I am biased. I can’t pretend that I don’t think Krav Maga (KM) is a great system. For both adults and kids. Although, in reality, like with more traditional martial arts, there are substantive differences in the systems and how they are taught by each organisation. Therefore I lead with this: do your research, do a trial class, and find out if your kids enjoy it. This holds true for any activity or program you are considering for your child.
Over the last 3 years I have observed that KM is not yet a well-known system. Often when people do know of it, they have substantial misconceptions about its nature. The negative perceptions (of some) are partially due to how it is represented in popular media such as youtube, where schools or individuals demonstrate their techniques. In addition, KM’s strong links with Israel, perceived by some as a country with a checkered human rights record, also plays into these negative perceptions. So when considering KM and kids I find myself wondering:
Is KM too aggressive for children?
Does KM promote use of weapons?
Is KM appropriate for kids?
KM is a very pragmatic martial system. One of the basic tenets of KM, if it could be said to have any, is to react quickly and conclusively. In order to be effective for practitioners who may be smaller and/or weaker than their attacker, techniques must be enacted with speed and a certain amount of aggression. When I think about an adult or older youth attacking a child, I find it very difficult to imagine a successful escape without the child using force and aggression. When facing an opponent who is physically larger and stronger than you, good technique is not always enough. To my thinking it is entirely acceptable for someone to defend themselves aggressively if they are concerned about their safety and can find no way to avoid or escape the situation.
We need to separate the concept of aggression from anger. Often aggression is associated with anger, which can trigger us into thinking, saying or doing things that hurt others or ourselves. So what is aggression? Key words that come to mind when I think of aggression are: violence, force, anger, fear, assertiveness. Many of these words have negative connotations in ‘western’ societies such as Canada. I would argue, however, that such connotations should be contextual, and when they are out of context are viewed emotively rather than pragmatically in relation to the context. Another part of the problem with our understanding of aggression is that we usually associate it with an attacker rather than a defender. There are many documented occasions though, of a member of the public being attacked and responding with force and aggression (shouting, screaming, struggling and striking), which allows them to escape the attacker. I firmly believe that aggression in response to a physical attack is warranted and could in fact play a pivotal role in whether an escape is successful.
As with many things context is key. So if we decide that aggression is acceptable in certain situations, how do we decide at what age a child can understand when it is and is not acceptable? This perhaps is the subject of a whole other article.
In many online videos I see KM practitioners tearing weapons away from their training partner assailants and simulating combative techniques against the pretend attacker. Is this KM? Well yes, to some degree it is. Is this what we teach to children? Certainly not. A good KM school restricts instruction of techniques against weapons to more experienced students. A solid understanding of non-weapon techniques, using your body as a weapon, and when to use violence must all be achieved before a student is capable of dealing with armed opponents. That being said, once someone moves from child to adult classes and is sufficiently experienced, they will definitely learn to counter and defend against attackers wielding a variety of weapons. In all likelihood, they may even learn to use weapons. Someone who knows how a particular weapon works is significantly advantaged if they are attacked and are able to disarm their assailant. They may also be more successful in their defense as they will understand first-hand how an attacker with a specific weapon moves and is limited by the weapon.
Finally, an intelligent defender is always ready to apply the principle of tool over fist. The reason humans first began making and using tools was to overcome the restrictions of their own bodies. To be able to DO more. If I am attacked and have time, I would much rather pick up a chair/lamp/stick and use it to defend myself against the attacker coming at me with a knife, than going bare-handed and allowing the attacker close enough to cut me. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like blood staining my clothes. Particularly my own blood. So in the KM version of ‘stone-paper-scissors’, now known as ‘tool-hand’, tool always beats hand. If I am being too oblique just remember: don’t use your hands to defend yourself if you have a tool available!
Appropriate for Kids?
In my opinion children who are 8 years or older could be ready to learn KM. This very much depends on the individual child however, particularly in relation to their ability to reason and make good decisions. Remember, many KM specific techniques are designed to be used as a counter when someone else attacks you. If your child is not attacked then they won’t need to use their KM techniques. I am sure some of you are thinking “so what about when another kid at school bullies a young KM student and the student lashes out with a dangerous KM technique?” A good question, but one that I will deal with in Part 2 of this article. The other important factor is the culture of the KM school and the importance placed upon situational responsiveness.
When you witness what is taught at a kids krav maga class, ask yourself this:
Do the children learn about when to use their KM skills?
Are de-escalation and/or avoidance techniques taught as well as more combative skills?
Does KM teach your child techniques that could potentially save their lives?
Violence and aggression are not the only solutions in many situations. They are, however, a necessary solution in some situations. Teaching kids (or adults for that matter) how to recognize when violence is the best, or only solution to a problem, or alternatively, when to run away or talk it out, is a core part of KM training for civilian life. In life we are continually faced with choices. The impact of our subsequent decisions can remain with us for the rest of our lives. We would all of course prefer not to need to consider the need for any kind of self-defence. Unfortunately the fact that people do get attacked is a reality of human life and always has been. Ultimately KM is one of a number of options available which says, ‘Better safe than sorry.’
REMEMBER: not all KM schools are created equal. Parents, do your research. Observe a class, speak to the instructor, let your child try a class and then make an informed decision.