Rabbi Yossi Eilfort isn’t really all that different from other young, Orthodox rabbis. The 22-year-old goes to shul, wears a kippah, and observes the Sabbath. Oh, and he’s a Mixed Martial Arts fighter.
The young Californian recently fought—and won—his first amateur MMA match by a technical knockout, or TKO, in the second round, Fox News reports. Eilfort began training only six months ago under former UFC fighter, Thierry Sokoudjou—plus he sits out on Friday nights and Saturdays.
“I never knew a Rabbi could fight!” Sokoudjou says in the clip below, shaking his head bemusedly. “I never thought a rabbi would be interested in fighting…I needed to give him a kill-pill—he’s too nice!”
But being ‘nice’ in the ring is integral to Eilfort’s principles. “It’s very uncomfortable to hit someone else,” Eilfort explained. “I make sure I’m hitting him on the side of the face, I make sure not to hit him in the head. I made sure not to strike as hard as I could. Everyone who watched said, ‘You were way too nice!’ but I feel that I did what I needed to do, and I didn’t do any extra.”
So, nu? How did a nice Jewish boy end up choosing martial arts as a hobby?
“I wanted a physical, personal, and mental challenge,” said Eilfort, who practiced Krav Maga for 12 years before stepping into the Octagon. He hopes to one day become a police chaplain and provide security and safety seminars to religious students. His goal is to encourage fitness in the Orthodox Jewish community and promote an awareness of self-defense.
“I believe if we’re not challenging ourselves, we’re wasting time,” he added.
Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.