Strike to Win and Only

June 26, 2024, Israel


General Võ Nguyên Giáp

"Strike to win and only when success is certain. If it isn't, then don't strike."

There are all kinds of "truths" out there in the martial arts world, including in the Krav Maga world. In my opinion most of them are nonsense but there are parroted like God-given truths. We hold these truths to be self-evident. But they are not. We are fighting for survival; we need to be realistic and critical. Ideas like "One punch one Kill"(Shotokan), or "Every defense is also an offense" (traditional Krav Maga), I hold to be utter nonsense. 

But I did hear a quote that I can relate to, from a man who should know, a man who fought for freedom his entire life and lived to be 102 years old. He fought every imperialistic force out there, he fought against the odds, and he won.

I am talking about the legendary Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp. Regarded as one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century, Giáp led Vietnamese communist forces to victories in wars against Japan, France, South Vietnam and the United States, and China. Giáp was military commander of the Việt Minh and the PAVN from 1941 to 1972. 

Yes, he was our enemy at one time, but a wise man learns from every man, certainly from one who is victorious in battle. 

I believe it was during the siege of French forces of occupation of Vietnam, who had hoped to inflict a heavy military defeat on the Viet Minh in 1954 by taking over the key strategic valley of Dien Bien Phu that General Võ made this famous statement, "Strike to win and only when success is certain. If it isn't, then don't strike."

Like or him or dislike him, agree or disagree, we must respect what he stood for and what he accomplished. On October 4, 2013, the Communist Party of Vietnam and government officials announced that Võ Nguyên Giáp had died, aged 102.

Now let us analyze this statement and apply it to our critical thinking in terms of personal self-defense. 

In Krav Maga in particular, aggression is idealized, and I believe, largely misunderstood by most of the world. You see, something I learned many years ago was one must understand a culture before they can truly understand its martial art. Israel is an aggressive society in general, we have a lot of bitter and frustrated people who fought in wars and lost family to our many enemies. Standing on line patiently is not one of our virtues. But aggression in self-defense must be used wisely, at the correct moments. As the saying goes, Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. This is true. What the General is saying is that in particular when you are the smaller or weaker force you must choose your moments carefully. If you are the Soviet Union, OK, you can send it endless soldiers as cannon fodder, but if you a small nation fighting off many imperial powers, choose your strikes carefully. "Only when success is certain", or at least as certain as anyone can be.

Instead of just charging in aggressively, we must be careful, there is a time for aggression, there is a time for backing off, or stepping back. There is a season for everything under the sun. 

In today's social media atmosphere Krav Maga instructors, competing for students, work hard to create an image of an aggressive bad ass. But they would be wise to learn from a true bad ass, a man who fought off more imperial powers than they could imagine, and won! Discretion is the better part of valor. 

Many Krav Maga instructors are large muscular men. Women are a minority, but they too strive to be as muscular and manly as possible. The result is that not only is their style of defense inappropriate for most people, but most people are turned off by this image. Most people cannot relate to this image, nor can they strive to have such "hard bodies" or look good in camouflage underwear. I like the way Professor David James of Vee Arnis Jitsu puts it, "They are bus drivers, people who work at Wallmart, cashiers, girls who work at the salon, what are you expecting of them?" He himself is a powerful, muscular man, but he understands that a teacher cannot expect this of all his students. If you are training for BJJ matches, yes, you do Cross-fit, weightlifting etc. and you develop a competitive body. But Krav Maga, and all true self defense is designed for the average person, the guy who drives a bus 8 hours a day or sits in front of a computer all day and most nights. 

If you strike, when you are not certain you can win, you will lose. And yet that is precisely what many systems of Krav Maga teach. I recall our student Eitan. After many years of training with us he enlisted in the IDF and came back and told me of the philosophy he was being taught. There is no retreat, total aggression, if you leave your opponent standing he can come after you, etc. And then I asked, "Eitan, your sister Naama is close to 5 feet tall, if she is attacked by a 6 foot muscular terrorist, do you honestly think she can submit and disarm him?"

He replied, "Oh yeah, I had not thought of that."

Well, we need to think of that. We need to be realistic, strike when are certain that you can get away with it, otherwise, wait.

Too often we blindly follow the "cool" stuff, we followed the crowed, the trend, the catchy slogans. How many times have I heard Krav Maga "dogma" as if it were Divine lessons, and no, I don't accept it. I have trained and taught all over the world, I have learned from my teachers but more so from my students, and the journey is not over yet. 

Question, adapt, survive. 


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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