December 23, 2023, Israel


Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924)

We learn self-defense because we want a sense of control over our environment. We gain control over our body, our movements, our emotions, our state of being. At first it is difficult but gradually through hard training and discipline, we gain the control that we seek. 

We master our art; we earn ranks and recognition. Eventually, that big day comes, we become a black belt! We proudly receive our diploma, our instructor places the black belt around our waist, and we are overcome with pride and joy. We want to tell everyone. 

And yes, even I, wanted to share my good news. 

Aunt Esther, Aunt Sylvia: So, Moshe, what is new?
Moshe: I have earned a black belt.
Aunts E and S: Would you like some coffee?

later on...so what else is new?
Moshe: Well, I recently received my black belt.
Aunt Esther: That is the second time you mentioned that your new belt is black, is there a reason you keep harping on this point? What else is new?
Moshe: Nothing, nothing really is new.

But the belt is for us, we know what we have achieved, and we are filled with pride. The hard work has paid off, however...as it turns out it is only the beginning. Our journey has only just begun. "We’ve Only Just Begun"(The Carpentars)

And soon we delve deeper into the reality of self-defense and find that there is so much we have not even begun to understand. Moreso, we gradually realize that no system is perfect, that no self-defense is totally fool proof. We discover, that in fact, we can never gain control over our world, our environment. 

We go back to Das Schloss, The Castle, and Der Process/Der Prozess, The Trial, by Franz Kafka. We see men trying to gain access to places, to understand what is going on around them, but it is all futile. In Das Schloss "K" is summoned to do some land surveying work, and yet, hard as he tries, he cannot get an appointment with anyone, any official. Every time it seems he is about to finally meet an official who can handle the matter, something goes wrong. The book ends in mid-sentence, incomplete. Kafka dies without ever completing the work, and we are left confused and frustrated, which is precisely the point. Life ends without us finding the answers we seek.

Our search is by its very nature doomed to failure. As long as we live, we will never have definite answers; why does Evil exist, why do evil people prosper, and good people suffer? Why is there senseless hatred, why can man not live in peace? What is the true purpose of our lives and how will we know if we have achieved it? 

Kafka implies that the search for salvation is futile, we are always looking for an official of the Castle, but somehow the appointment never takes place. We are always trying to figure out why we were arrested, Der Prozess, The Trial, but we never find out. There is an open door but somehow our lives end without ever having entered it, even though the door was left open for us. 

In Krav Maga terms we cannot solve the mystery why people turn so violent. We can never stop it. We cannot seem to stop violence, we cannot seem to teach people not to rape, or murder. We are like the characters in Kafka's novels, always seeking but never truly finding. Just as we think we are about to get the answer, somehow it does not happen. "K" was summoned to the castle but then basically abandoned. Don't we feel this way often? We train in martial arts but then we basically discover that evil and danger will always be lurking around every corner, we will never abolish it. We came to train to eliminate danger and fear but then we discover that this is basically impossible. Welcome to the world of Kafka, or welcome to reality as few are willing to see it.

When will violence strike? When, where, how, and by whom? We never know. Kafka felt abandoned and his writings reflect his feeling. We want clear answers but yet we cannot find them. We seek God but can only vaguely sense his presence. Das Schloss means the Castle, but in German schloss also means lock. Perhaps Kafka is suggesting that life itself is a series of locks. 

Kafka feels suffering, and frustration. In his books the process of searching is spread out over many pages, you need to be patient. He makes you feel the frustration, he challenges you. Kafka describes absurd and bewildering situations; in fact, the term Kafkaesque was coined to describe such situations. When one official tells you that he cannot help you until you have been approved by another, but the other requires that you first be authorized by the first...that is Kafkaesque. You just can't win. 

A knife attack can come from any angle, or perhaps it is not a knife attack but a different sort of attack, or perhaps it is all fake and there will be no attack at all but you are a police officer and you must make a split-second decision; it is a matter of life and death. This is Kafkaesque, you just don't know. Kafka does not present an answer, the plot never really ends. Moses never enters the promised land, we never have the full and complete answers we seek. This is the nature of life. 

In Krav Maga terms we can describe the world of violence as chaotic and unpredictable. That is why with IKI we constantly have new situations. We master one situation, but the next surveillance camera video reveals a different attack, only slightly different but yet that difference invalidates your previous response. We are always in a state of incomplete knowledge, therefore we never stop training.

Franz Kafka offers us insight into our own world. He died having lived an incomplete life, and yet, he lives on through our understanding of his struggles. Kafkaesque Krav Maga!


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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