War Shatters Illusions

April 1, 2024, Israel

It is easy to look back and criticize. It is easy to be a "Monday morning quarterback" (after the game was played on Sunday). We are all experts at criticizing the actions of others, once we realize how they failed. The trick is to be able to know what to do before hand, on that point the human being is a miserable failure. 

In the early period of the war Hitler was hailed a military genius. He was correct and his experienced generals were all mistaken. His plans, his "gambles" work. Soon all of Europe was at his feet, he could do no wrong, he defeated nation after nation. Later on in the war, he could do no right, every decision he made lead to military failure and huge losses. Every gamble turned out wrong. The "genius" was now called "an experienced military fool" who should have listened to his generals.

Stalin made huge mistakes as well. The classic mistake was the great purge. Stalin wanted to consolidate his power and he feared those who opposed him politically. He thus accused most of the military leaders of being counterrevolutionaries and had them either executed or send to Siberia, to labor camps. This would prove to have devastating results. The purge of the Red Army and Military Maritime Fleet removed three of five marshals (then equivalent to four-star generals), 13 of 15 army commanders (then equivalent to three-star generals),eight of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts), 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.

When the German invasion came the Red Army was ill prepared as so many of its most highly qualified commanders were either killed or removed. The result was the early devastating defeats of the Soviet forces. When Stalin recovered from the shock of these early defeats he began to reorganize the army, eventually this army would reach Berlin. What I want to focus on here is the change of attitude that real combat brings about. 

Besides having lost many of their most capable military leaders and commanders the Great Purge had another effect: the remaining, surviving, leaders and commanders were afraid to take any independent decisions that might jeopardize their careers or their lives. Thus, they became very ineffective as combat leaders. This had to change. If the USSR was going to defeat Nazi Germany things had to change, and they did!

Military equipment that did not prove itself in combat, was replaced. Ineffective methods of training were changed. The training of tank crews was completely overhauled. And the political commissars who used to play a key role in the military were reduced to figure heads, it was made clear that commanders were free of all restraints, there was only one rule - Win at all costs.

Once these changes were implemented the tide began to turn in favor of the USSR. Not only were military leaders free of the fear of not being politically correct and being watched by the Communist "Big Brother" political commissars, but commanders who were expelled, were returned. Military expediency took over instead of political ideology. And this leads us to the Krav Maga self-defense application.

There are many ideas, concepts, techniques, that appear good "ideologically", or "on paper", or in the dojo, but when the shit hits the fan, in actual violent encounters, all illusions are shattered, and the naked blunt truth emerges. During World War Two this happened, but for most martial artists this day never comes. That is why a person can earn a black belt, train their entire lives and yet maintain their illusions. Unlike the Soviets in World War Two that day of reckoning never came. The theoretical illusions were allowed to survive. 

The Russians had to rethink everything, old T 26 tanks were replaced and the new miracle tank, the T 34 emerged. A new army was formed, and this army began to push back the Germans and their allies, the Hungarians, the Finns and the Romanians. As long as there was no combat there was no reason to rethink anything, there was no reason to change anything, to upgrade tanks or methods of training.

But this came at a terrible cost, millions of lives and the invasion of the home territory. The capital nearly fell.   

Our goal is not to have to experience this moment of enlightenment in actual combat but to prepare for it, before suffering such losses. We aim to create training methods that will work in the chaos of real violence. I have found in my years of training that while many aim to do this, most fail. How so?

I have trained in many "Tough" places. But the reality of violence is not properly addressed. The dojo training is indeed tough, but doing stress drills, doing pushups, and sit ups, and then facing a knife attack, still does not mimic a real-life situation. Not at all. The key elements are being ignored; the fear, the stress, the surprise, the psychological and physiological reactions when facing a real threat, all ignored in the training. Getting into a ring and facing an opponent is great, but that is not similar to being attacked on the way home from work, exhausted and distracted. 

Allow me an example that should be obvious. I have seen so called masters of various forms of Krav Maga. They teach techniques that I know simply will not work in a real situation. When caught by surprised, when overwhelmed, our reactions simply will not be fast enough to pull off any of this stuff. I watch these techniques, these demonstrations, and I find it difficult to understand how these instructors really think that they or their students will be able to pull this off in a real situation. They must have a very high opinion of their own abilities. I don't believe I could pull those off. I do not believe I will react fast enough, and that is why, like the Soviets in World War Two, I have had to rethink everything. Everything!

In real combat illusions are shattered quickly. I see instructors deftly grabbing a moving object, a wrist that holds a knife, a gun aimed at them. To me, excuse me but it feels like they have been watching too many John Wick movies, looks too much like those old late-night kung fu films from Hong Kong. I know that, barring some Divine assistance, these techniques will look like the Russian troops in the early days of the Wehrmacht's invasion of the USSR in 1941; total collapse. 

I watch them and I am baffled. In the past I too believed that with practice I could pull off those techniques, but today I no longer believe that. Thus, like the Russians, we rethink everything. The T 34 was a great tank, but it was actually a very simple tank, and easy to repair. The German tanks were much more sophisticated. Our techniques are not based on memorization, but on understanding concepts. Our training is not based on physical strength or "toughness" but on Wisdom and understanding. Our techniques are not based on speed, strength or precision, but on Gross Motor Movements, and Body Movement. Our training is not based on being tough in the gym/dojo but on understanding the reality of violent encounters. We train to survive real situations. We study real situations. 

In a war one discovers quickly what works and what does not. Ideology and Philosophy and politics are pushed aside, and all false pretenses are dropped. But why wait until a war? We can learn now from real cases, the carefully drawn-out lessons from martial arts schools have not proven themselves. The shock and reality of real violence is very different and the toughest fail. I have seen the videos. Veterans of top combat units caught totally by surprise by teenage terrorists with kitchen knives, their training was inappropriate for these types of situations. We must rethink how we train. This is what we do at IKI. The training is as much mental as it is physical. The training must be appropriate for the situations. Doing pushups will not make you a better swimmer, swimming will. If you want to learn to swim you must enter the water. We enter in the mind of the violent situation. We learn from people who have survived such violence. We learn from the video footage and the police report. We see mostly failures. It is time for a new way of thinking. 


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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