Women Empowered

Today’s blog is to chime in on a most curious, yet absurd, series of conversations I have been privy to recently.

Somewhere in the ether it became conventional wisdom that women are not the warriors that men are. Having just watched the Strikeforce MMA
main event this past weekend between two female combatants, I was struck by the number of male viewers who dismissed the level of ferocity, quality technique and overall
heart these women displayed in the cage. I actually heard a guy say

(who does not even train in self defense, btw), that he could take either of them! 🙂
This gender bias harkens back to the dark ages of decades ago when women were always viewed as the subservient, lesser qualified and weaker sex. Have we, as a society, really not evolved our points of view from those of Archie Bunker?

I certainly acknowledge that there will almost always be a strength and size advantage that men hold over women. Anatomic gifts are what they are. As martial artists, however, have we forgotten that good technique trumps strength? Indeed, once a person has learned their techniques to the point of muscle memory, their reactions are effortless. I personally experienced this 15 years ago when I squared off with a female judo black belt who I outweighed by 100 pounds. Her speed and technique were such that for the 2 minutes we “sparred”, I was thrown to the mat 7 times! As we got up and bowed, I could only smile in admiration as she handled me so easily, she wasn’t even breathing heavy. Her technique was effortless and without any thought.

As one of my favorite quotes states: “If you think, you are late. If you are late, you use strength. If you use strength, you tire. And if you tire, you die.”

I have had the privilege to train alongside some of the best practitioners of Krav Maga on the east coast. Two women in particular, Beth L. and Avital Z., are so devastating in their power and speed and so deep in their skill set, that I challenge any guy to try their hand at proving male superiority in the fight game. They possess that ability to move without thought (‘mushin” as the Japanese call it) so their responses are on target and on time, regardless of the size or strength of their opponent.

So why am I on this rant? Was I just inspired by a recent screening of “Norma Rae” or “Million Dollar Baby”? No.

I teach women of all ages and unfortunately still witness their belief that men can and will always dominate a woman physically, regardless of training. I make it my life’s purpose to debunk this notion. Whether the woman in question is 8 or 80, a cheerleader or a grandmother, belief that the techniques learned in a self defense class will work is crucial. I have held pads for women who had such power in their punches, elbows, knees and kicks that any guy on the receiving end would be annihilated. The power comes not just from excellent technique, but an innate confidence that their strikes are strong and more than adequate to finish off a would-be attacker.

So here are my final thoughts for today:

To all the women: Know in your heart that you possess all the power you need to handle an attacker, once you learn the proper techniques and commit your mind, body and spirit to using them if they are ever needed. Any sense of intimidation you experience by a large male threat is simply doubt causing you to forget that you are a formidable warrior.

To all the men: Remember that any beliefs you might have that women can’t handle the likes of you in a fight, that women don’t possess the fighting spirit to protect themselves once confronted, or that all women will curl up into a ball and cry once threatened are very ill conceived. Laila Ali, Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey or Meisha Tate might not look all that menacing in street clothes and pony tails, but I dare say, they will offer very convincing physical arguments as to why women are not to be overlooked or underestimated.

Self Defense…Not Fighting

I have been involved in the martial arts for over 20 years. Like most students of the arts, I have come to appreciate what takes place between two willing combatants in the ring, cage or octagon. The athleticism, speed, grace and raw power of each participant can be awe inspiring. A well timed strike that causes the knockout or a finely tuned joint manipulation that creates the submission is discussed by me and my students for days following the event. Yes, combative sports can be a really cool spectator sport. The more you learn at your dojo or studio, the greater the appreciation you have for the action.

What we teach at Israeli Krav Maga-CT, however, is not fighting, but self defense. My mission is not to train my students to become the next Jon Jones, GSP or Floyd Mayweather,. It is to survive an attack. Self defense, unlike what takes place in the ring/cage/octagon is NOT between two willing combatants. It is about you being at the wrong place, at the wrong time and trying to escape safely when you find yourself unexpectedly at the receiving end of potential violence. This, therefore, is an entirely different type of training.

While we must learn all the respective strikes, kicks and defenses that the professional fighters learn, our application is far different. We are not in that situation by choice, and unlike the pros, know nothing about what fighting skills our attacker has or what weapons they may have brought. For that matter, we don’t even have the assurance that we have only one attacker. In the ring/cage/octagon, we know who we are fighting. On the street our attacker may have a buddy waiting to pounce when our attention is diverted.

So what is my point. Self defense is not about winning a fight. Winning on the street is survival. Winning is about leaving the situation as unharmed as possible. As we look at an attacker in front of us, our mind must shift to what will be the quickest way to disable and then disengage. I have listened to instructors at other studios talk about the attacker engagement as if your goal as intended victim is to knock the attacker out, submit them or otherwise dominate them.

I say, be wary of this strategy. Once you have neutralized the initial attack and countered to the point of rendering the attacker hurt or stunned, your next mission must be to find a safe exit. The longer you attach yourself to this person through further combatives or submission holds, the greater the possibility that another attacker appears, a hidden weapon is drawn or they catch a second wind.

At the end of the day, your goal is to be able to escape a violent confrontation safely so you can get home and watch the pros showcase their talents on Pay Per View.


Take Space Away

So you find yourself in a place where some beer-soaked knucklehead has decided to prove his alpha position by making you his punk….


What you’ll find with most unskilled fighters is that their first move is to push/shove you backwards. The purpose in shoving you is to intimidate you, throw you off balance and allow himself a full head of steam for that big hay-maker of a punch. I submit that the best strategy for a fight (other than to never get into one),is to make this person fight in their most uncomfortable position.

What am I saying? Most people have never trained to fight and a high percentage of those that have, have learned a style that prefers to have distance to work (Tae Kwon Do or Boxing, for example). In fact, the hope of your attacker is, most likely, that you will keep back-pedaling while they continue to launch their attacks at you. Fortunately you train Krav Maga! Our system’s whole philosophy is to step forward, close distance and take the fight to them.

“The closer you are to danger, the further you are from harm”, is an expression I learned in my years of training Krav Maga. Upon the identification of an armed or unarmed attacker, your goal is to burst towards them with simultaneous defenses and attacks. More to the point, once your hands have made contact with a part of your attackers body, you immediately control that body part. You are now at a pivotal point in the fight…what you do next is up to you. Once in this position, you have three options for your handling this attacker. You can:

Beat them up (first and best option for a safe escape)
Take them down (if for some reason you need to control their body within your escape path)
Walk them out (if you are responsible or have need for delivering this nefarious dude to a control point)

By beating them up, I mean you discharge all your combatives until your attacker no longer has the strength or will to continue to fight. You need to stay tight to ensure your elbows, knees and groin kicks are effectively received while staying too close for your attacker to respond.

By taking them down, I mean use your variety of sweeps, throws or wrist/neck control maneuvers to drop them to the floor. Again these techniques require you to stay close (hip-to-hip, as I say), to guarantee optimal leverage.

By walking them out, I mean take the arm/wrist/neck that you got control of earlier and apply the appropriate compliance hold and walk them out to the nearest security or police point. Needless to say, this can’t happen from afar. You must be in a position where the hold is creating enough discomfort that your attacker will have no choice but to walk with you.

As I hope you see, the strategies of Krav Maga are effective because they leverage our ability to close the distance (where our attackers are least comfortable), potentially take control of our attacker, in some manner, and then dispose of them effectively through one of three paths. In all of these circumstances, the common denominator is to stay close and take all the working space away from our attacker.

My Cup is Empty

With this as a backdrop, I want to stress a simple mental framework you must have once you open yourself to learning Krav Maga: your past martial arts experience (whether you were yellow belt or black belt) may be helpful with regard to understanding the mechanics of striking or kicking, or perhaps your movements and stances, but every time you enter the mats you should act as if you are a white belt and that everything you are being shown is to be learned as if for the first time. As a 5th degree black belt mentor of mine once taught me of his own training:

“My cup is always empty. I can always learn to improve all areas of my art. no matter how basic”.

I have many students who enter my studio with advanced ranks from different styles. All of these students come well equipped with multiple techniques to address various physical engagements, whether open handed or weaponed. I applaud the fact they keep an open mind and are interested in learning alternate strategies and tactics. I further encourage the dialogue between us during class and ask them to demonstrate their techniques so that we can exchange opinions on when and how each technique work best. In the end, that is the point of training, right? We must distill the countless maneuvers of different styles we are exposed to and use what works best for us. If a technique we learn does not feel right to us, or requires a physical attribute we don’t currently possess, we will never use it when the moment of crisis arises.

Krav Maga’s insignia, the “Kuf-Mem”, was created with an opening at the top of the circle and an opening at the bottom. This was intentional. It signifies the fact that Krav Maga always evolves, not just as a system but for for each kravist. Techniques flow in through the top of the circle so that we get to work it through countless scenarios and testing our physical abilities. Those that work, stay in the system, those that do not, flow out the bottom opening. This is what keeps Krav Maga updated and relevant with regard to defenses against trending MMA styles of combat or even latest weaponry being deployed by our potential attackers.

In summary, I remind everyone to consistently train with an eye towards being open to learning new ideas, strategies and tactics. Krav Maga’s genius is that is knows enough to constantly evolve and grow from continued study of other solutions. As Bruce Lee is credited as saying ,we should strive to have “No way be the way”; meaning that there should never be a limit to how much you learn and there should always be an openness to other styles and tactics. This is what defines growth not just as a kravist, but as a person.