One of the concepts thought to be a core tenant of Krav Maga is that it is “easy” – easy to learn and easy to apply – therefore people of all ages, shapes, and sizes can learn it. This is often a message promoted by what have become the “big box,” franchised, Krav Maga organizations; a message often openly stated in their marketing material.
This is both true and untrue.
While the techniques and approach of Krav Maga should be easy to learn they, like anything, take time and effort to see results. If your Krav Maga training is always easy, and you enjoy every class, all the time, and you never once thought you HATE your instructor, then, I am sorry, it’s probably not Krav Maga.
While Krav Maga is easy compared to other styles, from a technical standpoint, its training and process should not, and cannot, be easy or comfortable at all times. This means that, though Krav Maga is one of the best self-defence styles in the world, if not the best, it may not be for every one. Sorry, not everything is.
Let’s expand on this.
We’ll start with the rough origin of Krav Maga. It started in Israel, before it was officially declared Israel by way of the modern U.N. Resolution 181 in 1948. At the time it was the “British Mandate of Palestine,” a name given to the region after the conquering of the Ottoman Empire in WWI. Prior to 1948, Jews and Arabs alike were referred to as Palestinian (learn your history!) Without going into too much detail, the important thing to understand is that it was a rough time; Jews had paramilitary groups like the Palmach, and were getting ready for the aforementioned, and much anticipated, UN Resolution 181. As a result, they were, out of necessity, a rough and tough people. Back then part of combat training was to have someone jump on barbed wired to allow their companions to run across them. Is this something you could see yourself doing? I don’t.
In 1948 there was a massive war in the region, it was Israel vs, well, everyone else around them! Watch this video if you want more info on that conflict:
Needless to say, with Israel being a newly formed nation, containing many survivors of The Holocaust, now facing a so-called unwinnable war, it continued to be a rough time. The mental fortitude of the Israelis endured through the next… well…WAY TOO MANY WARS…and, for the most part, victory after victory.
Tough people meant tough training. If you go back and watch archival footage from the ’70s/’80s, when Krav Maga started being less of a secret, it was brutal. Like many styles at that time the reality-based training looked like Rock’em Sock’em Robots, with students trying to (metaphorically we hope) kill each other.
This tough training, along with a practical thinking pattern, meant an easy to learn, but not so easy to train, style.
A consequence of its necessity-for-survival origins was that Krav maga’s training style had a side-effect forging mental toughness in students and teaching that “If it is life or death, the more aggressive (or CrAzY) you are the more likely you are to survive!” This style and mentality lead to Krav Maga having the reputation it does.
Without these harsh experiences forcing the people of Israel to adapt and develop mental toughness, there would be no Krav Maga and maybe no Jews, because, when it comes to survival, this is the way.
However, as time progressed humans realized that, hey, maybe it’s actually not so great to metaphorically kill each other… cuz you know, head trauma. As it turns out, as long as you train the nervous system, you can actually get similar if not identical results without destroying our bodies and minds in the process. (Which, in fact, goes against one of the main principles of Krav Maga; avoid injury.) Research in the fields of psychology, sport physiology, bio-chemistry, biology, etc., has shown that loading the nervous system, via exhaustion and stimuli, will allow you to train yourself to react as if you are in real danger, without actually experiencing it.
Unfortunately, instructors simply “toning down” their classes, along with garbage instructor programs popping up everywhere, led to the degradation of the system as a whole. This meant that “easy to learn,” in the sense of “the techniques should be simple, but the training still hard,” turned into “it’s for everyone, because it’s easy to learn!”
It is for everyone if everyone is willing, on a semi-regular basis, to push themselves to their limits and hate the training. Rather than “hey, I got a good sweat on! Now I know Krav Maga! That WAS easy!” The latter is not only delusional, it fails to accurately train the nervous system to react in the appropriate manner when you are actually in survival mode… that can get your students killed.
So what SHOULD “easy to learn” mean?
Let’s compare it to another style, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). For most people learning BJJ the first 6 months will make them feel like a fish out of water, because it’s complicated, technical, and requires a good knowledge of your own body. While after 6 months of Krav Maga you should have an good, to great, grasp on the fundamentals, feel confident that you could deal with some situations, and be ready to learn more advanced concepts.
The idea is that “easy to learn” is intended to mean that the techniques and concepts are simple and should take only a class or two for you to get the basics. From there it’s just a matter of drilling. Though this is not to say that you will never find it difficult as you learn more complex techniques, or that everyone who walks in can do it that quickly (or at all if they cannot dig deep for aggression.)
To be honest, some, if not most, people who quit Krav Maga, will quit because the training is too hard (even if it is safe… unlike the old days), and that, frankly, is the way it should be.
While building people’s confidence and capabilities is important, we also cannot sell a lie, as this would be detrimental to the safety of those we teach. People MUST know their limits, skills, and capabilities. If you cannot put in the work to prepare to defend yourself (or someone else), then your best strategy must be avoidance at all times.
Occasionally people come into our class, and it’s hard, and they quit. Sometimes people come into our class, and it’s hard, and they stay.
Which of these two people are better prepared to defend themselves in a bad situation?
The answer should be simple.
So, is Krav Maga for everyone? No. It is not. Period.
Just like any martial art it takes commitment, a willingness to push yourself and endure some hardship, otherwise everyone would be doing it. But for those who want an “easy to learn” style, one that will get them were they need to be faster than many other styles, and they are willing to do the work, then Krav Maga is for you.
Easy to learn? Yes. Easy to train? Not likely. Easy to master? Well… only time will tell.
Written by Jonathan Fader