How does Krav Maga differ from other martial arts or fighting styles?

Israeli Krav Maga is complete fighting system. The only rule is that there are no rules. Importantly, Krav Maga’s spiritual side is embodied by civility and good citizenship.

A defense must work against determined and concerted resistance; against someone who knows how to attack. In its military capacity and highest levels of learning, Israeli Krav Maga teaches not just defenses against armed and unarmed attack, but how to initiate an attack. An Israeli Krav Maga Association practionner is as comfortable in a ground confrontation as standing confrontation. (Note: a practitioner does not necessarily want to be situated on the ground during a confrontation for several reasons including the threat of multiple attackers. Nevertheless, the reality is that many fights to end up on the ground.) Imi designed Krav Maga to be learned in a short time, and, equally important, to be retained. Krav Maga does not emphasize traditional katas or choreographed routines. Instead, Krav Maga relies on retzev or “continuous combat motion” to complete the defense.

Spinal reflexes govern the body’s physical reaction to damage. While physically resilient, the human body is affected by structural injury in a somewhat predictable manner.  Therefore, a Kravist can generally predict how his counterattacks will affect the assailant’s subsequent movements or capabilities. Strategically, inflicting a first-salvo injury against an adversary opens the door to unleash subsequent injurious counterattacks. As another example, when an attacker is hit in the face, usually his head will jolt backward, exposing his throat and neck to attack while also forcing his pelvis forward to expose his groin for further attack. As emphasized, the optimum way to end a violent conflict is to injure the opponent rapidly and repeatedly as necessary.

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What is Retzev?

A Hebrew word that means “continuous motion” in combat. Retzev, the backbone of modern Israeli Krav Maga, teaches you to move your body instinctively in combat motion without thinking about your next move. When in a dangerous situation, you’ll automatically call upon your physical and mental training to a launch seamless, overwhelming counterattack using strikes, takedowns, throws, joint locks, chokes, or other offensive actions combined with evasive action. Retzev is quick and decisive movement merging all aspects of your Krav Maga training. Defensive movements transition automatically into offensive movements to neutralize the attack, affording your adversary little time to react.

Deadly, concerted, one-on-one, up-close-and-personal violence usually lasts no more than a few seconds. Adopting a simple survival mind-set is inadequate; you must not get seriously injured or maimed. One usually does not cleanly win a violent hand-to-hand combat encounter. One survives it, subject to an injury scale. Krav Maga, at its core, does not reflect “fighting” prowess so much as the ability to damage the adversary. In a fight, experienced combatants understand that specific defensive tactics rarely work or are applied.  Rather, it is your offensive capabilities that are paramount. In a fight, a well-timed, decisive pre-emptive attack creating anatomical damage followed by additional combatives usually prevails.  In other words, the victor is whichever fighter first successfully exploits an anatomical vulnerability of his opponent with a well-placed debilitating combative and, then, who continues to serially injure the opponent through retzev continuous combat motion.

Importantly, it is an ambush situation or the "-5" where a specific defensive tactic designed to counter a particular threat or attack may be successfully employed.  In other words, by necessity, the ambushed defensive party reacts first defensively and then, secondly, as soon as possible transitions to the counter-attack. Conversely, when engaged in mutual combat, offensive capabilities take priority and come to the fore. The one who first imposes a debilitating injury and then follows through with additional combatives is usually the one who prevails. An analogy might be a well-placed bullet from a semi-automatic weapon followed by that weapon’s then going fully automatic to finish the threat. When facing a potential lethal encounter, every counter-violent act should focus on inflicting injury or damage to render the aggressor incapable of further aggression.

When there is no choice but to use counter-violence, a professional kravist is compelled to maim, cripple, or—provided the circumstances are legally justifiable—kill an assailant by, say, breaking bones, disabling ligaments, or destroying an eyeball. In short, and in an animalistic sense, inflicting terrible, debilitating wounds on an adversary—maiming an assailant—balances power in the kravist’s favor.

It is axiomatic that the party who significantly damages the other party first usually prevails if he presses the counterattack home to neutralize the threat. Once again, there is no pity or humanity in visceral self-defense or hand-to-hand combat provided the ends justify the means in the correct use of force. Survivors do not waver in believing they will impose their will on an aggressor to alter the outcome.

The Israeli Krav Maga Advantage

The key is your mind-set: to neutralize an opponent quickly and decisively. In fighting sports, the following tactics are generally banned: eye gouges, throat strikes, head butting, biting, hair pulling, clawing, pinching or twisting of the flesh, striking the spine and the back of the head, striking with the tip of the elbow, small joint manipulation, kidney and liver strikes, clavicle strikes, kneeing or kicking the head of an opponent on the ground, and slamming an opponent to the ground on his head. These are exactly the combined core tactics Krav Maga emphasizes.

Operators may have different strengths and capabilities. Some may be strong punchers while others excel with infighting, throwing, or takedowns. The Krav Maga system is designed to best conform to defenders. A defender does not have to compromise his capabilities to conform to any set solutions or prescribed movements. To adopt and streamline the Krav Maga method, you must personalize the techniques and make them your own. This begins conceptually and ends tactically. Choose the ballistic strikes and other combatives you feel most comfortable with and that give you the greatest confidence.

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Attack the Attacker with Whatever Weapons Are at Hand: Anatomical Targeting

To stop an assailant, Krav Maga primarily targets the body’s vital soft tissue, chiefly the groin, neck, and eyes. Other secondary targets include the kidneys, solar plexus, knees, liver, joints, fingers, nerve centers, and other smaller, fragile bones. The professional also immediately recognizes that an assailant might also target these same targets and, accordingly, takes measures to protect one’s own vital anatomy. A protective posture or stance is integral to Krav Maga training. In addition, Krav Maga teaches you to disarm assailants and, if necessary, turn the weapon against them. The system differs from other systems that may rely primarily on targeting difficult-to-locate nerve centers.

Forging an awareness of your own personal weapons and an adversary’s vulnerabilities is essential to fight strategy and tactics, especially when he is armed and you are not. There are no rules in a fight, particularly in the life-or-death struggle of combat. This lack of rules distinguishes the system from sport fighting.

Krav Maga, initially developed as a military fighting discipline, employs lethal-force techniques. Lethal force may involve crushing the skull, cutting off an aggressor’s oxygen supply or blood flow, severing the spine or major arteries, or stopping or penetrating the heart, along with several other slower-acting methods of inflicting trauma. Founder Imi Lichtenfeld was resolute that these techniques remain confined to military and professional security circles. While these techniques are integrated at the highest levels of the IKMA curriculum, trainees who are exposed to them are highly vetted.

A key to Krav Maga—especially for law enforcement, security, and military professionals—is understanding weapon deployment and the capabilities of different categories of weapons. Those categories include—personal (hands, forearms, elbows, knees, shins, feet, and head), cold (impact and edged weapons, plus firearms used as impact weapons), and hot (firearms). Another key is making a seamless transition from one weapon type to another.

In both defending and attacking, recognizing the human anatomy’s vulnerabilities is essential to fight strategy and tactics. The human body is amazingly resilient. Therefore, an adversary may only be stopped when his offensive capabilities are put out of commission by nonlethal concussive force, joint dislocations, bone breaks, or cutting off the blood supply to the brain, resulting in unconsciousness. If necessary, Krav Maga also employs chokes and “blood” chokes to render an adversary unconscious or worse.

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With proper body positioning, an adversary on the ground can be pummeled severely while giving him little defensive recourse. Logically, in both standing and ground fights, it becomes difficult for an adversary to fight effectively if his hands or limbs are broken, and rendering an adversary unconscious quickly ends a fight. Every type of lock requires moving the joint against its natural articulation with breaking pressure. While we teach certain core arm dislocation positions, once you have an understanding of the biomechanics, you can apply the principles to many situations. This is especially important in the fluidity of a fight. Optimally, you will use the entire force and weight of your body to apply pressure against an adversary’s joint. This is the key principle to joint locks. Remember that a joint lock, however decisive and quick, still ties you up momentarily, exposing you to a second adversary—or multiple adversaries—attacking you.

Remember, standing, clinched, or on the ground, Krav Maga is designed for everyone. A smaller opponent can defeat a larger, stronger, and perhaps more athletic opponent. A well-trained kravist will possess core training in all three combat phases. In a rapidly unfolding fighting chess match, the best way to defend against an offensive technique is to know the offensive technique. Knowing an array of techniques solidifies your ability at an advanced level.

Does the IKMA curriculum incorporate ground survival?

Yes, the IKMA incorporates extensive groundwork tailored to the Krav Maga philosophy of quickly disabling or neutralizing an opponent. In other words, a Krav Maga practitioner does not necessarily intend for a “submission” or “tap out” from an opponent as common in sport fighting. A Krav Maga practionner will execute a joint dislocation or worse to end to the confrontation. (On this and related points, use of force and legal issues are important considerations. A defender must not exceed “reasonable” force or use excessive measures once the threat ceases to be a danger. Use of force issues vary considerably and it is incumbent for a defender to know what is legally acceptable.)