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By: Michael South, Head Instructor of Total Krav Maga
This is a revised version of a transcript, taken from a verbal interview with Michael South. You will notice the language style is more oral than written. Enjoy the article.
Is Krav Maga a concept based or technique based system?
Krav Maga is a philosophy based or concept based system, as opposed to a technique based system.
All that really means is that in everything we do, we do our best to arm the everyday citizen, all the way up to law enforcement and military, for real life encounters. We’re just assuming that if you are awesome with all your defenses on the mat and train two or three times a week and have everything down well, you’re not going to be nearly as proficient in a real life scenario.
We can obviously assume that if the guy has a gun, I’m going to have a massive adrenaline rush. There are lots of different things going on. I’m in an uncontrolled environment. Maybe it’s nighttime, maybe it’s daytime. I might have a bag in my hands. There are so many variables, and we don’t want to put each attack or each technique in a box where X + Y = a certain definitive thing. It’s more concept based. It lends itself to mastering difficult proficiency in real life. That’s a very important cornerstone of Krav Maga.
Some more traditional martial arts like Kenpo or something of that nature, they have specific combinations. For this front-punch defense or front-kick defense, I do this block and this set of techniques. What we found is that when we do that in a reality based system such as Krav Maga, we’re trying to do what we call an adrenaline drill or a stress drill, where we’re trying to get people a little stressed-out about what’s going on.
If they feel like it’s a specific defense, like they have to redirect, like they have to punch in exactly this way this many times and then kick, then try to disarm, if they mess up or they don’t do the correct number of hammer fists or kicks or what have you, then they want to stop in the middle of this event and then start over, which is of course not very good for real-life training.
Obviously, you can’t say, “Hey, mugger, I need to do my Krav Maga defense properly. Can you start over?” It doesn’t work like that in the real world. That’s one of the reasons the proficiency of Krav Maga is generally faster than something more traditional. There are really no rules. One of the popular sayings in Krav Maga is if you find yourself in a fair fight, then your tactics suck. There are no rules like some other martial arts.
What are some common sense safety tips?
The first thing to do is not put yourself in stupid situations when you’re in a bad part of town late at night or something like that. I think we’ve all been told not to do those things for our whole lives, so that’s fairly self-explanatory. One of the main things that we talk to our students about quite a bit is we live in this technological age and there’s so much that takes our attention away from what’s going on around us.
It seems like every time I go to the supermarket or the store, I see people with an armful of groceries in one hand and their keys in that same hand, and then they’re texting or they’re looking for a new song on their iPhone and their earbuds are in. They can’t hear anything around them; they’re not paying attention to who might be around them, and things of that nature. If you’re simply aware of what’s going on around you, usually you can see from a ways off if something is going on. If you’re in the very back of the parking lot, which is not a great idea, you should probably park closer if you can so you’re closer to the door and other people and things of that people.
Just simply be aware. Don’t be texting on your cell phone, and don’t be talking on your cell phone. Have that in your pocket. Have your keys already ready. I’ve got my specific car keys so I can unlock it, get in and lock the door behind me. I’m not going to stand there fidgeting with my keys for a while, especially if it’s night time or something like that. It’s about situational awareness, just being in the now and being aware of what’s going on around you. Beyond that, if I do interact with somebody, we talk about easy targets and there are hard targets as it pertains to a bad guy looking for somebody.
What is an easy target?
An easy target would be someone who’s not even paying attention to what’s going on. I feel like I would be able to grab their purse and be gone before they even know what happened. That’s the easiest target. That’s like a buffet for someone who’s looking to get something from you, or what have you. Also, generally walking with a slouched posture, looking at the ground, looking like you don’t really have much confidence or composure, avoiding eye contact with people and, avoiding looking or interacting with somebody.
One of the first things that we teach people to do is, if they do pass a person in the parking lot, whether or not they feel intimidated, also to expand on your social skills a little bit, look them in the eye and say hi in a loud voice. It’s not authoritative or to be mean or anything, but just say hi loud enough that they can hear you. That just lets them know, “I can see you and I’m not so shy that I’m not going to say anything to you.” If that person is approaching you and planning on passing and coming from behind, they might be thinking, “Not that one.”
How can I avoid being an easy target?
If somebody is approaching me, they’re one of those annoying close talkers who want to get close to you when they’re talking, obviously stepping back and always maintaining an adequate distance between you and somebody else is important. If they did decide to attack you, obviously the more distance you have, the more time you have to react. If I’m speaking to somebody and I do feel fairly threatened, I always want to put up what’s called a fence. That’s simply my hands being up between myself and my would-be attacker or aggressor or what have you. There’s a big difference between putting up a fence in Krav Maga and putting up a guard.
I’m not going to put my fists up with my elbows in. That looks like I want to fight. As we learned when we were kids, that can escalate a situation. If somebody is talking to me and I put my fists up, I’m communicating to that person with my body language that I want to fight, which of course I don’t. Lots of people talk with their hands. We can do things that are totally normal and not necessarily alarming to someone else, but what we’re really doing is having our hands up and ready so I can deflect something or block something. It’s just to protect myself in general.
What other steps should we take to protect ourselves? (other than Krav Maga)
I definitely do believe in guns. That’s not to say that I always have a gun with me. I think a lot of times a sidearm when someone has a concealed carry permit can be a false sense of security. You have to fire 20 or 30 rounds down at the range in order to get that concealed carry permit. That’s not much training with a firearm. You need to be trained on how to draw from concealment and do that properly. Someone could just take that away from you. It’s not necessarily an end-all for self-defense. That’s a whole other ballgame there. You need a lot of training with that as well. I definitely have a firearm in my home, a couple of them actually. I have them in a place where I can get to them quickly.
I definitely believe in alarms as well. At the end of the day, an alarm system can not only protect you from a burglar, but a fire and things like that. It calls the authorities if you’re not able to. That’s a no-brainer. If you can afford it, which they are pretty affordable, it’s not a weapon. It can’t hurt anything. In terms of general safety tips, it’s not being paranoid, but just being prepared to lock the door behind you. If you’re walking in and you’re carrying a lot of stuff, like you just got back from the store or something like that, be sure to lock the door behind you. It’s definitely a good idea to train your children to lock the door. I just push the door with my hand on the deadbolt and close it. I don’t even think about it anymore.
It may be a little bit annoying if you get home before your spouse and they have to get their keys out or whatever. That’s a minor annoyance that could prevent a bad situation. Just simple things like that. Then of course, answering the door is a very big one. You always have to acknowledge the possibility that if somebody really wants to get into your house, they could break a window and jump in, or break the window next to the door and unlock it or kick the door down, things like that. If they really want to get in, they probably can. An alarm system would kick in there.
Also, not answering the door for people that we don’t know, especially as it pertains to kids. We always tell our kids, if someone comes to the door and they’re tall enough or able to look out the peephole, that’s an obvious thing to do to see if you recognize that person or not. There’s that very intelligent trick where you put the finger over the peephole. That’s a dead giveaway that there’s something weird going on there.
We always tell our children to ask that person what their name is and what their business is, “What do you want?” basically. Why are you here? If it’s something weird that doesn’t make sense and makes them uneasy, then obviously you don’t open the door and you should call mom and dad or call the authorities or whatever.
If they’re not sure why they’re there, if I ask them and it takes them a second and they’re like, “I can’t say that I want to rob your house, so what am I doing?” that’s obviously a big giveaway as well. Those are things that anybody can think of that you might not necessarily hear. If you’re involved in Krav Maga, you’re just in that mindset a lot. You’re not paranoid. It doesn’t mean you walk around with your hands over your head all the time, but it’s just about thinking about that and being reminded of those on a regular basis. It can make a big difference. There’s a surprising number of break-ins that happened because the door was unlocked or something simple like that. Just being in that mindset is really important.
Any other common sense tips to keep in mind?
There are several things that are common sense, but when I tell people these things they’re almost surprisingly simple. Again, just being in a mindset that the two seconds it takes to do some of these things can prevent a situation before it starts. One of the things that I always think about is what I’m wearing. I don’t like to wear things that constrict my movement a lot. Of course, that’s kind of the fashion vs. function thing, and I can’t really get into that. Not that I wear my Krav Maga uniform all the time. We have a lot of range of motion.
Shorts don’t really hinder your ability to kick. We don’t practice any head kicks or anything like that because that’s a low percentage technique and it’s not a good idea to get your foot that high at head level, plus most people don’t have that flexibility anyway. I would like that ability to use my legs if I need to. We practice leg kicks and things like that. Especially in a grappling situation, you know better than me that you don’t want your range of motion or being able to spread your legs being hindered.
Think about what you’re wearing, that sort of thing. Also, hindering your hands when you’re walking. We talked about that scenario earlier, walking across the parking lot with a bunch of bags and things like that. I always have things in a way that I can either drop them immediately or have them in a cart as opposed to just carrying them, that sort of thing. It’s about being sure that your movement isn’t hindered, as best you can. It’s surprising how many times we find ourselves in that situation where we’re encumbered with something. “If only I wasn’t holding that stupid bag or had this backpack with the messenger style strap across the chest.” Those kind of things can obviously lead to sticky situations. Even if you have those skills, they might impede those skills that you have. Just basic things like that.
It seems weird to some people, but my wife knows to stand on the left side of me when we are in a social atmosphere or something like that. Some people are like, “What’s going on with that?” I’m right-handed, first of all, so any striking that might happen would most likely be with my right hand or my right foot. I always practice redirecting a firearm or something like that with my left hand because I’m going to be able to fight with my right hand.
A very important philosophy in Krav Maga is that we defend ourselves by simultaneously attacking back. When we overwhelm the attacker with our attacks, we can prevail. It’s not just a self-defense. We’re really being pretty offensive once we’ve been attacked. It’s just not good to stand on my right side. Having that communication and that kind of awareness or your spouse or you partner or whoever, and just knowing some tips like that is a good practice to have.
What level of training is required by an average person (who may not be in great shape), to help themselves become adequately prepared?
One of the most common things that I hear about people who are interested, is that they don’t move around very much and has a very sedentary lifestyle, based on that technological lifestyle (having a desk job).
A lot of them think they need to have a certain minimum fitness level before they can start training, which is absolutely not true. Learning a martial arts is an individual-type activity. It’s not a team sport like football. You go in and you go at your own pace. If they ask you to do X number of pushups, you do as many as you can and you remember that number and you try to do more next time.
There absolutely is no minimum fitness level that is necessary to start training. You need to start training yesterday, because it’s important that you start understanding these concepts and practicing things. If you’re at a certified training facility with a good qualified instructor, those are great things. Just don’t being afraid to get out there and really start training. Train as much as you reasonably can. There are a few different levels of that. Obviously, you need to give your body adequate time to recover. If you haven’t done any physical activity for the past 10 years, don’t try to train every night. You might do that for a week or two, but it’s not sustainable. I always recommend starting out twice a week. That’s perfectly reasonable, especially with people’s schedules. You’ve got the wife, the kids. Twice a week is enough that we can remember from class to class what we did last time and we’re going to be getting a little bit better and a little bit better.
Some people have had great success with training two or three times a week for several years. They get to where they’re at least able to have the confidence that they could defend themselves if they ever had to. We teach that Krav Maga is 80 percent attitude and 20 percent technique. It’s the intensity and the ferocity of what we do that ultimately allows us to prevail. You can’t be worried about things like that, “I only train twice a week.” You should have that confidence and you’ll be okay.
How long does it take for the average person to develop a true Krav Maga mindset?
When we’re talking about the mindset, that is entirely psychological. A lot of times you are your toughest critic. We all know that and we’re all aware of that. It’s not like I can just say, “Listen, it’s 80 percent attitude, 20 percent technique.” You have to believe in yourself or this isn’t going to work. It’s not like we can just flip a switch and say, “I believe in myself now. I’m a killing machine. You’d better not mess with my family.” A lot of times we have to put in some work, and we have to see some results from that work in order to gain that confidence. It really kind of goes hand-in-hand. If I continue going to class, I start remembering what to do and I start to flow better.
The first definitive thing that I see that really leads to a lot of confidence in my students is when they stop breaking in the middle of their defense. I spoke earlier about how they start to do the defense, and then stress arrives and they mess it up and stop. Once they learn to keep going and they do that, which I would say takes maybe 6 months of consistent training and not missing a month at a time, they can really start to flow a little better. Once you understand it, even if you mess up, if you have the intensity and the correct techniques, Krav Maga is based off of natural body reflexes anyway, things that are not totally outrageous.
How does this compare to traditional or flashy martial arts? (like you see in Hollywood)
As cool as that stuff looks, it’s not realistic for me and you and the average guy. Once they understand that, “I totally messed up that defense, but he pointed the gun at me and I redirected the firearm, and even though I didn’t do what I wanted, I still controlled the gun and it wasn’t pointing at me. I came out of it okay anyway,” that really leads to confidence. That is real life. I don’t care how many times you’ve done it, if you’ve done it 20,000 times, under an adrenaline dump and in a weird situation where you completely weren’t expecting it, all the different thousands and millions of variables that there are in real life, you’re still not going to do it absolutely correct.
But somebody who trains Krav Maga regularly and really understands the mindset and the concepts behind it is not going to care that they didn’t do exactly what they wanted. They protected themselves and their family and made it out of the situation safely, as safely as possible. I usually see people breaking in the middle of their defenses for about six months, until they’re really in the swing of things. If somebody has been doing Krav Maga for one or two years, I would put them up against a lot of practitioners of other arts.
That’s not to say that Krav is necessarily superior, but because it is constant based and all the things we’ve been talking about, it does lead to people becoming proficient very quickly, much quicker than some of the more traditional stuff.
Michael South is an active black belt and instructor of Israeli Krav Maga, a BJJ brown belt, professionally sponsored BJJ competitor, head instructor of Total Krav Maga (a global distance training course), and founder of National Martial Arts.