Performance Art or Martial Art

January 22023, Israel

I was talking to a student and friend about some impressive martial arts performers. He was mentioning a performance by a certain "Krav Maga" instructor that dazzled the audience. As it turns out I know this individual and am familiar with his skills. He is a nice human being, a kind man and an excellent martial artist. But what about self-defense?

When watching such performances live, or on you tube, we can certainly agree that these performers possess great skill. The question is what is their skill? Are they skilled at a performance art or a martial art? Can they teach you skills that will help you protect yourself and defend your life, or can they only provide you a martial arts entertainment? (Which certainly is valid) 

When we watch them perform, we can certainly admire their skills as they are, to quote the song, fast as lightning, and they fought with expert timing. But pay attention to the rest of the song...and everybody knew their part.

What are witnessing is a performance, an excellent performance by skilled athletes where everyone knows their part and the entire show is choreographed. This is only the remotest connection to real life self-defense, if at all. 

Perhaps I am being too harsh in my judgement, you may ask, perhaps if they can perform under the pressure of a live performance they can do the same vs armed assialants on the street?

I think not.

God gave me a wonderful gift many years ago. Together with a group of friends, members of the Jewish Defense Organization, we went to pay a visit to a local Jew-hater who had been harassing a young woman and her two small children. Make a long story short he came out with a rifle and opened fire. We ran to our cars, mine was the last in the row. I pulled out my car keys (no automatic button in those days), but as I tried to unlock the door my hand was shaking, uncontrolably. I managed to grab my hand with my other hand, as my life and the lives of others were on the line, and I managed to open the door. That day I learned a valuable lesson that serves me now as a Krav Maga instructor, the effect of stress. 

So these days I often play the following "trick" on students, to make a point. I ask, who would like to earn their black belt today? Yes, today. Well, all you have to do is run to the next door, take out your keys from your pocket, choose the correct key and insert it in the door, that's it, and you will have a black belt. While the group looks confused, I add, oh, I forget to mention, while you are attempting to unlock the door someone will be firing at you with live ammunition. 

Well suddenly earning that black belt does not seem so easy. What has changed?

It is no longer a performance. No matter how well trained you are, no matter how athletic, the stress of a real-life situation changes everything.

Another short story, for illustration.

A high-ranking martial arts instructor joined our association, Israeli Krav International (IKI). After attending many seminars and following our videos from the Online program and our DVDs, he decided to test for the instructor rank. He failed miserably. In fact, in most situations he used the wrong techniques, he used techniques that he had learned years earlier, from other styles. I questioned him about his poor performance, and he explained. I got nervous and I reverted back to what I had known before, I did not even realize it while filming the videos for the test.

Now think about that for a moment; a trained high-ranking martial artist got so nervous that he did everything wrong. Why? because I, the instructor, would be watching those videos. I was not even there in person!! He was being filmed by his students and friends, and yet he felt so nervous that he totally messed up. Now imagine if he were facing, not a camera, but a real assailant, how would he fare?

Now that explains the difference between a fabulous and impressive martial arts performance or YouTube video and real violence. They are not the same, and yet they are being presented as the same. Millions of viewers watch these videos and fall victim to the propaganda, everyone loves a great show. Great videos, in the eyes of the viewers, translates to great self-defense ability, but this is false. A trained eye, an experienced martial artist, can watch these performances, admire the skill of the performers where "everyone knows their part" and yet see that these techniques are ineffective for real-life self-defense.  In fact, in most cases they are so ridiculous that one feels like laughing, while crying is more appropriate. The tragedy is that these videos encourage students to take up training in martial arts that should be restricted to the category of the performing arts. 

It has taken me many years of training and teaching all over the world to reach the level where I can clearly separate the arts, the true art of self-defense from the performing arts. Buyer beware. 


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


What is the cultural background of Krav Maga?  What makes it unique? What makes the Israeli military so effective? Why are Israeli security systems used all over the world?

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How has Krav Maga developed in Israel and what are its goals?

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