We get a lot of inquiries at The Academy. Among the conversations that we had today, some on the phone and some online, there was one that reminded us of just how far we have to go until Krav Maga is well understood.
Granted, trying to define Krav Maga is not always an easy task. First, it’s not an ancient discipline, so there’s general unfamiliarity to consider. It’s also subjected to a lot of gratuitous hype because, frankly, sensationalism sells. In the age of five-second thumbnail clips, accurate history lessons are usually the first to go. Of course, when misinformation fills in the gaps left by real knowledge and experience, the results are reliably negative.
But what is perhaps most obstructive, most counterproductive, is the tendency of social-media voices to pronounce judgement on ideas, systems, or movements that they have not experienced themselves firsthand. If commenting required research, the Internet would be a much quieter place.
Earlier today, we’d uploaded a post that illustrated some major differences between Krav Maga and traditional martial arts, insofar as those arts are taught in North America today. As our students know well, we have tremendous respect for these arts for a number of reasons. A good instructor in any discipline can encourage students to develop positive characteristics, such as discipline, persistence, positive thinking, and a love of physical fitness. As well, Krav Maga had its initial basis in a variety of martial arts, such as Aikido and Jiu Jitsu, as well as competitive sports such as boxing. It is only as Krav Maga has evolved over time that the hard lines that originally defined the techniques as belonging to one art or another have blurred somewhat, and we now have a unique, stand-alone system. We can’t love KM without respectfully acknowledging its roots.
Why do we say that Krav Maga differs so much, then, from its martial arts origins? To answer this, look at how most of these arts are now taught and assessed in Canada. Many (certainly not all) schools, especially those with programming for children, advocate a non-contact approach. This means that children practice techniques in such a way that no physical contact is sustained. In fact, control and prevention of contact is praised. While students may develop muscle-memory of various techniques, they will not experience first-hand how the dynamics of those movements change when contact with an opponent is involved. This ties in with refereed competition, which is also frequently a part of traditional martial arts methodology in North America.
Krav Maga takes a different approach, possibly because it is not so long removed from its origins. As an aside, Krav Maga was developed in Europe at the time of the Second World War by a man named Imi Sde-Or. As tension began to escalate in towns and neighbourhoods, Imi used his background as a champion in a variety of martial arts and sports to teach his beleaguered neighbours basic defensive skills. Imi was eventually able to escape Nazi Europe, and continued to develop his new system for both military and civilian use. Krav Maga is, and has always been, designed to give lay persons the skills that they need to protect themselves and loved ones from genuine attack on the street. The civilian component of Krav Maga is far more nuanced than its military counterpart, primarily because a) civilians do not generally have previous combat training, b) it is assumed that civilians do not want to engage in combat, c) it is assumed that civilians will need quick, easy-to-remember techniques that minimize contact between them and an assailant, such that the possibility of escalation is minimized. Of course, this also means that the chance of injury is minimized. All of the above requires greater finesse than brute force, which is sometimes a difficult concept for non-Kravists to understand.
In our post today, we were attempting to dispel some of the confusion about Krav Maga. Sometimes, describing what it is not is an easier starting point than trying to encapsulate all of the many, varied, multifaceted benefits that comprise our training. And so, we explained that Krav Maga is not a martial art (again, insofar as those arts are taught in relatively sanitized North American environments) by virtue of the following:
- we advocate full contact because this is the only way that a student can reasonably expect to be prepared for a threat or attack on the street: we’ll say it again and again – you will always default to reacting on the street in the same way that you’ve trained in the studio
- we advocate regular, full-contact sparring because this is the only way that a student will overcome the physical and mental shock of an altercation, and the right time to work through that shock is in an environment dedicated to your learning and growth (i.e. the time to learn how to defend yourself is not, in fact, during an attack)
- we do not use specialized clothing for our training, primarily because it reacts differently to grabs and to certain weapons than regular clothing does; to repeat, the way that you train in the studio is the way that you will react on the street
- we do not enter into competitions because Krav Maga is inherently not rule-based. Competitions rely on all opponents adhering to an agreed-upon set of rules. That, however, is not how altercations work on the street, and so we do not feel that this form of assessment is in line with the basic function and focus of Krav Maga – to keep our students safe in real life
- we avoid competitions as well because they give participants a false sense of the “combat” being refereed, timed, and regulated – see above about training needing to mimic realistic scenarios in order to be useful outside of the studio
The comment that we received in response to our post demonstrated a real lack of understanding about the point that we were originally trying to make. The individual in question insisted that the real difference between martial arts and Krav Maga is that the former are designed to instill respect and kindness, while Krav Maga is meant purely for “killing.” As every one of our students knows, that is plainly mistaken.
We realized, reading the comment, that this was an opportunity to educate. As above, Krav Maga has a long way to go before it’s as household a name as, say, Karate. Understanding this, we have an obligation to correct misconceptions like the ones that were published online.
So what did we say?
First, Krav Maga hasn’t had the hundreds of years that other, older arts have had to establish a name for itself. That opens it up to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Importantly, from the moment of its inception, it has always been meant to keep common men, women, and children safe. Civilian training, especially, teaches students to use the absolute minimum amount of force necessary to, say, release a grab or deflect a weapon in order to allow a person to escape. Krav Maga is not about vendettas or retribution – it’s about smart strategies to exit harmful situations with minimal contact and minimal harm. Killing is not an aim of the system. In fact, the use of excessive force of any kind is strictly frowned upon.
We went on to explain to the individual that our studios are places that are devoted to personal and community safety and growth, and that we’d welcome him/her to join us for classes so that he/she could see first-hand what we’re all about. Without a doubt, experiencing the training personally is a far better and more accurate way to learn than to follow the so-often false conjecturing that is part and parcel of social media.
While it’s easy to take offence when something that you love and appreciate is misrepresented, it’s also a chance to take positive action. We hope that you, as practitioners, graduates, and even experts of Krav Maga will always take confidence in knowing that you’re a part of a system with the very noble past and present goal of individual, family, and community well-being.
The Academy Team