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Should the State of Israel Pursue Krav Maga as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Jewish People? History and Politics Say Yes.

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Abstract

Krav Maga (‘contact combat’) is an Israeli combat discipline arguably one of the many intangible cultural heritages of Israel and the Jewish people. It has played a unique role in the (re)creation and preservation of the Jewish identity and the formation of the state of Israel. Recently we observe a growing academic literature debating the role of martial arts in international affairs and domestic political processes. It is the scope of this paper to contribute to this proposing a framework for understanding Krav-Maga as a means of cultural diplomacy as seen in other nations.
Chapman University Chapman University
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Political Science Faculty Articles and Research Political Science
3-25-2021
Should the State of Israel Pursue Krav Maga as an Intangible Should the State of Israel Pursue Krav Maga as an Intangible
Cultural Heritage of the Jewish People? History and Politics Say Cultural Heritage of the Jewish People? History and Politics Say
Yes. Yes.
Guy Mor
Andrea Molle
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Should the State of Israel Pursue Krav Maga as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Should the State of Israel Pursue Krav Maga as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of
the Jewish People? History and Politics Say Yes. the Jewish People? History and Politics Say Yes.
Comments Comments
This article was originally published in
International Journal of Martial Arts
, volume 7, in 2021.
https://doi.org/10.51222/injoma.2021.03.7.10
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International Society of Martial Arts
International Journal of Martial Arts Volume 7/ Pages 10-19/ 2021
10
Should the State of Israel pursue Krav Maga as an
intangible cultural heritage of the Jewish people?
History and politics say yes.
Guy Mor
a
, Andrea Molle
b
a. Ph.D., Israeli College of Sport
b. Ph.D., Chapman University
Received: August 27, 2020: Accepted: Feb 20, 2021: Published online: Mar 25, 2021
Abstract
Krav Maga (‘contact combat’) is an Israeli combat discipline arguably one of the many
intangible cultural heritages of Israel and the Jewish people. It has played a unique role in the
(re)creation and preservation of the Jewish identity and the formation of the state of Israel.
Recently we observe a growing academic literature debating the role of martial arts in
international affairs and domestic political processes. It is the scope of this paper to contribute to
this proposing a framework for understanding Krav-Maga as a means of cultural diplomacy as
seen in other nations.
Key words: Krav-Maga, cultural diplomacy, martial arts, self-defense.
Introduction
Social-scientific research on the martial arts has grown exponentially in recent years
(Bowman, 2015). This exciting field of inquiry has successfully engaged many scholars within
cultural studies, history and sociology. An increasing number of scholarly works (Green &
Svinth, 2003), in several promising areas of investigation, especially with respect to Japanese,
Chinese, and European tradition, is now being published by established universities and
commercial presses (Channon & Jennings, 2014). Peer reviewed articles on various aspects of
martial arts are also being disseminated regularly in a broad range of internationally recognized
academic journals (Farrer & Whalen-Bridge, 2011).
Such growing literature presents some interesting evidence of the relationship between
martial arts and cultural diplomacy. Scholars in the field have shown, for example, how the
a
guy@ics.org.il
b Research Associate, Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society Adjunct Coach
(Aikido), Chapman Athletics
b
molle@chapman.edu
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martial arts have been, directly or indirectly, involved in international affairs and domestic
political processes throughout history. For example, by examining the history of the political
support of Japanese Budo as a way to expand the Japanese’s sphere of influence (Bennet, 2015)
or the Soviet Russia’s support for SAMBO (Foxall, 2013) as a way to promote communism, or
the contemporary Chinese efforts to promote Wushu as an Olympic discipline (Judkins &
Nielsen, 2015), we can really appreciate the constant interplay between martial arts and
diplomacy. A broad variety of case studies, focusing on the role of ethno-nationalism,
colonialism, identity politics, or nation building present the fundamental argument that martial
arts are framed by governments as a founding element of the nation discourse (Griffith, 2016).
Most of the time framed as an element of a broader use of cultural heritages as a political tool.
Cultural heritages, tangible and intangible, represent the values and the norms of a nation,
they contribute to set parameters for status and position, establish and reinforce collective
memories, define acceptable and reprimanded behaviors, and ultimately contribute to the
emergence of collective ethnic identities that reflect the knowledge acquired through repeated
personal interactions (Jaquet & Sørensen, 2015). The evidence of a shared sentiment of
attachment to a form of cultural heritages can be a powerful predictor to the establishment of
symbolic boundaries that separate the “people” of a nation from the “others,” the foreigner.
Cultural heritages are, after all, a form of nativism, meaning that are meant to materially connect
the people to a supposedly authentic historical origin that defines them as a collective actor.
Nativism can be defined as a “thin ideology,” that is anchored to a more substantial set of ideas
(Neuner & Wratil, 2020). It holds as its core that nations should be inhabited only by members of
the native group (the “people”) that share a common origin and destiny while others, either non-
native individuals or ideas, area threat to its very existence that need to be dealt with also, if
necessary, by means of physical violence. Political actors can use those ideas to foster group
exclusiveness and cohesion by constructing the “other” as an identity threat. Furthermore, if
political actors are able to exploit actual practices or cultural artifacts to offer ways to culturally
isolate the others and respond to the “threat” those can be extremely effective in mobilizing
consensus. An extensive body of research demonstrates that the practice of martial arts is one of
such artifacts as it has several tangible effects on collective identities, cultures, and nation
building, as much as other, more traditional, cultural heritages (Tuckett, 2016). Consistently with
the mainstream theoretical understanding of nationalism in Political Science (Anderson &
Aslandis, 2016), martial arts can definitely be seen as cultural heritage for they contribute to the
recreation of a national ethos and foster exclusivity of in-group membership.
With these premises, our paper will focus on the specific case of Israeli Krav Maga
(‘contact combat’) and its unique role in the (re)creation and preservation of the Jewish identity
in both the instances of the formation of the modern State of Israel and the diaspora, and its omit
value as a mean to promote cultural diplomacy of Israel.
Ancient historical background
Evidence for the existence of an Israeli people in the land of Israel is found in archeological
findings dated as early as 1208 BC (Hasel, 1998). Some of these findings support the notion that
Israel was a fighting nation with military abilities (Golden, 2004; Rollstone, 2010).
International Journal of Martial Arts Volume 7/ Pages 10-19/ 2021
12
Jewish cultural heritage enjoys stories of heroic events and figures such as of David who
beat Goliath, and Samson who was given immense strength to fight his enemies King James
Bible, 2017, Judges 16:17). In later years we can find philosophers as Maimonides (1135-1208
AC) who opined that regular physical training should be an integral part of healthy living and
advocated for a healthy lifestyle (Rosner, 2002).
The land of Israel is located strategically between three continents, which made it a favorite
location for occupation by various empires in the old days, thus, resulted in an ongoing
opposition to subjugation by the Jews of Israel, such as the case of the Maccabees rebellion
against the Seleucid Empire (Bard, 2019), and the first JewishRoman War mostly known for its
tragedy ending in Masada, where most Israeli rebels committed mass suicide preferring to die
then falling in the hands of their conqueror (Josephus, 1974). Some of these conquering empires,
exiled Jews as a mean of punishment (Heilprin, 1961). These deportations brought many Jews to
reside as foreign minorities in other countries (mostly in Europe) losing their national pride,
subjected to humiliation and violence (Shapira, 2012).
Manifestation of a new ideology (late 19th century)
In the late 18th century in the Habsburg Monarchy some religious freedom was granted to
Jews (Shapira, 2012) and Alexander the 2nd (Emperor of Russia) gave Jews the right to
participate more freely in educational programs and economic life which were barred from them
before (Shapira, 2012). This gave hope among Jews for a better future, however, in spite of these
few humanitarian actions Anti-Semitism (hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews)
did not disappear, in fact, it re-surfaced with intensity in the late 19th century (Anonymous,
2005). Violent attacks against Jews continued to erupt, leading to an understanding that anti-
Semitism in Europe was unlikely to fade. As a result two major trends in Jewish lives surfaced
one practical and one ideological. The practical aspect was an increase in Jewish emigration
from Russia to other countries, including but not limited to Palestine (later to become Israel).
The second was the development of a new ideology promulgated by Jewish leadership,
encouraging Jews to act proactively and create their own future rather than accepting the status
quo as inevitable (Shapira, 2012).
Cultural heritages contribute to the emergence of collective ethnic identities that reflect the
knowledge acquired through repeated personal interactions. While some of these identities might
be dormant at times, they can be activated as needed by political actors as was the case with
Jewish leaders and scholars as Judah Leib Pinsker, who wrote in 1882 an article named “Auto-
Emancipation” calling for the Jewish people to seek independence rather than relying on other
nations to protect them (Pinsker, 1951). Pinsker opened his article with an ancient Hebrew
saying: “If I am not for myself , who will be for me ?... And if not now, when?” (Yosef, 2000).
By using this traditional saying in his article, he associated the new ideology to Jewish heritage,
providing a powerful motivation to support the ideological change.
Continues expressions of anti-Semitism, reinforced the support in the ideological change,
leading to the creation of the Zionist movement towards the end of the 19th century and,
encouraged other Jewish leaders as Max Nordau and Ze’ev Jabotinsky to further contribute to the
new ideology (Shapira, 2012).
In 1898, Max Nordau continued Pinsker’s strategy by linking traditional heroes as Samson,
Shimon bar Kokhba and Judas Maccabeus, to a term he called “Muscular Judaism” referring to
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the concept of Jews with intense national pride, physical prowess, and the ability to fight and
protect themselves and their nation (Kaufman, 1996).
Similarly, Ze’ev Jabotinsky founded the Jewish Self-Defense Organization in Odessa
(Jabotinsky, 2010), and argued that athletic training should be practiced on a regular basis to
ensure that the Jewish population was able to fight for its freedom and national homeland (Galili
& Koufman, 2009). This political ideology change encouraged many Jews to immigrate to what
was then known as Palestinea territory governed by the Ottoman Empire (Shapira, 2012).
Realization of the new ideology in Palestine
From 1904-1914, about 35,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine (Anonymous, 1984) giving
effect to the new ideology of the proud, strong Jew by creating a new form of agricultural
settlement known as Kibbutz , and assuming responsibility of guarding Jewish settlements. Bar-
Giyora organization (formed in 1907), was a Jewish grouping which took upon himself to guard
Jewish settlements. The name of the organization is derived from Jewish tradition; as Shimon
Bar-Giyora was one of the leaders of the Jewish rebellion against the Roman occupation of
Jewish land in 66 - 73 AC (Shapira, 2012), hence we can see again the connection between old
heritage and the new ideology.
In 1908 Hashomer organization (“The Guard”) replaced Bar-Giyora as the movement that
embodied the ethos of proud Jewish warriors taking upon themselves to protect Jewish
settlements in Palestine (Shapira, 2012).
On November 2nd 1917, after the British conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Empire,
the UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour stated that the British government favors the
establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine (Shapira, 2012). This statement
led to an increase in Jewish immigration to Palestine (Yakova & Lavi, 2004) but also to an
escalation in hostile resistance by the local Arab population who opposed this idea. In response,
Jewish organizations initiated forms of combat training relying mainly on known martial
disciplines, such as Ju-Jitsu and boxing, combined with some practical experience and
knowledge acquired by Jewish immigrants during training in their countries of origin (Bar-Maoz,
2012). Unfortunately, these techniques failed to save lives in real combat situations (Cohen-Gil,
2013).
In 1920, following another wave of Arab attacks against Jewish residents, the Jewish
paramilitary organization “The Hagana” (which succeeded Hashomer organization) was looking
for an unarmed combat method which will be effective against Arab attacks (Anonymous, 2020).
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), who was disappointed from the low effectiveness of
Ju-Jitsu techniques in real combat situations, was looking to create a more effective combat
method for his fellow Jews. Feldenkrais conducted a research discovering a principle which he
called “unconscious reaction” (also known as “reflexive reaction”). His approach is predicated
on the assumptions that human beings have a pre-programmed system of reactions to menaces
which are executed unconsciously (Feldenkrais, 2013). This insight led Feldenkrais to establish
an improved fighting method whose fundamental principles were later adopted by both Kapap
(an abbreviation of Krav Panim el Panim meaning “face-to-face combat”) and Krav-Maga. The
Hagana adopted Feldenkrais' method, appointing him to train its members (Cohen-Gil, 2013).
International Journal of Martial Arts Volume 7/ Pages 10-19/ 2021
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Between 1936 and 1939 the Arabs in Palestine initiated a revolt hoping to end Jewish
increased immigration and advance their independence; this revolt resulted in numerous
casualties on all sides (Nevo, 1979). These violent actions compelled Jewish residents to further
develop hand-to-hand combat techniques, alongside physical and basic military education (Mor,
2019), leading to the creation of Sport Magen (defensive sport) , which incorporated techniques
from Ju-Jitsu, boxing, wrestling, as well as some of Feldenkrais’s ideas. Sport Magen was
promoted first by Gershon Kofler and later by Yehuda Markus (Kofler, 1941; Gross & Nativ,
2016). Markus was a co-writer of a booklet named Judo Shimushi (practical judo), which defined
the combat discipline principles of the time.
Further contribution to the development of Jewish combat doctrine arose as a result of
violent encounters between Jewish protests and British policemen (1939). The last used batons to
beat Jewish demonstrators, causing injuries and demoralization within the Jewish community
(Gross, 2010). These incidents encouraged Hagana members to conduct “combat experiments”
to counter the threat of the British batons. The result was the introduction of the short-stick
fighting method, which became an integral part of the general face-to-face combat training
regimen of the Hagana (Gross, 2010).
The introduction of the short-stick fighting method, along with conceptual transformation
from defensive to offensive approach with-in Jewish organizations led to changing the name of
the Israeli combat discipline from Sport Magen to Kapap (Mor & Moriya, 2016).
The Development of Krav-Maga in Israel (1948-2020)
In 1948 the state of Israel was formed together with the IDF, which was based on the
infrastructure of the Hagana. Kapap instructors who served in the Hagana were recruited to the
IDF (Gross & Nativ 2016).
From 1948 until the late 1950s, we can notice in IDF documents the use of several different
terms to describe one combat discipline: Kapap, Sport Magen and Krav-Maga (I.D.F. Archives,
1949) eventually, towards the end of the 1950’s, the term Krav-Maga put down roots becoming
the accepted term for IDF’s hand-to-hand-combat method, displacing all former terms (Ben-Dov,
2015)
Imi Lichtenfeld, who was a prominent hand-to-hand combat instructor in the Hagana and
later in the IDF (Ben-Dov, 2015), formed upon his retirement from active service (1964) a new
approach towards Krav-Maga training. He introduced new techniques, adopted the judo belt
system and created a concept of Krav-Maga as a martial art (Lictenstein, 2007) . Imi opened the
door for numerous schools and private organizations to teach Krav-Maga in assorted approaches
and techniques all over the world. In-addition Krav-Maga tourism programs emerged and people
from around the globe are coming to Israel to train in Krav-Maga (Bar-On Cohen, 2010).
Discussion and conclusions
The question which arises is what does any martial art have to do with ethno-cultural
identities? The current answer from the literature is that martial arts practices are privileged areas
to observe identity making processes, particularly ethno-national identities where cultural
meaning of violence, and the connections to social in-group and out-group interaction, are
evident. Martial Arts practice embodies identities, it’s their physical manifestation, and
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establishes physical sovereignty, but what does Krav Maga have to do with the sense of
Israelisness? We just demonstrated how Krav Maga is tied to the historical processes that led to
the formation of the State of Israel. Moreover, if we look closely at it, the technical repertoire of
Krav Maga is constructed around the concept of the weak defeating the strong. Perpetrating the
myth of the few, weak, ambushed by the stronger many creates social cohesion. Krav Maga
offers its Israeli participants resources to build a nationalistic discourse and puts the ethno-
religious representation at the top, as it were empowering them with higher moral values. The
theme is one of the victories of those who are inferior in number, weapons and strength but
superior in courage, faith, and moral values if united. A theme that is also common to the biblical
and modern Israeli narrative of cyclical persecution and resilience. The threat does not emanate
uniquely from the external enemies of the Jews who unjustly attack them, but also from the
socially constructed reality of unreliable hosts and the process of erosion in the ‘authentic’ values
of Zionism and Jewish identity through assimilation.
So why in-spite of the widespread and substantial cultural heritage of Krav-Maga, Israel
hasn’t considered yet using it as a tool of cultural diplomacy like other countries?
There is no clear answer to this question but several reasons should be considered:
1. Over the years, the Israeli government attempted several times but never succeeded to
establish an organization which will be responsible to promote the image of the Jewish state.
Because of lack of clarity over the authority of various ministries and other political issues, long
term programs were never developed (Yeger, 2005). Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
is responsible for representing Israel abroad and promoting its economic, cultural, and scientific
relations but the agenda is not clear (Anonymous, 2020).
2. Krav-Maga is still under-researched in the scientific literature. Most available literature is
amatorial and only recently some scholarly, peer reviewed, works have emerged.
3. Because of that, it was a shared belief that Krav-Maga was invented by Imi Lichtenfeld
as a private enterprise, thus may explain as well why the government decided to distance itself
from it and not use a private organization for cultural diplomacy (Anonymous, 2020).
4. Today there are several organizations involved in KM; many of which are for profit
(Anonymous, 2020). It is likely that the Israeli government doesn’t want to regulate KM due to
the complexity of monitoring it and the legal aspects in regulating different private bodies.
In conclusion, governmental lack of ownership over Krav Maga lead to a situation in which
“A lot of schools in Israel, USA, and other places around the world, are teaching all kind of
variations of things and they are calling it Krav Maga, because of the marketing power of the
name, a lot of these schools, combine BJJ(and sometimes in a bad way) and elements from the
world of MMA because it is popular thing to do, but this is not Krav Maga!” (Anonymous, 2020)
This will eventually transform Krav Maga and cut its connections to the history of the
Jewish people and the state of Israel. Israeli authorities’ inaction or the lack of will to regulate
Krav-Maga will be have serious consequences
International Journal of Martial Arts Volume 7/ Pages 10-19/ 2021
16
Our view is that if Krav-Maga were to become part of the cultural diplomacy of Israel it
will create several significant opportunities, besides foreign policy, such as to provide access to
Israeli culture and language to foreign people, promote a more positive image of the Jews world-
wide, and give the world access to the Israeli people's narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Following the steps of China, Japan, and Korea, who structured their national martial arts
and used them to promote cultural diplomacy, Israel can significantly enhance its public relations
and image among people of the world by using Krav-Maga as a diplomacy tool.
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The phrase “martial arts studies” is increasingly circulating as a term to describe a new field of interest. But many academic fields including history, philosophy, anthropology, and Area studies already engage with martial arts in their own particular way. Therefore, is there really such a thing as a unique field of martial arts studies? Martial Arts Studies is the first book to engage directly with these questions. It assesses the multiplicity and heterogeneity of possible approaches to martial arts studies, exploring orientations and limitations of existing approaches. It makes a case for constructing the field of martial arts studies in terms of key coordinates from post-structuralism, cultural studies, media studies, and post-colonialism. By using these anti-disciplinary approaches to disrupt the approaches of other disciplines, Martial Arts Studies proposes a field that both emerges out of and differs from its many disciplinary locations.
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Krav-Maga (“contact combat”) has attracted increasing attention, both in Israel and abroad, as a civilian combat discipline, a martial art and an effective self-defense system used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). This paper explores the interactions between the development of Krav-Maga and the history, culture and heritage of the Jewish population of Israel. Using qualitative research methods, it is demonstrated that the evolution of Krav-Maga is intertwined with ideological changes and historical events that affected the Jewish people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and with the cultural history and identity of Jewish immigrants to Israel in the mid 20th century. We argue that Krav-Maga meets the criteria set out in UNESCO’s definition of intangible cultural heritage and that it should be included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Israel.
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After endless hours of searching, teaching, learning, consulting, experiencing, and experimenting, with various martial art teaching methods, in different cultures, institutions and organizations, world-wide. The authors present a method, which will enable Krav-Maga and martial arts instructors to improve and refine their teaching skills. This book should be considered a toolkit, from which the instructor can pick the relevant teaching tool to instruct, convey or communicate a movement or a technique, to a student or a class. It is hoped that with each successful use of a tool, the instructor will go on to incorporate more of these tools, in their own teaching format. Based on our experiences, applying our method properly will result in higher attendance, less dropouts, and overall, a greater sense of satisfaction from martial arts training.
Article
Krav-Maga (‘contact combat’) is an Israeli combat discipline practiced by thousands of individuals worldwide. During the past few decades, it has attracted a considerable amount of attention mainly as a self-defence system, although its origins are also rooted in sport. Despite the widespread popularity of Krav-Maga, its origins, history, and evolution have not been seriously examined in the academic literature, nor has its key role in promoting the use of reflex reactions in combat. This paper addresses these gaps in the literature while emphasizing the distinctive characteristics of Israeli combat disciplines. It also challenges popular misconceptions about the historical roots of Krav-Maga. Our research leads to three key conclusions: First, Israeli combat disciplines played a pioneering role in the use of situational awareness and reflex responses to an attack – in preference to a reliance on forms training. Second, contrary to commonly held beliefs, Krav-Maga is a direct development of Jewish hand-to-hand combat disciplines that can be traced back to 1891. Third, the development of Krav-Maga may be viewed as a reflection of historical and political events affecting the Jewish people from the late nineteenth century.
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'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
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To date, the study of “religion” and “martial arts” is a lacuna of the field in Religious Studies in which the depth of association has long gone unrecognised. What little study there is, however, suffers from a practitioner’s bias in that those writing on martial arts are also attempting to promote the agenda of their own discipline. This paper attempts a more critical approach to show the study of martial arts can contribute to the ongoing problematisation of “religion” as an analytic category, particularly in its relation to “the secular” and “nationalism”. To do this I will draw on the philosophical phenomenology of Husserl, Sartre and Schutz to argue that “religions”, “nationalisms” and “martial arts” are all names given to modes of naturalisation. By this I mean they are means by which a person “fits” within their life-world and deals with the problems of surviving and thriving.
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Every year, countless young adults from affluent, Western nations travel to Brazil to train in capoeira, the dance/martial art form that is one of the most visible strands of the Afro-Brazilian cultural tradition. In Search of Legitimacy explores why "first world" men and women leave behind their jobs, families, and friends to pursue a strenuous training regimen in a historically disparaged and marginalized practice. Using the concept of apprenticeship pilgrimage-studying with a local master at a historical point of origin-the author examines how non-Brazilian capoeiristas learn their art and claim legitimacy while navigating the complexities of wealth disparity, racial discrimination, and cultural appropriation.
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Looks at southern Chinese martial arts traditions and how they have become important to local identity and narratives of resistance.