How you train in the gym is how you will react in the street. The more you repeat a movement, the more accurately your body will know how to do it. The more you practice, the faster you will react. There is a saying; “a true master forgets all he knows.” This is due to muscle memory. (It should be noted that it is actually your neurons, and nervous system being trained how to fire and when, which in turn activates the muscles) The more time you take to think on how to move or react, the more likely a situation can go from bad to worse.
Bruce Lee famously said,
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. [yes, this quote again]
By continuing to practice the basics over and over your body reaches a point that you will act, or react, without fear, instantly dealing with a situation which you hope will never happen, but for which you have practiced over and over.
Of course, there are negative aspects to muscle memory. If you practice incorrectly for too long, these mistakes will become your automatic response. Because of this, it is better to practice slowly but correctly than fast and incorrectly. Furthermore, muscle memory may cause you to react in a way that can be inappropriate. The reason we always say to look first prior to attacking is so that you do not just react arbitrarily. You must always identify if something is a threat or not prior to acting. Failing to assess properly, and relying solely on muscle memory, could result in you injuring your friends or family as they attempt to simply hug you.
We also tell the famous story of the police officer who got himself killed due to muscle memory. He trained gun and knife disarms regularly. After every drill, however, students would return the gun or knife to their partner without even thinking about it. This action was repeated over many years of training. One day an individual pulled a gun on the officer, he disarmed the individual and then, without even thinking, passed the gun back. The officer was shot and killed. (This story, or versions of it have been repeated by different agencies all over the world. So it happens.)
Muscle memory is how we improve the speed and accuracy of our movements, but we must always remain conscious of all of our actions. Be alert, be observant, and always take that split second to decide if an action is appropriate.
For Kravists, a big part of training muscle memory isn’t just about drilling the techniques, but also training the mind to function under stress. While it is important to first learn the technique and how it works, you must also simulate the environment that you expect to apply it in. Most self-defence scenarios are stressful, you may be tired, you may be sore, you may be drunk, but you will most likely not be expecting it and will probably be stressed or have a rush of adrenaline. Dealing with these variables is something we must also train into our muscle memory.
If your Krav gym looks more like a Karate class, with katas all the time, no active sparring, and very little stress testing, you need to look elsewhere. Good Krav Maga is not just technique, but also strategy and mental training. As our motto says, we “turn lambs into lions.” So, know that, to properly train your muscle memory, we WILL push you to your limits and expect you to function. Because failing to function may mean the difference between life and death!
So train hard, train properly, and train yourself to the point where you can act without thinking and still make the right choice.
*Topics under any principle category (Eg. Krav Maga Principles) may be updated from time to time. So check-in every few months to see if the posts have been updated.