THIS MONTHS ARTICLES
(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 24th Jul)
Most times when I make a post or put up a video that contains some form of throwing, somebody will contact me, and/or make a comment, that throwing is too complex a skill, takes too long to learn, and therefore shouldn’t be taught. There’s also usually an assertion that throwing is something that only the strong can do, and isn’t appropriate for weaker and smaller people, etc., and therefore shouldn’t be included in any Krav Maga syllabus. Rather than fall back on the simple argument that Imi taught and practiced Judo, and incorporated various throws into the Krav Maga that he taught, I would rather address some of the arguments that people make regarding throwing and its appropriateness to reality based self-defense, and why throws, takedowns, sweeps and throws can be incorporated into a Krav Maga syllabus – I’m not saying that they always should; if an instructor lacks the appropriate training, skills and knowledge, they shouldn’t be teaching their students something that they don’t know/understand, and I’d make the same argument about striking; if somebody doesn’t understand the mechanics behind striking, and how to move, generate power – especially if it is a smaller/weaker person – transfer weight effectively, etc., then they probably shouldn’t be trying to teach and develop this skill in others (simply telling a person to be aggressive when they strike, isn’t teaching them effective striking).
Are throws, takedowns and reaps, appropriate for the smaller person? When Jigaro Kano, created and developed Judo, this was one of his goals; minimum effort, maximum efficiency. He wasn’t creating a system that relied upon brawn and strength, but one that utilized movement, weight shifts, and the taking of balance, so that an aggressor who is thrown, falls without having to be lifted. In a well-executed throw, there is no effort expended, and weight differentials don’t matter. In fact, once balance has been taken, a heavier attacker, will have a harder job trying to regain it than a smaller/lighter person, making throwing a very effective strategy to adopt when dealing with a much larger opponent. If somebody doesn’t understand the mechanics of a throw, then they will have to use strength and force, and this is why I wouldn’t advise an instructor who doesn’t understand these things to teach throws, reaps, sweeps and takedowns. However if they do, then being able to equip a smaller person with a way to defeat a much larger aggressor, is certainly something they should do; in fact they will be able to cause much more damage to an attacker using a throw – and the ground to hit with – than they will with their striking.
When I did my first IKMF (International Krav Maga Federation), Instructor course, there was time devoted to learning and practicing break-falls or fall-breaks. It was well understood by those running the course that if you didn’t know how to fall, and were thrown to the ground, or knocked down in the fight, there was a serious risk of injury. Let’s turn this around for a moment, and look at ourselves as the person throwing, or knocking the other person to the ground, etc. If they don’t know how to fall, they are probably going to get injured. If we teach our students how to break their fall, and insist that this is an essential self-defense skill to avoid injury, why not teach them how to cause this type of damage to the other person? Although there’s not a straight comparison, it’s almost like teaching somebody to block and/or take a punch, without teaching them to strike.
Throwing, and throwing well/efficiently, is a skill that takes time to develop (but then so does learning to strike/punch well), and it’s not one that I introduce to my students straight away. It is quicker and easier to teach somebody to punch/strike in a way that will have an effect, than it is to teach somebody effective throwing, and the syllabus I teach acknowledges this e.g. you’re going to learn eye-strikes, and hammer-fists before you learn any type of throw, sweep, or reap. However, my goal is to get my students to adopt Krav Maga for life, not for a few weeks or months, and given a lifetime, there are many areas of combat that they can spend time practicing, learning and developing skill in, and this doesn’t just include throwing e.g. ground-fighting, offensive knife and baton (useful skills if you practice any form of weapon-disarming), flying knees, high kicks, etc. If your goal as an instructor is to teach a basic syllabus, without a focus on skills development, equipping students with rudimentary self-defense skills relying on aggression and mindset to be effective, there is nothing wrong with that; it’s the approach I take when teaching seminars, short courses, and corporate training events, where I have limited time with the students to develop their skills. However, if you have longer, the way to improve your students’ fighting abilities is to develop their skills and attributes. My school’s Black-Belt program is around 10-years, throwing is a fighting skill that really starts to be developed around years four to five. This is how I teach, and if people offer shorter or longer paths to Black Belt that is for them, not me, to decide.
One of my first Krav Maga instructors told me that it is worth knowing how to, and to be able to kick head height. His two reasons were as follows: so you would be able to teach and practice blocking high kicks, and so when advocating that high-kicking is a potentially risky strategy in a real-life conflict, nobody could make the argument against you, that the only reason you weren’t teaching high-kicks was because you yourself couldn’t do them. Is your only defense to a throw or a takedown to break-fall? If it is, you will quickly find yourself coming undone against a person who knows how to grapple – and there are grapplers who know how to negate strikers very quickly. If you don’t know how to throw, I would argue that your ability to defend against these types of attacks, might be lacking; admittedly, they are not the most common types of attack, and if your goal is to teach a basic program, with a reduced syllabus, that is fine, however there are those Krav Maga instructors who want to offer a more comprehensive approach to dealing with violence, and to say that to do this isn’t in line with the original intention of Krav Maga would be wrong. Imi believed that it was important that a practitioner could defend themselves from those skilled in other arts and systems – this is especially true for military personnel who would be going head-to-head, with other trained military personnel.
There are many ways to teach Krav Maga, and to me that is the beauty of the system. When I teach a 90-minute seminar, it’s basic, simple strikes, a focus on aggression, and a large dose of personal-safety and self-protection, so those attending learn to predict, prevent, and avoid violence. At my school, my program is much more comprehensive, and once students become effective at striking, punching and hitting, other areas of combat and fighting-skills start to be developed. If other instructors want to stop at this point, and have students simply continue to practice what they have learnt, I’m not going to claim that this isn’t Krav Maga, however at the same time I’d expect the same courtesy extended to myself, and other instructors and associations, who try and equip our students with other fighting skills, such as throwing, sweeping, reaping, and groundwork.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 17th Jul)
When it comes to dealing with violence, avoidance is always the best policy. When I teach corporate clients and other groups, this is perhaps 80% of what I teach; how to avoid being involved in a violent confrontation, and most of this comes down to planning and preparation. Too often, the focus of those who want to protect themselves is what to do in the moment, rather than how to avoid it. Sometimes, people will want to skip over and rush the avoidance piece, already imagining that they’ve failed to predict, detect and deter – or that somehow it didn’t work – and they’re having to deal with an aggressive incident, that was always inevitable; even though it probably wasn’t.
If you read the emergency procedures/safety card on an airplane, you increase your survival chances significantly – somewhere around 75% of those who survive air-traffic disasters, report having read this card. None of the information on it is new, if you’ve flown before, and this is why many people neglect to watch the safety video or demonstration; they’re already in a state of denial about being involved in a crash. It’s not necessarily that those individuals reading the card are expecting to crash, they’ve just considered that it’s a possibility. Planning and preparation, puts your mind in the right place. When your head is in this space, you might think twice about taking your shoes off, during take-off and landing (the times when a plane is at greatest risk of crashing), in case you need to exit, and you might practice unbuckling your seat a few times (one of the most common problems in an evacuation), etc. If you take the time to plan and prepare for avoiding violence, you are considering the possibility of it, which means you will be more open to identifying the warning signs and pre-violence indicators, rather than discounting them.
One thing I do to prepare, is having my wallet readily available – I carry a decoy wallet, and practice retrieving it from my pocket. Most muggers, unless they have secondary motives and goals, will want an incident over with as quickly as possible. The greater the time they spend engaged in their crime, the more likely it is that they will be spotted, identified, and potentially caught. You need to assist them in their resource-driven crime, by handing your wallet/cash to them as quickly as possible. I often hear strange ideas around when you should and shouldn’t hand over your wallet, such as the idea that if you have a large amount of money in your wallet, you shouldn’t, but if it’s a small amount you should, as if the money you have on you somehow enhances your ability to physically control and disable your assailant. The mugger, in their mind, is leaving with your wallet, whatever the amount of money in it – the variable is whether you get cut or shot in the process. Often, when I explain this advice, somebody will say, “but what if my wallet is at the bottom of my purse?”, or, “what if I don’t have any cash on me?” Both things are easily rectifiable: make sure your wallet is easily accessible, and make sure you are carrying some cash. Planning and preparation resolves both issues. The question is whether you believe it’s worth taking the small amount of time and effort to do this; just as it might be worth splitting up large amounts of cash about your person, if you are in a situation where you have to do this.
If you’ve ever been involved in a CP (Close Protection) detail, looking after somebody, you will have multiple safe places that you can take them to in the event of an emergency – a great deal of effort is put into avoiding such an incident, such as avoiding routes that might be easily compromised, and creating an unpredictable schedule, etc. - things that can be adopted, and built into anyone’s personal life. These safe places, might be another room in the hotel where you are staying, or another hotel in another part of town. These safe places, may also involve hospitals and police stations (understanding which ones are manned and unmanned), etc., and it is likely that a member of the team will have checked routes to and from these places, at different times of day – to account for traffic – before everyone has deployed. This allows you to not be put in a situation where you are having to run from danger, but one where you can instead, run to safety. If in the middle of the night, you believed that there was an intruder in your house, and you had to exit it, where would you go? If you had an argument with your partner and they hit you, and you needed to exit your house, where would you go? If you were being followed in your car, where would you go? Would you know the best route to get there e.g. one where you could keep moving, and wouldn’t have to stop at traffic lights? All of this may seem a bit paranoid, until it happens. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to have to think about these things, especially of your partner being abusive and violent towards you, but it can happen – they could lose their job, get depressed, start engaging in substance abuse – and the question is, do you have a plan?
Just as importantly, do you have a plan to avoid threats and dangers? If you’re out clubbing/drinking late at night, do you have a plan to get home? When I ask people this, they will often respond that they have Uber, or another ride-sharing app on their phone. Technology is not a plan. If you leave a club when it closes there will probably be a huge number of people using these apps, meaning that you may be waiting for a very long time, before you can get a ride. Often with ride-sharing services, the price goes up when demand is high – it maybe that you now can’t afford to use the service. All of this could probably have been avoided if you had left 20 minutes earlier, before the club closed. Maybe, because you hadn’t planned for the possibility of such delays with the ride-sharing service, you decide to take a chance, and use one of the unlicensed taxis that are lined up outside – just because you didn’t envisage an issue with using a ride-sharing service at a particular time, doesn’t mean that a sexual predator hasn’t thought about this, and how they could use it to their advantage; they will have done their planning and preparation.
Planning and preparation is the non-sexy part of self-protection and self-defense, which is why it is so often over-looked. It doesn’t involve weapons disarms, it doesn’t see you punish an assailant or put them on the floor. Its goal is the exact opposite of all this, and you don’t get to put your training to the test. It’s the mature, grown-up part of self-defense, that says you’re better not being there in the first place, and you know how to get out of there if you are.
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(My Name - Mon 10th Jul)
Glib phrases are not uncommon in the martial arts and self-defense. Some of these involve “absolute” statements, and proclamations, such as “high kicks don’t work on the street” or “95% of street-fights go the ground” etc. Neither one of these statements can be backed up, or statistics provided, to reinforce the argument. But it’s often easier and quicker to be glib, than to talk about the issues and problems with high kicks – whilst acknowledging that in some specific circumstances they may have their worth – or the importance of training to fight/survive on the ground, whilst at the same time acknowledging that most fights start from standing, etc. When I first started teaching, the internet didn’t exist, so these phrases and statements were restricted to in-person conversations, and articles in martial arts magazines, however with the proliferation of social-media, their usage has increased – and this is a shame because positive, productive conversations, discussions and debates could take place, instead of dismissive quips, and glib phrases. In this article, I want to look at some common phrases that are often used, and why it may be worth taking a look at when they may be relevant and when they add little, or detract from the debate.
“I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6.” In the right context, there is nothing wrong with this statement. In a conflict where your life is at risk, there really is no such thing as excessive force, however in many incidents of social violence, this isn’t the case, and force has to be metered. It’s why I advise those who carry firearms, to carry pepper-spray as well; there is the need to have less than lethal options, as well as lethal ones – if you look at the tools on an LEO’s belt, there’s usually a baton, OC-Spray, and possibly a Taser, as well as a firearm. That doesn’t necessarily mean reducing intensity, as extent can also be reduced e.g. you can hit somebody with all the force you can muster, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should keep hitting them, when you have a clear and obvious opportunity to disengage, it doesn’t mean you should keep stomping on their head, whilst they are lying unconscious on the ground, “just to be sure”. Use of force, and how it should be applied, is part of reality-based self-defense training. The legal ramifications for what we do are important; you may not be found guilty of criminal charges where the burden of proof is extremely high, and reasonable doubt is at play, but if the person and/or their family bring a civil suit against you, where your guilt may rely on a 49/51 split, you could find yourself settling for tens of thousands of dollars – if being carried by 6 wasn’t really a possibility in the confrontation, you’ll regret being tried by 12 (they are rarely the only two options). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating the potential risks and dangers in a violent confrontation, and this is why I always stress disengagement, but we do need to have an understanding of appropriate use of force – and how to setup and control situations so that we don’t have to use excessive force. This may reduce the black and whiteness of violence, to having some grey areas, but that is part of the challenge of understanding and being able to identify different forms of aggression and violence.
“I’d have done X, Y or Z….” These comments are often found accompanying some CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) footage, of a real-life incident, such as a mugging or similar, and are used to criticize an individual’s actions and behaviors – even if they are successful, (and by successful, I mean coming out uninjured, alive, etc). If you’ve never faced a gun, or been attacked by a knife, you don’t know what you would do, and even if you have, no two situations are the same, so it is impossible to say with surety what you would do. It is also worth noting that in CCTV clips, you may not be privy to all the information that the person being targeted has e.g. you may not know the relationship that the target has with their assailant(s), you may not know what is happening outside of the frame, and you probably have no idea of the events that led up to the incident, etc. There is a very real danger in trying to deal with violent situations with fixed and prescribed plans of action; they may simply not be appropriate in a particular scenario – no two muggings are the same, even if the weapon is held in the same position, by an assailant of the same build, etc. If they are treated as the same, then the approach to self-defense is technique-centric, rather than situational – and this puts you at risk. There are times when it is effective to acquiesce to a predator’s demands and times where it is not, being able to discern when to do something and when to do something differently is a key survival skill.
When I first started teaching martial arts and self-defense – nearly 30 years ago – you’d commonly hear martial artists say, “yes, but that would never work on the street.” Over the years, this has changed to a more categorical, “that’s a good way to get yourself killed.” Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some approaches that will get you killed, such as listening to the bang of a gun, and using that as a cue to step off-line; we don’t need to even debate that one, physics has the answer. However, when we move beyond the laws of physics (you’ll find it extremely difficult to throw somebody who is in an upright position – I won’t say you can’t, but it’ll take more effort than if you unbalance them first), everything comes down to context; when to do something, and when not to, and what options are available to you (and it’s never all the ones you had in your training environment). In one context, one thing may get you killed, in another it may be the only survival option available to you. I’ll sometimes hear self-defense instructors say you should never go to the ground – it’s a good rule of thumb, but it shouldn’t be an absolute one. If you are getting beaten unconscious by someone you know is superior at stand-up, and you have no disengagement option, maybe going to ground, and trying to control them there becomes your best survival option – or is going to ground a good way to get yourself killed, because they could pull a knife? Context is key, and if it is lost, we are reduced to being technique-centric players who can only operate in a vacuum or gym setting.
Of course, we can disagree with each other, and point out what we see as issues in an individual’s approach, etc., but the use of dismissive and glib comments does little to move a discussion forward or add to its content. Our experiences are useful, but so are our experiences, and we should respect those of others – even if they are different, and/or bring people to different conclusions. Rather than simply dismiss what we see with a comment of, “that would get you killed in the street” etc. if we want to add an opinion that moves the conversation forward, we should be prepared to take the time and effort to demonstrate the different ways we would solve a particular problem, and be ready to explain, and answer questions that may arise from this.
We’re all guilty of making glib and off-hand comments concerning self-defense and personal safety e.g. “personal safety is just common sense” – no it’s not, and this is why predatory individuals have the edge on us, because they know how our “common sense” tells us to act and behave etc. These phrases and statements give us a quick, short-hand way to express our opinions, however they don’t help us, or the people we direct them towards, or those who are listening, or give us anything to work with, and can even misguide e.g. someone who hears, “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6”, may be under the impression that they don’t need to consider use of force, which could be a very costly mistake, or if they take on board someone saying, “I’d have done X, Y or Z…” without any explanation of context, may try and replicate that solution, when it would be a bad idea to do so. In most cases, we need to leave the short-hand, and explain, the why’s, the what’s, and the when’s of violence.
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(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 2nd Jul)
I’m a big believer in skills and attributes. I put them ahead of techniques. If you look at a boxer’s toolkit, it is comprised of four basic punches; and yet boxing takes a lifetime to master, because it involves developing the skills and attributes to make those four punches effective. One of the biggest issues I’ve found that boxers, traditional martial artists, MMA practitioners, etc., have with many of those who practice and teach reality-based self-defense, including Krav Maga, is that they lack any real fighting skills; and instead argue that aggression can be used as a substitute for these things. Whilst I believe aggression is a vital component in the mix of reality-based self-defense, it is not a replacement for having solid fighting skills and attributes. In this article, I will aim to demonstrate why one skill – control of range and distance – cannot be substituted, and needs to be developed, even if that means taking training time away from learning techniques.
If you’ve ever been attacked with a knife, there are several things that you’ll have wished for – apart from not being there in the first place. One of these will have been to have had adequate time to react and respond; something that most attackers will deny you. If an attacker has done their job properly, you’ll not initially see the knife, or you will only pick up on the movement of the weapon – not necessarily the weapon itself – at the very last moment. The chances of making a strong block are not good, and making a simultaneous attack will be almost impossible. To have a chance of making these defenses, you will first have had to accomplished two things: you must have been able to pick up on the pre-violence indicators that warn you that an attack is imminent, and you will have had to control range and distance, giving you the time to react and respond. It doesn’t matter what your level of aggression is, you can’t substitute it for these two skills. Threat identification, effective decision-making, and control of range are necessary attributes for dealing with a knife attack, as well as many other types of assaults.
A good control of range will also limit the effect of a stab that you fail to block – and no blocking system is perfect. A friend of mine who I used to train with in London, was a forensic scientist, who worked for the London Metropolitan Police Service. He told me that for most stab wounds to be fatal, they must cut to a depth of about 2 inches (despite the fact that he told me this over 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure it still holds true today) – obviously this is a statistical truth, and there are many variables at play e.g. if the knife cuts a major artery, etc., however, if we can limit the depth of a cut, we increase our survival chances significantly, and one way to do this is to be further away i.e. control the range. Another way to limit the depth of the cut is to blade your body, so that your torso is angled away from the knife i.e. if your attacker is holding the weapon in their right hand, you should stand with your right foot forward, and your left back, so that your body is slanted away from the knife. This may only give you a few more inches of distance, but it may be these that limit the effect of a stab wound if you are cut. By controlling range, and appropriately angling your body, you will limit the effects of a stab, if you fail to block the attack in time. Once again, if you fail to identify the pre-violence indicators that precede the attack, both of these things will be hard to do once the attack is under way (most knife attacks involve the attacker moving forward, as they stab, making range control very difficult once the attack has started).
Just as the effects of a stab can be limited by range control, so can the effects of a punch. If you are extremely close to an aggressor when they throw a punch, you may not have enough time to react and block it – action beats reaction. At close range, the punch will have driving force, as the attacker will be able to punch through the target; whereas with distance they’ll only be able to punch at it. You should aim to, but not expect to, block every punch, but a good control of range will mean that those which do reach you will be limited as to the amount of force they can deliver.
A good control of range also means that an attacker will have to commit their body to the attack i.e. they will need to move and shift their weight towards you, rather than just swing an arm out to cut, stab, punch, or grab you. Transference of weight, means that to attack or move again, they will need to re-transfer weight, first. This will interrupt the speed at which they can make attacks. Imagine that an attacker, to throw a punch, must take a large step forward in order to reach you. Their weight will now be fully loaded on to the front leg. To make another attack, they will have to unload some of this weight first, so that they are able to move. This “interruption” is one that you can take advantage of – either to disengage, to get yourself into a better position to attack, or to make an attack of your own, etc. The shift of weight to the front leg also means that the front leg becomes an effective target for low-kicks; there is no chance for your attacker to “ride” the kick – moving it to limit the effects of the impact – and so all of the force of the kick will be fully absorbed.
To be a comprehensive fighter you need aggression, however there are many fighting skills and attributes that it can’t replace or compensate for. In order to get many techniques to properly work, there need to be skills and attributes behind them. Our training shouldn’t just involve practicing techniques, and aggression drills, it should involve training methods that specifically target skills such as control of range, effective movement, physical co-ordination, balance, etc. For many new students who have not practiced sports and athletics, these are the areas where most of the work needs to be concentrated e.g. if a person is unable to stay balanced when they step under a person’s arm/armpit when practicing an escape from a rear strangle, working on movement and balance will see them progress faster, than simply training the technique over and over again. In our own training, we should identify where our weaknesses are, and put effort into developing the skills that will see us progress.
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July Blog Articles
By Gershon Ben Keren
Should Throws, Throwing & Takedowns Be Part of Krav Maga? (Mon 24th Jul)Planning & Preparation (Mon 17th Jul)Better To Be Tried By 12 Than Carried By 6 (Mon 10th Jul)Control Of Range (Sun 2nd Jul)
Krav Maga Yashir Books
By Gershon Ben Keren
"Krav Maga - Real World Solutions To Real World Violence", is a critically acclaimed introduction to Krav Maga and the Krav Maga Yashir system. Rather than being just an encyclopedia of techniques it teaches the reader the "when" as well as the "how" to employ Krav Maga successfully in real-life situations. To buy on Amazon please, click here.
"Krav Maga - Tactical Survival" is available for pre-order on Amazon. This is a book that builds on the foundation that was set in, "Krav Maga - Real World Solutions To Real World Violence", showing solutions to different types of threats and attacks, as well as certain variations on some of those described in the first book. To pre-order this book please, click here.
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