Krav maga: Train Hard Teach Easy

November 19, 2022, Israel



My grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Klein of blessed memory; Scholar, rabbi, warrior. 

My grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Klein, was a well-known rabbi. He was old school but yet new school. He grew up in a different era, Eastern Europe before "The war", the Holocaust. He grew up in an era when young men would wake up at 4 am to study the Talmud, the Jewish holy books. By the time he was a teenager he had already mastered Jewish law and Talmud. In later years he would look at American rabbis having trouble with Talmudic passages, and comment to my mother, "These texts that these rabbis are having trouble with were as putty in my hands as a child, like clay that I would play with". and he was an extremally modest man, but this was the truth. You might say he was Hard Core; you might say that in terms of Talmud he was, excuse the expression, a "Bad Ass". He was the real deal. 

But you would never know it. Throughout my life I have met people that knew him, some were themselves great scholars and they would refer to my grandfather as a "rabbi's rabbi", i.e. a man who was a rabbi to other rabbis, a guide, a teacher. I also met those who were his children, his young students, and they too would speak of him with warmth and affection, "He was so kind to us children, he taught us so gently."

He used to tell us that anyone could be strict with a Jewish law, but it took a great scholar to permit something. He used the Aramaic term, Koah de heteirah adifa, the power to permit is greater. 

He published over 10 books, he earned a doctorate from Harvard as well as the hightest rabbinic degrees, he served as a chaplain in World War Two, he served as advisor to the US military on displaced person in Europe after the war, he spoke eight languages fluently, and yet he was soft and gentle, almost angelic in his dealings with other people.

Perhaps some of that rubbed off on me. 

I trained full contact in the hard-hitting system of Kyokushin Karate which even among Japanese is considered the toughest karate. I trained directly with the master, Saiko Shihan Shigeru Oyama. I trained full contact for 18 years with Itay Gil. I trained with Benny the Jet Urquidez. I fought hundreds of full-contact fights. I visited hospitals on a regular basis. I paid my dues with broken noses, broken ribs, broken fingers, damaged elbow, knees etc. But I am a gentle person. In fact, this the "accusation" sometimes leveled against me, oh he cannot be a "real" Krav Maga instructor, he is too gentle

It is often best to ignore stupid comments but sometimes we can use them as a starting point for a lesson. Be tough in training, be kind in teaching. 

We were all once beginners; we all know how many thousands quit before they even got started due to instructors like the John Kresse character in Karate Kid. My students train hard, but smart. At the end of training, we have plenty of bruises and some cuts, but we teach in a gentle way. I trained with plenty of tough guys including world champion Thai Boxers like Phil Nurse, and the truly tough ones were gentle as teachers. Teach smart.

We teach gently, we learn the technique, and then, when the student is ready, we increase the pressure, we increase the intensity. 

I recall a lesson when I was learning Italian. I will not mention the name of the school. The instructor played a tape recorder of an Italian conversation, yes, a tape recorder, in this day and age. And then she asked the students to write down all the words they understood. Most of us caught very little. After repeated failures I complained that this was difficult to follow and that perhaps we could use another method. I suggested that perhaps she give us a list of vocabulary words to learn, and that the next day she plays a video, not a tape recorder, and that in this training video the players speak Italian slowly. This, I felt, would be a more productive way to learn. 

She rejected my idea and said, this is reality training, Italians speak fast, you need to adjust to reality.

Well, that hit a raw nerve. 

I said the following: "I too am a teacher, but I teach Krav Maga, self-defense. But I first teach the techniques slowly and gently, and only gradually increase the intensity, the results are outstanding. But now imagine if I used your methods, imagine if I told you to wear a T shirt that is insulting to gang members, and I sent you into gang territory wearing this provocative T shirt. Now you would come back banged up and bruised. Should I say to you, well my dear student, that is reality, gang members are not gentle."

I have been through very tough training; I have earned a 7th dan black belt the traditional way over decades of training. I have a long list of permanent injuries. The wise rabbis say, who is wise? he who learns from every man. They also say, who is wise? he who anticipates the future. I do not want my students to suffer permanent injuries in training as I did. The whole point of the training is to avoid injury, so why inflict it on our students?

Like my dear grandfather I speak softly but carry a heavy stick. He was a kind and gentle warrior. He landed with the US troops at Utah Beach on D Day. As a chaplain he held many a dying young soldier in his gentle hands. I hope I am following in his path. Walk gently and stay safe. 


Sensei John Kresse and Miyagi Sensei, Karate Kid


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