What is Krav Maga? How should you train it? What is “real” and what is not? This is a debate for the ages. It is a subject discussed quite a lot and is an area in which I feel so many people let their own world view, experience and, of course, ego get in the way (see my series on Ego). Certainly, at least from the Imi lineage, it should be principle-based, evolve over time as needed, and in general be employed so that one “may walk in peace.” Beyond that Krav Maga is open to much interpretation. Often it is associated with the military, but the Imi lineage actually started as a means for civilians to defend themselves against the Nazis, it wasn’t developed for military applications until later.
I decided to write this series after watching another video of a former IDF Special forces solider discussing what his Krav Maga experience was. The context of the conversation was a discussion of his experience, as well as that of the other participants, with what was referred to as “original” Krav Maga, that being Krav Maga prior to the watered down BS, “McDojo” style, American Krav Maga. (Which most serious people do not consider real Krav Maga, though I see even some legit schools or organizations becoming more “martial arts” than practical self-defence.)
I thought, “why not write an in depth series to clarify a few things about the differences in what military, police, and civilian Krav Maga should and should not look like?” Of course, if you ask me, a proper program should not separate everything, but rather use the pacing of the curriculum to build up from civilian to law enforcement, then later to military, as the application and situations become more severe. But, hey, since most people seem to want to make a distinction, for the purpose of this series I will discuss the three applications as such.
As this is something I have discussed loosely before, I shall skip an intro post and jump right into the Military application, approach, thoughts, etc…
Military Krav Maga
I am going to start with my own Krav Maga experience during my time in the military. Prior to joining up I started learning Krav Maga as a civilian and developed my skills to get a leg up on basic training. Unfortunately, upon arriving in the IDF I was sadly disappointed in my Krav Maga training. Granted, I was in the infantry and not Special Forces, but still it was hardly what I thought it would be; I had only about ten lessons total in the IDF and several of them were not even when I was in combat. Even further, and quite ironically, the lessons I had outside of the infantry were while studying in the IDF Hebrew school (a place that had more serious discipline and structure than my actual time in active duty.)
To be fair, it really depends who’s in charge at any given time. Some commanders are in favour of more Krav Maga and some less, some for more intense training, some less. But out of all the lessons I had in the IDF I only learned one new thing, and it was fairly minor. (At least during my time the standard Krav lesson was 90 minutes with 45 mins being more like physical fitness and the rest drill basic techniques.)
So why do we always think “hardcore military training” when we think of Krav Maga? That’s because many of the earlier ambassadors for Krav were all former Special Forces soldiers. Additionally, when KMG and other such organizations started going global in the ’90s, their focus was on the global military units; 1) because it’s the kind of people many of them were used to training and 2) because militaries have lots and lots of money…
So what does Special Forces Krav Maga training look like? Well it’s hard, and focuses on mental and physical toughness over actual technique. Depending on the unit, time, budget, and, of course, willingness to train regularly, units may do sessions from 1.5-4.5 hours or even all day sessions, sometimes for months-on-end or in condensed coursed lasting a few weeks. While this builds physical and mental toughness and a focus on aggression, it severely lacks technical development, which can actually hinder a soldiers overall ability in unarmed combat. An example of this was a person I know who was not just Special Forces, but Black Ops, who once visited UTKM. This was in the earlier days when our students were not as developed, but when it came to sparring he struggled, because though his physically and mental prowess are among the best I have ever seen, his technical development in fighting and unarmed combat was limited. Despite all his hard training.
Okay, so why is military style Krav Maga so focused on the physical, mental, and aggression? Well the answer is at it’s base a simple one: If a soldier, particularly an SF soldier, is in a position where they are forced to use unarmed combat it means things have gone absolutely, insanely wrong. They lost their primary (rifle), they lost their secondary (pistol), and lethal force with a knife may not be an option (at least in that moment.) This means that a soldier must rely on their will and ability to never stop to fight out of that bad situation. Because, for a soldier in such a situation, it is probably a life and death struggle, so they will need to fight with everything they have. It’s this severity of life and death that requires a serious focus on the mental strength, physical ability, and aggression. As much of their training is on other tools, like firearms, to defend themselves using hand-to-hand combat is seen as a far more blunt option.
Another factor is limited time (at least the claim of “limited time,” as many know the concept of “hurry up and wait” means there’s probably lots of time) in the development of soldiers. In the IDF, infantry members go through 6-12 months of training, while SF soldiers may have upwards of 2 years of training prior to deployment. In this time there are numerous skills, from firearms and field maneuvers, to specialty training, etc., that must occur. Which means time dedicated to Krav Maga training from a technical aspect would take away time from other skills that may be more important. The IDF, at least from what I saw, spends a large percentage of time training firearms skills (probably why they are so good) and already cuts out a lot of junk, like how to march in formation (most of the time). Because of this time constraint it can be difficult to really develop people properly from a technical stand point. Hence the simpler task of focusing on physical and mental development through adversity, and, of course, aggression training.
Another issue is the potential for injuries. It can cost $100,000 to $1,000,000 USD or more to train a soldier. Naturally, continuous and constant martial arts training or Krav Maga training, particularly of an aggressive nature, will eventually result in injury. One even minor injury could derail a soldier’s chance to progress, thus wasting the money and time of the organization. In the old days (’70s, etc.) you can find videos of bare-knuckled brawling as part of the training, where they freely beat the crap out of each other. While we can read about it and talk about “the glorious old days,” it really is a stupid way to train; mainly due to the physical injures and potential for CTE. Now, though training is tough, they often are fully geared up with protective equipment; gear that is bulky and hard to move in. While it protects the wearer it also limits their ability to learn proper technical movements and instead requires people to basically wail on their opponent. This means that without the gear an average unit like the infantry isn’t really allowed to train properly (at least according to the rules) and SF soldiers “can” because they have the gear. Naturally the gear changes the quality of the training but increases the safety of the soldiers.
It should be noted that the aggressive nature of military training from the ’40s onward is actually what lead to Krav Maga being so successful. Because, at the end of the day, in the real world techniques fail and it is the the pure aggression and willingness to be violent that will lead to survival. As such this of course MUST be a part of any given military style. Another thing to consider is that when you are training military personnel it is usually assumed they are already the top 10% or so of the physically capable in any given society. This means that you can push them harder, faster, and at a quicker pace without it being an issue. This is why people who throw military boot camps for Krav Maga usually push people to their limits. Which for a civilian may be a “cool experience” but really does not develop much of anything other than a good story. Such training should be reserved for military units or more advanced students who have developed their physical and technical abilities prior. However, whether it be general advanced training or specific training, any military style training that leaves a participant in any state other than exhausted and annoyed probably isn’t very good military style krav maga.
Another thing that MUST be considered when training military Krav Maga is the increased acceptance of lethality. Which means there MUST be training with firearm’s, both in dryfire and live fire capacities, as a full Krav program cannot be one without this kind of skill training. Aside from this, training MUST include how to use firearms as a blunt force trauma weapon. They are, after all, just tools and are prone to break, jam, or otherwise malfunction, meaning you may now need to employ your firearm as a simple piece of metal. This means that any military training in Krav Maga must show soldiers or participants how to use the weapons in this fashion. This also means that proper training will at times include training with full gear on. After all that, is how you will be dressed when shit hits the fan; tired, with a minimum of 20lbs of gear on! Realism, it is what Krav Maga is all about, and any training without this is not very good.
For me, these are the main components that must be included in military training. The physical difficulty and mental training, as well as firearms training, are a must. After all, this is what people often think of when they think “Krav Maga.” As well as a need to periodically train in full gear, out side, and true-to-life scenarios.
However, given the time, say several months, there really should be more focus on technical development of overall combat skills as, while aggression is great, trained aggression with technique is even better.
Military style training is what Krav Maga is truly known for, however, it is only one aspect of Krav Maga. As so many individuals receive training in the IDF SF’s various Krav Maga programs, these people are often the ambassadors for the system as they are the ones people want to talk to and learn from. Remember, though Krav in military units has a very specific application, to build mental and physical fortitude and train the nervous system to be aggressive under duress, it is not however particularly good at developing overall skill and technique in various fighting methods. As such, many peoples’ experiences, while great, do not really translate well over into the civilian world where people may not be the most physically capable and require considerably more time to develop. While a soldier who is already physically gifted may be able to rely on their natural gifts and often authority to be lethal, civilians do not have this luxury. While a civilian certainly can attend military training (and should during their Krav path), if that is your only training it is possible that this will simply give you an over-inflated sense of confidence just because you completed a particularly difficult military Krav course. But the reality is you still lack the skills and development.
A person who was trained in SF Krav Maga or just standard military Krav Maga also does not always know how to build programs for the civilian and law enforcement world, as their application and needs are different and cannot always rely on pure physical skills and aggression.
Military Krav Maga training is a must for those who wish to train Krav Maga in the long run, but for most this style of training needs to be built up to over years of general development in order that they enter into it more well-rounded.
So always operate with skeptical hippo-eyes when someone says “I know Krav Maga, I was in the military, I can teach you!” Because they only know one part of good training and may simply enjoy the thrill of watching you suffer, but have done little to properly develop your ability to defend yourself.
Written by: Jonathan Fader