sow paranoia.
"We want to teach people that danger is out there," Melnick said.
More accurately, they want to teach people how to react to danger. That it's out there has been on rather alarming display both nationally and locally in just the last couple of months.
In July, a costumed man in Colorado opened fire in a suburban Denver movie theater, killing 12 and injuring 58. Last month, a Philadelphia police officer who had just finished his shift was stalked by two men, then shot dead in an apparent robbery attempt as he walked to a bus stop dressed in civilian clothing.
Less than a week later, a laid-off textile designer shot in the head a former colleague he blamed for his unemployment, setting off a chaotic scene outside the Empire State Building in New York during which nine bystanders were injured by police gunfire.
That event prompted a dozen calls to Israeli Krav Maga, which also has a training center in Bordentown.
"We would much prefer not to get business that way," Kahn said last week.
How the 40-year-old father of two and former defensive back for Princeton University came to a career in self-defense began while he was attending law school in Miami "without wanting to be a lawyer."
While there, he was introduced to Krav Maga, the official combat system of the Israel Defense Forces and founded by Imi Lichtenfeld in the 1940s, when Israel gained statehood. Kahn said he was hooked after one class. He would pursue three years of training in the mid-1990s, going to Israel and learning under Haim Gidon, whom Lichtenfeld groomed to succeed him. Lichtenfeld died in 1998, and Gidon is now grand master of the Israeli Krav Maga Association.
"I knew this had business possibilities," Kahn said, recalling his thoughts while in training. "But I wasn't focusing on it as a primary business."
Instead, he returned to the United States and went to work on Wall Street as a partner in a private-equity firm, teaching Krav Maga on the side.
Ultimately, an actor with a tough-guy image would provide the impetus - and some financial backing - to persuade Kahn to make Israeli Krav Maga a full-time business pursuit.
Hardly the picture of vulnerability as HBO's mob boss Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini wound up training with Kahn from 2002 to 2005. He had urged Kahn to open a Krav Maga facility in New York, but Kahn was moving out of the city to Princeton.
He opened the Krav Maga studio in Bordentown in February 2007, then the one in Cherry Hill in August 2010. Gandolfini is a silent partner in both; he was working in California and unavailable for comment on his involvement.
Melnick, who is also 40 with two small children, would meet Kahn for the first time in 2008, when Kahn was giving a seminar on Israeli Krav Maga at the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill. Melnick would attend classes at Kahn's Bordentown facility for about nine months before losing his job at a software company in Philadelphia.
Kahn persuaded Melnick to become a certified instructor, with the goal of putting on a class at the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill. The class was so popular, it persuaded Kahn and Melnick to open a training facility in the township.
"Everybody always says there's a reason why things happen, and this was it," Melnick said of his being downsized out of a job and landing in a new career where the work attire doesn't get more complex than sweatpants, T-shirts, and sneakers.
Though Kahn and Melnick are grateful for the spotlight Hollywood has shone on Krav Maga - practiced, for example, by Daniel Craig as James Bond in the 007 movies and Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in his Mission: Impossible work - they insist their program is the purest form on the market because they regularly train with the grand master in Israel.
In all, Kahn and Melnick have 300 clients, whom they charge $159 a month for unlimited training. In all, the two studios have five full-time paid employees and about 18 volunteer instructors, who are clients themselves.
Kahn and Melnick are looking to add a third center, in Bucks County, sometime next year. Melnick estimated that by the end of 2012, the Cherry Hill studio will generate about $200,000 in revenue and Bordentown, about $250,000.
At the Cherry Hill center last week, a class of 10 represented a mix of participants, including retired high school chemistry teacher Wayne Michaelchuck, 65, of Gibbstown. He said he was training four days a week because "my life is worth defending and my family's lives are worth defending."
Just 5 feet, 2 inches and 100 pounds, Sarah Mantz, 33, of Moorestown, was in class, in part, because when she was a student visiting Germany 13 years ago, "I passed four skinheads, and I realized I didn't even know how to call for help in German."
Jay Silvagni, 39, is a bail bondsman from Haddon Township who, at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, would probably scare off more attackers than he'd attract. But when it comes to crime, everyone is susceptible, he said.
"It doesn't matter how big or small you are," Silvagni said. "If they think you have money, they're going to come after you."
David Kahn and Don Melnick talk about Krav Maga as a self-defense discipline and demonstrate some of the techniques. Watch the video at
Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @mastrud on Twitter.