Audio by Jonathan Fader

By now you should know that, when taught correctly, Krav Maga should be a principle/conceptual based approach to self-defense (other styles can be as well, such as BJJ). These are of course guidelines informing how to move and think for optimal results. Sometimes these principle’s clash and this is one of them, sort of.

Gross motor movement grab.png
Gross or fine motor movement?

One of the big concepts in Krav Maga, and, well, life in general, is to keep things simple and rely on natural body movements. One of the most natural movements we have as humans is to grab. The opposable thumb is, after all, a big factor in the human evolutionary process. This means our hands and bodies are wired to grab. The problem with grabbing is that it involves fine motor movements and, as a general rule, we prefer gross motor movement over the fine motor movement.

First, let’s define the two:

“Fine motor skill (or dexterity) is the coordination of small muscles, in movements—usually involving the synchronization of hands and fingers—with the eyes. The complex levels of manual dexterity that humans exhibit can be attributed to and demonstrated in tasks controlled by the nervous system. Fine motor skills aid in the growth of intelligence and develop continuously throughout the stages of human development.”  (Accessed March 23rd, 2020)

“Gross motor skills are the abilities usually acquired during adulthood and older age as part of a child’s motor learning. By the time they reach two years of age, almost all children are able to stand up, walk and run, walk up stairs, etc. These skills are built upon, improved and better controlled throughout early childhood, and continue in refinement throughout most of the individual’s years of development into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole body movement. These skills develop in a head-to-toe order. The children will typically learn head control, trunk stability, and then standing up and walking. It is shown that children exposed to outdoor play time activities will develop better gross motor skills.”  (Accessed March 23rd, 2020)

So, why, if grabbing is a natural movement, should we avoid it if we can?

The issue with fine motor movement is that when the Fight, Flight, Freeze mechanism kicks in, and our blood starts flowing, pupils dilate, and adrenaline starts pumping, our fine motor movement starts to decline in its performance ability.

This means that if we are surprised or startled, for most people fine motor movement may fail in that moment. Because of this, grabbing should never be a primary motion, rather secondary or tertiary. We cannot completely ignore grabbing because it is so ingrained in our physiology, but under duress, just like eyesight, it can fail due to the speed and stress of the situation.

With gun disarms, this is a time when we must grab, but it is still a secondary movement. A gross motor re-direct should be done first, as the primary movement, then the grab as a secondary movement. Often, under speed it will look like just a grab, for beginners it should be noted that definitely is not (ideally anyway).

This also applies with knives and other weapons. When we reach to grab we are often too far away to be effective, and we have most likely compromised our balance. Had we relied on our gross motor movement to block and a burst to overcome our opponent, as primary movements, we will most likely be in the correct range even if we mess up. Sounds complicated we know, but trust us.

We have worked with many Krav Maga organizations from around the world and have noted that, when things speed up, it is far less about grabbing and more about aggressive speed. Yet, the techniques we see (especially with weapons) often still involve a grab.

If we know fine motor movement can fail us, and we know stress and speed reduce the chance of success, why not practice from the start with a focus on gross motor movement as the primary movement. If you do, you will likely start to see higher and higher success rates for the average person, no matter what the technique. Of course, like much in Krav Maga, if you don’t know how to turn on that “Fight” when it’s needed, no technique or concept will help you in the moment.

So, remember, when it comes to self-defense being gross is the more appropriate action…

*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.