Raz Chen Interview
Get ready to a deep dive into a world of Krav Maga with Raz Chen who trained over 10,000 soldiers in combat units and now shares his knowledge with his students in New York.
1. You have been the Senior Krav Maga instructor for top Israeli Special Forces, such as Lotar Counter-Terrorism unit, Oketz, Kfir Brigade. Why did these units select Krav Maga as their combat art and what are they focused on the most during their training?
According to historical records, Krav Maga has been the official combatant program of the Israeli army even before the birth of the state of Israel or an official army.
Beginning in 1920, Jews in what is now Israel organized self-defence para-military organizations to protect themselves against attacks, the largest of which were called the Haganah and Palmach.
In the late 1930s, Imi Lichtenfeld (who was also known as Imi Sde Or) a renowned Jewish athlete in boxing, gymnastics, and wrestling began organizing other Jewish athletes to protect the Jewish communities from riots. Imi soon realized self-defense in the streets was nothing like fighting in the ring. In the street, there were no rules, there were weapons, there were multiple attackers, and if self-defense was to be possible for everyone, it had to be simple.
In 1940, Imi fled from Bratislava to escape the Nazi Holocaust. His family and his friends who remained behind were murdered. In 1940, there were 15,000 Jews in the city. After the Holocaust, almost 77% had been murdered, leaving only 3500 alive.
From 1940-1942, Imi first served under the British in the Free Czechoslovak Legion in North Africa, distinguishing himself in soldiering. He then traveled to Israel, where he used the skills he learned in Bratislava and North Africa to create a brand new system of self-defense for the military. In 1944, he introduced that system to the world, and became the official combative trainer for the elite strike force units of the Haganah and Palmach underground.
With the birth of the state of Israel, the Palmach and Haganah became the Israel Defense Force, and those elite strike units became the Special Forces of that army, and Imi naturally transitioned into the role of Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. So Krav Maga was baked into those units from the very beginning.
Imi created Military Krav Maga to respond to the unique needs of soldiers. He focused on what movements were the most natural and efficient so that they would be as effective and easy to learn as possible. He also focused on the duties of soldiers, developing techniques to allow them to fulfill their missions.
Military Krav Maga focuses on what actual soldiers face. We cover arrests, team-work, situational awareness, multiple attackers, weapons, as well as creating specialized techniques for the duties required for each unit.
Special forces are our most well-trained soldiers in hand-to-hand combat and their focus reflects their mission. Every single unit has different needs, and teams within units have different needs. Some need more training for arrests, others in weapons, some in hostage rescue. Of course, information on the training of special forces is highly classified.
Here’s a general example I can talk about for special forces Krav Maga training. In Military Krav Maga for elite fighters, the soldiers are not trained to punch, but to use elbows instead.
Why? Any martial artist can tell you, if you punch incorrectly, you are more likely to hurt your own hand more than you hurt the other person. An elite soldier needs his hands to remain in top condition so he can use his gun. Since Special Forces soldiers are in the most dangerous situations, they need to be able to shoot effectively.
They also need to be able to grab someone, or perform a search. Obviously, the hands have to remain in good condition to perform delicate tasks. Even a mild injury can make the soldier ineffective. Elbows can do a lot more damage and have less risk involved.
We also learn how to use our guns as both a hot weapon and a cold weapon. A hot weapon is using it to shoot. A cold weapon is using our guns as a big piece of metal. For a larger rifle, we can use it to strike and to block. For a handgun, we can use it as a heavy piece of metal. By using the weapon, we don’t use our own bodies.
2. You won first place in the IDF Krav Maga championship in 2010. As far as I know, the IDF is where most elite soldiers battled it out to see who is the best. How tough was the competition and what you went through to win?
The competition itself has two parts.
Part One is Technical Skills. We are judged on our skill level with the hand and leg strikes and defenses associated with Krav Maga, as well as weapons defense. As it is a military Krav Maga, we also had to demonstrate competency in skills like arresting and searching a suspect.
Part Two: Purely Sparring, against one or two attackers who are wearing full gear.
We are scored by a panel of judges on our performance, both on our technical skills as well as our aggression and speed in the various categories.
Two months before the championships in November, it was announced to all of the combat units that there would be testing and try-outs for those who wanted to compete. I signed up and on test day, I was judged along with all other soldiers in the 900th ‘Kfir” Infantry Brigade on my technical skills, theoretical and practical knowledge. We were also judged on our ability to effectively perform good hand and leg strikes on the heavy bag. The judges were Krav Maga instructors in the Kfir Brigade.
I remember during my testing, we had a minute of striking the heavy bag as fast and often as we could. At the very last second, I head-butted the bag. I later learned this was one reason the judges picked me. They were impressed that I understood the principles of Krav Maga, which is street fighting in the most creative and effective way possible. In Martial arts, there are rules and you want to have good form. In Krav Maga, headbutts are allowed and you are judged on your effectiveness.
I was part of a great team of fellow Kfir soldiers, who pushed each other. The commander responsible for our training was very motivating and strong. He would always tell us, think about breaking their quadriceps!
We trained as a team. We practised on the skills and techniques we would be tested on, as well as worked on our fitness and aggression and sparring. We did lots of running hills, and training in the water and sand, in order to prepare us. It was a high level of training, but also a lot of fun. If I can offer any advice from what I learned, it is to:
Break down everything into its smallest parts and practice until it is muscle memory.
The competition was very tough because everyone there had been through the same selection process as me. They all had great training, and they were the best their units had to offer. I didn’t know if I would win, but I was definitely prepared.
I wasn’t bigger than my opponents, but I had aggression, excellent form, and great tactics, and I used my speed and agility to compensate for my lack of reach. I also had confidence in myself. That got me my victory.
3. I have read that you received a high profile score of 97. Could you please explain what it means and why the army kept turning you down for a long time as an army Krav Maga instructor?
I’ll just discuss my own experience. When I was sixteen and a half, the army determined that my health profile was a 97, which is the highest level. It meant that I was fit for combat in any unit. I didn’t mean that I was accepted somewhere, only that my health was good enough to try for any unit, including the elite ones.
As to why they turned me down? Most of the time, combat instructors can be filled by people who can’t serve in the field, but still have the qualifications required to teach. I don’t want to give the impression that combat instructors aren’t qualified, they need at least five years experience in martial arts, with a minimum level of intermediate rank.
They just often have medical conditions which prevent them from being out in the field. If they can do the job, why take a combat soldier out of the field? Unfortunately, there is too much work to be done and many families to keep safe.
And without bragging, I was a very good soldier and even was asked to consider going to commander training and officer school. I can understand why the army wanted me in the field, I could do a great job there. And I did.
However, I knew in my heart that I was meant to be a combat instructor and I’m glad I fought for it.
I am privileged to have taught military Krav Maga to over 10,000 soldiers, including Israeli special forces and US Marines, and served my country well.
4. How did your vision and knowledge of Krav Maga change once you started teaching the general public instead of soldiers?
I want to send a shout-out to my older brother and teacher Gal and to my main instructor Gabi Noah for helping me transition. Gal had 20 years of teaching, and Gabi was both a civilian and a military Krav Maga instructor for more than 30 years, so they understood how best to help me.
My students think I am harsh now, they have no idea what I was like when I first left the army. In the army, the discipline is extremely strict, and I gave commands which had to be obeyed. I expected perfect compliance and if the soldiers didn’t measure up to my exacting standards, they were disciplined.
Then I came back to civilian life in Israel, which was very different. I didn’t have that power over students, they didn’t have the responsibility of being soldiers, and it was a tough transition for me to work with students, who needed a softer and more compassionate approach.
Gal and Gabi worked with me to help me develop the skills to be patient and empathetic and work with civilians, without relaxing my high standards. I still maintain strict discipline, but I can also adjust that discipline to a civilian level and correct them in a way that is appropriate for the student’s needs and goals so that they can learn. Sometimes, you can be too intense, and it defeats what you are trying to accomplish.
Besides, I have found that with all these years of training, I don’t really need to yell anymore. I have earned the students’ trust as an authority figure, and therefore, a few calm and sharp, well-chosen words are almost always enough to achieve the results I want. If your students value and respect you, a silent sincere look of “I’m disappointed” is a lot more cutting and effective to correct students than shouting.
5. Do you support the meaning that an instructor shouldn’t be your friend, as this is how the student can grow and become good as a fighter?
In Military Krav Maga, it depends on the stage which the soldier is in during their service. When I taught new recruits, I was definitely not their friend. I sure they would say that I was their worst nightmare because I was a very tough teacher who had absolutely no patience for excuses and held them to very high standards. Military Krav Maga is completely different in its training methods.
I wasn’t just teaching self-defense. I had to prepare them for battle. Friends don’t usually wake up friends at the crack of dawn and force them to practice Krav Maga, and friends don’t punish you by crawling, running, pushups, burpees and more. I pushed them to their limits in every way I could in training.
For the untrained ear, I know it sounds like I am sadistic, but I want you to understand, I was a field combatant. I knew exactly what was waiting for them when they left the base. Molotov cocktails, flying rocks, riots, stabbings, shootings, suicide bombings. They would have to engage in battle, instead of running away.
Every single soldier I taught, I made a commitment that I would do everything in my power to give them the skills they needed because I didn’t want any of them to come back in a body bag.
Also, I took a lot of time and care to make sure they were not getting injured so they missed training. While they definitely were pushed hard in class, safety was my number one priority.
In Advanced Krav Maga for combatants who were experienced, they were my colleagues and I could be friends with them. We were equals, and I was there to help them improve their skills, but they already understood the importance of why they needed it. I could focus more on specific techniques and physical skills instead of mental skills.
Serving in the IDF was a privilege and the morals I learned there is still guide me today.
6. Could you please share your thoughts on the “quick threat neutralization” idea introduced by Imi Lichtenfeld?
In Krav Maga, we presume that the attacker will be bigger and stronger than us, so we need to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible. The longer we spend in the fight, the greater chance we have of getting hurt.
Therefore, we focus on hitting the weak points in order to do enough damage to neutralize the opponent. As I tell my students:
You may only have enough time for one strike, so you must make it count.
7. Until the 60s Krav Maga was known as Kapap (Lotar) and was kept only for the use of Israel’s special elite units until the 90s. Have you met a Kapap instructor and what is the difference now between two systems?
Krav Maga was not known as Kapap or Kapap Lotar but was created independently from Krav Maga during the late 1930s, as a form of stick-fighting to defend themselves against British soldiers who were occupying the country before the birth of the state of Israel.
Jews were banned from carrying weapons like guns, to limit their ability to rebel. In fact, carrying a weapon during that time carried a possible death sentence and most definitely a long sentence in brutal British prisons.
Kapap worked around this by training with a walking stick, which was a normal and peaceful object to be carrying around when walking through the country. These tactics were taught to various Jewish underground groups, including the Palmach and Haganah during that period.
The term was first used in 1940, and in 1941, a three-week program for the underground rebellion was created, emphasizing stick-fighting, stone-throwing, military jiu-jitsu, and boxing, but with an overall emphasis on stick-fighting.
These heroic men who created Kapap and served as their instructors are not well known in Israel, but I want to honor them in this interview: Their names were Gershon Kofler, Menashe Harel, Maishel Horowitz, Yehuda Markus, and Yitzchak Stibel. Their contribution to Israel’s defense should be more widely recognized.
What is now known as Israeli Krav Maga began in 1944 when Grandmaster Imi became the official combative trainer for the elite strike force units of the Haganah and Palmach.
Krav Maga took over as the more dominant form because after Israel became a state, guns replaced sticks for fighting. The term “Krav Maga” was used by the Israeli army around 1948 and remained the main combative program of the army since then.
While the elite units obviously get the most training, it was not reserved for them. All soldiers were taught basic Krav Maga since the founding of the state, especially regular infantry like myself who may not serve in elite units, but are still very active in the field.
Today, Kapap is still practiced in Israel, but not very much in the military. It’s also practiced as a more traditional form of martial arts. They still use kimonos and focus on stick weapons, while Krav Maga in the military focuses on the gun. I’ve actually never met an instructor of it, but when I return to Israel, I really hope to learn more about this history. It’s amazing to see how rich the martial history of Israel really is.
Kapap Lotar to a Hebrew speaker just means “Fighting Terror, Face to Face” as Lotar is the Hebrew acronym of Lochama BTerror, which means Counter Terror, as in the entire complex system of prevention from cyber-security to community education. Israeli language is filled with military slang, so it’s possible that they thought it was the name when it was actually the description.
8. Krav Maga as a system follows the principle “The Shortest and the Fastest way is the best” which is very close to Bruce Lee philosophy of Jeet Kune Do where he promoted a hybrid system based on a “style without style” idea, where your skills and experience becomes your style. What do you think about that?
One thing I love about Krav Maga is how logical it is. Imi’s idea of street fighting wasn’t unique, you see this idea in many cultures. If you fight with no rules, you have to fight with as little formality and as much functionality as possible.
You want to hit the weak points, you want to take the best techniques from all martial arts, and modify them to be used in your form. You want to be flexible in your approach, in order to cover as many varieties of attacks as possible. You want to be as efficient as possible and end the fight as quickly as possible. Any logical person would figure this out.
It was Imi’s hard work to the form it was his hard work and leadership in Krav Maga that made him our grandmaster, and you have the same for Bruce Lee. It’s not great ideas that matter, it’s the hard work and the execution, and both used the very logical ideas I mentioned to create great techniques.
9. Since the 60s Krav Maga incorporated techniques from different styles such as Judo, Aikido, grappling, and knife defense. Did it make Krav Maga better?
Krav Maga started by mixing martial arts from the very beginning. Beginning in the late 1930s, Grandmaster Imi used boxing, fencing, wrestling, Judo, and weapons defense to develop Krav Maga, and constantly sent students to cross-train. Every new discipline incorporated into Krav Maga makes it better.
I personally incorporate capoeira and yoga into my lessons, to continue expanding the curriculum to improve on body awareness, mobility, balance, muscle development, and control for my students. I also use my training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to improve the groundwork curriculum.
Imi wanted his students to always be learning from others and refining our techniques to face the challenges of our days.
10. Will adding Muay Thai kicks or Wing Chun punches to Krav Maga can make it better?
Muay Thai has already been added to the Krav Maga curriculum, especially their excellent knee and elbow strikes. I study some Muay Thai myself, and I have found it effective and useful. I’m looking forward to studying more.
I haven’t had the chance to study Wing Chun yet, but I’m always curious to see what other specialties can offer. I plan to take some classes after isolation, it sounds interesting and I am always happy to learn from others.
11. Since the 80s, some internal conflicts arose over the efficacy of techniques, which led to the creation of several organizations. Why do you think it happened and how it affected the system?
I prefer to think of it as different teachers separating in order to teach their style. I know many great instructors and they all have their own style. Imi never wanted his students to be regimented, but to compete with each other in order to find the best methods. Each teacher has their way, and I encourage my students to always cross-train, either with other instructors, or other martial arts.
Also, as students become teachers, they often have to get out of the nest and create their own schools. I believe in good and better. As long as people are connecting and learning, they’re already doing good. In the end, I believe we’re all colleagues in spreading Imi’s message.
12. Today, there is a lot of buzz about Krav Maga, we have seen films promoting it such as Salt with Angelina Jolie, Enough with Jennifer Lopez or Nikita with Maggie Q. Why do you think it is so effective for a woman’s self-defense?
One of my favorite classes to teach is Women’s Self Defense. Krav Maga was made for ordinary people, and it assumes that the attacker will be bigger, stronger, and more skilled. It’s not about being stronger than your opponent, but fighting smarter and efficiently.
No matter how big and strong an opponent is, their weak points make them vulnerable. If you know how to strike accurately and effectively, and how to move, you have a much better chance to survive.
We don’t want to get into a contact combat situation, we want to avoid it. This is an empowering message for women, to work on cutting off contact with danger before it escalates.
So I don’t just drill women in how to throw an elbow, although we do a lot of that.
I also teach:
Situational Awareness: While every bad situation can’t be prevented, you can reduce your risks a lot just by being aware. Both women and men need to take their heads out of their phones and observe the world around them. They need to consider the safety of their actions before they do them. Krav Maga trains students to look for signs of danger and to plan how to react if we are in a bad situation.
Confidence: Many times, women are socialized to be soft and overly-compassionate. They don’t want to embarrass their attackers, they don’t want to make a scene. They don’t want to speak up. They curl inwards to make themselves smaller. They give up space to try to make peace. While normal people call it being shy or polite, predators see an easy victim.
One of the most effective techniques I taught one of my female students was insisting she sit up straight with confidence and not hunch over like a victim. That small change in body language makes a huge difference in how she perceives herself and how others perceive her, as a victor and not a victim.
Voice: One of the most challenging activities I do with many female students is to teach them to use their voice. Even in a safe environment in the gym, many just can’t seem to speak up and yell “No!” or “Back off!” They say they are afraid to sound crazy or be weird. I always remind them, I’d rather they look crazy and come home safely than look sane and end up injured or worse.
React and Flip the Switch: Female students often talk about not wanting to make the attacker angry, and that hopefully complying will save their life. That attitude is going to get them killed. The attacker isn’t going to stop until they are stopped. They aren’t going to become nice if their victims are nice.
Women need to flip the switch from freeze to fighting back, because of fear of making things worse. That leaves their lives in the hands of attackers, who have no incentive to be nice.
I really want to encourage women to invest time and energy in themselves to learn self-defence, assertiveness, and confidence. When you flip the switch, you fight to take back power for yourself.
13. I remember when I first tried Krav Maga it was an absolutely different experience for me than training in Karate or Judo. What common questions do beginners ask you when they start?
Why shouldn’t I punch?
Because we are talking about real life. In the movies, one punch and the bad guy is knocked out. In real life, the human skull is concrete and the human hand bones are small and fragile. It’s not a great combination. A palm strike directed towards a weak point is far more effective and efficient.
Is this like Karate?
Karate is one of the most well known martial arts, so I understand the confusion. No, it’s a self-defense system that has roots in many martial arts, but is modified to be as simple and practical as possible, as I wrote here.
How many sessions will I need to defend myself?
One is better than none. More is better. After around ten private sessions, (and a little longer in group classes), they should see a difference. The whole point of Krav Maga is that it should be able to be learned quickly. However, learning on the mat and actually responding correctly under stress while getting attacked are two different skills, so it takes a lot of work to get there. I have fifteen years experience and I’m still learning new skills.
14. How beginners can find a good Krav Maga club or instructor, what do you recommend to pay attention to before joining any group?
The main thing is, look for safety and realistic training, and a respectful environment.
Safety is the first priority.
An unsafe environment is the exact opposite of self-defence. Is the instructor taking the time to make sure that the students are working at a good pace, that is challenging but not rushing? Is the instructor taking the time to explain the safety procedures?
Realistic training is key.
I know many people come into Krav Maga, wanting the fancy cavaliers and disarms and weapons training, but the majority of the time should be spent on the base of the skills pyramid. Things like basic strikes, situational awareness, simple defenses and use of voice are much more valuable for students to know.
Students must be respectful to teachers, listening to them and following instructions. They must also be respectful and patient to other students, treating them as their colleagues and challenging them safety. I tell my students, they are there for each other.
Teachers must be respectful to students. They must speak to students honestly and politely. They must be patient with students and open to questions. They should be encouraging and friendly to students, while still upholding strict discipline. They should never degrade students or humiliate them. I can be very tough on my students, but I only act in their best interest.
15. Many people associate Krav Maga with a pure military system with guns and knives, how close it to reality?
Grandmaster Imi created two separate schools of Krav Maga, one for the military and one is civilian because there is a need for both. Yes, they have overlap, but they are also very different.
Military Krav Maga is a system that emphasizes guns and knives because that is what is relevant to soldiers. Soldiers (and police officers and security) have to engage with threats and therefore, their training reflects that.
In her sister form of Civilian Krav Maga, the emphasis is on defence from weapons. I know students love the fancy weapons work, and I know it’s fun, but I really encourage students to work on their fundamentals such as striking and movement as the big and healthy main course of their training and leave the weapons stuff for a smaller dessert. I remind students, if they can disarm a knife, but can’t move or throw a proper punch, they are in deep trouble.
Weapons are also used to raise stress levels for training. An outside attack defence becomes a lot more demanding when you introduce knife defence to go with it and gives students the incentive to block correctly.
16. Krav Maga now is adapted for civilian needs which probably makes it a little bit different from a soldier’s Krav Maga. Can guys without military experience become Krav Maga instructors and how it affects the system?
Some teachers specialize in civilian Krav Maga, and don’t need a military background. Some teachers specialize in Krav Maga for the military and law enforcement, and would need a military background. Some teachers specialize in Krav Maga for security and need a background in some way of security. Some teachers like myself have multiple specialties.
A good teacher is one who is qualified in their specialty and sends his student to study under teachers with other specialties, to create a well-rounded fighter. A good system is one that encourages specializations and expertise.
17. Does someone who wants to become good in Krav Maga need to go to Israel and learn from instructors there or you can do it anywhere?
No. Krav Maga is not tied to any particular country. Or Sasson and Sagi Muki are some of the greatest Judoka today, and they are not Japanese, but Israeli. That’s the great thing about martial artists, it is like a seed that can grow anywhere where you have good teachers and students willing to put in the work.
It unites people across cultures and religions and languages. Yes, the roots of Krav Maga are in Israel and many of the best teachers do come from there, but in the end, you can find good Krav Maga wherever you can find good teachers.
At Krav Maga Experts, one teacher is Danish and most are American. All of us are extremely well qualified to teach Krav Maga.
18. Why do you think Krav Maga is still not so widely popular around the world like Karate, Muay Thai or BJJ?
I really have no idea, since I come from Israel where it’s very popular. I think a lot of people just haven’t heard of it yet, which is why I’m so excited to be able to use the web to share Krav Maga. I just got the chance to speak on Whistlekick Radio where I got to talk about my own journey, and I’m confident when people actually see what Krav Maga can achieve, they’ll be interested.
19. I haven’t heard that any MMA fighter incorporated Krav Maga in his training. How do you think about how it could change the fighting style and a fighter’s results if someone from MMA decided to learn Krav Maga?
Military Krav Maga is about teamwork and rifles, which isn’t relevant to MMA. The civilian Krav Maga approach to MMA would be not to get into the ring at all, to run away from the danger and to not let ego take over. Why would you ever fight if you didn’t have to? Just run away and improve your position. There’s no glory in the fighting. Running away isn’t being a coward. It’s being smart. Obviously, that’s not what the Octagon is for.
20. If we will take a look at the founders of different combat systems like Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do, Ed Parker and American Kenpo, Imi Lichtenfeld, and Krav Maga, we will see some patterns. What can it be in your opinion?
Good reaction time and efficient execution of techniques is a logical part of any effective martial arts.
Here’s a clip from one of my classes. In it, I ask students to close their eyes and then react to a threat from a direction, to work on their reaction time, and then to finish with an efficient series of strikes.
For instance, a sidekick and then an elbow really doesn’t make much logical sense. A sidekick is long-range, and an elbow is an extremely close range. We should understand our distance to our opponent, and how our opponent may react to our strikes. Also, we don’t want to see students just pound away at their opponents, but to strategically target weak points.
That’s what the common root is.
React to the threat and neutralize it efficiently.
21. Krav Maga also can teach you to stand up against bullies, could you please tell or give examples of drills which can help young people to feel more confident?
Bullying is a very vast term and often starts with smaller things such as nasty words or excluding others and ends with direct threats to people’s lives. I believe that is why Krav Maga is such an effective solution, because it examines the whole spectrum, and provides solutions to end the problem as early as possible.
By the way? Bullying isn’t limited to kids. Sexual harassment snd catcalling are forms of bullying. People are cyber-bullied. Hateful graffiti and racism is a form of bullying. Anti-LGBTQ behaviour is a form of bullying. We need everyone to be prepared for it, and we need to start with children, who are often the most vulnerable.
A bully is someone who is looking for an easy victim. In nature, the lion doesn’t attack the biggest and healthiest gazelle, it attacks one that is isolated from the herd or seems weaker than the others.
So Krav Maga’s solution to the first interaction between bully and defender is to instill confidence in its practitioners, encouraging them to walk with their heads held high, giving off body language and using their voice in a way that makes it clear, they will not be an easy victim.
They will speak up, they will defend themselves, and they will seek help. That in itself is a great protection, and can often cut off the problem before it starts. Because they have the confidence and the mental strength, they can cope with the fear and push it away.
Then we have the next phase, the verbal abuse. One thing I stress over and over is that fighting is our last resort. We don’t let our egos rule our heads. So if someone calls you a name, you don’t let it affect your overall self-image. You know that their insults aren’t a real threat and so you can walk away, happy to have avoided a fight. So a few insults just wash off their backs. Again, that cuts off a lot of bullying, because the practitioner is able to ignore it and keep their composure.
Finally, we have the violent phase. It is common sense how the ability to block an attack, and strike effectively would be very useful against a bully. Krav Maga works on making practitioners mentally strong, and capable of enduring stress with courage and patience.
Whether it is sprints, groundwork or a bully, the kid knows they are capable of overcoming the obstacles in their way. So if it means fighting someone bigger and stronger, or even multiple attackers, they have the training and confidence to never begin a fight, but be capable of ending one.
However, there are other benefits. One of the best parts of Krav Maga is the friendships created on the mat. They can be part of a community that supports and cares for each other, and there’s nothing better for someone who is being bullied to know, people have their back.
This is especially true for people who don’t always fit in and feel awkward. Krav Maga is for everyone, and everyone is encouraged to be helpful and empathetic with others. “You are there for your partner.” Just feeling safe and seeing others care about them is a huge benefit.
In the end, bullies try to take away a person’s power. Krav Maga teaches the solution, how to be empowered to fight back.
22. Today many martial arts totally forget about this and teach only technique which should work in a real fight but once stress comes in you can’t manage it and you just forget everything that you have learned in a gym. What kind of stress drills do you use in your classes?
The entire class from kida (bow) at the beginning to kida at the end is a stress drill to pressure the student into improvement and to overcome the freeze mode in their head into flight or fight. While some classes are less stressful than others, this is not a knitting class.
This is a class on contact combat, a very dangerous situation. However, before we discuss stressing students, we need to talk about safety. In Krav Maga, safety is our first priority. If we get hurt, it defeats the purpose of self-defence.
Unfortunately, stress drills are by definition stressful and people under stress don’t always react well.
There are two ways things can go badly. I’ve had students have panic attacks or break down crying, especially when practising triggering situations like chokes or being mounted. You need special care for people who are survivors of violence, especially when you are having them go through situations that mimic their past traumas.
Students getting too wild under stress. This is especially true for very strong students who are new and have absolutely no control. They can easily hurt themselves or others around them. I recommend using an assistant instructor with very high-stress drills.
Now, in order to stress students, you have to get creative with the methods. Here are just a few of my methods. I have a lot more, but my students will be reading this and I want to keep them on their toes. So here are ones they know of already. Multiple attacker drills.
- Multiple attacker drills.
- Groundwork drills, where the student must fight from the worst position
- Adding fake weapons. For beginners, we use rubber knives. For experts,
- blunted knives.
- Intense fitness drills like crawling or burpees then having to defend against
- chokes and takedowns, so they have to fight through exhaustion and
- Holding uncomfortable positions such as canoe pose
- Having students close their eyes before being attacked
- Playing the music loudly during class
- Turning off the lights so that they have to fight in the dark
- Pairing up students with bigger and stronger students to challenge their
- Training outdoors in the open where students feel more vulnerable
- Having students do drills where I simulate attacks on them
- Encouraging students to take classes back to back, so that the second class
- requires them to push through their tiredness
- Not permitting rest breaks
- Having struggling students finish a class when they want to give up.
So if the spectrum of pressure goes from level one, which is sitting on the beach to level ten, which is being chased by a bear, I like my classes to be an average of around six. I try to include moments of eight and nine as often as I can. In order to explore the full spectrum, I also do relaxation drills with the student to bring them down to zero, and then try to bring them up to ten, so that they can truly experience flipping the switch.
23. How much training control and safety are important in Krav Maga?
Krav Maga was developed in the Israeli army. The instructors want to stress the soldiers so they are prepared for battle. I remember one drill of crawling and then fighting in a gas mask, choking and half-blind. The goal is to make them understand, they fight or they die. However, that has to be carefully balanced with an absolute commitment to safety.
Combat soldiers are selected from the best of those who try out for the unit and a lot of money, resources and time is invested into each soldier. A soldier who is injured is not able to serve, which defeats the whole training purpose.
Even in civilian Krav Maga, we are extremely careful to avoid injuries. If you get hurt while learning how not to get hurt, it defeats the purpose.
Here are two pieces of advice:
- Have a good instructor who is qualified and able to control the class and set safety protocols.
- Have a good training partner with body control, who knows how to control their strength and who you can trust.
In both cases, you are putting your health in the hands on another. Make sure they deserve it. If you don’t feel safe, walk away. Trust your instincts.
I know I work very hard to gain my students’ trust and more importantly, to keep that trust. I’m aware of how easy it can be broken by a careless mistake.
24. Does the student need to study human behavior to be more effective in Krav Maga?
Yes, that is a crucial part of Krav Maga in a few ways.
Last week, I got to teach one of my favorite classes, fight tactics. I love sparring and rolling because it’s like a game of human chess. So in order to overcome my opponent, I need to use tactics to confuse them.
That can be changing levels when attacking, a question mark kick that attacks to the knee and then the head, making my techniques harder to predict and defend.
I can use feints and diversions in order to lure my opponent into dropping their guard so I can land the knockout. I can condition the opponent to expect a certain attack and then surprise them with a different one. By knowing how they think, I can outthink them.
We don’t want to get into a fight so we want to avoid danger as much as possible. Studying the behavior of people around us can tell us if someone is hostile or poses a threat. This allows us to have situational awareness and be able to deal with the problem at the earliest time, before it actually happens, when we have the most chance to get away and the least chance of contact combat.
That doesn’t just mean noticing if someone is acting weird, but also knowing how to respond in situations that aren’t violent, but still feel hostile. So if someone insults you, have the courage to walk away instead of defending your ego. Bullies want a reaction. Don’t give it to them.
Understanding the tactics of the attacker.
In order to defeat an attacker, we have to understand what makes them tick. What are their goals? What are their triggers? What are the limits to their risk tolerance? How would they choose their target? How would they approach their target? What environments would be best suited to an attack? Once we know how they would act, we can plan how to stop them.
I remember playing the part of a rioter in an IDF training drill, and putting myself into the mindset of someone who wanted to cause as much damage as possible. How would I move? Where would I go? That would be the only way I could prevent it when I was actually serving as a soldier during a riot.
So when I do training in class, we have students play both the attackers and defenders. It’s not easy for nice people like them to pretend to be aggressors, but they need to understand that those people do exist, and the only way to stop them is to understand them.
As Sun Tzu said, know thy enemy, know thyself.
25. When you train your senior students do you arrange fights against boxers or grapplers to test their skills?
No. We instead advise them to cross-train. Grappling and boxing for sports are different skills and should be studied that way, while Krav Maga is street fighting.
26. What would you like to see in Krav Maga today and what principles every Krav Mager (if I can say so) should follow?
We use the term practitioner. This refers to the first training levels of Krav Maga, as well as all students and teachers of Krav Maga. I tell my students, from day one, they are practitioners.
I would like to see more people studying Krav Maga, and higher standards so that fake Krav Maga is exposed, and well-qualified teachers are able to reach as many students as possible. I want Krav Maga to keep growing and evolving to meet the needs of the time.
On a personal note, I want to be able to train in person with my students, I miss them and I can’t wait to make them sweat in creative ways. I’ve had a lot of time to think about new ways to challenge my students and I’m really excited to get to work on fixing the lack of physical activity caused by quarantine.
As to the principles of Krav Maga, I lay them out in these two blog posts. While civilians and military Krav Maga are separate disciplines, the values expressed in the Spirit of the IDF are the root of both of them.
27. Does Krav Maga have a signature technique like low kicks in Muay Thai or chain punches in Wing Chun?
Go for the weak points effectively. I know many people think the groin strikes, but actually, fingers in the eyes work a lot
better. We don’t have signature moves, because we want things to be as simple as possible. Signature moves don’t work, because every person’s body and experience is different. This isn’t about levels. Everyone has different fighting styles that suit our skills.
Our signature move is “whatever works best for you to handle the threat effectively.”
In fact, if Krav Maga had a signature technique, it wouldn’t be Krav Maga anymore. A signature move is something that doesn’t change, and we are always changing and updating our curriculum. Today’s signature move can become obsolete tomorrow. We need to move with the times.
28. What makes the Krav Maga Experts program different?
Our incredible teachers. In the end, it comes down to the instructors to make the school. My colleagues are incredibly well-qualified and wonderful people, who put their heart and soul into making every student feel welcome.
We put in the time and effort so that every lesson is as efficient and challenging as possible. I have seen how much care my colleagues give their students, how hard we work to constantly improve so that we can make their lessons better. We are constantly upping our game.
Students who come to Krav Maga Experts know their teachers are there for them every step of the way. We get to know our students and we make sure they get what they need out of every class. We work on creating a well-rounded Krav Maga fighter, focusing on better health and eating, wellness, confidence, and situational awareness. Even during Covid-19, we are still in touch with our students, helping them cope with this difficult period.