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What is Krav Maga?

Krav Maga (pronounced KRAHV muh-GAH, which means “contact combat” in Hebrew) is a simple, aggressive, easy-to-learn and easy-to-remember system of self-defense. Krav Maga training focuses on principles rather than techniques because no two attacks are ever the same. No two people are the same. And, in fact, the same person confronted with a certain threat will react differently one day compared to another day.

The essence of Krav Maga can be understood by defining some of these principles. Among the principles that make up the Krav Maga system are the following:

  • Techniques should be movements based on natural instincts.
  • Techniques must address the immediate danger.
  • Techniques must defend and counterattack simultaneously.
  • One defense must work against a variety of attacks.
  • The system should be integrated so that movements learned in one area of the system complement, rather than contradict, movements in another area.
  • Techniques must be accessible to the average person, not just athletes.
  • Techniques must work from a position of disadvantage.
  • Training must include the stress experienced in real attacks.

These principles guide our training and our assessment of techniques. When we find a weakness in a technique, or when a variation is considered, we ask questions based on these guidelines. For instance, if an instructor suggests a change in a technique, we don’t test it with our best athletes, we go to some of our least athletic students and see if they can perform the new technique (principle: techniques must be accessible to the average person).

When judging a defensive technique, we measure its effectiveness by how well it works if we are late (principle: techniques must work from a position of disadvantage). If the techniques only works when we are early or prepared, then we look for something better.

We were working on some defensive tactics with law enforcement officers from the Azusa, California, police department, matching Krav Maga’s techniques with some of their already-established team tactics during room entries. Our favorite moment in the training program was when we found a problem matching one of our weapon-retention techniques to their officer’s position during the entry. As we explored a solution, one of the officers suggested a particular type of footwork that was different than anything else we had shown. The other officer immediately replied, “No, that would be the only time we’d have our guys step that way. Either he’d never do it because it was so different, or doing it would mess up the rest of his training.”

That officer understood Krav Maga.

Krav Maga Is Not a Martial Art
One thing to keep in mind is that Krav Maga is not a traditional martial art – in fact, we don’t use the term “martial art” at all. Traditional martial arts tend to be rigid, dogmatic, and focused on maintaining traditions handed down from past masters. In addition, depending on the art, there is an emphasis on elegance of movement and minutia of detail. Krav Maga tries to avoid all these things. The majority of martial arts systems also tend to become trapped in a sports-oriented mentality, establishing rules that limit the fighters. Even mixed martial arts fighters, many of whom are our friends and whom we respect immensely, fight in a controlled environement with restrictions on what they can and cannot do.

Some very effective systems can also fall into the sports-oriented trap. For instance, Brazilian JiuJitsu (BJJ) is an extremely effective system. Anyone interested in becoming highly proficient at groundfighting should absolutely spend time training with one of the many Brazilian JiuJitsu instructors available around the world. However, many schools teach BJJ as a sport: no striking, no biting, no eye-gouging, and no emphasis on getting up and away from danger. The truth is, these limitations are necessary in order for beginners to practice the techniques (it’s hard to practice a triangle choke if your partner is biting your thigh), but if you never add the other elements of a street fight, you are training in a sport, not in self-defense.

This is where Krav Maga is different. We certainly create training drills and training methods that limit student options…but we constantly (our students might say obsessively!) remind them that they should not be fighting by the rules. For example, they should look to disengage and run away, or find an object to use as a weapon. We have no interest in proving to ourselves or the attacker that we can do a particular technique. Our onlyinterest is in going home safely.

Krav Maga is heavy on the “martial” and not much into the “art”. We aren’t always pretty, but we get the job done. We prefer to describe Krav Maga as a “defensive tactics system” – a tactical and logically sound approach to dealing with violent confrontations.

What is Krav Maga? courtesy of the book Complete Krav Maga.

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