Krav Maga is an Israeli combat system designed with the intention that it would be extremely effective while also being very easy to learn. It has its base in western boxing, wrestling and street fighting with hints of aikido, judo and karate. It focuses on aggressive tactics coupled with the idea that the best defense is a good offense.
A Brief History
In the late 1930s, a Jewish man by the name of Imi Lichtenfield began laying the groundwork for this martial art when he repeatedly defended his people from anti-Semitic fascists in Czechoslovakia. Lichtenfield had grown up very athletic with notable achievements in gymnastics and boxing as well as taking up wrestling later in life. During fights, he realized that while boxing and wrestling were true martial arts, they lacked the practicality necessary for street fighting. After he and his friends and family fled Europe to escape the coming war, he began to focus more of his training on real-world applications.
When the Jewish people began settling in what is now Israel, Lichtenfield joined with the Haganah military to fend off Arab attacks against his people. It was here that he was able to continue advancing his combat abilities and spread his new system. When Israel was officially formed and the Israeli Defense Force was founded, Lichtenfield was chosen as the chief instructor of physical fitness and Krav Maga. Originally focusing on hand-to-hand combat and knife fighting, he soon incorporated judo techniques and added a simple ranking system in the late 1960s.
A close friend and student of his, Eli Avikzar, studied in aikido and supplemented Lichtenfield’s repertoire with some of its teachings as well. When Lichtenfield retired in 1974, he chose Avikzar as his successor. Avikzar would go on to establish the Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA/KAMI) and was fundamental in training hundreds of thousands of Israeli soldiers. Krav Maga is still used and trained daily by the IDF as well as British SAS, US Marines and several other military and police organizations throughout the world. It has also gained a notable spread in civilian life mainly due to the effectiveness of its style.
What Sets Krav Maga Apart
Krav Maga was born from street fighting like several other martial arts, but what sets it apart is the emphasis on physical aggression at all times during a fight. While other martial arts do have self defense techniques and many are born from such situations, Krav Maga has maintained a style of fighting that has no rules other than survival. It is encouraged to aim at vital or sensitive areas such as the throat or groin and to not relent until your attacker is completely incapacitated. There is also focus on situational awareness, adaptability, simplicity and ease. All techniques can be done by anyone with enough practice and are very simple and repetitive.
When Lichtenfield improved Krav Maga with a ground focus from judo, he also brought in a grading system. It was a simple belt system: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black with black belts moving from first to ninth Dan ranks. It is still used today by some smaller organizations while other organizations use Lichtenfield’s later ranking system. This system was far simpler with just three ranks each with five levels; practitioner, expert and graduate. While the graduate test was meant to show who had achieved mastery in Krav Maga, there is another test to certify instructors.
Regardless of the organization, Krav Maga has developed much like eastern martial arts where the name is more of an umbrella term and the art itself and what is taught are entirely up to the instructor or school. As such, sparring can be fast and hard with some limiting rules or it could be slow and soft with a focus on control. Also, competition is not common as Krav Maga is taught almost entirely as a form of combat where techniques really do kill but some organizations do have competitions and teach techniques based on more sport than combat.
Krav Maga for Self Defense
There is no argument against the effectiveness of Krav Maga, I dare say it is a perfect form of self defense. The only rule is to survive by any means necessary and that is a very important rule that other self defense systems seem to have shied away from. It was born from street fighting and has maintained its heritage with brutal efficiency. While originally it had a base in boxing and wrestling with a tinge of armed combat, Krav Maga developed as a system that adapts. It adapted by implementing more grappling with judo and aikido, it adapted by enforcing a need for physical fitness and mental preparedness. Krav Maga encourages all of its practitioners to continuously learn not just Krav Maga but other arts to improve oneself.
The pure aggression of Krav Maga is another tick in the “pros” column because in a real-life self defense situation, being to lenient could cost you your life. However, it is a physical aggression and not an emotional one where although one is attempting to incapacitate their attacker, they truly do not wish to kill or hurt them. But when push comes to shove, a true practitioner of Krav Maga knows that regardless of how you feel or think, you need to defend yourself no matter what.
The true power of Krav Maga doesn’t come from its techniques, moreover it is the philosophy that makes it so effective and dangerous. It is the idea that all techniques should be able to be taught, trained, and applied easily and simply. It is effective because it focuses on each practitioner being aware that they can defend themselves while also looking for escape routes or other attackers or more openings for attacks. It is efficient because it focuses on not just learned techniques but also on instinctive action. It is deadly because it insists on attacking the weak points and to never stop until it is over.
Like the other martial arts in this second series, Krav Maga has little against it. It is a combat system, born and bred to be learned for pure self defense purposes. Though its teachings are nothing new and its techniques are concepts from other arts, Krav Maga makes itself unique through just three simple truths; physical aggression, mental preparedness, and pure adaptability. These three concepts are what make it so efficient and undeniable. While some combat systems are purely that, I believe Krav Maga and its three principles can be seen as a way of life. To be physically capable, mentally sharp, and always adaptable not just in combat but in life in general.