December 14, 2023, Chopin airport, Poland
Sitting at the airport one has time to think. Looking at people, analyzing situations, hopefully not being glued to one's cell phone, one tends to think. One needs to think. I just spent a week in Poland, a week that cannot be described in simple words. It was a week in which I relived a glorious Jewish history, as well as a tragic Jewish past. A week in which I found homes where the families of dear friends once lived, and synagogues and academies where great rabbis once inspired thousands. Names which are part of my very being suddenly came to life as I found their homes, their synagogues, their academies. Stories which took place long ago and far away, suddenly I stood where they took place. Perhaps at this very location the great rabbi first delivered a lesson that has become universal. The mind wanders to the past, to the great Talmudic academies of Poland, the greatest in the world at the time.
But the lessons were not lost, and survivors of these academies arrived in America and in Israel and opened new academies. The tradition continues. I was fortunate to sit at the table of such rabbis and learn their methods of thinking, how to analyze, now to break apart a problem, now to see a situation from every possible angle and direction. This method of thinking forms the core of our system of self-defense, IKI Krav Maga.
One of the great mistakes of students is to think, "I know this, I can move on." I recall my frustration at the slow pace of progress, I felt we were spending too much time over-analyzing certain topics. but I was young and had much to learn. I recall hearing over and over again, "One who has repeated his lesson 100 times can in no way be compared to one who has repeated his lesson 101 times." When you think you know it, think again, review again.
When a conclusion is reached, someone will say in Aramaic "Ipcha mistabrah" - the opposite makes sense. or in Yiddish I heard a thousand times, "Punkt fakert!" - it is just the opposite of what you were thinking, i.e. you are totally wrong. and now you must reanalyze the situation, rethink your conclusions and look at it from a totally different perspective.
This we apply to life, and to Krav Maga, life and death situations. We are not slaves to a system, we are free to question, nay, we are obligated to question.
What we think we know; we might not really know. As I felt as a young student that we should move on, but the rabbi felt we should reexamine the passages of the Talmud, in time I of course came to realize that he was correct, and I was not. Wisdom comes with age, if you have proper guidance.
I recall another teacher that had quite an impact on me. Prof Vora. He was a very strict professor, very harsh and demanding but perhaps he taught me one of the most valuable lessons of all; today you might call it thinking outside the box, or going beyond what you know, learning to apply. The true test of knowledge is knowing how to apply it to unknown situations that you may encounter.
The year was 1988, and I was a graduate student in the department of Economics. To be honest, I have always been a good student. I worked hard and earned good grades. I came to expect good grades, I was confident. Prof Vora explained to use that he would be assigning us reading material each lesson. He would not be reviewing this material during class. "If you are attending my class, you should be intelligent enough to understand the material in the book, I am not here to explain it to you." The class material will be different, and the homework will be different. And the exam - the exam will be nothing like the book, the homework, or the lecture, but something "derived" from all of the above.
Sure, I thought, like all the other professors he is just trying to intimidate us, to make us take the course seriously, it will all be fine, nothing to worry about here.
But things would be different.
When the exam was placed on my desk I glanced, as was my habit, at the entire paper. I saw familiar terms, familiar concepts. Great, nothing new here, nothing out of the ordinary. I began to tackle the first question but soon I discovered that while it seemed to be the same old stuff, and it was using the same familiar terms, it was, in fact, totally different. The small, seemingly insignificant nuances made the problems nearly impossible to solve. (No one in our class succeeded.)
Fast forward to the present. I am no longer working in the financial field. I can no longer solve complicated economic equations, but I am applying these lessons to Krav Maga. So listen up!
I say, OK, at today's seminar we are going to deal with some new gun situations. and I can hear the thoughts...oh, not again! we covered this in previous seminars, why are we paying $40 to go to a seminar and just rehash the same old stuff. We have done gun defenses to death! C'mon, this is a waste of time.
And I think of Professor Vora, and I think of the great rabbis of Poland. And I look at a surveillance camera video from Brazil. At first, it all looks the same, gun pointed here, gun pointed there, I got this. But then, upon closer examination we see that there are slight differences in the position of the gun, of the hands, of the assailants, of the victims. Like Prof. Vora's exam those slight differences totally change the picture and make it almost impossible to solve.
Prof. Vora's lesson, as far as I interpret it many years later, is that being able to repeat past lessons is only a beginning. Being able to reenact what you were taught, is a beginner level, not worthy of being a student in Prof. Vora's advanced economics class. We need to deeply understand the underlying concepts and principles and be able to apply them to hitherto unknown situations in a moment of truth, under pressure. That is what being an advanced student is all about.
Not one of the students passed the exam, the average score was 30%, but I hope, that now, decades later, I finally passed the test, I finally understood the lesson. And I hope that my students understand this as well. I do not want to hear - Oh, again the Universal Block, again gun defenses. What do you want? Defense against Dinosaurs? Defense vs an alien invasion? It is always going to be either knife, guns, rifles, hand to hand, ground fighting, home invasion. We need to repeat, to learn, to apply, to understand more deeply. As one of our young students said a few years ago, it is always the same thing, only different.
Yes, the basis is always the same, but the application is different, and that my friends is the difference between death and survival. Just ask those who survived October 7.
Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.
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?
What are the Biblical origins of Krav Maga and who was the first Krav Maga instructor?
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