Expectation vs Reality: Why videos and movies often create an unrealistic image of martial arts

Posted: February 28, 2017 by Jonathan Fader in Krav Maga Opinions
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Colour belts starting to put it all together. #kravmaga #thisisUTKM

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A few weeks ago, I was teaching a Krav Maga class for some of my more advanced students. I was getting them to practice engaging with a target who is resisting enough to be difficult. To make it harder, I told them to start with their eyes closed. The goal was to react to the attack, engage, control, take down the attacker, and then maintain control while the attacker is on the ground either through control positioning or pain compliance.

One of my students said to me after seeing this video:

“I don’t look good.”

To which I responded:


I was extremely happy with the kind of progression I was seeing.

Because the point is not to look good

The point is to react well. From the beginning, the students had their eyes closed so they couldn’t anticipate the attack. The attacker would say “OPEN!” and immediately start their attack. This helps to simulate the kind of startled reaction people would have in a real situation which they failed to be aware and anticipate an attack. Though, I asked my students to keep their hands up since it would be unrealistic to expect them to react quickly enough with their hands down.

What this example shows is that under stress and pressure, defending against even a mildly non-compliant attacker, your movements will never look perfect.

It’s not about how good you look doing Krav Maga, it’s about how well you apply the strategy.

Real life is unpredictable.

So many factors come into play in a real conflict that people cannot be expected to move perfectly under pressure. Perfect reactions are not real. That’s choreography.

As a Krav Maga instructor, I don’t expect students to be perfect under pressure. I expect them to be aggressive and react with retzev (continuous movement) and keep moving forward no matter the threat. Hesitation results in injury or death. Therefore, even if your move wasn’t executed to textbook accuracy, that’s not important if you reacted properly, survived, and walked away.

Some people watch cat videos, some people watch squirrel videos, I watch martial arts videos

People are often blown away by amazing practitioners showing off their styles on the internet. Without realizing it, what they are seeing may be as realistic as watching John Wick (2014). A lot of the time, demonstration videos are choreographed by the instructor (the person leading and explaining the demo) with the other people in the video playing specific roles. They probably practiced behind the scenes with someone attacking a specific way and the instructor doing the defense or counter move a specific way. For teaching purposes, this is absolutely necessary. Unfortunately for realism purposes, this can create unrealistic expectations for the average person about how to do the defense or counter move effectively while under pressure in a real, stressful, and chaotic situation.

In addition, the real situation has so many variables. For example, imagine that you have learned a combo from the internet and the situation from the video happens to you in real life. You use the combo you learned. As you’re doing it, the attacker pulls out a knife from their pocket. How does this now change the situation? On top of that, suddenly another person comes running out from the side and helps the attacker. How would the same combo which was perfectly demonstrated in the video work?

The unlimited amount of variables of a real situation is something that Krav Maga or any other self-defense system should take into account. Moves or sequences should be universal. At UTKM, we always tell our students to assume there is are weapons and/or friends. Weapons and friends change the situation drastically and make the average style, sequence, move or strategy fall apart because they don’t work anymore.

To this effect, some of our students have suggested that we provide more curriculum videos and show demonstrations of techniques on non-compliant attackers in more realistic scenarios.

So far, online video learning for our entire white belt curriculum is available for FREE here. Hopefully, by late-2017 we will be able to produce videos for our yellow and orange belt curriculums and include the reality-based demonstrations. This way, you can learn both the textbook version of the move as well as the real version of the move performed under pressure.

This is something Kravists need to understand. It’s not about how good you look doing Krav Maga, it’s about how well you apply the strategy. When training, the bottom line is would you survive the scenario if it is real? If you survive, you’re good.


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