by Robin Keats
Jean-Pierre Hubschman, MD (FEL ’08), is a study in contrast. As an associate professor-in-residence at the UCLA Stein Eye Institute, he is a skilled ophthalmic surgeon whose deft fingers can carry out the delicate task of repairing a retinal tear. But as a practitioner of a military-style form of self-defense, he might try to gouge out an attacker’s eyes with his thumbs.
The latter, of course, might happen only in practice sessions as he rehearses the moves of Krav Maga — literally contact-combat — a fighting style that developed prior to World War II in Eastern Europe as a form of Jewish self-defense and later was refined and adopted as the martial art of the Israeli military and security forces. For Dr. Hubschman, perfecting this aggressive fighting technique helps, he says, to make him a better doctor.
“Practicing Krav Maga, combining it with yoga classes, has taught me to focus and stay calm under pressure,” he explains. “It trains my body and brain to work together to achieve balance and control in the surgery room, where every motion has to be precise and done at the exactly perfect time.”
Dr. Hubschman trains with a Krav Maga instructor about four times a week, usually for an hour each session. Together, they work through a series of threatening scenarios: An “attacker” holds a (mock) knife against his throat or presses a (dummy) gun to his head or swings a (real) fist at his jaw. He sweats and grunts as he throws an uppercut with his left hand while shoving his right knee upward in sync to neutralize his attacker’s left hand and his right hand rises in defense of his face. Disarming an opponent, taking control of whatever weapon an attacker might be using, makes use of coordination skills that he hones during his workouts. “Anatomy plays a significant role; one needs to know where the body’s pressure points lie,” he says as he squeezes between the thumb and forefinger of his plasticknife- wielding trainer’s hand, forcing the ersatz weapon to drop from his grip.
Dr. Hubschman grew up in Arras in northern France, in a home that was steeped in both science and athletics. His father is an endocrinologist and his mother a pharmacist. He has an older sister who also is a doctor. During his childhood, Dr. Hubschman accompanied his father on rounds, and he was an avid tennis player and skier during his school days. His first ambition was to be a professional tennis player; the practice of Krav Maga offers him a way to keep athleticism a significant part of his life.
After graduating medical school at the University of Lille, close by his childhood home, Dr. Hubschman married. He and his wife, an interior designer, moved to Marseille, where he completed his residency. He then practiced for a number of years in the Basque city of Biarritz before coming to UCLA in 2007 for a research fellowship. The couple have three children — a daughter in medical school, a son at university and another daughter in high school — and it was the kids who first prompted his pursuit of Krav Maga about 10 years ago.
“I came to Los Angeles, which was a dream of mine,” he says. But he was concerned about the potential dangers of the city. “I wanted my kids to learn how to protect themselves, so I enrolled them in Krav Maga classes.” He thought learning such skills would help them to be more confident and to be more aware of their surroundings and able to respond in the face of a threatening situation. His daughters eventually lost interest, but Dr. Hubschman became a devotee. “I used to do boxing when I was a kid, and I loved the concept of Krav Maga as a martial art as soon as I discovered it,” he says. Now he often works out in tandem with his son. “It has strengthened our bond,” Dr. Hubschman says.
Physics, Dr. Hubschman says, is the key to Krav Maga. That, he says, is what comes into play “to overcome an attacker who may well be bigger and stronger. Leverage and bio-mechanics more than level the playing field; their interplay is a huge advantage.” For one hour, after his day is done at UCLA, he spars with his trainer. The immersion is so complete that, he says, it clears his mind as well as exercises his body. “You exercise so much, you forget everything. After a day at work, I need the buffer of the workout session before I head home.”
His training regimen gives him physical satisfaction; his work with patients gives him intellectual satisfaction. “I love the research, I love the teaching that I am doing, but the clinical activity — meeting the patients, doing surgery, seeing the patient after surgery — is really important to me,” he says.
With that, Dr. Hubschman returns to his sparring session, fending off a ferocious volley of punches and kicks. He’s winded, yet he seems so energized and focused that his sense of being totally centered is palpable — ready for whatever challenges may come, be they in the practice studio, on the street or in the OR.
Robin Keats is a frequent contributor to U Magazine.