Krav Maga: The Art of Brutality

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krav-magaOf all the myths surrounding martial arts, perhaps the most pervasive is the idea that your board kicking skills will be useful in an actual fight. One has only to watch an MMA fight, or security footage of a bar room brawl, to see that real combat has as much in common with the slow, meditative choreography of karate or tai chi as backyard whiffle ball has with the World Series. Real fights are quick and bloody. The vast majority wind up on the floor. Concepts like “honor” and “zen” become cute pandering when you’re having a chair broken over your spine. And if someone has a knife then all the “inner peace” in the world won’t help you.

To be clear, there is absolutely some benefit to these kinds of martial arts training. It’s just that it’s the same kind of benefits you’d get from ballet. Nobody has ever knocked out a mugger with a roundhouse kick because the mugger will stab you five times before you can get your foot above your waist. By all means, kick boards and balance on posts like the Karate Kid. Just don’t get into the ring with someone who knows Krav Maga. You won’t last long.

Krav Maga was developed by a Hungarian man named Imrich Lichtenfeld in the early 20 th century as a method of defending the local Jewish neighborhoods from anti-Semitic rioters. An accomplished boxer and wrestler, Lichtenfeld quickly realized his training counted for very little in street combat. Over the next sixty years he developed a new style of martial arts, combining the vicious elbow and knee strikes of Muay Thai, the grapples of wrestling, the strikes of boxing, and the body throws of jiu-jitsu, all with an emphasis on brutality, precision, and practicality. It was adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces in the late 1940s. Today, Krav Maga techniques are among the most popular in MMA training, and have been used as the basis for fight scenes in films such as The Bourne Trilogy and TV shows like Archer, raising its popularity with martial artists and fitness aficionados around the globe.

Krav Maga emphasizes swift conflict resolution with minimal effort, and it advocates wholeheartedly for fighting dirty. Eye gouges, hair pulls, throat jabs and crotch kicks are all common techniques, supplemented with more traditional striking with fists, elbows and knees. Classes are dynamic, constantly changing the orders of drills or attacking routines in new ways. Cardio is essential in Krav Maga; there is a world of difference between fighting while fresh and energized and fighting while wheezing from exhaustion, barely able to lift your arms. Krav Maga prepares you for both eventualities with rigorous sets of jumping jacks, squats, burpees, pushups and ab work, always keeping the heart rate high and the muscles on the brink of exhaustion. Real fighting isn’t easy. Neither is Krav Maga.

Aggression training is another important aspect of the Krav Maga regimen. Classes often involve a “bag guard” exercise, wherein one student is given a body mat and told to defend a punching bag from another student by any means necessary. It is in these moments, as your teeth threaten to shake out of your head from the torrent of blows to the mat you desperately hold in front of you, that you realize how much willpower fighting requires. There’s another aggression exercise where two students team up against one, attempting to hold the person against a wall with their body mats while they punch their way out. It isn’t a “fair” exercise. Being crushed against a wall, bruised and gasping for breath, is not a pleasant experience. You must be opportunistic, seizing upon every weakness, every possible escape route, punching with every ounce of strength to get away. It’s this kind of thinking that will save your life in a mugging where a million lessons in meditation will not.

Of course, the proof is in the results. The Israeli Defense Force is one of the most respected military forces in the world. Their main doctrine explicitly states that “Israel cannot afford to lose a single war”, and that they must “determine the outcome of war quickly and decisively”. Given the volatile nature of Israel’s political climate, it has often fallen on the backs of the IDF to neutralize threats at all costs. This pragmatic philosophy extends to all aspects of the IDF and is reflected in Krav Maga. As U.S. Krav Maga Associations founder Mark Slane once said, “Your instructor, system, art and cool techniques won’t save you. Going forward, going hard, going now and going off with all the hatred and rage you can muster will.” That’s Krav Maga. Surgery with elbows and fists. It might not look pretty, but you’ll live.

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