Fatal Mistake

November 22, 2023, Israel


Teaching IDF soldiers.

I recall the early days when I first earned my first black belt, there were many awkward moments. Earning a black belt is a great achievement and gives one a sense of accomplishment and a sense of confidence, but one must be careful. One must be careful not to let it go to your head. You are not superman, you are not transformed into a super-hero, and you are not invincible. One of the "favorite" questions was, "How many people can you beat up at once?" I always gave the same answer. "I don't know. I don't know if I could beat up anyone, I don't know if I could beat you up."

What?!? But I thought you had a black belt?

Yes, I have a black belt but that does not guarantee that I could beat up anyone, one never knows, and here is the key; never underestimate your opponent, any opponent. The only thing I could say then, and now, is this: Having trained for many years, my chances of surviving a violent encounter have improved. That is all. I am better able to protect myself than before but this is not a guarantee that no harm will ever befall me. 

I used to see advertisements in Black Belt magazine, Inside Karate and Inside Kung Fu, magazines I read religiously. They would always read like, "Buy our DVD and after just watching it you will be able to defeat experienced fighters, walk in any neighborhood at night, and fear no man."

Yes, well, well, well. I was curious and did spend a few dollars but eventually came to my senses. If it is too good to be true, then most likely it is not true. 

Training will improve your chances in a real-life confrontation, but you must still use common sense, you must still remember this golden rule: Never, and I repeat, never, underestimate your opponent. I have seen many fights, real fights, where the outcome was not at all what one would expect. I have seen little Chihuahua type men defeat, even kill, larger men. I have seen fat men defeat muscular men, I have seen children kill adults. Never underestimate any opponent, you know nothing about him. Some of the greatest fighters of the Italian, Jewish and Irish mafias were very small men. Some were 5 ft 2, some had deformed hands, some where missing fingers, and yet all were formidable killers. Never disrespect any opponent. Golden rule: Never understimate any opponent for this is a fatal mistake. Arrogance will lead you down to hell. 

And this is what happened in Israel. 

Without going in to all the details and an analysis of the intelligence and military debacle of October 7, 2023, it is clear that in the "Big Picture", the problem was ideological, or as they say here "the conception". Israel chose to ignore reality, they chose to see the Arabs as people much as themselves, people that are logical, people that weigh costs and benefits as we do, people that one can negotiate with. This "conception" is now accepted as having been false. There is a certain disrespect when you choose to see the other as yourself and not understand him as he is. 

There was a TV show, a sitcom, I forgot the name, but two black children were adopted by a wealthy white family. At one point one of the boys applied to enter a certain prestigious school but was rejected, he had failed the exam.  The father could not understand this as the boy was very bright. The head of applications gave an example; I gave the boy a problem, there is a house with 3 bedrooms etc... each bedroom has a certain number of beds...how many people can fit in the house, and the boy got it wrong. The father asked the boy for an explanation, he replied along the lines of...two kids can fit in each bed, one can sleep under the bed, one next to the bed, thus the total of people who can fit in the house is 18

The issue was that the school master judged the boy based on his own "conception", his own sense of reality. It was a given that a room with 2 beds can house only 2 children but to the poor child from the slums, from the projects, the reality was very different. The failure was not that of the boy but rather of the head of applications who did not bother trying to understand the cultural and economic background of the applicant. 

This is the same as our situation here. Respect your opponent, do not assume he thinks like you. The Jews during the Holocaust thought logically, why would the Germans want to kill us! They need us for the war effort. It makes no sense to kill us. As long as we are productive we will be spared. 

But of course, the Nazis had a different way of thinking. Killing the Jews had nothing to do with economics and everything to do with ideology. Not understanding the mindset of the enemy is a fatal mistake. Never be so disrespectful to assume that others think as you do. 

In 1948 the tiny Israeli army defeated the entire Arab world, this led to some becoming arrogant. In 1967, again an outnumbered, outgunned, little Israel defeated the entire Arab world in six days. I recall the atmosphere; it was one of arrogance. I did not like that. The Arab armies were disrespected, jokes were told about how Arab fighters dropped their shoes and ran away in the desert, much like the jokes about the French army. This was a mistake. 

The 1973 war was a wakeup call, Israeli misjudged the armies of Egypt and Syria and paid for it heavily. Eventually a commission was formed, and heads rolled. Golda Meir, largely responsible for this shameful debacle, was forced to resign in shame. And yet despite this, she understood the Arabs better than most people today. Many interviews exist of her stating clearly, how can you make peace with people who want to kill you? Although she was on the "left" politically she was far more right, then the "right" of today. She understood the enemy. 

Sadly, we believe what we want to believe, and this is a mistake. We allowed the terrorist organizations in Gaza to grow, we poured money into them believing that we could buy their beliefs with cash. Israel secretly transferred suitcases full of US dollars to Hamas, yes, this happened, but you cannot buy a man's ideology. This is very disrespectful. We only fooled ourselves and on October 7 the chickens came home to roost. We are now paying the price. 

Israel is at war now and is winning. Yes, we see Gaza being destroyed just as the Allies destroyed Nazi Germany. Israel is carefully and meticulously searching for terrorists and risking their lives trying to avoid civilian casualties, and yet it is not an easy war in any sense of the war. Every day fierce battles are taking place. The terrorists are not easy prey, they are not giving up without a fight. Every house, every building, is being fought over and sadly, every day dear Israeli soldiers are being killed. We have lost some of our best. We have lost some of our best people and some of our best commanders. We are fighting a formidable opponent. We have the better army, but we must always respect the abilities of the enemy. The daily photos of our dead are our constant reminder. 

The moral of the story, never, ever, underestimate any opponent. 


Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.

Understand the Israeli Fighting Mentality - Israel a Nation of Warriors by Moshe Katz


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