Many organizations and individuals still take a “traditional martial arts” approach to Krav Maga. They say, “this is how I was taught by the Master so-and-so, thus I should I teach it to my students this way as well.” This is patently wrong and actually goes against some basic principles of Krav Maga. That is, if it doesn’t work, don’t use it! Inherently, by the fact that the times change (and so do people), attacks will change, tools will change, and knowledge will change, so too must the techniques and strategies change.
I have met individuals from various organizations and countries whom are training Krav Maga as it was taught 30 years ago, and they told me “only this is Krav Maga.” I suspect many of these instructors have lost their connection to those at the forefront of Krav Maga. Or they have simply been tricked by their own ego.
Just like with the principle of “Situational Awareness,” instructors must look at their system and their methods, then assess, assess, and assess. Further to that point, as a student you must know that, periodically, techniques may (and should) change. This might come in the form of additions or subtractions in the curriculum, modification to the way techniques are executed, or new approaches to how techniques and principles are taught.
Let’s expand on this.
One thing to remember is that, at its core, Krav Maga is, and should be, principle-based rather than technique-based.
Some of the original principles of Krav Maga were:
- Neutralize the threat.
- Keep it simple.
- Simultaneous defense and attack.
- Retzef (continuous attack).
- Use of weapons of opportunity.
- Weapon defense (stick, knife, gun, etc.).
- Focus on vulnerable soft tissue and pain points.
- Subduing techniques.
Do you see a specific technique listed here? The answer is, No. These principles are mostly about strategy or the application of techniques, not specific ways of doing. These principles were developed based on logic, biomechanics, and the philosophies of Imi and other Krav Maga pioneers. Since their original inception, however, if a technique or principle doesn’t work in most scenarios, the norms of what is acceptable in society have changed, or we discover a more effective idea, we rethink, re-assess, and make changes. The principles are core to the system, but they too are not set in stone.
What this means is that there is quite a lot of interpretation regarding what is the best technique or approach… and this is where the trouble starts. In many ways it’s about credibility and ego. That is, an instructor or organization doesn’t want their students to know that their current curriculum may not be as up-to-date or as effective as the instructors claim it is.
Fact: Common attacks will vary from place to place and time to time, therefore requiring adaptation of techniques and approaches.
Fiction: What worked 20 years ago will work now (at least as a 100% hard statement)
This means that, over time, things will change and refine to maximize efficiency for the most people. For the MOST people! Krav Maga tries to leverage natural reactions and movements wherever possible, but some people, unfortunately, will always need to put in more training and practice to gain efficiency, no matter the technique (bodies, abilities, temperaments are different).
Occasionally I will have students who come from a school or organization that was teaching Krav Maga as it was 30 years ago. Their techniques often fall apart under stress testing, which says a lot. Their “instructors” may have been, unwittingly or not, conning them.
Now, with that being said, there actually shouldn’t be TOO much variation in the solutions for specific attacks, for a simple reason: We have a head, a groin, two arms and legs, that really hasn’t changed much over time. Thus techniques and approaches from place to place should actually look reasonably similar, so long as they follow the core principles. If they don’t look even close to other Krav Maga schools it’s probably not Krav Maga; be that due to the teachings being outdated or infused with too much “other stuff.”
In the Krav Maga community, much like in other styles, there is… politics. So, if you only ever train with one organization and it never exchanges ideas with outsiders, change is unlikely. Which means it is unfortunately likely that you are not being taught the best options in the wider Krav Maga knowledge base.
I personally started my Krav Maga journey with one of the major organizations. While they have updated their curriculum a little over time, I found myself thinking their arsenal of techniques was somewhat bloated and not exactly up-to-date. As I explored various other organizations I realized that some schools had developed better solutions for one problem and others for another problem. As a result the UTKM curriculum has changed over the years, as I get more information and training myself, and as we stress test techniques with a variety of students.
Occasionally I will see students struggling with one technique consistently. Sometimes I can solve the problem myself, but on some occasions I need some input from outside sources; maybe that is from another organization, maybe it’s from another style of self-defence or another martial arts system.
As long as the techniques fit in smoothly with the other techniques and follow the core principles then it will work. However, what I will never do is add a random technique for its own sake.
All these changes can be annoying, I know. Very annoying. Trust me, I know! Sometimes I even have students complaining that they have to learn something new. But, guess what, that’s Krav Maga!
So, regardless of the technique (though there are garbage ones out there), the reality is that the obsession with lineage and “this is how it was then,” really isn’t the Krav Maga way. The goal is efficiency, to stop the threat, and that means changing and adapting. With that in mind, if you are still doing it the way it was “in the old days,” then don’t be surprised if your techniques quickly fall apart under duress (Especially if the training was “easy” the whole time).
Ego has no place in developing Krav Maga, yet, as it involves humans, it will unfortunately always find its way in. As an educated student or instructor it is up to you to constantly remind yourself that well-thought-out and well-planned change is, in fact, the way.
Written by: Jonathan Fader