KRAV MAGA – THE OFFICIAL SYSTEM OF THE ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE
A Friend In the IDF-
Immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the Israeli systems of combat, security, and self-defense became the most sought after training in the Military, Law Enforcement, and civilian theatres.
At Logan International Airport in Boston, the airport where the terrorists boarded two of the airplanes which were converted into the vehicles of their suicide terror mission, the Chief Director of operations was immediately replaced by the former Chief Director of security for Israel’s National Airport, Ben Gurion, and the Israeli Sky Marshal Academy.
The newly reformed United States Federal Air Marshal Service immediately sent all of their instructors and teams of Air Marshals to Israel to learn at the Arazim Training Center, the training center belonging to the Israeli General Security Service (SHABAK) which also governs the Israeli Sky Marshal Training Academy, to learn the secrets and tactics of Israel’s effective Sky Marshal program.
The United States Transportation Safety Administration sent a delegation of Airport security Directors to the Israeli Aviation Authority Security Academy to learn effective methods, strategies, and systems for effectively securing U.S. airports.
The United States Government brought in teams of Israeli Secret Service and Special Forces agents and instructors to educate and train all facets of the U.S. security apparatus including military, police, and government security divisions in effective strategies and tactics on addressing and countering unconventional terrorism and suicide terrorism.
In the civilian world, individuals were taking the initiative to arm themselves with the necessary skills and tactics to effectively defend themselves and prepare themselves to effectively respond should they ever come face to face with a terror incident such as the one on board the high jacked aircrafts of 9/11 where the only possible chance of survival were the civilian passengers.
Immediately, Krav Maga became the leading choice for civilians.
So why is it that Krav Maga and Israeli based combat systems suddenly became so popular? Well first, it’s important to understand that although Krav Maga was just now starting to take over the spotlight, Krav Maga, and Israeli based combat and counter-terror systems have been just as popular in the eighties and nineties as they are today among the military and law enforcement communities.
The U.S. as well as many other foreign country military and police forces have been sending their units to Israel regularly to learn and cross train with Israeli units for years. Israel’s reputation and experience in the theatre of combat and security has been regarded as next to none and this comes from two simple facts, first there is no other country in the world that has faced active fanatic and suicidal terror attacks on a daily basis and has faced these attacks since the very first day it was founded as a country, and second there is no other country in the world that faces the threat of being exterminated from the face of the map if it loses to those attacks.
Israel has existed for only 60 years as an official State. During those 60 years, Israel hasn’t yet seen a single day of peace. Israel’s entire history has been a disposition of constant conflict interrupted by moments of war. The 1948 Independence war, the 56 Sinai Campaign, the 67 six day war, the 73 Yom Kippur war, the 82 first Israel/Lebanon war, the 87 first Intifada, the 2000 second Intifada, the 2006 second Israel/Lebanon war, and the 2009 Gaza war. Even when other Arab countries get engaged into a war that has nothing to do with Israel, Israel still seems to somehow get caught in the cross hairs of the violence such as in the 91 Persian Gulf war when the U.S. moved in to rescue Kuwait from the grips of Saddam Hussein, Iraq launched over 200 giant scud missiles at Israel.
So far, Israel has endured a war for every single decade it has existed. But the wars are not the bigger problem Israel faces. The bigger problem is the on going terror attacks that have been targeting Israel since day one and continue to do so till this very day. The world is made aware of Israel’s terror situation once in a while through the media, so most people don’t even know the true ratio of terror incidents that go on in Israel.
During peak season of attacks, such as in the first Intifada from 87 to 93 and the second Intifada from 2000 to 2005, Israel averages 8 to 12 suicide bombings per month. 90% of all suicide bombings the Israeli Security and Intelligence apparatus manages to prevent or intercept. The 8 to 12 bombings per month are the 10% that manage to get through the Security and Intelligence apparatus and actually detonate.
During low attack season, Israel averages 49 active terror alerts per day. This would be the equivalent of the United States Homeland Security threat alert scale hitting red an average of 49 times per day!
These facts are the contributing elements that give Israel the practical experience of dealing with violence and the ability to develop combat and self defense systems that are based on actual field experience and that are put to use and tested in the field under the most extreme conditions and situations on a daily basis.
This is the reason why for many years many of the world’s greatest Special Forces and combat units have been coming to Israel to train.
After 9/11, the only difference was that now the civilian world was being exposed to what was going on behind the scene and being made more aware of the fact that the United States and the majority of the world were relying on and approving of Israel’s systems for combat and self defense.
How did 9/11affect the popularity of Krav Maga in the United States? Civilians were adamant on being trained in a proven and reputable system that won’t let them down in the face of real life violence. The role model civilians were turning to for answers were the military and police communities. After the 9/11 terror attacks it became clear that 1 – civilians had an important and real role in the war on terror, not just by being vigilant and aware but by also being prepared to take action if the need arose, and 2 – that the military and police community were the spearhead of the war on terror, and that since they were fighting an enemy that is probably more threatening and violent than the average street thug, the systems that they were using had to be more effective than the regular Martial Art or ‘Reality Based systems’ that were geared for the civilian community.
Therefore, the civilian community began turning to the military and policing community to learn what they were learning and using on this war on terror, and began to follow down the same path. This is where you suddenly saw a clear paradigm shift in the Martial Arts community. All of a sudden the covers of all Martial Art magazines displayed martial art instructors in military fatigues instead of gi’s, Martial Art systems were changing their names to suit a more ‘combat’ or military oriented image to make the inference that that system was the same tool being used by the military on the war on terror, many Martial art instructors were trying to get themselves in to various military and police units to train them in their systems so that they could advertise that their system was being used by those units on the war on terror and is therefore at the top of the ‘food chain’ of effective systems.
There was even one Israeli instructor teaching his own variation of Judo who decided to incorporate the words ‘Commando’ and ‘Krav Maga’ into his system and began to falsely claim that his system was the official system of the Israeli Defense Force.
However, one constant remained. Krav Maga was a system developed by a soldier for soldiers for the single purpose of real life survival. Even before 9/11, Krav Maga was already being used by many military and police units around the world including the United States.
This fact gave civilians the assurance they were looking for in a reliable and real world combat proven system and is the reason as to why Krav Maga suddenly became among the most popular system in the civilian world.
Imi Lichtenfeld was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1910. Shortly after, his family relocated to Bratislava, Slovakia where Imi grew up. His father, Samuel Lichtenfeld, had a great deal of experience in boxing and wrestling. Samuel ended up joining the police force where he became a detective and held the leading record for successful arrests as well as serving as the police force’s self defense instructor. At the same time, Samuel also opened up a fitness gym that incorporated training in boxing, wrestling, and Judo. Imi, at a very young age began training at his father’s gym focusing mostly on the fighting and self defense oriented training.
In the 1930’s Europe was beginning to fall under the grips of the Nazi movement. Anti-Semitism was spreading rapidly throughout the streets of Europe, Jewish people were consistently targeted and violently attacked.
Imi began to organize small groups of Jewish people to form an underground defense organization that patrolled the streets of his community and defended Jews that were being attacked by Nazi followers and supporters.
This allowed Imi to gain a tremendous amount of real fighting experience and allowed Imi to quickly distinguish between sport fighting and street fighting. It allowed Imi to learn and assess precisely what would work in a real life altercation against an attacker and what strategies were necessary to effectively and quickly dominate a violent attack and terminate the attacker’s capability to continue to fight.
Imi used all of this knowledge and experience to start developing his system for self defense.
In 1939 when World War II broke out, Imi joined the Czech Legion and contributed his part to fighting the Nazis on the battlefield as a combat soldier. This experience only further helped Imi to apply and test his system out under more grueling and complex threatening situations.
At the end of the war Imi moved to Jewish Palestine, the land that would later be proclaimed as Israel. The threat the Jewish people faced in this land was not Nazi anti-Semitism anymore, it was now the threat of the Arab extremists who were violently opposed to the presence of the Jewish religion in that region. Israel had not been proclaimed yet and there was no Israeli Defense Force, instead the defense of the Jewish people fell to the hands of the underground Jewish Defense Leagues known as the Haganah (the Hebrew term for defense), the Palyam, (Plugot Yam – the Hebrew term for Sea Companies) and the Palmach (Plugot Mahatz – the Hebrew term for Strike Companies).
Imi was quickly noted for his vast fighting capability and experience as well as his expertise in self-defense and hand-to-hand combat and was placed in charge of training the Jewish Defense Leagues in Hand-to-hand combat as well as other unconventional warfare tactics such as stealth maneuvers, sentry removal, close-quarters-combat, knife fighting, stick fighting, and bayonet tactics.
At this point in time this training was referred to as Kapap – the Hebrew acronym for the term Krav Panim el panim which means face to face combat.
This underground survival and strategical fighting carried on relentlessly day and night for several years and finally, on May 14, 1948, the United Nations officially declared the creation of the State of Israel and the Israeli flag bearing the Star of David was raised in the land for the first time.
Not even a week passed after that declaration that Israel found it’s self engaged in its first war that would put the might and determination of the Jewish people to the test. The newly born Israel was attacked on all fronts, from the North, the East, and the South, by the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt whose only goal was to eliminate the State of Israel and rid the region of the Jewish people.
The Jewish people determined to put an end to their history of being targeted for annihilation and beginning a new future of peace in their homeland, fought hard and within several days defeated their enemies causing them to retreat back to their countries.
Immediately following the war, the Israeli Defense Force was officially established.
Imi Lichtenfeld was immediately assigned as the Chief Commander of the IDF’s Hand-to-hand combat and Physical fitness division. His system of self-defense, which was now injected with even more real combat experience and that had been put to the test through years of conflict and war, was branded with the Hebrew name of Krav Maga – Contact Combat in English, and was officially designated as the Israeli Defense Force’s Self-Defense and Hand-to-hand Combat system.
From this point on Krav Maga would be put to the test many more times in violent conflict and wars, and would only continue to evolve from its experience into the modern battle tested and proven system it is today.
Imi would retire from the IDF in 1968 after 20 years of service. He then founded the Israeli Krav Maga Association and pursued his goal of spreading Krav Maga around the world so that every man, woman, and child could learn a system that would help them stay safe and alive if faced with violence. Imi passed away in 1998, but his legacy and goal carry forward today with Grand Master Haim Gidon who Imi appointed as Chief of the IKMA.
Contrary to several claims that have been made by one or two civilian instructors attempting to profit from Krav Maga’s success, till today the entire Israeli Defense Force including its Special Forces Division, only has one official system for Self-Defense and Hand-to-hand Combat, and that system is Krav Maga.
Naturally, as time progressed and the battlefield changed to incorporate new methods, tactics, and weapons of attack, Krav Maga also progressed to adapt to the changing face of the battlefield. The unique fact about Krav Maga is that it evolves and progresses at a quicker rate than other systems out there. This is due to the fact that it is in use in conflict every single day by the Israeli Defense Force, Police, and Security apparatus and the second that an element changes on the battlefield or in the streets that change is immediately registered and allows for an immediate assessment and update to the system.
Krav Maga in the IDF is governed by two official bodies. The first is Wingate, the Israeli National Institute for Physical Fitness Education. The Wingate Institute is a large campus that sits on the shore of Netanya, North of Tel Aviv. The IDF has a small section on that campus allocated to it, this section is called Bahad 8 (Bahad is the acronym for Basis hadraha, which means training base).
Bahad 8 is responsible for all Krav Maga training as it relates to the general army. It’s here that all soldiers destined to becoming Krav Maga instructors receive their certification. Krav Maga instructors in the IDF are not combat soldiers, they complete basic training and then are transferred to Bahad 8 to undergo a 2 month Krav Maga instructor course. Once they successfully complete the course they are assigned to either a regular combat battalion or one of the IDF’s Special Forces Units to serve as their Krav Maga instructors. Given the nature of the task they will carry out and the fact that the instructor certification course is only 2 months long, candidates interested in becoming Krav Maga instructors in the IDF must already possess a previous background in Martial Arts.
The second governing authority for Krav Maga in the IDF is the Special Forces Division Counter-Terror and Special Operations School – the CTS (Betsepher L’Lochama B’terror or LOTAR for short). This unit is situated in a classified base located somewhere in Central Israel.
The Counter-terror and Special Operations School is responsible for all training, certification, and Research and Development that relates to the Special Forces.
The CTS is in charge of training all the IDF’s Special Forces and Special Operation units in Counter-terror warfare, urban warfare, hostage rescue, tactical shooting and Krav Maga as it relates to the specific work of the Special units.
The Krav Maga instructors at the CTS, although governed administratively by Wingate, are under the command of the Special Forces Division. The instructors here in addition to completing their basic training and Krav Maga instructor certification course, must also complete a Counter-terror certification course (course Lochem Lotar).
The Krav Maga training the Special units receive at the CTS is divided into two sections. The first section the SF recruits receive while attending the CTS for their Counter-terror certification training. The second section is advanced specialized training the units receive if their work requires the use of specialized empty handed tactics and strategies.
The Krav Maga training Special Forces recruits undergo while at the Counter-terror School is among the hardest and most grueling training they receive while going through their warrior certification process.
Israel is in a unique situation with its military. Given the nature of Israel’s threatening environment and relatively small population, military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens. Males must serve three years (four years if they are selected for Special Forces) and females must serve two years.
In every single military force around the world soldiers must first serve in a regular combat unit for at least four to five years before being allowed to undergo selection for the Special Forces. In Israel, given the circumstances, the limited Defense budget, and the limited service time soldiers are committed for, the army has three to four years total to make use of the soldier.
Therefore, unlike the rest of the world’s military forces, in Israel a draftee can be selected for the Special Forces without previous regular service. The selection process begins during the draftee’s last year of high school, if he passes the aptitude and extensive psychological testing, he will be invited to a selection phase try out for one of the Special units. If the draftee successfully completes the selection phase, he will be assigned to a Special unit and begin his training. The training starts with 4 months of basic infantry training, followed by 2 months of advanced combat training, followed by the unit specific Warrior certification training that will last anywhere from an additional year to two years.
This time constraint puts our training in a very specific structure. With the Krav Maga training for example, the army does not have the luxury of time to train a soldier to become a proficient martial artist. In addition to the time constraint that exists in training the soldiers, IDF soldiers go into training at the age of 18 and by 20 years old they will be certified warriors sent into the field to fight face to face with Hezbollah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad terrorists that average 28 to 48 years of age and already have years of fighting experience behind them.
So the IDF is in a position where it has A) no time to train its soldiers and B) it needs to train a 20 year old to the point that he will survive any encounter he faces under any circumstances.
These are two issues that are specifically addressed and targeted in the principles of Krav Maga. Krav Maga is a system that was developed to conform to the individual as opposed to the individual having to conform to the system like in many Martial Art systems. The focus of Krav Maga is to arm the individual with the necessary strategies and tactics to dominate and terminate a violent encounter in minimal time and it uses strategies and tactics that can be learned, adopted, and effectively implemented in a very short period of time.
The Krav Maga system and training in the IDF focuses on developing the 3 important elements of combat:
The first phase of the Krav Maga training that all soldiers go through in the IDF revolves around developing the most important element in combat the mindset. It’s only with the proper mindset that an individual can survive the most complicated situations, or be able to continue fighting even while severely injured.
You can look at an individual who is an accomplished martial artist with years of training behind him, who has unmatched technique, is quick, and dominates the ring or the mat in training and in competition. If this individual doesn’t possess the proper mindset for combat, and is suddenly attacked and overtaken by fear and shock, chances are more than probable that he will not survive that encounter. If his mind shuts down, his body will not function and will not even allow him to use any of the great skills he has.
However, you can take an individual who has absolutely no training experience behind him, but possesses the proper survival mindset that will not allow him to lose under any circumstances. If this individual is suddenly attacked, his mind will take over and drive him to fight for his life without stopping, even if he gets hurt, until his attacker is no longer a threat to him. In this situation there will be no proper technique used, due to the individual’s lack of experience, there’s even the chance that due to the lack of proper technique the individual himself will get injured by not properly striking his target, however he will almost always end up with better results in surviving the attack than the martial artist in the first example whose mind will shut down during the attack and not help him survive at all.
The types of situations IDF soldiers face in the field usually place them in unfavorable odds. There’s an average of one to two attempts per month of kidnapping IDF soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas or Hamas terrorists. This usually occurs by the terrorists driving around, 3 to 4 in a vehicle, trying to find a lone soldier standing at a bus stop or walking down a street, pulling up next to the soldier, then quickly grabbing hold of the soldier, sometimes through an open window while two of the terrorists get out of the vehicle to shove the soldier inside.
Another popular method used at kidnap attempts is in the field, similar to the attack and kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25, 2006. Corporal Shalit was in a team of five soldiers on guard duty at a point on the Israel/Gaza border. Hamas terrorists quietly encroached to the soldier’s check post and fired a Rocket Propelled Grenade round (RPG) into their tank. Three of the soldiers were instantly killed, and two including Corporal Shalit were wounded and knocked unconscious, Shalit also sustained a broken hand in that attack. The terrorists quickly scooped up Shalit, collected the weapons of all the soldiers and fled into Gaza through an underground tunnel.
Like in the above described scenarios, most of the soldiers that encounter an attack and kidnap attempt are placed in great disadvantages such as being out numbered by attackers or being injured at the point that they have to fight to survive.
It is only the proper survival/killer instinct mindset that will allow an individual a fighting chance at escaping and surviving such encounters.
This type of mindset is one that can be developed with the proper drills and training. In order to develop this mindset in the soldiers during Krav Maga training various drills are used such as:
-during the Krav Maga training sessions which last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours a day, the soldiers are always first worn out completely with extensive physical punishment training. Only after they have been completely worn out do the mindset training drills begin. This is an important factor for two reasons, first soldiers have to learn how to fight and survive from the worst case positions, meaning when they are at a tactical and physical disadvantage. It makes no sense to teach someone how to try to survive a situation that they are already in an advantageous position to win.
The second reason, is that you have to learn how to know yourself and feel yourself when you are at your absolute bottom, and then train yourself how to work up from that point. If you train yourself to work up from the point that you are not completely physically and mentally drained, when you are put in a real situation that suddenly brings you to absolute mental and physical exertion, you will be too distracted registering and trying to adapt to this new feeling that you won’t be able to mentally focus on your primary task, which is to survive, and physically bring your body to execute the steps it needs to to get you out of the situation.
Once the soldiers are brought to the point of physical and mental exertion, the mental aggression drills begin. One such drill is where the entire group, usually 25 to 40 soldiers, are placed in a circle where they link arms with one another. One soldier is placed in the center of the circle, and on the blow of the whistle he is given a time frame to escape the circle. He is not allowed to jump over the wall of soldiers, he is not allowed to crawl under them, and he is not allowed to hit. His only authorized means of escape is by physically breaking through the linked arms.
This may not sound like a difficult task, however when you are trying to use nothing more than physical might to break through a wall of people using all of their strength to hold you in place, while you are physically at the point that you can barely lift your arms up in the air and your mouth is completely dry from exertion, even the big strong soldiers have a difficult time reaching their objective.
The catch here is that if the soldier does not succeed in escaping the circle in the time limit given, he is brought back to the center of the circle, and he repeats the process over and over until he finally breaks through.
Another mental aggression development drill is where one soldier is placed in the corner of the training room, the entire group bunches up against him with the goal of smothering him into the corner. On the command of the whistle the soldier has to force his way out through the group, again he is not allowed to climb over top of them or crawl under them. He his again given a time limit to accomplish his objective. Forcing your way out of a corner through a wall of people pushing against you, drains you of everything you have and can take several minutes to accomplish. Once the soldier finally makes it out to the other end of the human resistance pile on, he is greeted by an instructor in full sparring gear who he has to fight for several minutes. Every soldier may end up performing these drills several times per training session, this is also one of the few reasons as to why the Krav Maga training they go through can last up to six hours a day!
Once the mind has been cultivated into the necessary survival tool that will lead the individual to the proper response under stress, the body which is the vehicle that carries out the commands of the mind has to also be tuned up to ensure it carries out the commands on queue, quickly and properly.
The type of physical training that is incorporated into the Krav Maga training in the IDF is not geared at making the soldiers big and strong. It’s geared at making their bodies physically capable of responding properly to the type of confrontations they face.
Counter-terror warfare is a very unique dynamic. Terrorists structure their attacks in a way that will be conducive to them achieving their end objective which is always the death and destruction to innocent human lives, with no interruptions.
With the exception of the end objective, this structure is the exact same structure used by military and law enforcement units when we have a mission to carry out. The end objective is to carry out the mission successfully with no injury to any innocent bystanders or unit members, and with out the target being able to react quickly enough to our mission and be able to fight back or escape.
In order to achieve this end objective, we will gather as much intelligence on the target as possible to learn everything about it as we can such as when it moves and where it moves to, we will use the necessary amount of man power to ensure all angles are covered, the necessary type of equipment to ensure we can mitigate any obstacles, and we will select the time at which we will strike the target which will always be the best time possible to catch the target off guard.
When terrorists decide to carry out an attack, weather it’s against a military check post or a crowd of innocent civilians, they will implement the exact same elements to ensure maximum success such as studying their target to the point where they know all the target’s vulnerabilities and when the best time would be to strike the target to catch it at a point where immediate response/resistance maybe unavailable and where anyone situated at the target will be caught off guard.
This principle is what we call in Israel the -5, and this principle is what all of our training is based on. The -5 is a scale that isolates the three crucial elements of combat:
1 – Mental response
2 – Physical response
3 – Tactical response
In the -5, those three elements are at their most vulnerable disposition for combat. Mentally, our mind is not prepared for or focused on anything that may relate to combat or fighting. Physically, our body is no position to begin fighting, you may be sitting down or lying down or in any other position in which you would first have to restructure or reposition yourself in order to be able to fight. And finally tactically, which relates to our tactical tools for the fight, this may be a firearm or it may be your bare hands. Your tactical tools are not in a position to begin fighting, your M4 is slung on your back, your Glock 19 is securely fastened in its holster, or your hands are buried in your pockets.
A terrorist’s mentality will always dictate that we will be in the -5 when they strike and they will be in the +5. Meaning that when the terrorists already begins to fire at us, we have to first mentally perceive the attack, then physically position ourselves for fighting, and then deploy our tactical tools.
It’s important to keep in mind that you physically will not respond to an attack until you have first responded to it mentally. The human mind always goes through 4 steps of reaction:
1 – Perceive: you won’t respond to something that you don’t know isn’t there. So an attacker decides to strike you in the face, your mind will first perceive an action coming towards your face. If the attacker attacks you from behind, obviously you won’t perceive that strike coming towards your face, once the strike makes contact with your head your mind will now perceive that you’ve just been hit in the head by something and it will quickly go on to step number two.
2 – Analyze: so your mind perceives an action coming towards your face, it will now quickly analyze that action to determine what it is. At the point where it has determined what the action is, in this example a strike to the face, it now goes on to step number three.
3 – Formulate: it must now decide on a plan of action. Does it want to duck, block, move backwards, move forwards? Once it has formulated a plan of action it goes on to step number four.
4 – Execute: the mind must now transmit the plan through the nerves to the muscles to make the skeleton move according to the plan.
It takes the average person 0.25 seconds to go from step 1 to step 4, but this does not include the actual time it takes to carry out the physical action decided on in step 4.
So take the average speed of a punch, or stabbing motion of a knife, or even bullets flying at you from an assailant’s firearm, and keep in mind that when that threatening action has already been deployed you are only beginning step 1 of your response. In essence, the attacker has a 0.25 second head start on you, after 0.25 seconds, you now have to execute the physical action to address the attack.
The physical preparation of the soldiers has to be one that will allow them to instinctively explode into action as fast as possible. Physical training such as lifting heavy weights or running long distances has a tendency to slow the body down. Instead, the type of drills that are used in the IDF’s Krav Maga training are drills that focus on developing neurological and physical speed.
One example of these drills is called the ‘6 on 6’. The soldiers are lined up at one end of the Krav Maga training room, and on the command they must sprint as quickly as they can to the other end of the room, a distance of approximately 15 meters, and back for six laps. They then rest for 30 seconds, and repeat the six laps trying to beat the time of the previous round they just ran. They perform six sets of these six lap sprints.
To add to the quick response time training element, little things are added to each drill such as having the soldiers lye face down on the ground at the start line, so that when the whistle is blown they must explode up to their feet, turn around and then run.
This element focuses on training the soldiers in perfecting the tactical tools they will use in the field, if we are talking about Krav Maga specifically then that means our natural body weapons such as strikes, the use of knives and sticks, and the use of our firearms as cold weapons.
As for natural body weapons, again the IDF does not have the luxury of time to train it’s soldiers, so the focus is on using weapons that are easy to learn, easy to access and use, are easy to execute with the gear the soldiers wear in the field, and can cause an effective result that will allow the soldier to dominate the confrontation.
Dominating the confrontation does not mean knocking out the attacker, it is very difficult and almost impossible to actually knockout an aggressive attacker in a real confrontation. Dominating or effective result, means disrupting the attacker’s physical capabilities to the point where it also has a psychological effect and reverses the attacker’s disposition from offensive to defensive, or from the +5 to the -5.
Examples of this point may be the use of a jab motion with the fingers extended to attack the eyes. Effectively attacking the eyes of the attacker, puts him in a position where his vision is now disrupted and he becomes more concerned with and focused on not being able to see than he is with charging forward and carrying out his attack. This may slow him down and it may diminish the level of aggression he began the attack with which makes it that much easier for us to now access more vital targets on his body with more damage causing means.
Another example may be a strike to the throat, where again his mind will now divide up its responsibilities from attacking us to also focusing on the damage his body just sustained, to also trying to get him to breath properly. This will automatically slow him down, and disrupt his aggressive attack and his attack strategy which opens up the door for us to gain dominance in that confrontation.
The majority of the natural based weapons the soldiers are taught are rudimentary weapons geared at attacking large and easily accessible targets on the attacker as quickly as possible to either hinder the attacker’s ability to physically function or to simply keep him away. An example of this is a simple jab, cross, low kick combination.
As for strategy in the IDF Krav Maga system, the focus is on always keeping the soldier in a dominant and effective position. For example we never teach any techniques that result in the defender falling to the ground during the execution of the technique, we want the soldier to always remain on their feet. We also never teach any throwing moves, throws can sometimes be easy to counter, in many throwing moves the attacker can hold on to you and take you to the ground with him as he falls, and the fact is that it is not easy for a smaller person to throw a bigger person especially if the smaller person is stacked with 70 to 100 pounds of gear.
The battlefield of today is very diverse in terms of the types of weapons terrorists use to attack soldiers in Israel. These weapons include hand guns, assault rifles, knives, machetes, lead pipes, slingshots, and even hand grenades.
The Krav Maga training the soldiers go through in the IDF also focuses on teaching them effective defenses against armed attackers. The training includes extensive drills to train the soldiers to respond quickly and instinctively to an attack with a weapon from all possible positions and scenarios. For example they will learn how to disarm a terrorist holding a gun to their head while they are on their knees in an execution position, or to counter a vicious knife attack while lying down on the ground, or defend against an attacker armed with a lead pipe while a second attacker is also attacking them, or to disarm a threat armed with a hand grenade or micro explosive, or even how to surgically neutralize a suicide bomber about to detonate in a crowd of people.
These are all examples of situations IDF soldiers have experienced in the past or continue to experience today. The Krav Maga training of the IDF and the Israeli Special Forces is based solely on practical threat situations that are realistic to the operational environment.
The proper use of the Assault Rifle or handgun as a cold weapon is also a crucial skill. The preference and focus is always to terminate the threat as quickly as possible to prevent injury or death to ourselves or innocent bystanders, which in the majority of the cases means to shoot it. However firearms are prone to technical malfunctions which may place the soldier in a predicament that he can’t clear the malfunction quick enough to be able to shoot the threat before the threat can make contact with him, or from a tactical perspective it may be more important to first stop the threat from advancing and control distance before shooting it.
There are three types of injuries a firearm can cause.
1 – an instantaneously lethal injury. Meaning the bullet penetrates the attacker’s central nervous system and shuts his body down instantly.
2 – a time induced lethal injury. Meaning the bullet causes an injury that will have a lethal end result in a matter of several seconds to several minutes. Until death occurs, the attacker may still be able to function in the confrontation.
3 – an incapacitating non-lethal injury. Meaning the bullet causes damage that will physically disable the attacker immediately, but will not cause death.
4 – a non-incapacitating wounding injury. Meaning that the attacker will not die as a result of the shot, but can continue to physically function in the confrontation.
In injury types 2, 3 and 4, if the attacker is in a close proximity to the soldier he can still attack the soldier before the bullet injury physically stops him. Therefore, in close quarters combat many times the soldier will first need to use his firearm as a cold weapon, meaning to strike the attacker with it to create or control distance before using it as a hot weapon and shooting the attacker.
So the soldiers are also trained in using their firearms in various situations such as stopping a charging attacker or deflecting a knife attack with the firearm.
Another point as to why Krav Maga is very effective and practical for the civilian theatre, is because everything in the system is just as applicable to the civilian world as it is to the military or law enforcement world. The -5 concept is crucial to civilians due to the fact that many assailants will try to catch their potential victim off guard to ensure uninterrupted success in their objective.
Also, the margin between what soldiers face in the battlefield and what civilians are facing or will face on the streets today is narrowing. Today the potential for a civilian in North America or Europe to face a live suicide bomber in the street is not as foreign a concept as it was just a few years ago. In Israel, the majority of the individuals who come face to face with a suicide bomber are not the Special Forces operatives, they are the regular civilians carrying on their routine lives in the busy cities of Israel such as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or they are the 60 year old retirees looking to make extra income to supplement their pension by working as a security guard at a mall entrance.
There is a misconception that the term Krav Maga is no more than a generic term. This is not entirely accurate. When the IDF was founded, it only had one official system which was Krav Maga, the system’s name was very specific as the identifying marker of the system. As time went on, the Israeli population was becoming familiar with the system of Krav Maga, mostly due to the fact that every Israeli citizen underwent mandatory military service and during their service underwent Krav Maga training. Israel had no other self defense systems, and therefore the entire Israeli population was accustomed to the fact that any self defense training that related to the Israeli culture was only Krav Maga. Although Krav Maga is a very specific system as far as strategy and tactics, the majority of the Israeli population are not Martial artists and do not continue their Krav Maga training after completing their military service and therefore are not capable of observing a martial arts system in action or a self defense session and be able to identify which martial art style is being demonstrated or used, or the system of which the techniques they are seeing originated from, and therefore automatically label the martial art action they are seeing as Krav Maga.
In short, it’s a double edged sword. Israel, since its first day in history and to this very day has only had one official self defense system which is Krav Maga. Krav Maga is the only system the majority of the Israeli population gets exposed to and therefore the term Krav Maga, even in the absence of enough background and experience to be able to physically identify the system, is the automatic term that the Israeli population use in their language to label self defense or hand-to-hand combat, however Krav Maga is a very specific and uniquely identifiable system.
This fact should not be confused for the inaccurate explanation some instructors have decided to use on the public that Krav Maga is both a generic term to label any and all forms of martial arts systems and that the system of Krav Maga is one with no specific strategies or tactics but rather a system that absorbs and uses all seemingly practical techniques. Anyone who is a Krav Maga practitioner should be able to quickly and easily identify and distinguish Krav Maga from other forms of Martial Arts just as a practitioner of Karate, or Tae Kwon Do, or Judo would be able to distinguish their system from the others systems.
The only purpose of Krav Maga is to teach people how to survive real life violent attacks. Krav Maga is not a conventional martial art system, it’s not a sport, and it’s not a system designed on theories.
Krav Maga is a scientific and realistic approach to survival incorporating only strategies, principles, and tactics that have been proven effective in the modern battlefield and streets for decades.
Israel is a small country, its soldiers and citizens are almost always at uneven odds when confronting the type of threats they do. Krav Maga is a system that revolves around that same fact, it’s a system that is designed to allow the average person to survive a confrontation against a bigger, stronger attacker when faced with the worst possible situation.
The way in which Krav Maga achieves this objective is in its principle based structure, these principles are:
1 – Objective: our objective is not to learn how to fight, we don’t want to fight our attacker. We don’t know who our attacker is, what he is capable of, if he has weapons on him, or if he has several accomplices waiting on the side to attack us while we are busy with him.
Our objective in a confrontation is to dominate and terminate the situation as quickly as possible.
2 – Avoid any confrontation when ever possible: the one fight you are always guaranteed to win is the fight you are not in.
3 – Always be aware of your surroundings: Self defense training doesn’t end when you walk out the door of your training center. As soon as you place yourself in an environment where the threats that can harm you exist, that is when your real training begins.
You should constantly be assessing your surroundings for potential threats, escape routes, and weapons of opportunity that you can pick up and use if you need to or that your attacker may be able to pick up and use against you.
Almost all attacks are avoidable if you do not become complacent to your surroundings and to who’s around you. If you spot someone who is a potential threat to you, leave the area immediately.
4 – He who cheats wins: survival is always a fair game no matter how dirty you have to get. Your attacker will not put any thought into giving you any advantage or dignity while they attack and violate you and neither should you.
Remember that your attacker made the decision to play with fire, meaning to attack you, and if he walks away with an injury that will affect him for the rest of his life, that’s his problem.
5 – Train yourself to deal with fear: fear is a problem when it comes to survival because it affects your physical capabilities. The reason people feel fear when they are attacked is because they have never been in that situation before.
The best way to ensure that you won’t be affected by fear in a real life threatening situation is to place yourself in frightening situations everyday! Your mind does not know the difference between reality and what it thinks. The more you visualize yourself in the worst possible threatening situations, the more your mind will get use to them.
When you visualize yourself in these situations you can constantly train that situation over and over again to understand what you would do if you were really there. The more you mentally train on your response to that situation the more you will begin to lock in concrete survival plans in your mind and the more you will begin to get comfortable in those situations.
6 – Don’t become a victim of shock: Shock is more of a problem then fear, if you go into shock while under attack you will freeze and not do anything.
The reason why people go into shock in attacks is because of lack of preparation to respond to the situation they are in. The mind is divided into two sections, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.
The conscious mind is your cognitive thinking process. It’s when you are confronted by a situation in which you have the time to assess the situation thoroughly and respond decisively. If you get caught off guard and are overwhelmed with stress, your conscious mind will shut down and transfer all thought process to your subconscious mind.
This happens because your mind doesn’t have the time to thoroughly go through its 4 steps of reaction due to the overload of information and stress it’s taking in so it short circuits and shuts down.
Your subconscious mind is nothing more than an instinctive response command or a data bank of muscle memory. Meaning that if it has no concrete muscle memory stored in it that is conducive to addressing the immediate problem, it will simply make your body defend itself the best way it knows how which is to throw your arms up in front of your face and chest to protect the body’s vital areas and crouch down to become a smaller target.
If the muscle memory stored in your subconscious mind is not conducive to an instinctive response, your conscious mind will still make your body respond with its own primitive defense posture described above! Instincts will always dominate over cognitive response under stress.
Have you ever heard the term “I saw my life flash in front of my eyes.”?
Many people experience this response when they are in a situation where they think they are about to die. This response happens for a very specific reason that is geared at helping us survive under stress.
The reason why you see your life flash in front of your eyes is because when your cognitive or conscious mind shuts down due to overwhelming stress it transfers responsibility over to your subconscious mind, if your subconscious mind has no proper muscle memory stored in it to address the immediate problem it will also be stuck with no solution. Your subconscious mind at that point will scan the entire data bank of your life, from day one when you were born to the exact present second, to see if you were ever in a similar situation and to see how you responded in that situation so that it can take that same response and implement it to the current situation to help you survive.
To avoid going into shock under stress, like in the training to deal with fear, constantly visualize your self in every possible attack situation you may find yourself in and train yourself over and over in your mind until you have effective solutions for those situations. This gives your mind the immediate plans it needs to address the stressful situations immediately.
7 – Tactics must be instinctive: As described above, instincts will always dominate over cognitive response under stress. Krav Maga is designed on purely instinctive responses and strategies to ensure that the mind and body will work together under stress to address the threat.
8 – Speed: Be the first one and the last one to strike. Picture two rows of dominos, each row has an individual ready to knock down his row. The first one to knock down his first domino, is the one whose row will always finish falling first, no matter how soon the second row begins after the first row.
In a fight it’s the same concept, if you strike first you will begin to occupy the attacker’s mind causing a delay in his response allowing you to dominate him.
9 – Retzef: Retzef means continues motion in Hebrew. The concept of continuous attacking is important for survival. Retzef means to continuously attack your attacker quickly and determinedly not giving him any time to think, react, or attack.
3 types of threats
There are three types of threats identified in Krav Maga:
1 – Identified non-active threat: A situation where you have identified and determined an individual as being a threat to you either due to his threatening body language or him verbalizing his intent to harm you. This threatening individual may be at a distance from you or right in your face, however he is non-active meaning that he has not began to physically engage you yet.
In this situation, the person who attacks first applying the right weapons to the right targets and doesn’t stop attacking will dominate and has the more probable chances of winning.
2 – Identified active threat: You have identified and determined an individual to be a threat to you, only in this situation the individual has already began to engage you either by approaching you with his guard up ready to fight or by initiating an attack against you. In this situation you need more than just knowledge of targets and ability to attack those targets, you also need to have a fighting base.
3 – Un-identified active threat: also referred to as a surprise attack, this is a situation where you may not have been aware of your environment and an individual managed to sneak up behind you and ‘sucker’ punch you, or break a bottle over your head, or start to repeatedly stab you in the back.
Generally in this type of situation one of two things will happen, either you will be incapacitated by the attack, just hope that it doesn’t kill you, or you will still be conscious and capable of fighting in which case you will need to get back up to your feet as fast as possible, shake off the shock, and engage your attacker.
Krav Maga strategies against various attacks
Empty handed attacks:
-Non-active threat: speed is the most important element, you need to be the first one to attack the threat before he becomes active. The attack needs to be directed at a target that will not only inflict physical pain but will also psychologically occupy the attacker such as the eyes or groin. Once you have initiated the attack, use retzef to continue to attack until the attacker is no longer a threat to you.
-Active threat: you must counter-attack or simultaneously attack while your attacker moves. Your attack must be initiated as soon as the attacker initiates his so that at the second that his move has finished its motion you’ve already hit him with a strike putting him in a defense mode. Continue with retzef until he is no longer a threat to you.
-grabs: always intercept his grab with a simultaneous counter-attack. You are in a better position if he does not manage to lock his grab on than you are if he manages to fully grab a hold of you.
If he manages to grab you isolate vital targets such as eyes and groin and attack them right away. In the case of bear hugs, your first response must be to attack his groin before anything. Attacking his groin will drive his hips back, away from you, and this will impede his ability to pick you up and throw you to the ground.
-Do everything in your power to not end up on the ground. Rolling around on the concrete can harm you, if your attacker pulls out a knife or his accomplices jump in to the situation you will be in a very difficult position to survive.
-As quickly as you can isolate vital targets and attack them. If you grab his head you’ll have access to his eyes, if you can’t reach his head, usually attacking the groin will make him crumple forward putting his head in your reach.
-90% of all knife attack victims don’t realize they have been attacked by a knife until the confrontation is over, the adrenaline wears off and the blood begins to seep out of the knife wound(s). This is because a knife can be easy to conceal in the hand, and people always get immediately fixed on what they perceive as threatening them the most which in most cases is the attacker’s face or mouth that is threatening them if they do not know he has a knife.
Also, in many fight situations attackers deploy their knives in the middle of the fight when the defender is distracted. A stab from a knife when the adrenaline is flowing feels like nothing more than a punch.
Therefore, it’s crucial that as soon as you determine an individual to be a threat to you, you need to first scan his hands to see if they are holding any weapons.
-If you determine that an individual is a threat to you, and he makes a gesture that resembles him reaching to his pocket or waistband to possibly deploy a weapon, such as a knife or handgun, immediately charge in using one hand to trap/jam his drawing hand in place while simultaneously striking him with your other hand.
This will cause him to react defensively, keeping him busy trying to defend his face with his free arm, giving you time to now fully grab hold of his weapon drawing hand and take control of him. Maintain control of his weapon drawing hand at all times, take him to the ground, and then assess what he was reaching for and continue as you need to.
-if he deploys a knife your goal is to maintain distance at all costs, if that option is not available, try to pick up some sort of an impact object such as a stick or a pipe that will allow you to strike his knife hand from a distance.
-if you have no objects to use, every time he steps forward to attack use a low line side kick at his knee/thigh area to keep him away. This is properly executed by slightly turning your back to him, crouching down low, and sharply thrusting your heel into his leg. This tactic is preferable over a front thrust kick, if you use a front thrust kick and he slashes on a downward angle as your leg reaches his body that blade may cut you on the inside of your thigh severing your femoral artery. Using a low side kick motion will keep your femoral pointed towards the ground so in the event that the knife does make contact with your leg, it will be to a non-lethal side.
Also, with a front thrust kick the attacker may still be able to reach your body with the knife in most cases.
-if an opportunity presents itself and his knife arm is not in motion, charge in and lock onto the knife arm as quickly as you can. The knife is a threat to you if his arm is allowed to move. Once you lock onto the knife arm, begin attacking him with knees and head butts until he goes defensive and you have the opportunity to take him to the ground.
-Do not attempt to disarm the attacker of his weapon until you have him controlled on the ground.
-if your attacker deploys a knife, your preferred response is to make yourself disappear. If you can’t disappear, your next best response is to pull out a firearm. If you don’t have a firearm available, you want a long range impact weapon such as a lead pipe where you can impact his knife hand while staying out of range of his knife.
The last thing that would be recommended is to also deploy a knife against an attacker armed with a knife. Many instructors teach that a knife is an equalizer in such a case. This is partially correct, a knife will equalize your ability to cause the same degree of damage to the attacker as he can to you, but it will not necessarily equalize your tactical ability to stop him.
A knife can kill you but it won’t necessarily stop you. Even if you slash and sever your attacker’s carotid artery, he will eventually bleed out and die, but it will take several minutes for that to occur. In that time he can still charge forward and cause severe damage to you with his knife.
You have better chances at controlling the situation by using both of your free hands to protect your vital targets, and to grab hold and stop his knife arm from moving.
-if you are in a close range knife fight, it’s crucial that you use impact strikes such as a punch to the face or a knee to the groin. As opposed to a slash or stab from the knife, impact strikes will register with the attacker immediately and will physically disrupt him for a brief second allowing you to now safely cause damage with your blade. Remember that the attacker’s adrenaline will also be flowing and he won’t feel the knife penetrating his body.
-be sure that you have no choice and must attempt a disarm. Disarming an assailant armed with a firearm is extremely difficult.
-in all cases of a gun threat, you must follow this equation:
1 – redirect the line of fire
2 – control the weapon (gun)
3 – neutralize the attacker
4 – disarm the weapon
Remember that bad guys do not take firearm safety classes when they acquire their weapons, this means that when an attacker threatens a potential victim with a gun, his finger will be on the trigger. When the defender makes an attempt at a disarm, the attacker will have a startle response where his body will flinch/contract, this will include his gun hand contracting which will cause his finger to squeeze the trigger. If his gun is real, loaded, and chambered, that chambered round will fire.
Also, his immediate instinctive response will be to pull his gun hand back towards him. Therefore, our strategy must also address what we call ‘time in motion’ where our action is also moving to meet the part of his body that is concerning us to where it will end up during his reflexive response.
Because the first round will more than probably fire, you must first blade your body to remove it from the line of fire as you simultaneous reach up and grab the gun and redirect it off your body.
It’s imperative that you grab the gun itself and not his wrist or his hand. Grabbing the wrist will allow him to rotate his hand and re-point the gun at you. Grabbing his hand will not allow you to make a fully closed fist around his hand and it will guarantee that he will be able to pull his gun hand free from your grip.
Grabbing that gun ensures that you have a fully secured grip that he will not be able to break and it also ensures that he won’t be able to redirect the gun at you.
The grabbing motion of the gun is carried out by directing the web of your hand (in between your thumb and index finger) into the front part of the trigger guard. This will cause your hand to automatically close around the gun deep enough so that you are avoiding the muzzle (the bullet’s exit point on the gun) and won’t be shot. It also ensures that you will not be covering the gas ports, if the gun is a compensated model, preventing gas burns to your hand. This will also ensure that you have a secure grip on the gun even if it’s a short barreled weapon.
This method of grabbing also allows us to mechanically jam the gun by preventing it to cycle a new round into the chamber (in the case of a semi-auto handgun) after the first round is fired, and to lock onto and jam the cylinder if the gun is a revolver. In the case of a semi-auto, the attacker will first have to rack the slide of the gun to re-chamber a new round and bring it to the point where it can fire again, in the case of a revolver as soon as you release the cylinder the gun will be able to fire again.
As soon as you grab the gun, charge forward and jam the gun into the attacker’s waist area with the slide of the gun parallel to his body. This will place his arm in a weakened position and make it more complicated for him to resist against you.
At this point this is where the attacker will begin to fight back by trying to pull his gun free or strike you with his other hand. This is where step 3 is absolutely crucial, you must immediately strike the attacker once or twice in the face. The purpose of the strike is not to knock him out, it is simply to distract him long enough for us to move onto step 4. There are some systems out there that ignore this concept, stating that “there is no need to punish your attacker”, if you do not strike the attacker you will not have a chance at all at disarming him. His resistance will disrupt your ability to continue.
As soon as you complete the strike, your striking hand returns along the same path it launched from till it reaches your body, and then while running parallel to your chest it shoots down and reaches the exposed hammer part or rear of the gun area, it will be the only part of the gun that is in between your hand and the attacker’s hand, you wrap your fingers around the rear corner of the gun and quickly and violently step backwards ripping the gun out of the attacker’s hand.
Krav Maga is truly a unique system that is devoted to nothing more than helping good people stay alive. It’s a system that is full and complete in giving individuals the solutions they need for survival, or it’s just as effective a system to compliment any other martial art or reality based system to enhance ones ability to survive a real life violent confrontation.
The doors are open to anyone and everyone who wants to truly learn the official and only system of the Israeli Defense Force and Israeli Special Forces.
About the authors:
Sergeant Major N. is currently serving as a Section Commander and lead Counter-Terror and Krav Maga Instructor at the Israeli Special Forces Counter-Terror and Special Operations School. He has served for several years in the Israeli Special Forces as a Counter-Terror Unit operative and instructor, as well as a Use of Force and Tactical/SWAT Instructor at a major Police Academy in Canada.
He also has 28 years of extensive Martial Arts experience in Israeli Krav Maga, Hap Ki Do, Tae Kwon Do, and Jeet Kune Do.
Sergeant Major I. served as the Section Commander for the Israeli Special Forces Counter-Terror and Special Operations School’s Krav Maga Section and currently serves as one of the lead Krav Maga Instructors at Bahad 8 – the Israeli Defense Force’s Chief Instruction Section for Krav Maga and Physical Fitness at the Wingate Institute.
He has 15 years of training and teaching experience in Israeli Krav Maga.