December 19, 2018
Mocking the Tough Guy Bad Ass approach to Krav Maga, Sacha Baron Cohen as Israeli Krav Maga expert Colonel Erran Morad
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“Katonti Mikol HaChasodim U'Mikol HaEmet” I have been made small (i.e. humble) from all of the kindnesses and all of the truth that You have shown me” – this is what the Patriarch Jacob said after G-d performed miracles for him, and showed him the light, as it were. The Jewish way, when discovering something closer to the truth, is not to badmouth what we previously knew, or to belittle those who still cling to ideas which in our newfound wisdom we no longer adhere to, but to humbly thank the L-rd for showing us a new way, a better way.
It is therefore somewhat uncomfortable for me to write what I truly think about other systems of Krav Maga, bad as they may be, for if not for the grace of G-d, I might still be practicing these myself. But in hopes that this may steer someone in the right direction, let me explain Lifi Aniyat Daati (In my humble opinion) what is “wrong” with most of the non-IKI Krav currently being taught in Israel and exported around the world.
To sum it up succinctly, most of non-IKI Krav I have seen advertised falls into three categories: “Fantasy Krav”, “Bad Krav”, and “Where's the Krav”.
The first type, the worst type, is “Fantasy Krav”. This is the type of martial arts that self-proclaimed world Krav champions post all over the internet to impress people with their skills and build clientele. You can find this easily by looking up “K'rav Maga Training” on Google or YouTube. If you look closely at what's being shown, the majority is not realistic street Krav Maga at all. Rather, what you'll find is a promotional video of a talented martial artist doing movie-type karate or jujitsu moves, with extremely choreographed precision against a cooperative opponent. And yes, it looks awesome! Except that, in addition to it being totally unrealistic, it isn't teachable, and therefore violates one of the core values of Krav Maga training: that Krav Maga is a system that anyone with a brain can learn in a short amount of time, to capably and instinctively defend themselves against a violent opponent that wishes to kill or injure them or a loved one. What's shown, by contrast, are superb athletes who look like Jean-Claude Van Damme doing extremely difficulty moves that take years and years of training, and require tremendous agility, coordination and fine motor skills. Most students will NEVER be able to master those techniques. They belong in Power Rangers or late-night martial arts TV, the kind with dubbed voices or subtitles. Or maybe the next Jet Lee vs. Jackie Chan vs. Steven Segall movie, or a further sequel to The Matrix. I have no questions that the practitioners of these are incredible athletes who have trained for decades, but the idea that you can teach an average person to defend themselves using these techniques, unrehearsed, in the street against an uncooperative and violent attacker is completely laughable. It cannot be done. The techniques are simply too difficult to learn without years and years of training, and require fine motor skills--which flies out the window when the adrenaline hits during the fight-or-flight response. The only reason these martial arts are peddled as Krav Maga is because the teachers are Israeli and Krav sells. These are not teachable techniques for average people; to advertise them as workable self-defense is, in my estimation, fraudulent. So I refer to this as “fantasy Krav” because that's all it is. A fantasy being peddled as realistic self-defense.
Another type of Krav being advertised to civilians for self-defense, especially in Israel, is what's called Israeli Military Krav Maga, but what I call “Where's the Krav”. Why is that? Well, for one thing, despite what Hollywood suggests, and despite what movies like Enough portray, the Israeli military doesn't really teach much Krav Maga anymore, and what it does teach is basically useless for civilians on the street!
While the idea of studying Krav Maga is to know how defend yourself against a surprise attack using nothing but your hands and feet (and elbows and knees), the military is busy teaching soldiers to use guns and tanks, guided missiles, helicopters and fighter jets; and utilizing human intelligence (Mossad, etc.) to attack planned targets. Wars were never won by hand-to-hand combat. Wars are won with training in advanced weapons, advanced knowledge of the enemy and teamwork. Soldiers are sent out on specific missions with specialized weapons appropriate for their task to do a specific job and then to return home, with G-d's help, safely. Soldiers are not sent unarmed to malls, and ATM's and parking lots, waiting to be jumped by thugs but ready to spring into action. The Krav Maga taught to Israeli soldiers is quite minimal. Basically it consists of toughness training, persistence, aggressiveness, and how to hit someone with an M-16 if you run out of bullets. Actual Krav Maga training (by that I mean, unarmed training to fight against a stronger armed opponent) is not something the military actually expects or ever wants a soldier to have to use.
On toughness, Israeli Military Krav Maga scores high. You see, in order to survive, you do need to be tough. Having to run up and down mountains, doing push-ups and crunches, and spending a month at a base like you're trying out for the Navy Seals will do wonders for your aggressiveness and toughness. No question about it. You will become harder, tougher and more resilient. But all this getting into shape is still just preparation to becoming a competent fighter. At some point, if you want to know how to defend yourself on the street, you still have to learn the techniques of self-defense; how to defend yourself against a knife, a gun, a punch, a kick, or a take-down attempt, without getting killed in the process. That's where the Israeli Military KM fails. Like the fearless dog that chases a car but doesn't know what to do once he catches up to it, military-style Krav toughens you up, so that you feel you are courageous as a soldier, but doesn't actually teach you the skills needed to survive an attack when it happens. It has all the Krav attitude but with insufficient techniques.
To illustrate, I recently had the privilege of visiting one of Israel's premier anti-terrorism centers for advanced gun training. These people were top notch when it came to weapons. I was in a group that included retired special forces folks from several different countries. The Israelis not only kicked my ass in shooting (no surprise there at all), but even the asses of my military friends with years of weapons experience -- that's how good the Israelis are in counter-terrorism! Before I left, they brought me in to see their Israeli Military Krav Maga training program. It was graduation day for some of their students. I'm not sure if they were hoping to impress me, or hoping to win me over as a potential student, but they did neither. Here's what they did do. They had their student dress in a fully protected hard foam body suit (helmet, elbow and arm pads, chest pads, groin protector, knee pads, gloves, shin and ankle pads), similar to a knight’s armor but in rubber. For five whole minutes, five other students attacked him, while the graduating student had to fight back the best he could without giving up. The other students stabbed him repeatedly with rubber knives, hit him over the head with plastic bats, kicked him and punched him, and he had to keep fighting the entire time, regardless of his exhaustion and the overwhelming odds.
Did this type of training toughen him up? Absolutely! Was I impressed with his determination and will to live? No question about it! But did he show me or any member of our group that this Krav Maga graduate knew anything about real fighting against real opponents using real weapons in the street? Not at all, I’m afraid.
In real life, one does not walk around the neighborhood wearing a protective rubber suit; bad guys' knives are not made out of rubber; crow bars hitting you on the head split your head open. So A for toughness, but F for technique. Doing lots of PT and playing soldier for a few weeks will no doubt toughen you up and help you lose a few pounds. That’s why many people pay for “boot camp fitness”; but this doesn't teach you what to do when a real person attacks you, G-d forbid, with a real knife, gun or machete. Unfortunately, we know this to be the case. In recent months, many soldiers trained in military Krav Maga who were stabbed by Arabs with knives did not know how to defend against the attack, and either lost their lives, or were severely wounded.
If you want to go to Israeli Military Krav to get into shape, while drill sergeants with Hebrew accents yell at you, absolutely go for it! You will get in shape, lose some fat, gain some muscle, and can tell your friends what a badass you are. But if you are hoping to learn actual self-defense techniques to help you on the street, sorry, this won’t happen, unless you happen to be carrying around an M-16 as well.
The final type of Krav Maga I want to address is what I call “bad Krav”, or not-as-good-as-it-could-be Krav. That's the American version of Krav being taught in schools around the USA. To its credit, this style of Krav Maga is based on actual Krav techniques that were developed back in the day, and does its best to address realistic street scenarios such as gun, fist and knife defense. It's made famous by its unique “360-degree block”, and advertisements of this style feature sexy commercials of attractive women being attacked by thugs, effortlessly blocking their haymaker punch with one hand while simultaneously punching the lights out of their opponent with their other hand. That is the type of Krav that I studied prior to discovering IKI. The idea of "attacking while defending" sounded wonderful to me. Very JKD/Bruce Lee-ish. I defended this approach to a skeptic once by saying, ”Why defend and then attack (like most systems of martial arts) sequentially if you could do both at the same time, and overwhelm your opponent with a preponderance of violence!?” It certainly sounded good to me! The problem, as I discovered, is that like most things that sound too good to be true, it just doesn't work most of the time. Certainly not for most people.
You see, to block a punch, especially a haymaker (powerful wild hook punch) with just one hand, in addition to needing extraordinary luck and precision to actually know where to block, and speed to get your hand there
before the fist collides with your face, you also need to be tremendously strong, much stronger than your attacker, in fact, since by the time you see his fist, your attacker has wound up and is punching you with everything he's got hoping to take your head
off. The idea that a girl, with no warning, could both intercept and stop a strong man's haymaker by just lifting one hand up as shown in the videos (her other hand is busy punching him) is virtually impossible! It just doesn't work.
On the other hand, it is theoretically possible that a strong man could block a weak man or weak woman's haymaker with one hand, which means it is conceivable that the 360 block might work some of the time for some of the people; but-reality check-usually it is the larger person who picks on the smaller person, not the other way around, which makes it, in my opinion, a really bad technique.
But it's worse than that. Because the 360 block for a punch, even when it does work, only works for a punch. If the person is attacking with a large knife, it won't work. The problem here is that in the real world, you just don't know with what the person is attacking you, and needing a separate technique for a knife than for a punch is impractical and ineffective; in the split second you notice someone's fist heading towards your head, there is no time to ascertain the exact nature of their attack and decide which technique you are going to use. You need to react quickly and decisively with a technique that works against whatever it is they are throwing, which is why I stick to the IKI Universal Block, as it works against fists, small knives and large knives, sticks and clubs--pretty much whatever the attacker can hold in his hand.
Another example of an American Krav technique that I had mastered but IKI threw out is the Pluck. The Pluck is not as terrible a technique, in my opinion, as the 360 block. It's basically a defense against a choke: the person being choked quickly and immediately hits his hands ferociously down upon the attacker's forearms and grabs them, while simultaneously kicking him in the groin. I liked this technique as it was instinctive, easy to learn, easy to do, and combined defense and offense. So why then did IKI throw it out? Because while it is easy for someone my size to do (I am, after all, 6 foot 270 lbs), someone small cannot effectively execute this defense against someone larger or stronger. I know this to be true as I have an eighteen year old daughter who loves to train in martial arts; however, as much as she tried, she just couldn't pluck her way out of my choke. It is likely that if someone her size (95 lbs.) tried to choke her then the pluck could work, just as if someone my size tried choking me I could likely pluck my way to safety, but the point of a technique is to teach a person a way to defend themselves against a larger, stronger person who means to do them harm. A technique that only works against someone smaller or weaker than you, is not a very good technique. That’s why I refer to this type of Krav as “bad Krav”. Why waste time and money practicing techniques that only work some of the time against a small population (people smaller and weaker than you — who are generally not the ones attacking you) when IKI has techniques that work every day of the week against people of all sizes!
At IKI, the policy is that a technique that is too complicated to teach, too difficult to learn or that isn't effective against a stronger and larger opponent is replaced with a better technique that is easy to perform using only gross motor skills, and effective regardless of the strength of the opponent. The IKI of 2019 is not the same Krav that IKI taught in 2009 or in 1999. It is a living, evolving system that improves over time.
For sport martial arts, as a hobby or to get in shape, I can recommend jujitsu, muay tai, judo or boxing. The high-intensity training interval regiments are great for fitness. You'll learn how to defend yourself in the ring or dojo, and they're a lot of fun! But for realistic street self- defense against surprise attacks by an unknown assailant with or without weapons, or against a sucker punch by a stronger opponent, I can in good conscience only recommend IKI Krav Maga.
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