The Importance Of Breathing

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 28th Nov)

One of the most neglected areas of reality-based self-defense training (including Krav Maga) is breathing. It is something the combat sports and traditional martial arts emphasize a lot, but is somehow seen as irrelevant or a low priority when it comes to dealing with real-life violence. I have heard more than one Krav Maga instructor state that because real-life confrontations only last a few seconds there is little reason to spend any time training breathing – unfortunately this idea that real-life fights only last a few seconds, fails to take into account all the time spent in the pre-conflict phase, where an assailant will argue, posture, hurl abuse, etc., before launching a physical assault – if you don’t take your breathing into account, you may find yourself exhausted before the first punch is thrown. If your Krav Maga training only involves or emphasizes sneak attacks, and surprise assaults, your training won’t reflect reality; most violence against both men and women, starts face-to-face, and is preceded by some form of verbal exchange. The actual physical component of the assault may be over quickly, but the entire confrontation will last much longer. Because of this, controlling your breathing is an essential skill to have.

If you want to get a good idea of what your breathing may look like in a real-life confrontation, hold your breath for as long as you can and then start doing burpees. About 5 burpees in, you’ll feel what it’s like to have been in a fight for a couple of seconds. If you want to add some real stress and duress to the drill, have a partner strangle you till your lungs are almost empty and then do your burpees. If you want to go one step further, have your partner strangle you, then release the pressure so that you can breathe out (something you must do before you breathe in – this is a good way to improve the effectiveness of a strangulation), and then reapply it before you can take a breath in – then do your burpees (for safety, make sure your partner has experience of performing safe strangulations, and is prepared to release when you tap). Whichever way you drill this it sucks, and you’ll feel exhausted and gassed. This is what real-life will feel like, if you don’t learn how to regulate your breathing. Whenever I put a new student into a stressful situation where they feel under pressure, the first thing I notice that they do is to hold their breath. This is replicated in real-life incidents, when two untrained individuals start to throw punches at each other; it lasts all of 3 seconds, before they clinch up, and hold on to each other exhausted. They’ve only been exerting themselves for a few seconds and yet they’re physically spent, and gasping for air, just because they didn’t breathe whilst they were working. It is essential that we don’t find ourselves replicating this.

If you’ve worked in the security industry, law enforcement, or the military, it is likely that you have been introduced to “Tactical Breathing”, as a means of managing high stress and emotion. When people find themselves under duress, one of two things tends to happen: they stop breathing or they hyperventilate. Tactical Breathing aims to counter these two extremes by having the individual regulate their breathing, by breathing in for a regular count, holding their breath for a regular count, and exhaling over a regular count e.g. you breathe in for 2 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and breathe out for 2 seconds. From my own personal experiences, Tactical Breathing is the closest thing I have found as a magic bullet, for alleviating panic and calming the nerves. Fear can be overwhelming, and adrenaline can take over our actions/behaviors to our detriment. Regular breathing, regulates our heart-rate, and the blood flow around our bodies – the blood which carries both oxygen and adrenaline to our muscles. Tactical Breathing is something we should initiate when we enter the Conflict Aware phase on the Timeline of Violence (when we first become aware of the presence of danger in our environment), and continue during the Pre-Conflict Phase (when you understand that you are the target of danger/violence), where possible. Once you are involved in the conflict/fight itself you need a different type of breathing.

I have practiced different types of Karate, which use different methods of breathing. I have practiced styles from the Shurite school, which emphasize natural breathing (you just breathe normally, regardless of the movements you make), and styles such as Goju-Ryu, where breathing and movement are tied directly together. Whilst I prefer “natural breathing” I have found it very difficult to teach – students seem to find and adopt it through practice rather than instruction. It is easier to teach breathing when it is tied to movement, such as breathing out when you punch/strike. The issue comes when you have larger, multi-phased movements, which don’t lend themselves to a rhythmic inhalation and exhalation. As a Judoka (somebody who practices Judo), throws are often created by opportunity rather than just intent, and so trying to tie breathing to a throw, which came about through opportunity is pretty much impossible; you have to breathe to keep your brain and muscles oxygenated, in preparation for the throw, rather than regulate it to the phases of the throw. This though doesn’t come naturally, it comes through practice. One of the best ways to sort this type of breathing out and get it to be “natural” is to spar, and you must do different types of “sparring”.

I remember the first time I rolled with a BJJ guy – we started on the floor. I believed that within seconds I’d have him wrapped up and pinned down. My style of Judo was pretty powerful and extremely strong, and I thought that it would be seconds before I had him immobilized in a good scarf hold. Thirty seconds in I was done; completely wiped. After taking a breather, I employed exactly the same tactics, to exactly the same result. I’d never done ground-work from starting on the floor, it’d always been as a continuation from a throw, or after being thrown. To train your breathing effectively, you must spar in different ways. I’ll be the first to admit that sparring (in any form) doesn’t resemble reality, but it’s an excellent way to teach you to breathe naturally. You may at first have to apply some conscious processes to this, such as trying to set your breathing to a regular aerobic pattern, as if you’re going for a run, etc. This is what got my groundwork breathing to a good place when I rolled with the BJJ guys; I imagined I was on a run, and set a steady, regular breathing rate, rather than applying the explosive/steam-roller breathing that I used against Judoka.

Next time you train, consider the amount of physical work you accomplished, against your level of exhaustion. If the two don’t marry/add up i.e. you’re effectively wrecked after what was really only a minor exertion, you probably need to work on your breathing.   

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Intervening On Another Persons Behalf (Part 2)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Tue 22nd Nov)

Most of us, when we see an injustice, want to speak out or do something about it. For practicing martial artists and self-defense practitioners, when we see or hear about somebody being bullied, attacked or assaulted, we want to intervene – or at the least wish we could. I have spent a good number of years working bar/pub security, where I’ve had to intervene in violent altercations, where the violence/aggression was primarily directed at others, rather than myself. For those who believe they would/should defend others who are being assaulted, I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences, not to dissuade you from acting, but to give you an idea of the consequences/results of your actions so that you are better prepared if you do decide to intervene.

Real-life violence has no definite or prescribed outcomes; and a situation you intervene in may not go as you expect it to. I was once approached by somebody who wanted to start organizing aid work in a certain African state, and wanted to involve me in training those who’d be working for his organization. At the time, as it is now, there was no American embassy in the country, and only one or two military complexes stationed there, purely to have a presence, rather than exert influence. Within the first few minutes of the meeting it was clear that despite having the financial means to put his plans into action, he had little clue about the environment he and his organization would be working in, and the dangers that they’d face. More importantly, he didn’t understand how his work and his mere presence in the region could increase the danger to those he was trying to help. I was/am no expert in that particular country, however I’ve worked with several people who knew the region, and anyone or community receiving aid from an external organization was punished for doing so. This individual had very genuine and noble aims, however they weren’t able to see how they might make a bad situation worse, rather than better. This is a hard lesson for us to learn and accept: when we try to help others, we may in fact make things worse. I would add, that this doesn’t mean we always shouldn’t - just that we should expect and prepare for the worst. You may intervene in a mugging to protect somebody who is receiving a beating as they resist, only to have the mugger who is now outnumbered, feel threatened and see the need to pull a firearm to “defend” themselves, etc. You should also assume that others will come to your assailant’s assistance, rather than your own i.e. they’re not acting alone. Your intervention could escalate and make the situation worse, and you need to accept this potential outcome and be ready (and able) to deal with it. I’m not trying to put a headful of doubts into anyone’s mind, however it is important to recognize what can happen as a result of your actions and be prepared for it.

The victim may not want or be grateful for your help. I have intervened on the behalf of many people who were receiving a beating, and not received the thanks that I thought I deserved. This was especially true when I would break up a violent confrontation where a man was beating up a woman, who turned out to be their partner or girlfriend. As soon as I pulled the attacker off her, I became the common enemy – she was also well aware that she’d later be blamed for me and my colleagues making her partner look weak, insignificant and unable to handle himself, etc. - all common conditions that challenge the male ego. Although this intervention might have saved her from a beating now, it may have set her up for a much greater beating later. I’ve had more women turn on me than thanked me by a large percentage. When I was younger, this used to offend me, now I get it. There are five situational factors concerning violence, and the two most important ones are: relationship, and location. Oftentimes we look at an assault and conclude that this was an assault on a train, this was an assault in a park, this was an assault on a street, etc. We often forget to ask, if this was an assault by a stranger, an assault by a family member, an assault by a friend, a colleague, etc. It is simplistic to assume that all assaults are committed by strangers, and that there are no long-term consequences for the victim when you intervene. Don’t let this deter you from involving yourself, but be aware of it. Intervention rarely comes with thanks.

Do you know how to protect others? Intervention isn’t simply about you defending yourself from an aggressor, it’s about defending someone else. What you may have learned in a self-defense class, may not be easily transferred to defending somebody else. Be honest with yourself: would you know how to protect somebody else, rather than simply engaging their aggressor in a fight? Again, I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from intervening in a fight that they see as unjust and unfair, however if an individual is serious about being able to do this, they should look for/seek the appropriate training, rather than just assume that what they know to defend themselves is applicable/transferable to protecting others. Do you know how to effectively stop somebody from hitting another person? Do you know how to move somebody out of danger, and move between them and the aggressor? If you step in to protect somebody, they’re not likely to come to your assistance, so don’t think that you’re going to be involved in a two-on-one situation, or that the odds will be in your favor; you may in fact end up entangled with one person, as you fight off another – have you trained for this, or like this? Have you even thought about or visualized what intervening may look like?

One of the big and essential questions that often gets left out of self-defense training is “when?”; when do you intervene? Do you intervene when a mugger demands money from somebody else? Do you intervene when a mentally ill person starts shouting at a fellow passenger on a train? It is easy to imagine a “clear-cut” situation, where an older man or woman, is being beaten by a younger one, etc., but in reality, things are often not clear-cut. Often in scenario-based training, I will set up a scene where a man is pinning down a girl, whilst her friends are shouting for him to let her go, and leave her alone. Few people stop to finds out what is happening, and immediately jump in to pull the guy off her. When this happens, she stabs the man who she was wrestling with, and runs off with her friends. The back story was that the man was a law-enforcement officer trying to apprehend a criminal. Things may seem very clear to you, however you may not be in possession of all the facts. Situations that appear obvious may not be. I once witnessed a dispute between two homeless men, where one was fighting the other to get some stuff back that the other had stolen from him – depending on when you came in on the scene, it would have looked like the man trying to get his stuff back was a mugger. This raises another question: would you intervene on behalf of a homeless person who was being victimized in the same way as a fellow commuter on a train? This is important, if you decide to wear a safety pin, to identify yourself as someone who will stand up for somebody’s rights if they are abused/attacked/victimized etc. Choosing to wear a safety pin makes the statement that you will stand up for anyone who is the target of a bigoted attack/assault, not just certain groups. It is also more than a statement, it is an assertion  that you will act on another person’s behalf.

Many people will see intervention as a heroic action, where they make a stand that will be welcomed and appreciated by both the victim and any bystanders present. This may be the case, but don’t expect it. Instead, plan and prepare for the worst - and everything in between. It may be worth testing the support of those around you before intervening – it may be that they have more information concerning the incident that could be useful to you e.g. they might know the victim, the aggressor, the relationship between them, and what the motive is behind the aggression. If you can arm yourself with information before you intervene, you may increase your success rate. I’ve initially broken up fights, and caused hesitation in assaults, by shouting out the names of the two combatants – familiarity from a different voice can be used to slow things down. There are no golden bullets, no guarantees, and no defined outcomes when you intervene, however there are things that your conscience will not allow you to turn a blind eye to, and force you to get involved in; plan and be prepared.

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Intervening On Another Persons Behalf (Part 1)

(Gershon Ben Keren - Sun 20th Nov)

This is the first of a two-part blog looking at bystander intervention and verbal confrontations i.e. what and what not to do when you see somebody being verbally harassed/abused and feel compelled to intervene. The second article will look at when and how to intervene on behalf of somebody who is being physically assaulted.

I understand good intentions; I understand people wanting to encourage others etc. however we do have to check whether the people giving us advice – however sensible it may seem – are qualified and experienced to do so. When the Fukushima nuclear reactors overheated after the Tsunami in 2011, I had some ideas, based on my High School physics classes, of what possible courses of actions could have been taken to avert a disaster. Fortunately, nobody listened to them, or took them on board. I have no qualifications or experience in radiation cleanup, and so was in no position to give advice. In the realm of personal safety, there is a feeling that everyone is qualified to put across their views and opinions, and as long as they are presented well – and make sense to us – they are taken to be true e.g. I think everyone has heard of the “good advice”, concerning throwing your wallet away from you when confronted by a mugger; there are too many reasons to describe in this article why this is bad advice, however logical it may seem (there is a link at the bottom of this article to a piece I wrote about personal safety myths, which goes into the details). Recently, a Paris filmmaker and cartoonist published what is being described as a “helpful” illustrated how-to-guide, on how to intervene on behalf of somebody who is being verbally abused in a public setting such as a train or a bus. It looks good, is well intentioned, and presented in an authoritative manner, however the approach presented is deeply flawed and is likely to escalate, rather than de-escalate, a confrontation.

The premise of the piece is that when you see somebody being verbally abused, you should go up to them and start a conversation about something else. The idea is that the two of you have a conversation, and ignore the abuser. Because the abuser no longer has an audience, they will go away. Sounds simple and logical, plus it’s something that even a timid person will feel they have the capability to do i.e. they don’t have to confront anybody, they just have to assist somebody in ignoring the assailant. It’s a very appealing strategy that helps people feel empowered to do something. Unfortunately, this tactic is more likely to escalate a situation, rather than de-escalate it. Ignoring an abuser is not likely to make them go away; anyone who has been bullied will tell you that ignoring a bully, encourages, rather discourages, them. If somebody feels they are being ignored, they will escalate their actions and behaviors to make sure they get the attention of their target. Aggressive and violent individuals feel justified to behave and act in the way they do, ignoring them is to delegitimize this justification, and only frustrate them into more extreme behaviors. They are not likely to simply go away. We may like to think that we have somehow put the aggressor in their place, but this is simply wishful thinking. I have seen too many situations, in bars and clubs, where people have tried this tactic, only for it to fail miserably. Not taking seriously an angry individual who feels that they are justified and in the right, is not going to de-escalate the situation or force them to disengage from it. Quite the opposite.

The advice also imagines just one type of harassment/confrontation, and this often happens when people don’t have a wide range (or any) firsthand experiences of violence; they can only imagine one type of scenario. Abusive situations can be quite diverse, and may require different solutions. In the cartoon a large aggressive man is shouting islamophobia rants at a Muslim woman. What he is saying is depicted as squiggly lines e.g. it is just incoherent aggressive statements without any substance. What if the person being aggressive is coherent, and is blaming the woman for the death of his son who served in Afghanistan? Is the blame warranted? No. Is his manner of interacting with this woman socially acceptable? No. However, is the man’s grief and emotional state understandable? I would say yes, and I think it is wholly inappropriate – and dangerous – to discount his grief by going up to the woman he is shouting at and start talking about the weather. I’m not saying that you, the victim and the aggressor should all sit down and sing “Kum ba yah” together, or start an impromptu therapy session for all concerned. Personal safety is about being effective and ignoring the aggressor – and their grief – is not an effective solution. Acknowledging it and challenging his behavior concerning it, will get you further. It would be simplistic to always paint violent situations without any shades of grey – this is not to blame the victim, but to help us understand the motivations behind such aggression, so that we can deal with them more effectively. When we can only imagine a singular picture of violence, we will be ill-equipped to deal with reality. So how do we intervene on behalf of others who may be the targets of other people’s anger and aggression?

First, we must listen to what they are saying. They may be trying to start a “forced debate”, where they are trying aggressively to get their target to interact with them, so that they can make a point to a larger audience. This is a much more rational/reasonable type of aggression, and it may be possible to interact with the individual, and explain why they can’t force somebody to talk to them, that people have a right to privacy, etc. You can acknowledge their anger. This is something that is a common de-escalation tool i.e. approach them and say, “You seem really angry”. Often when people rationally recognize their emotional state, they will “wake up”, from it. As you can see, these approaches involve interaction, rather than ignoring the aggressor. Anger doesn’t dissipate, it grows, and it needs to be either de-escalated or deterred - not ignored.

Without going into a full description of how, when and when not to de-escalate (I have written many articles on this – you can use the search function on the page to find these), there are times when you need to deter violence. If a person is screaming and shouting, it is unlikely that they will be able to comprehend what you are saying and so it will be impossible to de-escalate, and you will have to confront and deter the aggressor from continuing/escalating the situation. One way you could do this is to appeal to the other people around you e.g. “This is America, and while we might have disagreements with others, our society doesn’t tolerate the way you are acting/behaving. Put your hand up if you agree with me.” Understand that you might now become the target, if nobody wants to stand with you, and this is always a danger when you intervene on behalf of others; you may not have the support of either the person you are trying to protect, or of those around you. The target may wish to keep their head down and put up with the verbal abuse, rather than have somebody potentially escalate it for them. Another strategy that may work on a subway train – the setting the cartoonist depicts – is to inform the aggressor that they are guilty of assault (they are giving the target reason to fear for their safety and can physically accost them – there doesn’t have to be contact for it to constitute an assault), and that if they don’t stop, you will press the emergency button/pull the emergency cord etc. and that this will involve the transport police arresting them at the next station. Both actions may deter an aggressor, and may get the crowd on your side – it could also do the opposite e.g. if you do pull the chord/press the button people’s journeys may be disrupted, which may turn them against you, or may turn them against the aggressor.

Intervening doesn’t always make the situation better, and you should accept this, and know what to do if the situation starts to turn against you. You should be prepared to become the target of the aggressor’s wrath as well as not being supported by those around you, etc. Do you have a strategy if this happens, or are you gambling everything on your intervention being successful? A cartoon may make it look like intervention is easy and simple - we can all talk about the weather – but its advice is ill-founded. The cartoonist says that their approach is based on the concept of “non-complementary behavior”, which basically involves responding in an opposite manner to the person you are dealing with e.g. facing an aggressive with a caring/welcoming demeanor rather than matching their aggressive one. The problem is that their approach isn’t based on this, their approach is not one where the aggressor is met/responded to, but one where they are ignored – the opposite of “non-complementary behavior”. Bad advice, is bad advice - however well-intentioned it is, and shouldn’t be followed. If you do plan to intervene where you see verbal abuse happening, think through all the possible outcomes and start to develop strategies for them, rather than simply imagining everything turns out well.

For those who are interested in why you shouldn't throw your wallet on the floor, when it is demanded by a mugger (and some other personal safety myths) please use the link below:


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How To Get Guns Into A Government Building

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 14th Nov)

I have always believed in the power of politeness and a good smile, however a few days ago I got to see just how powerful these tools can be in disarming someone from following basic security protocols, and potentially putting themselves and others at harm.

I’d been booked to do some security training for some local government officials at a government building in the US; part of this training was an active shooter component, so myself and my associate who were conducting the training had brought along some Rings Blue Guns (training guns), that included both short and long barrel weapons, along with non-metal training knives. For those who aren’t familiar with Blue Guns, they’re exact replicas of actual firearms, but cast in a dense/solid blue plastic. We’d contacted the department who had organized the training ahead of time, to inform them of this, and that it would be wise to inform security that we’d be arriving with these items – or if there was a better/preferred way of bringing them into the building (it turns out that security was never contacted). When we turned up at the building, it was extremely busy, busier than normal, and we ended up in line behind a woman with a baby and a pushchair. I had passed the bag to my teaching partner, who is female, and a lot more innocent looking than myself to try and lower any anxiety that the security personnel may have had when I explained what was in the bag.

Whenever I explain to law enforcement, security etc. that I have a bag containing replica training weapons, I always ask them whether they want to open it, or have me open it. It’s a simple thing that lets them know that I am handing control of the situation over to them. I also give them the name and the department of the person who has organized the training, and a quick outline of what it is. I’m always polite, slightly apologetic for the difficult situation I’m putting them in, and make sure to smile. In this instance – and I would point out that this is the only time this has happened – I was told not to worry, and to put the bag on the belt for it to go through the X-ray machine.

I have done training exercises before using X-ray machines, and I have used Blue Guns (along with other types of replicas and training weapons), as dummy weapons to see if operators can identify/pick up on them. In an X-Ray machine, the rays go out at roughly a 45-degree angle, from bottom to top, creating a slightly skewed angle. An operator needs to take this into account when trying to identify certain objects, and it can take more than a quick glance, depending how items are positioned, and what they are next to. It is also worth pointing out, that different types of object, display as different colors e.g. metals range from black to blue, and plastics blue to green. The colors relate to the density of the material the object is constructed from. These training guns, were fully weighted replicas, so the plastic used is very dense; enough for the gun to appear closer to a blue than a green – and certainly given the fact that the image would have been very clear (the guns were laid flat), enough that the bag should have been inspected after going through the machine – it should have been inspected before. We both walked through the metal detector “clean”, picked up the bag, and took the elevator to our destination.  That’s how I got three MP5s, 6 Glock 19s and 8 training Knives into a government building, without a challenge, a questioning look, or even a glance – The X-ray operator was looking and talking to me, as the bag went through.

I’ve worked various security roles, and many can be boring, monotonous and underpaid. Many security guards can feel undervalued. When I apologized for putting the security guard in an awkward position, over bringing training weapons into their building, and that I had informed the person organizing the training to let them know in advance, I was told with a sneer, that nobody tells the security guys anything. I’m not excusing the guard for not checking, but when a “them and us” attitude develops between security and those who work in a building, guards are not going to be so inclined to be vigilant. Next time you fall foul of security by forgetting to bring your pass to work etc. try to be polite and understanding. Yes, they may know who you are, and using your logic and understanding of the situation, should just let you in, however they should have policy and protocols to follow e.g. they don’t know if you’re an employee who has been fired, and had your pass taken off you etc. This is the way security should work: no exceptions, no flexibility, no bending of the rules, no “just this time”. Although such an approach may seem over the top, and overly rigid, it is necessary, and we should accept it. Without this approach, it is possible for the nice people, with the nice smiles, who understand the difficult job security has (and can empathize with them), to bring guns into a busy workplace.    

The day that we turned up was an overly busy day. It is easy for security personnel to forget what the actual job is i.e. preventing the wrong people getting into the building, and become focused on just getting the “right” people in. This may seem like a semantic issue however many people can come off or try to present themselves as the right people – myself and my fellow-trainer were all too quickly cast in that role. If we’d been planning a rampage/spree killing, this would have been an attractive day to carry it out as there would have been more potential victims for us to have gunned down; in most active shooter situations headcount is the major motivator. This should have been a day, when a supervisor or manager, told their staff to be extra vigilant rather than less.

Security is a serious business and should be treated as such (I also believe that those working in the sector should be better paid and remunerated – and at the same time held to a higher standard). Whilst it is looked on and treated as an inconvenience, that is necessary to satisfy the insurance companies, it will never fulfill the requirements it is intended to.

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Tai Sabaki & Body Defense

(Gershon Ben Keren - Mon 7th Nov)

One of the principles that I was first taught in my Krav Maga training, was the idea of every defense having a hand-defense and a body-defense. This was explained to me through the concept of a 200% defense i.e. if you did the hand-defense correctly, it alone would be a 100% defense, and if you did the body-defense correctly, it would also give you a 100% defense. This meant, if you only managed to do each 50% correctly/well, then you would still have a 100% defense. From my own experiences, I appreciated the understanding that when put under stress and duress, it was unlikely that you would perform perfectly, and that you would need solutions which would work even when performed sub-optimally. From my time studying Japanese martial arts (Judo and Karate) the idea of body movement (Tai-Sabaki) is a key part of any defense, however it has a few nuances that when understood, can enhance our appreciation of body movement in our Krav Maga training.

Anyone who has studied traditional martial arts, understands the concept of getting out of the line of an attack, as part of a defense. In many Krav Maga systems “bursting” forward, into an attack is taught, rather than stepping off-line, and there are good historical reasons (as well as practical ones) for this. When Imi first started designing his approach to fighting, he was looking to teach a basic infantry man/woman how to defend themselves against common attacks of the time – violence changes over time, and also has cultural and regional aspects to it - which is why Krav Maga as a system needs to adapt and evolve, and be taught in a manner relevant to its audience. At the time, Imi was looking at ways for a person with a pack on their back to be able to move, and how the position and weight of the pack might restrict that movement. If you have 50 lbs on your back, movement to the side (stepping off-line) could see you become unbalanced, whereas forward movement would allow for the weight of the pack to add momentum to the simultaneous defense and attack. This also had the effect of being a simpler movement to teach, rather than having a person take the time to train and develop the movement skills, to both block, move laterally (out of the line of the attack), and deliver a simultaneous strike.

There are several misconceptions about Tai-Sabaki. I have met and trained with people who believe that it refers to a particular movement, that takes you out of the line of attack. I have also heard from some that it is purely an evasive maneuver to get you out of danger, and doesn’t have an attacking component to it; from a traditional perspective, both are wrong. Tai-Sabaki, can utilize many different types of movement, including pivots, steps to the side, sliding steps backwards/forwards, etc. If you have studied traditional Karate, and practiced Kata, you will have been introduced to many different forms of Tai-Sabaki. In its truest form, Tai-Sabaki should not only move you out of the way of the attack, but at the same time it should put you in an attacking position, where you have the advantage and your assailant is at a disadvantage. When I teach sparring, this is the key concepts I try to get across to my students e.g. it is no good throwing a punch or a kick, when your partner is not at a disadvantage – people will often throw out kicks and punches, when a person is moving away, rather than first getting them rooted, or moving onto your strikes, where they will have a much greater effect. It is fine to move away from an attack, but such movement should set up an attacking opportunity, whilst putting your attacker at a disadvantage. This is what true Tai-Sabaki is, and it can be in any direction.

When I was a competitive Judoka, it was drilled into me by my coaches that there should be no truly defensive movements to my game; defense had to incorporate an attack, or set up an attack (concepts I teach as part of my Krav Maga training). Defense alone only creates a further attacking opportunity for the person you face. This is one of the reasons I have problems with referring to what I teach and train as being “self-defense”; it communicates the wrong message about the solutions I, and others, teach. A major change in my Judo came, when my previously defensive movements became offensive ones. As well as giving me more attacking opportunities, it also took away some of the “panic” I’d previously experienced when I was just “avoiding” attacks. From a real-world perspective, I see striking as a zero-sum game: if you’re not hitting/attacking the other person, they’re hitting/attacking you. Making sure that all your defensive movements contain an attack or put you in a position to make an attack is what Tai-Sabki and good Krav Maga is all about.

Many Krav Maga practitioners see the traditional martial arts as outdated and/or irrelevant. However, these systems contain the same fighting principles upon which Krav Maga is founded and based. Krav Maga may take on a different form to Karate and Judo, but it did not create different fighting principles and concepts. If we are to evolve who we are as practitioners and teachers, it is worth our time looking at and studying ideas from other arts and systems, so that we can better understand those of our own. We may, as direct and practical Krav Maga people, believe that the subtleties of the traditional martial arts may be too subtle to be relevant, however looking at what we do from a slightly different perspective can both give us a better realization of what it is we are actually doing, along with ways of how we can improve our performance of it.

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