THIS MONTHS ARTICLES
(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 28th Feb)
Your goal in any violent encounter should be to shut your opponent down in the shortest possible time. This is accomplished by using two Krav Maga principles: 1) a continuous (Retzef), unbroken assault on your assailant and 2) by attacking soft targets. In today’s post I want to examine these two principles and how they fit together to form a single and unified strategy. The Hebrew word Retzef, means continuous; literally, one thing after another. It’s a term I first became aware of (though I’d been aware of the concept earlier), when training with David Kahn and the IKMA (Israeli Krav Maga Association) in Netanya, Israel. The idea of Retzef, is to lay down a continual barrage of attacks that basically alternate between high and low targets on the body. The aim is to so overwhelm the assailant to the point that they literally become short-circuited and unable to both resist your assault and make any further attacks of their own. If you give a person space and time they will have an opportunity to continue with their assault: take both away and they are forced to become purely defensive. Turning your predator into prey, both emotionally and physically is fundamental to surviving a real-life assault. Becoming the attacker, rather than being the attacked, is the only way to deal with real world violence; the Ideal is to avoid falling into this role all together by acting preemptively and not ever assuming the role of the attacked. In my experience the person who makes the initial attack is 8 times out of 10, the one who comes out of the situation in the best condition. Most people mentally crumble when assaulted and take themselves out of the fight, even if they could physically continue. If you’ve ever been hit hard in a real life scenario you will know of the shock that this causes and how it can cause you to hesitate long enough for the other person to make a 2nd and even 3rd attack. This might be all it takes This is why it is important if you are attacked to immediately move from a defensive position and mindset to an offensive one and begin your continuous assault on the other person (I will talk more about this in the next blog article), following the disrupt, damage and destroy continuum I spoke about in my last article. In your initial assault, in the first cluster of attacks, you need to be attempting to hit soft/vital targets that will have the effect of shutting the person down e.g. eyes, throat or groin etc. A street fight is not a prolonged affair where you have time to feel an aggressor out, like you would in a sparring match or competitive fight. If you've ever seen a ring fight or sparring in your training hall/dojo/studio you'll have witnessed that there is a lot of time spent with each party looking for an opening and trying to formulate an attack plan. None of this time is available on the street/in reality; you need to finish the fight as soon as possible - to prolong it could result in a knife or third parties getting involved. This is why soft targets need to be attacked - attacks to the eyes, throat and groin have an effect that bypasses most people's pain tolerance/management systems. One of the reason's I am so keen on attacking the throat both with strikes as well as chokes and strangles is that the effect is immediate. It doesn't matter how many hours a person spends in the gym, their neck is always vulnerable (the same can be said of the eyes and groin). If I can get to the neck, I can shut a person down. My Retzef/Continuous Assault aims to get me there as quickly as possible in one uninterrupted fashion, by way of attacking the eyes and groin along the way. Imi Lichtenfeld once said (I paraphrase), Muhammed Ali's balls are as weak as a newborn baby. People may laugh and joke that Krav Maga focuses so heavily on groin strikes however there is a reason it does so. Not only is an attack to this area painful it will also cause a person to pull their hips back, a position from which they cannot generate any power. This disruption to their assault is a good opening in which to continue and press home your assault; disrupt, damage, destroy....
Your goal in any violent encounter should be to shut your opponent down in the shortest possible time. This is accomplished by using two Krav Maga principles: 1) a continuous (Retzef), unbroken assault on your assailant and 2) by attacking soft targets. In today’s post I want to examine these two principles and how they fit together to form a single and unified strategy.
The Hebrew word Retzef, means continuous; literally, one thing after another. It’s a term I first became aware of (though I’d been aware of the concept earlier), when training with David Kahn and the IKMA (Israeli Krav Maga Association) in Netanya, Israel. The idea of Retzef, is to lay down a continual barrage of attacks that basically alternate between high and low targets on the body. The aim is to so overwhelm the assailant to the point that they literally become short-circuited and unable to both resist your assault and make any further attacks of their own. If you give a person space and time they will have an opportunity to continue with their assault: take both away and they are forced to become purely defensive. Turning your predator into prey, both emotionally and physically is fundamental to surviving a real-life assault.
Becoming the attacker, rather than being the attacked, is the only way to deal with real world violence; the Ideal is to avoid falling into this role all together by acting preemptively and not ever assuming the role of the attacked. In my experience the person who makes the initial attack is 8 times out of 10, the one who comes out of the situation in the best condition. Most people mentally crumble when assaulted and take themselves out of the fight, even if they could physically continue. If you’ve ever been hit hard in a real life scenario you will know of the shock that this causes and how it can cause you to hesitate long enough for the other person to make a 2nd and even 3rd attack. This might be all it takes
This is why it is important if you are attacked to immediately move from a defensive position and mindset to an offensive one and begin your continuous assault on the other person (I will talk more about this in the next blog article), following the disrupt, damage and destroy continuum I spoke about in my last article.
In your initial assault, in the first cluster of attacks, you need to be attempting to hit soft/vital targets that will have the effect of shutting the person down e.g. eyes, throat or groin etc. A street fight is not a prolonged affair where you have time to feel an aggressor out, like you would in a sparring match or competitive fight. If you've ever seen a ring fight or sparring in your training hall/dojo/studio you'll have witnessed that there is a lot of time spent with each party looking for an opening and trying to formulate an attack plan. None of this time is available on the street/in reality; you need to finish the fight as soon as possible - to prolong it could result in a knife or third parties getting involved. This is why soft targets need to be attacked - attacks to the eyes, throat and groin have an effect that bypasses most people's pain tolerance/management systems.
One of the reason's I am so keen on attacking the throat both with strikes as well as chokes and strangles is that the effect is immediate. It doesn't matter how many hours a person spends in the gym, their neck is always vulnerable (the same can be said of the eyes and groin). If I can get to the neck, I can shut a person down. My Retzef/Continuous Assault aims to get me there as quickly as possible in one uninterrupted fashion, by way of attacking the eyes and groin along the way.
Imi Lichtenfeld once said (I paraphrase), Muhammed Ali's balls are as weak as a newborn baby. People may laugh and joke that Krav Maga focuses so heavily on groin strikes however there is a reason it does so. Not only is an attack to this area painful it will also cause a person to pull their hips back, a position from which they cannot generate any power. This disruption to their assault is a good opening in which to continue and press home your assault; disrupt, damage, destroy....
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 26th Feb)
One of the core principles of Krav Maga, and the one that really sold me on the system was, “If the threat/attack is life threatening attack the attack, if it’s a non-life-threatening attack the attacker”. An example of this would be someone strangling/choking you versus someone grabbing your lapel or wrist. A wrist or lapel grab doesn’t pose any immediate threat to life whereas an attack that is restricting an airway does; therefore the choke/strangle has to be attacked and dealt with before anything else i.e. it is the number one priority. In the case of a lapel or wrist grab, the threat and attack itself doesn’t cause any immediate danger, it’s what is going to follow that does e.g. the punch or head-butt etc that follows the grab. In this case it is best to attack the attacker in order to prevent and disrupt them from making this second phase assault.
Obviously this isn’t something you think about in the heat of the moment as you certainly have no time to ask questions when violence occurs. However it is a principle upon which all Krav Maga techniques are based. Having studied many martial arts, I have seen many seemingly great solutions to various attacks and threats however many of these fail to differentiate between the nature of a life-threatening attack and a non-life-threatening attack. An attacker on the street will always deny you time and distance, and because of this it is important to practice a system that prioritizes and recognizes the differences and ultimate consequences between various types of attack e.g. with a lapel grab you have a degree of time as the attack itself poses no threat to life, with a choke/strangle you have no time, you have to deal with it immediately – you don’t and your unconscious and if you’re unconscious you might as well be dead.
Sometimes you have to “trade” a life-threatening attack for a non-life threatening one. It may be that you start to deal with a rear strangle, attacking the attack, and your assailant responds to your attempted defense by turning the strangle into a headlock (a non-life threatening attack). At this point you can stop dealing with the attack itself and concentrate on dealing with the attacker e.g. attacks to the groin and eyes etc.
I always try and work along a continuum when I have to deal with violent individuals whether their attack would be categorized as non or life threatening. This is as follows:
The first thing you should always try and do is “disrupt” the attack/attacker, whether it is a life threatening assault or not. If it’s a choke, disrupt the choke; if it’s a grab disrupt the attacker. The most important thing is not to let your assailant get a “rhythm” to their assault and control the movement of the fight. Your initial defense should involve some form of disruption. This is key to buy you back both time and/or distance.
Your initial assault on an assailant, whether it occurs after defending/dealing with a life threatening attack or as an attack on an attacker making a non-life-threatening attack should aim to “damage” them in a way that makes it difficult/impossible to make a further attack. This normally means attacking weak and vital areas such as the eyes, throat or groin. Equally it may involve shutting down a person’s ability to move with a knee or kick to the Quadriceps/legs. The damaging blow should act to stun the person so that they are unable to follow up their assault and so create an opportunity for you to continue you yours. Remember self-defense is allowing someone to do something to you, fighting is something you do with someone else and an assault is what you do to another person. Your damaging strike is you creating the opportunity to assault your assailant.
Some people question why you need to “destroy” your assailant. An attacker will never stop attacking unless you stop them from doing so. I remember teaching a defense to a bear hug in class one day, which involved sticking your thumbs in to your attacker’s eyes. Somebody in class asked if you would push/gouge the eyes, “just enough”. On the street there is no time to “measure” your response: you have to act forcibly, decisively and with full commitment. You can be sure your assailant isn’t holding back and so to do so yourself is handicapping yourself in a potentially fatal way. You must assault the person to the point where they are unable/unwilling to continue the fight.
Disengagement. At some point you need to leave the situation. Staying too long dealing with an individual can create the opportunities for them to get back in the fight (the more desperate they become the more extreme their attack may become) and/or for third parties to become involved.
Your goal is always to come away from a violent incident with the least amount of injuries sustained. It is not to try and dispense righteous justice and inflict pain in order to punish your assailant or to make some statement about how badass you are. Rather you do what you do in order to leave the situation and go back to living your life. Real world violence should be viewed as an interruption to your life and not something you want to live for or have your life defined by. I have little time for the behavior of some martial artists who posture and strut, as if their supposed (and normally unproven) ability gives them the power to become some dispenser of justice or even somebody that should be feared and respected. Such immaturity should be left in the schoolyard as it is not an appropriate attitude for either avoiding or dealing with the violence we are likely to face on the street. The point of learning to fight/defend yourself is so that nobody is able to take who you are away from yourself; to be able to preserve your identity against those who threaten it/you – your ability to do this does not give you any more rights than that and is certainly something that shouldn’t be put on display or paraded about.
If you can disengage from a situation before it begins, whatever hit your ego may have to take in the process, you should. You have to disengage at the end of a fight anyway. Why go through the dangers and risks of a physical conflict for the same result and end. You fight only when you cannot live with the consequences of not fighting. Not fighting can take as much, often more character than letting your ego and emotion drive you into a conflict. If your identity and idea of self is not well defined then you will oftentimes find yourself responding aggressively and violently to situations that really when put on paper and considered rationally require no such response.
Disengagement before or after a physical conflict should be at the crux of our training. Next time you are on the mats practising gun disarms, dealing with knife threats be sure to put emphasis on the disengagement phase i.e. move away from the aggressor each time you practice. In stress tests, practice handing over wallets etc when threatened, and if you are the aggressor, sometimes walk away with the imaginary wallet when the person responds in this fashion. Disengagement (& Avoidance) must be part of your training.
I look forward to seeing everyone on the mats this week.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 22nd Feb)
Last night as I was teaching the Knife Defenses that make up part of the curriculum/syllabus that we’re going over this week (and that I want to start putting into our Redman training at 8:00 pm tonight), I got to thinking about how many people don’t realize how Krav Maga works as a system. A lot of people think that it is simply a collection of the “best” self-defense techniques around rather than realizing that it is a system based on concepts and essential fighting principles. Krav Maga was (and continues to be) built from the bottom up; certainly it took techniques from other systems and was inspired by other martial arts however it is something more than a random collection of techniques. Any time a technique is modified or a “new” one developed it has to adhere to a certain set of concepts, principles and ideas – just because something seemingly works doesn’t mean it is worthy on inclusion e.g. if the technique, its movement pattern etc is one that can’t be re-used and/or doesn’t compliment existing movements in the system then however much it stands alone on its own merits, it’s probably not going to make its way into the system i.e. if it doesn’t adhere to the system’s principles how can it be part of the system? If a person doesn’t understand these principles and concepts they will be ignorant as to why Krav Maga is taught and practiced the way it is – unfortunately that often includes some instructors who claim to be teaching “Krav Maga”. In the next six blog posts I am going to discuss some of the underlying ideas behind the system. In this post I am going to look at “Hand Defense, Body Defense”.
There are four parts to any block:
- Be a random/moving target that an attacker will find difficult to synchronize his movement to
- All blocks should be attacks
- Move the target/body away from the threat/attack
- Move to a position where you can make a powerful counter-attack
Without looking at all these points in depth, I just want to briefly talk about points 1 and 4 before moving on to points 2 and 3, which are really about the idea of “Hand Defense, Body Defense”. If your movement pattern is random it is hard for your assailant to predict where you will be, this will make it difficult for them to position themselves for a powerful attack; it may also cause them to over-commit and/or cause them to move into positions which make them vulnerable to your own attacks. This dovetails into point 4 i.e. you should always be looking to position yourself in a way that allows you to make a strong and powerful attack. With that out of the way let’s consider points 2 and 3, under the heading of “Hand Defense, Body Defense”.
Whichever way you want to look at it when you are attacked you become a target; someone aims something at you e.g. punch, knife etc. Just as you wouldn’t stand on the tracks as a freight train hurtles towards you, neither should you remain static when a punch or a knife strike/slash is coming towards you. Even if your movement is not perfect, it is better than staying rooted and absorbing the full force of the attack. At 155 lbs many times my blocks will yield somewhat under a larger and stronger person’s assault, moving away from it etc may give me the distance that my block has had to give up. In Krav Maga we call this a 200% defense: if the hand defense is done 100% perfectly and the body defense is done 100% perfectly then the total effectiveness of the defense is 200%. If however the block is only done 50% well and the body defense is only done 50% well then at least there is a 100% total defense.
I will always come back to the fact that there is no blocking system that gauruntees you full protection. In a real life violent confrontation it is more than likely that you will get hit and if a knife is involved, cut/stabbed – on the occasions I have had to deal with knife this has been my experience. How you get cut/punched, where you get cut/punched is often what decides the fight. This is where the body defense part is so crucial.
The actual block needs to be combined with the movement, often we try to do this based on instinctual reflex actions e.g. somebody shanks us with a knife, we pull the hips back and the hands come forward etc. the movement piece becomes key in this as it can often give us the room and space, as well as the time to make the block. With 360 “flinch” defenses (defenses against circular attacks), we rely on picking up movement as it enters/crosses our peripheral vision. Under stress we become somewhat tunnel-vision(ed) and so the result is that we pick up the movement later (one of the reasons we “scan” and move), this means that our arm starts to move a lot later than it would in a more relaxed training environment/scenario. It may be that our movement away from the attack is the only thing that gives us the space and room to successfully bring the arm up to block the haymaker, knife slash etc.
It is not just in striking that “Hand Defense, Body Defense” is used. We do it when dealing with knife and gun threats. If I am facing a gun and all somebody has to do is pull the trigger I need to buy myself as much space and time as I can. Simply moving the gun away from me may not be enough, I must move the body also. I have seen some spectacular gun disarms, where the target never moves out from the line of fire i.e. there is no body defense. If you’re fast and athletic you may just get away with it however in approaching my fortieth birthday this Friday I have to recognize that neither my reactions nor hand speed are what they once were. I need the body defense in there as well to make things work.
This is why Krav Maga works: you don’t have to the most athletic or the most physically gifted as the insurance components for your lacking in these areas have been worked into the system. Krav Maga was designed for the average Joe who had no prior training and so the system was designed to give everyone the tools, regardless of size and strength etc to be able to defend themselves. This is why we use/combine, “Hand Defense, Body Defense”.
Further principles and concepts to follow….
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 20th Feb)
“The Monkey Dance” refers to the back and forth posturing that individuals engage in before they actually enter a physical conflict. In the Krav Maga system that we teach, this occurs in the “Pre-Conflict” phase of violence: one where the threat of danger/violence has been explicitly directed at a particular individual(s). I mention the “Monkey Dance” because on Saturday we started to take the skills and techniques we had been learning in the previous 6 weeks and start to show their relevance in actual street scenarios i.e. a push followed by a swinging punch/haymaker. You can learn every defense against knife, stick and gun etc and yet if you don’t understand the context and situational components of the scenario then your knowledge will only have relevance to the studio in which you train and not for real-life.
What is important to understand is that this simple attack – a push followed by a punch – is effective for several reasons: 1) The person is acting, whilst you are reacting, 2) the push takes away your balance, and gaining it back will be your natural focus not to defend the punch and 3) one punch may be all it takes for you to emotionally crumble – most people “give up” a fight because they are emotionally exhausted/crumbled rather than because of any physical injury.
One thing to understand about 95% of untrained individuals is that they will attack with their best attack and have little planned beyond it. Despite its effectiveness the push & punch combination rarely has anything more sophisticated coming behind it; it is basically an opening for more of the same. Crude and unsophisticated attacks are rarely followed by anything more subtle and dangerous….unless the fight progresses and a knife gets pulled etc. The most significant thing to note is that there is a “monkey dance” which precedes the assault.
One of the hardest jobs I often have as a reality based self defense instructor is to convey to people that violence rarely just erupts without warning. In fact I would go far enough to say that physical violence directed towards an individual can always be predicted (if not always prevented), as opposed to violence against individuals who form part of a targeted group e.g. someone caught up in an act of terrorism that is directed at a group or target (a worker in the Twin Towers on 9/11) would have no chance of predicting what might happen to them that day. If a person is screaming and shouting at you over a perceived injustice, such as a spilt drink etc, it is easy to make a prediction concerning the likelihood of violence against you. This display of emotion and aggression is what forms the monkey dance.
Aggressors engage in the monkey dance for three main reasons: 1) they need to emotionally prepare themselves in order to make a physical assault/go to the next step, 2) they want to intimidate their selected target/victim so they are less likely to fight back and 3) they often need to make it clear to any onlookers/audience that they have a “right” to physically assault their chosen target. As I wrote in my last blog, I was bullied as a kid. One of the worst things about being bullied was the bullies supposed justification as to why they were bullying me. They knew that should the bystanders and onlookers call them in to question, they were finished and so they used to make stuff up about me in order to justify to themselves and others why they were behaving the way they did. In acts of aggression that are performed in front of a group, understand the importance the group has in validating the actions of the bully i.e. walking away and doing nothing – two responses I now understand and accept – are all it takes for their actions to be validated to them.
If a person needs to engage in the monkey dance it indicates that they are not ready emotionally to act and/or require validation/justification to act. If they are unready yet to get physical you have a chance to appeal to their reason and move beyond their emotions or go pre-emptive. If they need validation, then taking the reasonable route may also be productive. However you choose to respond to their aggression it is important to stay calm and be prepared to strike decisively. Your aggressor may see your lack of aggression as a weakness, just as George Foreman did against Muhammad Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” however it is sometimes best to let a person run themselves emotionally out of steam. We will talk about various methods of de-escalation etc in this weeks classes.
If a person pushes you and throws a punch, you better have a plan in place! See you on the mats this week.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Wed 15th Feb)
One of the great things about running short courses (we have just completed) the 5th week of our latest 6 week course, is the questions you get asked. In “regular” classes people assume that their questions will eventually get answered, in short courses this is not the case and people come straight out and ask them. One I just received concerned a gun disarm – and I will answer this more clearly and practically on Wednesday in our hostage/abduction training – when you see someone else being held at gunpoint if and when should you act?
I want to rewind this question a bit and look at the role a bystander/witness has when confronted with aggression and violence towards another person, in a variety of situations: ones where you are in possession of the facts, ones where you aren't and ones where you have an emotional commitment to act.
As a kid, I was bullied and always wondered why people never felt compelled to act against the injustices I knew they saw and recognized. That was my viewpoint as a child. As an adult I can look back and understand how they saw things i.e. an aggressive and intimidating individual focusing on someone else, someone who wasn’t them. Self-preservation is a strong motivator for inaction and it is built into our DNA and Survival system (I understand this now) – it is why you can never rely on anyone else helping you deal with a violent situation. At the time I might have screamed out about the injustice and unfairness of the situation however I now recognize and accept people’s inaction for what it was (I also recognize that it is up to the individual/target in question to form a survival strategy and not rely on someone else to save them). Nobody at the time should have felt guilty for not stepping in (those that added to the gossip and name calling behind my back or cheered on those who engaged in such violence another story…). People with high but unstable/questionable self-esteem (the common profile of the bully) are always dangerous and volatile– and are basically/always best left alone and avoided. A bystander has to be able to understand their role and position in a situation before trying to understand that of the victim’s. This is perhaps their greatest challenge.
There are also situations where we are placed in the role of bystander, where we are not in possession of all the facts and are unable to make a judgment call on what is occurring. Just because we see a person being held up at gunpoint, doesn’t mean that they are the victim; what we could be witnessing is a plain clothes officer conducting the arrest of a dangerous criminal. In a bullying incident we may be aware of the dynamics of the situation whereas in the above scenario we are not. In both cases there are strong motivators not to act.
Your first priority as a bystander is to ensure your own safety. I always come back to the warning given in the safety instructions on airplanes, “In the unlikely event of the air pressure in the cabin decreasing, oxygen masks will fall from in front of you, please make sure you secure your own mask before helping anyone else with there’s.” It may seem that the safety instructions on planes are simple, basic and not very in depth however much thought has gone into them. They contain a very simple message: be responsible for your own safety and know where to exit the situation. Pretty good advice for life.
So when as a bystander do you act: when the moral, emotional and physical consequences of not acting are those that you are not prepared to live with. If not intervening in an incident of bullying is going to cause you a level of trauma and unease in your life that you are not prepared to live with act. If seeing a lone knife attacker going on a “random” killing spree in a Kindergarten compels you to act, then act. If you cannot bear the consequences of somebody hurting a family member or friend, then act. But and this is a big but, ensure your own safety first. Another dead or injured bystander may not have been any use to anyone e.g. if I attempt a gun disarm to the side where no one is standing but have only practiced disarming on that side a few times, whereas I am well versed in disarming to the other side then I may be better to go to the side I feel more confident at even if it carries a higher risk to other bystanders. Failure means we will both definitely get shot.
The role of the bystander in incidents of violence is a tricky one. The aggressor/assailant and the target/victim have well defined roles, whereas those watching have to make decisions based on all three of the roles, not just their own. Again we will talk more about this in hostage/abduction scenarions tomorrow. See you on the mats.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 12th Feb)
To survive an assault you need three things: physical fitness, simple techniques and an aggressive/focused mindset. If I had to choose to stress the importance of just one of these I would choose the “mindset” piece. It is a strange irony of our training that on the mats 90% of our focus is on the physical component with only 10% of our attention being drawn to the mental aspect; on the street/in reality you need to switch this and understand that it is your “mindset” which is the major determining factor concerning your survival and it is a much, much more important piece than the physical aspects of your game.
The greatest enemy of a determined and aggressive mindset is peripheral doubt. Peripheral doubts are the thoughts that invade your mind as you attempt to do something. They are the doubts that cause you to hesitate and where survival is concerned hesitation equals failure. I believe there are basically two types of doubt: those that question the training you’ve received and those that question your ability to perform a particular action and/or technique.
We are fortunate that our system and training’s pedigree is not in question. Those who came to Israel with me were fortunate enough to train with the two head “Krav Maga” trainers of the MOSSAD – Israel’s premier special operations agency. For those of you who were unable to come to Israel with me on that particular occasion it is worth talking to those who did. Our techniques and training comes from the collective experiences of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), which allows us to have confidence in what we are practicing on the mats – I always enjoy taking people to Israel to train as they see that what we practice in our school is what is practiced there. When David Kahn comes to teach, you will see that there are much more similarities between our systems, than differences (David is the US Representative for the IKMA – Israeli Krav Maga Association – which is the first/original civilian association). Despite having been an instructor and black belt with several different associations, I have always taught/studied Krav Maga and taken comfort/confidence in the common methodology the various styles share.
The second type of peripheral doubt is the one concerning our own ability(s) to perform a particular technique, response or action. This is where I see Krav Maga as being “uniquely” clever in the way it reuses techniques; the 360 blocking system being the most obvious example. The fact that we can block knife and punch using the same system means we can eradicate/limit the decision making process. It is only when we involve a conscious thought process to “select” an appropriate technique do we introduce the possibility of “doubt”. Using a blocking system that is a) instinctual and b) universal (it can deal with both unarmed and armed/bladed assaults) the decision piece is effectively removed. When an assailant attempts to deny you time and distance, taking away the decision making process becomes a necessity. Krav Maga is more than an encyclopedic collection of techniques, it is an approach based on concepts – all of which have been tested collectively.
Yesterday I met with an ex-Spetsnaz operative (Russian Special Forces), who has a training facility in Winchester – which I will try and arrange for us to go and train at, in the coming weeks. Amongst other things that we discussed, including using condoms as improvised weapons, we got to talking about knife. Although we both dealt with bladed attacks differently, the concepts and ideas behind our different techniques were identical e.g. hand defense and body defense etc. The fact that another military with hands-on experience had recognized and understood the problem/issues with knives and developed surprisingly similar responses to the Israeli’s only goes to confirm my belief in what we do and prevent any potential peripheral doubts from entering my thought process.
When you step out on to the mats to train, you should be confident in both your own ability to perform what we do and the process, which has lead to the development of the techniques you practice. When you practice with a partner be sure not to over-correct but to make sure they see the “successes” of what they are doing. Help them to succeed and avoid being overly critical and even worse being negative. Training has to balance being positive/enjoyable whilst at the same time being effective and realistic. We are not in the business of building a false sense of security but of developing a personal confidence in our ability to perform that which we know we can have confidence in.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Fri 10th Feb)
It was perhaps Plato, who coined the phrase, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, a phrase that really does explain how the “origins” of Krav Maga differs from that of many other martial arts. Krav Maga was designed with one very simple premise in mind: how to get a previously untrained person to be able to defend themselves from the most common type of attacks that they are likely to face, in the shortest possible time. It is great to know how to defend against a low roundhouse kick etc but how often will you have to deal with such an attack in a reality based situation? In the ring or cage, very likely, on the street probably low to never.
British Police Statistics “suggest” that the most common street attack/assault is a push followed by a punch. I have no idea if there are similar statistics taken in the US but my guess is that real-world violence differs very little (with the exception of firearms in the US and the prevalence of knives in the UK) between the two countries. Most male-on-male fights, in Western culture begin with some form of verbal exchange, followed by a degree of pushing/pulling that eventually leads to someone throwing a committed but unsophisticated overhand right/swinging clubbing right hand attack. No ring/professional fighter would ever make such an attack however your average drunken assailant, with a grudge against you, in a bar room setting, is more than likely to throw such an attack, against you.
You can train how to defend against a lead hand, rear hand, and front hand hook combination till the cows come home however if nobody chooses to throw such an attack you’ve been developing skills outside of reality – of course practicing and developing these skills will support your street realistic techniques and give you a greater appreciation of your own combinations and offensive skills. Of course a ring/cage fighter will probably not be tested with these unsophisticated street style assaults and will never have to deal with an attack, such as a bar room right, inside their chosen sport.
Once you start looking at the most likely situations you will have to face, you will see how many traditional martial arts and combat sports may have lost their street edge or reality based origins and how in the “modern world” it may be much more applicable and realistic to build a system from the bottom up; creating solutions to the most likely situations that a person is going to face and who has a limited amount of time to both train and get proficient – this was the way Imi Lichtenfeld approached the idea of “self-defense” and “fighting”. If your martial art doesn’t present and practice solutions to a simple push and a punch style of assault etc it is hard to make the claim that it is reality based. There is nothing wrong in studying a ring or combat sport for its own worth and to supplement your other training etc but proficiency within that controlled environment does not always equate with proficiency on the street. I often think that a combination of certain arts can give you the components e.g. Judo will teach you how to handle pushing and pulling, boxing punching etc, but you will need to practice and find away to join the two art together – this was the approach Dennis Hanover took to “Israeli Self Defense”.
Training in another art/system can help develop skills and hone technique however the feeling of “reality” differs from that which is experienced in a controlled environment such as the training mats, cage or ring. You want to train for reality, then you need to look at the type of assaults you are likely to face and train train the techniques that offer proven solutions for dealing with them. The beauty of Krav Maga is that it can be trained in a short time as a self-defense system and over a longer period as an “art” e.g. I can teach somebody to flinch and block a swinging overhand right with a 360 block and I can also teach them to “rip” the arm by turning their hips and rotating the forearm; a skill which takes a much longer time to develop, especially when you want to combine it with a powerful strike. I often think our approach is to give a person something that is simple and immediately applicable and then over time develop the movement as an art, turning your “self defense” skills into “fighting” skills. The way to achieve this? Practice. See you on the mats tomorrow.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 5th Feb)
The Importance of Movement
I like to take a conceptual approach to training. As one of my instructors once said to me, “techniques can fail, concepts can’t”. We’ve all had techniques “fail” on us e.g. we picked the wrong one for the particular situation we were in, found that the one we were trying to use wasn’t particularly effective against someone of a particular weight and size etc – anyone who says that these two factors aren’t important in a fight should consider why there are weight categories in most combat sports (even the UFC went down this route as it looked to prolong the bouts and maximize its entertainment value).
One concept that I use in helping me define how I teach and train is, “Targets define weapons. Weapons define movement”. This also helps me consider the targets I deem as valuable. A street fight is not a pro-longed affair and there are no defined outcomes that result in a “victory” other than the other party’s inability or unwillingness to continue the fight. This means my targets must be able to yield a lot of bang for their buck, which is why I normally have the eyes, the throat and the groin as my primary targets – these are also the ones banned in combat sports for the very same reason. Although these are not exclusive (I may also try for the Xyphoid Process, the back/side of the neck etc) they certainly tend to be the ones that I choose when I’m considering pre-emptive strikes, as they are all forward facing and easily reachable.
When I choose my weapons, I choose those that are applicable for those targets. Eyes and throat are most easily attacked by the hands, the groin primarily by the hands but also by the foot, shin and knee. My next task is to recognize the movement that is needed on both the part of myself and that of the person I am attacking to “set up” my weapon.
The movement of the other person is as important as my own movement e.g. if they are closing me down I may not have the room to attack the groin with my legs but may still be able to do so with my hands etc. In training I stress a lot of importance on getting the aggressor/attacker to load weight on to the forward leg, which is best done by getting them to move forward and commit to their attack. This a) makes them a static target for a moment and b) exposes the forward leg as a solid and rooted target.
The other targets I look for are those that are large and can affect/shutdown the other person’s movement. The legs are the obvious choice here. The Quadriceps, Hamstrings and IT Band (the muscle that runs almost like a seam down the leg) are large muscle groups which move relatively “slowly” unlike the head, which can bob, duck and be pulled back quite quickly and reflexively. This makes the leg an “easy” target, which when struck will affect the other person’s ability to move. My weapon is the shin and ankle/top of the instep of the foot: a weapon with a large surface area – this also means I can use it from a variety of ranges (though there are those which make it optimal). This makes the low roundhouse kick a good first choice.
Now I have to define the movement piece. I need to have the room to make the kick and the person with their weight loaded on to the target, so that it will absorb the full power of my strike rather than being “moved”/pushed away. I need to do something to get the person to move their bodyweight forward i.e. get them to punch. This means I must present myself as the target and be prepared to move to a position where I can use my kick as the weapon i.e. targets define weapons, weapons define movement.
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February Blog Articles
By Gershon Ben Keren
Retzef & Attacking Soft Targets (Tue 28th Feb)Attack The Attack, Attack The Attacker (Sun 26th Feb)Systems of Self Defense Vs Encyclopedias of Self Defense (Wed 22nd Feb)The Monkey Dance (Mon 20th Feb)The Role Of Third Parties & Bystanders In Incidents Of Violence (Wed 15th Feb)Peripheral Doubts (Sun 12th Feb)Krav Maga as an \"Art\" and as a \"Self Defense\" System (Fri 10th Feb)Movement, Movement, Movement.... (Sun 5th Feb)