Welcome

The mere mention of self defense, thanks to Hollywood, has the effect of mentally conjuring all sorts of complex moves that blend the amazing acrobatics of Jackie Chan, the flexibility of Van Damme and marksmanship timing of Jet Li.

As the average adult in the workplace considers the prospect of donning workout clothes and trying their hand at a self defense class, the concerns that they are not fit enough, young enough, flexible enough or strong enough immediately flood their mind. Simply stated, they become intimidated…This is the primary reason that self defense schools are mostly populated by young children and teenagers.

Adults just can’t see themselves breaking away from their busy schedule, to work at something they will feel physically inept at. They will sooner take a spin class or go through the physical challenges of Cross Fit, then prepare themselves for the possibility of a physical threat, especially if that preparation requires feats of physical prowess they don’t believe they have or can get to.

To all those reading this, who happen to identify with these sentiments, there is something to consider:
The self defense system of Krav Maga was created by Imi Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian Jew who witnessed the brutal attacks on his friends and family by the Nazis, with the following assumptions…

You are:

  1. the smaller,
  2. the weaker,
  3. the slower and
  4. the less flexible person in the fight

Krav Maga uses the body’s natural reactions and movements to react to a threat. You do not need to remember intricate spinning kicks, or have amazing flexibility to be effective. Indeed, Krav Maga believes that the only time you would ever kick to an opponent’s head is when he is already on the ground in front of you! The notion of “economies of motion” is the central theme of all your defensive and offensive moves…if you are confronted by a larger, stronger opponent, you can be comforted that your strategy for victory will be attacks to areas you can readily reach, using defenses that merely require off angle movements and blocks that not only require minimal power, but use your opponent’s power against them.
In my years of teaching Krav Maga, I have seen the full spectrum of students achieve proficiency:
from older grandmothers to petite women and even the physically handicapped. All of these students have found a successful outcome in fending off an attack. Strategies for success exist in all adverse situations, all you need do is train and trust the system.
I encourage everyone to truly explore self defense, especially the Krav Maga system. Once you have trained for a period of six to eight months, you will attain a level of skill that will empower you to succeed in most attacks from unskilled attackers; regardless of whether you currently move like Bruce Lee or Sarah Lee!
Peace…

WHY KRAV?

Having just started my “Krav for Kids” program this month, I have been on this continuous loop of conversations with interested parents about why should they enroll their child in a Krav Maga program. If I have witnessed anything over the last couple of years, it is that there is no shortage of martial arts studios from which to

choose from in Fairfield County. Whether they be taekwondo, aikido, hapkido, judo (tuxedo….dosey doe and away we go!), the options are endless. What is it about Krav Maga that separates us from the rest? Why should a child, or an adult for that matter, opt to bow into a Krav Maga studio rather than any other martial arts dojo? The answer comes down to one simple question: “what are you, the student (or parent) trying to accomplish?”.

Let me start by saying I am a veteran of 13 years of Japanese karate. It was my foundational system and I have great respect for it as I do for every other martial arts system. All of these great styles incorporate strong instruction of balance, striking/kicking technique, defense and physical conditioning all the while being steeped in tradition and teaching respect, self control and self discipline. They provide an excellent framework from which to learn not just physical but life lessons. Indeed, some of the best martial artists I know in Fairfield County are exemplary instructors and role models. So there are certainly no downsides to learning their respective systems.

Krav Maga is also a martial art system that has its foundation in Israeli hand-to-hand combat. It is, what I like to say, heavy on the martial and lighter on the art. While we definitely stress the same values of respect, self control and self respect, we teach our strikes, kicks and defensive maneuvers from a framework that is very reality based. Many of our drills start with you, the student in a disadvantaged position (on the ground, in the grasp of an attacker, having a punch/kick coming at you with limited response time for defense, multiple attackers, etc.). Our first responses are sometimes not as pretty or elegant as other systems (eye gouging, biting, groin shots, hair pulls, head butts etc.), and our strategy once we successfully defeat our attacker is to immediately leave the situation and call the police. This is one of the main reasons you have yet to hear of a UFC fighter or MMA fighter that is a Krav Maga black belt. Krav Maga does not understand the notion of a cage or octagon with regards to its fighting tactics. There is no sport in fighting for us. We do not have opponents, we have attackers. There are no judges and no referees on the street, no standing 8 count, no disqualifications for a low blow, no rules. Period. In Krav Maga, we start every physical engagement with the belief that the battle can turn lethal. We do not want the fight to last more than a few seconds, and if we can beat back our attacker with a sucker punch, a small joint manipulation or a fish hook in the eye, so be it. Pretty too watch? Nope. Effective to use? Let’s just say that decades of training and use by the Israeli military has brought forth techniques that are truly “battle tested”.

So back to my earlier question…why study Krav Maga when there are all these other dojos around? If the adult or child wants to learn a system that will teach them techniques that focuses more on the artistry and flow of the battle, or are interested in a form of “kinetic chess”, where every move by one opponent can be foiled by the ensuing counter, then the more traditional styles apply. They are excellent sports and provide conditioning and frameworks that will last a life time. If the desire, however, is to learn how to handle the chaos of a street fight, bar fight, parking lot attack, car-jacking attempt, home invasion, child abduction, etc., then Krav Maga becomes highly relevant.

In other words, we are not always as cool to watch, since we don’t have flowing forms/katas or have cool uniforms, but when a fight starts and an ugly situation starts to play itself out, we are very well equipped to deal with it.

VIGILANCE-VS-VIGILANTISM

There is a moment in everyone’s training when they realize that the knowledge and techniques they have acquired are formidable weapons against punks, bad guys and general no-goodniks. You’ve developed a real sense of empowerment that you can handle yourself if confronted by a would-be attacker and your mind is a bit more at

ease when walking through parts of town that would otherwise have you considering alternate routes. Congratulations, the mission you set for yourself for being ready to deal with various unsettling and possibly dangerous situations is on its way to being accomplished!

My question to these newly empowered warriors is what will you do with these newly honed skills? Is the fact that you are now capable of handling yourself against a foe going to change you from someone who wanted to protect themselves if attacked, to someone who will step forth and clear the room of the unwanted? Will the entry of a loud, rude and possibley dangerous person into your surroundings suddenly activate the “Batman” signal overhead? The mindset you have at that moment will dictate the actions you take, so let’s discuss this a bit more…

Self defense is a process that starts well before the threat is in front of you. It begins with knowing when and where dangerous things take place and ensuring that you are not unnecessarily there. As I wrote in my “Effortless Self Defense” blog, “It is better to avoid than to run. It is better to run than to de-escalate. It is better to de-escalate than fight. It is better to fight than die.” In other words, it starts withvigilance. When you realize that things are starting to feel dangerous, when the attitude of the room starts to get loud, angry or violent, when your “Spidey senses start to tingle”, then your first and best course of action is to leave the situation. I am not interested at hearing how great you are at fighting, how proficient you are at weapon defense, or how long you can work a heavy bag without getting winded. You simply do not know who is capable of what, who is carrying what types of weapons, or who has friends/family in the other room so that upon the onset of a fight you just went from fighting one guy to fighting his whole posse.

So, to recap, vigilance, is the art of realizing that danger may be near, getting all your visual, audio, and sensory defenses up and ready, and then removing yourself from the situation.

Vigilantism is the next illogical step in the mind that has you believing that your new superpowers will enable you to rid a place of the riffraff or become the sentry for an establishment that has not asked for your help. Put simply, you are not in any way directly threatened, or, you have the opportunity to exit a scene that is turning ugly, and you elect to stay to “lend a hand”. What does this ego-based assumption do?

It will guarantees violence as your premise for involvement is your superior fighting skills
It removes any chance for you to plead self defense, since you had clear ability to leave and opted to stay and fight (legal and civil penalties may follow)
It creates the possible escalation of the situation to weapons and, therefore, lethal force
What should you, instead, do? Leave first and call the local police so they can send someone over to quiet or disperse the situation. They are better equipped, legally covered and generally more respected than some hero-wanna-be who decided to involve himself in something that did not concern him.
Hollywood movies make it look cool (and easy!) to go from being the guy at the wrong place at the wrong time to the unwilling hero who defeats the bad guys and saves the day (Remember, even Bruce Willis in Die Hard, called the police first). The realities of life are always far more brutal, less glorious and much riskier than what Hollywood portrays. When in doubt, leave, call the police and then watch on the evening news how your phone call made a difference.

DISTANCE LEARNING

All of us in the martial arts community focus on the proper mechanics of strikes and kicks as well as the effective timing of defensive blocks and parries.
We hit and kick shields, work heavy bags, have partners throw various combatives at our body and head, just to reinforce the muscle memory of each technique.
As we progress through the ranks of a given system,

our precision improves, our timing becomes more confident and we begin to feel “sniper” accurate in our offense and impregnable in our defenses. Our dojo/studio “street-cred” is high and all is well.

Things change, though, when we transition from drill work to a more free-style and chaotic situation like sparring or confrontation/stress drills. We realize that the introduction of movement suddenly takes our well rehearsed technique and throws it literally, off-balance. Targets that we could hit easily with focus mits and shields are only open momentarily. We have issues making clean contact and sometimes miss entirely. It is immediately evident that there is more to battle than good mechanics. We need to master the timing of our offense/defense and win the war on distance. While this may seem to be an obvious statement, it’s practice is one that can take years to master. Let’s dive into this a bit more from a self defense perspective…

Once we have identified an attacker we immediately have a choice to make. Do we,

  • quickly defend the initial attack and make a hasty retreat once we have stunned them with a counter? Or do we,
  • improve our position in the fight and deal with this threat by incapacitating them or rendering them unconscious?

Each choice has very specific spacial requirement with the attacker in question.Defending and disengaging immediately speaks to using our best available weapon and then separating quickly. It creates the need for distance as we do not want to get into a wresting match, remain within our attacker’s striking reach or run the risk of being grabbed in transition. The best options (if available) are our long range weaponry, or kicks. A quick kick to the groin, knees or solar plexus can be enough to stun or disable our attacker momentarily, permitting us to disengage and run towards the exit.

If our attacker is too close and we are forced to use mid-range weapons (hand strikes, lunging knees), we now find ourselves within your attackers reach and can sustain damage as they throw their own combatives at us. We are in danger of being drawn into a full-out scrap and our ability to extricate ourselves quickly is reduced.

If the attacker is “up in our grill”, and all we have available to us are elbows, controlled knees, head-butts and eye gouges, then we are now pretty much committed to a fight. Our game plan should still be to hurt/disable and run, but our opportunities to disengage will be based on in-close fighting skills. Battles at this distance can shift with every shot thrown and we are always at risk at being taken down and controlled.

So our awareness in a fight needs to be on what weapons are available based upon the distance we are from our attacker and what targets are, in fact, open. If we are more comfortable kicking than punching, we need to establish spacing that enables our kicks. If we are too close, we will be off balance or jammed up with no power. If we are punchers, than we had better get into range that enables our hands. Sounds pretty simple, right? The key is to be able to do these things while moving in and out of range of our attacker. For example, if I’m trying to throw a right straight, that places me well within kicking range of my attacker. Movement and distance awareness is what will determine the winner of the exchange.

I am a fan of drills in the studio that allow partners to “slow spar”;  where both partners can lightly throw all their weapons, while moving. This gets students focused on what is available to them at a given distance. When push comes to shove, our attacker on the street will not be rooted to one place, holding up a focus mitt or shield. We must learn to move with our attacker and take advantage of our weaponry at the optimum distances and best times available. This will elevate us to having more than just “street cred” in the studio/dojo; we will be ready to deal with whatever comes our way in the street.

DON’T JUDGE YOUR OPPONENT BY APPEARANCE

We have been conditioned to believe that all real warriors have chiseled appearances and look like they live in the gym. Sly Stallone’s Rocky and all his opponents in the movies, real-life championship boxers and certainly a majority of MMA fighters look like physical specimens. How else could they stand the test of combat unless they worked out incessantly, and achieved lean and rock-hard physical dimensions.

I offer into evidence, the above photo of Fedor Emelianenko. To the uninitiated,

Fedor looks like someone who works at your local Stop & Shop meat department, or maybe like your best friend’s uncle who is a tax attorney. He is soft, round and truly an unlikely veteran of the ring and cage. Undefeated MMA champion for almost 10 years? Possessor of devastating punching power responsible for countless one-punch knockouts? I would not hesitate to say he is the unlikely poster child.

I write all this not in an attempt to disrespect King Fedor, but to underscore an important point in self defense; appearances can be very deceiving.

How a person chooses to sculpt his or her body has little to do with punching ability, footwork, speed, flexibility or the outcome of a fight. I have met many people who are unimposing physically, understated verbally, yet are literally lethal weapons.

One of my favorite stories that illustrates this is when a good friend of mine was on hishoneymoon in Jamaica. I will call him Steve for purposes of privacy. Steve was out with his newlywed wife and another couple at a cafe in Jamaica. Steve excused himself and stepped out into the parking lot so he could enjoy a cigar. Steve was immediately confronted by a rastafarion trying to sell him weed. Steve politely declined and walked away. The rastafarion decided he was being given the brush off, became aggressive and threatened Steve with a knife. What the rastafarion did not know was that Steve was fourth degree black belt. Dressed in his shorts and casual tee, and not being physically imposing, who would have guessed what was about to happen:

Steve looked at his would-be attacker, took a step towards him and proceeded to throw a jumping spinning hook kick over his head as a warning shot. He landed in a balanced fighting stance and smiled….the rastafarion dropped the knife and took off! He knew he had made a mistake in who he targeted that day.

The converse is, of course, also true. I have trained with, sparred against and witnessed many muscular specimens, who could easily bench my weight, whose “traps have traps”, and who have legs that are worthy of an Italian sculpture. Yet, they each had no idea how to throw a punch, moved like Frankenstein in a bog and had the hand-eye coordination of a DWI driver. You would never think to challenge them, as they look fierce, but let’s face it, their training is all body building, and not combative.

In my experience, it is always best to assume the worst. Whether you are confronted by someone who looks like Jesse “the body” Ventura or Jesse Eisenberg, assume they know all they need to start and finish a fight. Attackers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as varying degrees of combative skill sets. When in doubt, de-escalate and remove yourself from the situation, or if given no option, launch the first and most brutal direct strikes possible to end the engagement quickly, because in the end, what maters most is not how someone looked before the fight, but how battered and bruised they look afterwards.