What is Krav Maga?

May 15, 2018

I get this question quite often, so I think it is worth spending some time to explain.

Krav Maga is an Israeli form of self-defense, developed for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1948. Prior to the formation of the Israeli state it was used by civilians looking to defend themselves from prosecution during World War II. Once the Israeli state was formed, Krav Maga was implemented to train soldiers in self-defense tactics necessary for combat. Since its creation, Krav Maga has remained a key part of the training that all soldiers receive.

Before going further, I do want to say that other systems such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay thai, boxing and others are excellent programs and have enormous value. Pretty much all of our instructors have and do cross train in all of these other systems. However, when all the aspects of picking a training system are evaluated, Krav Maga stands alone in its overall effectiveness.

Divisions of Krav Maga

There are many reasons why Krav Maga has become the go-to system for self-defense around the world, but not least of which is that it has been truly “combat tested”, over many decades, in many environments, by many different countries, and by many different security professions. What started as a military system has evolved to have several pillars:

  • Military
  • Law Enforcement
  • Protective Services (air marshals, secret service, VIP protection, body guard, etc)
  • Civilian

Each of these groups require specific training for the environment in which they operate, and Krav Maga has been modified to meet their individual needs.

When we say that the system has a modified to meet their individual needs, what exactly does that mean?

Essentially the use of force, environment, mindset, and available tools are different for each of these groups.  You can imagine that the use of force in a military setting under combat conditions is substantially different than a civilian. You can also understand that the outcome of an encounter with a police officer, whose primary purpose is to arrest and control someone, is different than a bodyguard protecting an important corporate executive. Also, imagine a mother protecting her children, versus an air marshal in an airplane protecting passengers.

Each of these individuals are in the role of protecting themselves or someone else, but the manner in which they execute that role is substantially different. One of the key aspects that governs how someone can perform their duty are the use of force laws. Krav Maga is a fairly unique system that takes into account the use of force available to people who are indifferent roles in society. For example, a private bodyguard who is protecting a corporate executive and a government secret service agent who is also protecting a corporate executive are being governed by different sets of laws and use of force capabilities; however, their roles are basically the same. No matter if a civilian is operating as a bodyguard, parent, teacher, or an individual, the use of force laws are essentially the same. However, if someone is in the role of a military unit or a law enforcement unit they are operating under different sets of use-of-force laws.

Most of the time when we are talking about self defense training people are generally considering only civilian use cases, like who can beat who in a fight given their training background. However, Krav Maga has the benefit of a military and law enforcement pedigree which gives it extremely unique insight into how to deal with complex situations such as multiple attackers, hostage situations, executions, third-party protection, and bystander intervention. This pedigree also provides for excellent training in situations involving weapons such as knives, pistols, rifles, and improvised weapons like rocks and bottles.

The  situations that people find themselves in often mirror quite closely with those scenarios that security personnel have to deal with. Even if we consider a basic bar fight scenario there are likely to be multiple attackers, improvised weapons, and situations involving third-party protection and protecting bystanders.

Timeline Based Training

Krav Maga also takes a unique approach to dealing with all kinds of threats in a universal format known as a timeline. The timeline of an attack can be thought of as a three part play. You have on one side of the timeline events that occur before in altercation, known as the pre-fight. in the middle of the play you have the fight scene. These are the times when people are actually using self defense techniques. And at the end of the play we have post-fight actions.

The reality is that fighting has very bad outcomes even for the winner.  Anytime people are involved in physical combat they risk injury, death, and legal prosecution. In almost all systems they will tell you to avoid fighting when possible, but they spend almost no time dealing with the pre-fight scenarios. In Krav Maga training we consider a technique to involve all three components, not just the fighting part. It is absolutely important to make students understand that the earlier they recognize the potential for a violent situation the more time they have to make decisions and adjustments that decrease the likelihood of involving themselves in a physical confrontation. In class we actually go through this pre-fight stage so that students experience what it is like to see a situation early enough to prevent putting themselves in harm's way.

Teaching Methodology

We also spend time going through how to defend against a variety of attacks and situations using many different elements to expose the students to scenarios that more closely aligned with what they would see in the real world. In general we use three elements to vary the training:

  • Timeline
  • Environment
  • Variations

An example of a timeline based class might involve a simple choke. Students will learn how to get out of the choke, then learn how to prevent the choke from being applied, and then learn what to do after they have escaped from the choke.  To finish off the training we will put the students in a position where they have to make some decisions about whether they will prevent the attack, or deal with the attack and allow them to perform combatives Andy visions after they defend themselves.

One thing about self defense in the real world is that it will definitely involve an environment that is likely to be different then training on a wide open, beautiful soft mat. For this reason we often train with obstacles, chairs, against walls, among other students, and go outside quite often. The idea is that students need to realize the environment in which they are operating plays a significant role in what and how they can perform their techniques.

The last main areas that we include in training are variations of the attack. Variations might mean instead of being attacked from the front the same attack can be executed from the sides, behind, against the wall, or on the ground. In other words the attack is essentially the same but as your position relative to the attack changes the defense to it must adjust. Imagine someone takes two hands and grabs your neck to choke you. If you are standing in a open room, or against the wall, or in a chair, or in a car, or on the ground the attackers job is simply to take two hands and grab your neck. Your response to that attack could be quite different depending on where that attack happens and at what angle the attacker attacks you. by allowing students to explore these different variations we hope that they are better able to recognize attacks sooner and adjust their defenses more quickly.

Real World Background Matters

Before wrapping up this article I want to point out a few other areas where Krav Maga excels.  Defending against attacks from people with weapons is a fact of life for people in the military and law enforcement areas. Over the years militaries around the world using the Krav Maga system have had to deal with a range of threats with weapons. These threats are exceedingly dangerous and very often have  the very real possibility of life-threatening or life ending scenarios. Very few systems around the world have had to evolve and been used in these situations. As a practitioner and instructor I place a great deal of value and respect for a system that has successfully dealt with huge volumes of these types of threats in the real world.

It is also this real world use by security focused organizations that has informed the Krav Maga system how to deal with third-party protection and bystander intervention scenarios. first let me Define the difference between third-party protection and bystander intervention. Essentially a third-party protection scenario involves protecting someone who you know is deserving of your protection. This could be a loved one or someone you are paid to protect. A bystander intervention scenario is when you happen to come across and assault in progress but you do not know the actors involved in it. Imagine while out shopping and come across a scene of two people fighting. Would you jump in and stop the fight or protect the person who is being hurt? In some cases you would and in some cases you probably would not. Now imagine that you are shopping with your spouse and someone begins attacking them. Would you jump in and protect them? The answer is almost obviously yes.

The problem of dealing with protecting others is something that is almost only exclusively taught in Krav Maga. These are often difficult situations, and involve placing yourself in the middle of an altercation that did not originally involve you. In other words you are voluntarily taking on the chance of becoming injured, and all of the ramifications that come with physical conflict. For almost all situations that we learn how to protect ourselves in we also learn how to protect others.

Krav Maga is A Wide System

We like to say that Krav Maga is a “wide system” which means that we deal with a wide variety of problems and situations versus something like boxing which deals with a very limited number of problems and situations. When considering the type of self-defense training you are looking for you need to consider whether you are looking for training that is designed and purpose built for real world situations or is predominantly design for a sport situations and has been adapted back into the real world. As I hope you can see the difference can be quite substantial.

Thank you,


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