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Krav Maga?

On this page:
Complex problems don't have simplistic answers | What IS Krav? | Military Application | Designed To Kill? | Does Krav Work?

I am constantly asked about Krav Maga. As in: Is it as good as people say it is?  The short answer is: It depends.

As in
    A) It depends on who's teaching it.
    B) it depends on what they are saying it's good for.

While short, to the point and accurate, that answer doesn't explain the complexities of the issue -- ESPECIALLY if you're talking about using Krav for self-defense.

Complex problems don't have simplistic answers
Most people when they ask 'Is (fill in the blank) good for self-defense?' don't know what they're actually asking.

The problem isn't what they know. It's what they think they know. Usually not only don't they know what self-defense is and isn't, but they're looking for training that will reconfirm their misperceptions. Misperceptions about what they think they know. If you think self-defense looks like a wild brawl where you beat the hell out of someone (or roll around on the floor trying to dominate them) then THAT'S the training you'll go looking for. Such training will reinforce your beliefs.

Add to this there's what I call a 'one stop shopping solution.' Unfortunately, this is what many people are looking for. That is to say a martial art/self defense version of "Super whatever" store. This is a place where they can get everything they need in one shopping trip.

Those two points go a long way to explain both the appeal AND the marketing of Krav Maga.

Violence is a big and complex issue. As is the subject of self-defense training. Since violence happens for many different reasons and in many different ways there is no single 'right' answer. Sometimes the right answer is to swallow your pride and walk away. Sometimes, it's running away. Other times it's fighting you way free and running. Other times it's knocking someone out. Still other times it's shooting someone right between the eyes without a second's hesitation. Any of these strategies can save your life and, therefore, can fall under the title 'self-defense.' The trick is to know when to use each of them.

With this in mind, I will tell you flat out, there is NO SUCH THING as 'one stop shopping for all your personal safety needs.'  That's a short cut to being safe that doesn't exist.

But a lot of money has been made by people who will take your cash to show you how to become a killer, kung fu, ninja commando in a very short time. Sadly, their approach to 'self-defense' can be summed up as "Self-defense is beating the hell out of someone with your bare hands." 

Well, if self-defense was only about winning a fight, they'd be right. Unfortunately, that IS what most people are imagining when they think 'self-defense.' And that's where marketing comes in. The reality of it is though, there are legal terms for trying to beat someone senseless. Fighting and assault for starters ... and both are illegal.

Oddly enough, these same marketers are just as fast to tell you that martial arts don't work in real fighting. And even if MA did work, they'd take too long before they become useful. That's why you have to spend so much money on their ultimate fighting system. They can 'teach you' how to defend yourself in the shortest amount of time ... except, what they are teaching
    a) ISN'T self-defense, it's fighting.
    b) doesn't get around the problem of WHY it takes so long to develop
        fighting skills(1).

After about the 300th time of being asked "What about Krav?" -- in all kinds of different forms -- I've decided to roll ALL the different answers into one simple Webpage. This is a post I sent to the Animal List when someone asked about Krav Maga for self-defense.

What IS Krav?
Is Krav even a 'martial art?'

First off I'd like to point to Bob Orlando's "Martial Arts America."  I like the book for several reasons, not the least of which is the model I'm going tell you.

Bob postulated that the 'martial arts' go through evolutionary cycles. I've expanded a bit on his idea by including the conditions these operate in and the time involved. Starting at the bottom of a circle:

Fighting moves -- individual techniques without any organization or ability to be passed on. These are used by the INDIVIDUAL to function in violence. Straight up, these are for winning the 'fight.' Although in more extreme circumstances, it isn't about social violence, it's about survival.

Fighting system--- a collection of techniques sans any moral/ethical guidelines (e.g. WWII combatives or defensive tactics).  These are organized, codified and articulated to be taught to people who are going into violent conflicts. The need for fighting skills is immanent.

However, and this is important to understand about fighting systems, is they are generally presented in a bigger structured context. By this I mean combatives are indeed taught WITHIN the military. The same with defensive tactics. DTs -- along with legal standards regarding use of force --are taught in the police officer standards training (POST) program that officers undergo before being hired. But they are taught in different classes.

So the idea that a fighting system is without moral/ethical/legal guidelines is technically true. It is not, however, entirely accurate. These important attributes are being instilled elsewhere. The key point is that they are being consciously instilled ... not just assumed that the student has them (as is the case of publicly available training in these 'ultimate combative systems').

Here is where, to the best of my knowledge, Bob and I split up idealistically over his model. He says fighting systems are battle effective ... I say 'maybe not.'  This will become important in a bit. Under either definition, the Krav that is taught to the military AND civilians fits within the 'fighting system' category.

Martial art -- The qualifying condition of a martial art is that violence is NOT immanent. By this I mean you're not shipping troops or recruits out into the shit. Can martial arts be used this way? Yes of course. Think WWII, Funakoshi and karate being taught at Japanese Universities to the officer corps.

Overall however, martial arts are about more than physical moving and fighting. They are also a methodology to teach and ingrain valuable attributes into the student. Will there be violence in the student's life? Probably. But a HUGE factor in this training is self-discipline and preparation while NOT letting a 'loose cannon on deck' out onto society. It channels young and aggressive energy.

Moreover, this is a life-long way integrate someone into society/family (e.g. you get trained, not just to fight, but to protect family and village). In time you grow past the 'young buck' age, but you are always in reserve in case the need arises. Then, in turn, you train the next generation. In this regard 'martial arts' have long been an important element in the social fabric of different cultures.

It is critical at this junction to point something out here, historically 'standing armies' are an anomaly -- especially 'national armies'(2). While cultures often had 'warrior castes,' there could be generations between outright wars. Years could pass between pirate raids, territorial incursions from other tribes or outright battles. And centuries could pass before an outright invasion. Still, you needed to have a these skills on 'on tap' for when they were required. But at the same time you don't want them running amok among your own. (Take a look at the First Crusade ... amazing that it happened AFTER the Viking threat was over. The same goes for the western expansion post Civil War. You don't want a bunch of fighters with nothing to do.) Training people in these martial traditions kept this element active in cultures that had no standing armies.

This is where we run into the 'martial arts' being more than just snapping someone in half. In Bob's model, the martial arts are the pinnacle of the evolutionary cycle because they are a blend of both practical application and useful life skills. Even if a war isn't fought in a generation, it keeps these skills alive for when they are needed next.

Then according to Bob's model, things begin to 'decay.' At least from the combative application. As the danger becomes less and less, or technology makes it out-dated, things tend to head toward either martial sport or martial way (from 'jitsu' to 'do'). Elements begin to be edited out, lost, changed for less dangerous circumstances. The art/entertainment/traditional aspects take over, emphasis shifts to the spiritual, etc., etc.. In short, other things become more important than physical effectiveness. Eventually the system becomes unstable for use outside the narrow confines it has limited itself to.

The cycle starts over again when danger is imminent someone needs something to Git R Done!

You need to realize that the sport/way category is what most people think of when they think 'martial arts.' Are they right? Well realistically, most of what is out there is martial sports, martial ways, if not commercialized versions of both. That's all they've ever seen.

Keep Bob's model in mind when I tell you the following story.

Military Application
In the mid 1980s I had a chance to work out with a former Israeli Commando. Putting it mildly, this guy made me squeak. He moved me into positions that not only I couldn't fight back from, but, if he'd zapped me, I would have shattered. Not break, shattered. This stuff was not to inflict pain, it was to injure and kill. And to do it A.S.A.P..

This was Krav Maga and it was effective.

Fast forward 20 years and all of a sudden this 'Israeli Commando Fighting System' hit the martial arts scene. Wowie! Kazowie! This is SOOOOO dangerous that your dick will grow three inches from just walking in the door. Okay, so that's an over-exaggeration. What isn't is the attitude of: It's got to be good, because the Israeli military teaches it to all of their service men and women. (Notice the subtle downgrading already happening? It went from commando to service men in nearly the same sentence.)

When I saw what these guys were doing I thought to myself "What the hell? That don't look nothing like what made me squeak."

What it looked like was the typical muay Thai/boxing blend with BJJ thrown in that I think of when someone says 'mixed martial arts.' Yet it's a deadly Israeli military fighting style dontcha know?

Well except the dude who twisted me around never threw a muay Thai kick at me. Come to think of it, he wasn't really hot to roll around on the ground with me either. His intent was to break me in half by pile-driving me INTO the ground; it wasn't to get dirty by rolling around on it while trying to dominate me.

"This is Krav?" I asked.

"Oh yeah it's what the Israeli commandos use. It's the deadlist." was the answer.

Nooooo. No, it wasn't. In fact, what I was seeing -- significantly -- lacked all those little tweaks, twists and pulls that I'd come to recognize as inherent in ANY system designed to inflict serious injury onto your opponent. Breaking someone isn't about how hard you hit, it's about setting up the conditions that when you do hit, he breaks. I don't care how hard you do it, the 'snap, crackle, pop' element was missing from what was presented as Krav.

But, but ... it's what they teach the Israeli Army!!!

Well, the entire military is NOT one giant Special Forces Unit so there's a flaw in your logic right there. As in, you just said two totally different things as if they are one in the same. (There's that downgrade.)

Designed To Kill?
This brings us something that I recently sent to a cadet who asked me about the 'military martial art' he had been taught, and for a time he taught at the academy. His concern was that ... well, it didn't seem to work. Here's what I said to him about the 'BJJ based system' (his words) he'd been taught.


Is it an effective fighting and killing system?


Time to go back a few paradigms. I was watching a series called "Making a Marine." They had the recruits doing BJJ. One drill sergeant summed why they were training in grappling. "We don't expect them to fight at this range, but we want to instill the willingness to fight at ANY range."

As a part of a collective 'whole' of training and indoctrination that is VERY important.

Another thing, is have you considered that it's SUPPOSED to be non-lethal?  As in, there's a really good reason for it to be as physically ineffective as you suspect it to be? (Which incidentally it is).

You have a bunch of young and aggressive people that you are training to be 'predators.' Before you deploy them and after they get back from the sandbox WHO are they most likely to unleash their violence on?

The answer is: Each other.

You DON'T want your 'fighters' snapping each other's necks and crushing ribs. So you train them in ineffective hand-to-hand methods and reserve the dangerous stuff to shooting, artillery and air support.

Now throw in the constant striving for dominance and social positioning through competition and horseplay. Suddenly you have a way to allow young men to SAFELY jockey for social position and status without injury. And at the same time to keep their fighting edge.

There's a whole lot more to this training than just being physically effective.


Kinda makes you think twice about how 'dangerous' something is just because it's taught to the military don't it?

Come to think of it, doesn't the military prefer to shoot people? As in shoot the survivors AFTER you've called in an air strike? Last time I checked armies don't throw down their weapons and attack each other empty handed. Even in close quarters. At least that's not how the WWII Pacific Theatre vet said he did it. If I remember right it went something like ... jump into the trench holding your trenching tool. Deflect the bayonet strike, punch the dude in the solar plexus  and then proceed to beat him to death with the trenching tool. That was CQC.

So the idea that ANY empty handed system being taught to the military makes it the most deadly thing under the sun doesn't quite wash when you stop and think about it. Is it for killing enemies at close range? Shit hand me that trenching tool or a knife ... I'll do it faster and easier.

Now is this to say that the 'snap, crackle pop' aspects of Krav Maga don't exist?

Not at all. I have first hand experience that it does.

It's just not being taught to the recruits. It's like our military martial arts in that they don't teach the upper tier stuff to everyone in uniform. Can you advance to the upper levels, yes. Is it taught straight off to everyone? No. And I can guarantee you this especially applies to what is being taught to American and European civilians as Krav Maga.

That deadly military fighting system you're paying to learn looks nothing like what made me squeak those many years ago. Not only are the physics not there, but think back to what I told that cadet. The stuff you teach the recruits is designed to allow for dominance games without injury to your troops. And yet to also instill confidence and the willingness to engage.

In short, the 'combat effectiveness' of what is being taught as Krav Maga to civilians is overwhelmingly advertising.

The day that the Israel Army gives up rifles, much less tanks, jets and rockets, is the day I'll believe it's not more about instilling the willingness to fight and a safe way for testosterone pumped, soldiers to compete, establish dominance and safely channel aggression without hurting each other.  Because that ain't what combat is about, no matter what the advertising and fanatics say.

Does Krav Work?
Well, it kind of depends on what you're talking about it 'working for.'


From what I've seen if you take someone and train him hard, instill confidence and tell that he will be able to kick ass and take names (in the next college bar fight he is in), then you have succeeded. I mean that seriously and not in a derogatory way. That person is going to be able to hand out an asskicking -- to most people who are interested in fighting them. More than that, the person's confidence level is going to skyrocket.

However, I'll say the same thing that I tell people who touch themselves when they think about using their mixed martial arts in an altercation. Take any match you want where two people go at each other. Film it. Then put the participants in street clothes. Change the background to a bar.

Now what do you call what's on the video?

I call it a fight. What's more, it's exactly what the security cameras IN the bar are going to see. And when owner hands it over to the cops and the district attorney, that's what you're going to be charged with. You may win the fight, but the court case is going to go against you, because fighting is NOT self-defense.

The same goes for any demo clip where a person demonstrates 'how good Krav is for 'self-defense.'  Odds are what you are going to see is the person throwing the primary aggressor a beating. This beating continues AFTER the immediate danger has been neutralized (e.g. after disarming the person and knocking him down, stomping him). This is no longer self-defense, it is now outright assault -- or in some cases attempted murder.

Will Krav help you win a fight?

Most of the time, yes. But it depends on who you're fighting. Can and will it do it in short period of time? Again yes. But most of that is through patching and ingraining the willingness to engage fiercely (e.g. three months of 'rolling' can and will help you get over your fear of getting hurt and timidity). You WILL be more willing to fight.

While the watered down version of Krav Maga that is commonly taught to civilians is not combat system, it most definitely IS a fighting system. While that is fine and dandy, fighting is illegal. So too is assault and attempted murder. I cannot stress this element strongly enough. If you aren't being taught the legal standards of self-defense in your training, then you aren't getting self-defense training.

From this you might suspect that I'm 'down on Krav Maga.' No I'm not, I just have the same problem I have with any advertiser that offers a simplistic answer to the complex issue of violence and self-defense. This is especially true when the answer boils down to fighting being presented as something else. There's a whole lot more involved in self defense than just beating the snot out of someone -- especially if you want to stay out of county jail or prison.

Okay, but then:
Do the techniques work?

Well it depends on who is teaching them to you. Something I say so often I should just put it on a loop tape is:
   It ISN'T the system. It's the physics it teaches YOU to produce that work.

With Krav I've also seen something I've seen too many times with martial arts. You have two people from different branches of the same system. One who couldn't fight his way out of a wet kleenex because what he is doing ISN'T generating the physics he needs. But over there is another, doing the same system, who would break you in half with the physics he is creating.

Technically speaking they are BOTH doing the same system. Practically speaking however, what you are looking at is the difference between the empty chasse of a car and the same car with an engine and a transmission. They both have the same shape and appearance, but one of them actually runs and can be driven.

This is over and above the different levels between elite military, regular military and civilian training. I'm talking about what is being taught AS Krav to civilians. Just because it's called Krav Maga DOESN'T mean it's a running vehicle. What makes it work is what's under the hood.

But,is Krav Maga a good system?

IF you're talking about using Krav for personal safety then -- like ANY system -- huge factor of its effectiveness is WHO is teaching it to you.

First CAN that person do effective movement?

Second can he teach it to you?

Third, does this person understand the realities AND the consequences of violence? Or is it "this is what I heard from my teacher?"

I don't give a shit, what the 'system' or 'art' is supposed to be. If the person can't (or isn't) doing those three things, you're not only wasting your time and money, but dangerously so. As Rory said "It's easier to instill confidence than competence." And you can have all the confidence in the world, until the shit hits the fan, and then you'd better be able to actually do something to Git R Done.

If all you are ever going is use it for getting into shape, break into a sweat and vent frustrations, then what I just said doesn't matter.

Any Krav school will do. (Well, as long as proper safety measures are taken).

If you're going to be staking your life on it working in a violent situation AND if want to keep your ass out of county jail, then you'd DAMNED well better -- and this goes for ANY martial art, training system or weapon -- make sure the person who's teaching knows WTF he's talking about!

Are there good instructors out there who are teaching effective self-defense and personal safety under the banner of Krav? Yes.

Is it because of the fighting system they practice? No.

Like ANYTHING else, it's because of what they teach you. It has to be in alignment with the realities of violence and self-defense. And not, the marketing and fantasies of who want to be street commandos, urban warriors or street fighters.

So now you know the long answer to "It depends."

Return to top

1) I spent many years having criminals lie to me. When I returned to 'normal society' I realized I had learned to watch for 'escape phrases' and 'weasel words.'
Those are sneaky little phrases and words that are inserted into blanket statements. These will give the person wiggle room and a 'plausible excuse' if someone calls them on their BS. For example, "Martial Arts don't work in a 'real' fight. And even if they did, they would take too long to develop." has THREE. One weasel word and two escape phrases.
The term 'real' fight is the weasel word. People who use this term are missing the fact is there is no 'magic line' where a conflict becomes 'real.' ALL violence and conflict is real. At the same time, there are all kinds of levels, degrees, variations and manifestations. An emotional, screaming argument is just as real as two people punching each other out. Both are fights. So the term 'real fight' is nonsense.
Yet people originally tried to use the term to distinguish the difference between training and conflict. A distinction already exists, it's found in the words, training, fighting and sparring.
However, it became a weasel word when it started being used as some ideal that you're training for. As in "When you're in a real fight you (do this)." The term quickly became synonymous with Ragnarok. Somehow it became the ultimate standard of the style's effectiveness and your training goal. You were training to survive a 'real fight' (incidentally the same thing happened to the term 'street fight'). Even though these people are training for non-lethal, empty handed, participatory, physical conflict -- commonly referred to a 'fight' -- somehow by adding in the word 'real' it became training for surviving Ragnarok.
What's wrong with this concept is that violence isn't always about fighting. Failure to understand this can get you killed when the violence you are facing is NOT a fight. Another flaw with this term is most fighting is about establishing dominance and behavior modification. It is NOT lethal in intent or outcome. Failure to understand this while going into a physical conflict can get you thrown in prison because you over-reacted. It's not Ragnarok that you need to unleash your 'deadly fighting fighting system' in order to survive. It's just a fight. A fight that you may win or lose -- and if you aren't prepared to face either outcome then you shouldn't be there in the first place. Still another flaw with this term is how often it is used as an excuse by the instructor to justify a technique failing. Because you see, in a real fight, you'd be doing it a lot harder and it would work then. No, the physics aren't there now and they really won't be there under adrenal stress. Although the term is constantly used (especially in reality based self-defense groups) it's a 'everyone knows what that means' term. One that once you start asking about you'll discover that getting someone to actually define it -- and defend the standard in light of legal considerations -- is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.
For the record, you'll hear the term 'real fight' a lot in commercialized Krav schools. The first escape phrase is "even if the MA worked." Simply put, most commercialized martial sports systems will not work for self-defense. Although often promoted as self-defense, they lack the information necessary to qualify as self defense training. Most, however, does not mean all. There are branches within any system that still understand what they are doing. Not only that, but they ingrain into their students the physical movement patterns that allow them to snap someone in half.
By using the term 'even if it worked' the user has left himself an escape rout if someone contests his blanket statement that martial arts categorically don't work. (which incidentally: How does he know ALL martial arts don't work? Has he gone into every school, spoken to every martial artist on the planet to confirm this?). If no one contests his statement it passes as an absolute truth. If someone does -- especially someone who can hand him a beating using a 'useless martial art' he can start to wiggle with "Well what I really mean is..." This allows him to be wrong while still pretending to be right. The slickest escape phrase is 'take too long to develop.'
Even if the fallacy of his statement is demonstrated to him (that martial arts CAN work) this proclamation is his ultimate, I'm wrong but I'm still right. The simple fact is that most so-called reality based self-defense or combative programs are predicated on raw aggression and physical conditioning, NOT effective physics. (That will win 'most' fights, but it won't help you in other kinds of violence.) There is NO shortcut to developing the ability to move effectively under adrenal stress. The simple, scientifically demonstrable, fact is that developing the neural pathways that will allow you to effectively deliver power -- no matter what your size or strength -- takes TIME. The estimated amount to develop true 'mastery' is generally thought to be around 10,000 hours. It doesn't matter how fast someone claims they can teach you 'to be able to defend yourself.' The development of of the neural pathways takes time. Wanna know how to blow an escape phrase out of the water? Ask the people who are criticizing the martial arts for taking "years to develop" how long they've been doing this system. And that includes time in the martial arts before they came to this system. It took him just as many years to get that good as it does in the martial arts. Return to Text

2) Historically militias were more common. Since the concept of 'nationalization' really only came about after the French Revolution and Napoleon, the keeping and maintaining of a standing fighting force was individual to different Lords -- especially the King. These forces didn't belong to the 'country' they belonged to the individual. Mostly these forces were to protect the Lord's estates and interests. And that especially meant against other nobles and clans. Remember the feudal system was a contact sport. Also realize that even if armies were still maintained, it was at a greatly reduced numbers during peace time. While guarding borders was needed (garrison, often the skeletal remains of the military was put to work building bridges and roads (e.g. the Roman Legion). Return to Text

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