The Rabbi in the Ring
Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, an assistant Chabad rabbi from San Diego, California, recently made news when he fought his first amateur MMA fight, winning by TKO in the second round. Several publications covered the story, but much of the coverage focused more on the oddity of a man of God stepping in to the MMA ring and less on the spiritual message he was trying to convey by doing so.
Rabbi Yossi grew up in San Diego, the son of Chabad emissaries, and was always acrobatic as a young boy. When he was 12, his parents hired an assistant rabbi who happened to be a krav maga instructor. Yossi trained with him learning the art of krav maga until going to yeshiva in Los Angeles for high school.
As a teenager Rabbi Yossi became even more interested in athletics, sports, and self-defense. He first became a lifeguard and swimming coach, then an amateur krav maga instructor for his fellow students in the Yeshiva Jewish School, and later took firearm safety and public safety classes and mastered nunchuks and other techniques.
After finishing the rabbinical program Yossi came back to San Diego for an assistant rabbi position where he met an MMA trainer and former UFC fighter, Thierry Sokoudjou, who suggested that they start training together.
Having gone to a kickboxing gym back in Los Angeles, this was an easy transition for Yossi and after training enthusiastically for a few months he agreed to participate in one amateur fight – in order to truly test his technique in the closest thing to a real self-defense scenario. Rabbi Yossi won the fight by TKO and became a sensation over night when the story was picked up by a local news station.
Rabbi Yossi’s reason for fighting in the octagon was overshadowed by the novelty of the news story. What the media failed to portray was that Yossi Eilfort hates confrontations and actually successfully avoided a few fights in his life. This one fight was just one event in his 10 years journey of training in martial arts and related disciplines.
He said he felt uncomfortable with the misleading portrayal of his desire to be an amateur fighter. His life goal is to become a police chaplain, providing a spiritual viewpoint and emotional support to law enforcement officers, as well as starting a special gym and training facility for the Jewish religious community.
According to Yossi, his life-long interest in martial arts and physical activity has actually enhanced his spiritual pursuits, his mental focus, and his ability to learn religious texts for hours at a time.
His message is this: You don’t have to compromise your religious lifestyle to live a healthy, active life, even if that means becoming a martial artist.