This is Krav Maga, Not Self-Defense

Two different perspectives on the same event, inspired by John Zimmer’s post on Kung Fu and self-defense…

Adira walked down the street, wearing a comfortable summer ensemble: tank-top, shorts, and flip-flops. Twenty yards ahead, she spotted two idle and suspicious men sitting quietly. To a Krav Maga expert of her status, they were no concern. She casually walked past them.

Suddenly, the nearest man lunged forward. Adira’s training immediately kicked in; she silently asked herself, How should I disable this attacker? In an instant, she had already struck him in the chin, kneed him in the stomach and thrown him to the ground. Having solved the problem, she continued her walk.

Then the second man attacked from behind! Adira responded with a powerful side kick, followed by two more of her infamous knee strikes. Finally realizing the danger of her circumstances, she ran away.

Fortunately, her Krav Maga was a complete success.

(The original video accompanying this post is currently unavailable.)

Adira walked down the street, alone and unarmed. As a practitioner of self-defense, she would normally try to avoid this scenario altogether–but the enchanting summer afternoon had silenced her better judgment. Twenty yards ahead, she spotted two idle and suspicious men sitting quietly. Adira’s training immediately kicked in; she silently asked herself, How do I avoid fighting with any would-be attacker?

As there was no other route home, she continued forward, forgetting to tread along the far side of the path. While the additional three feet of distance would not have protected Adira, it would have given her an extra half-second to respond to any sudden lunges. A half-second is a long time in such circumstances.

And the man did lunge at her. Without sufficient time and space to get away, Adira was forced to counterattack. Using her training in Krav Maga, she subdued the man, while his obvious accomplice sat and watched from the sidelines. As Adira tried to walk away–without proper shoes, running was not an option–the second man approached. Again, she was taken by surprise, but due to the sheer incompetence of her assailants, she somehow managed to escape without injury.

Sadly, her self-defense skills were a complete failure.


  1. “Sadly, her self-defense skills were a complete failure.” Pretty harsh assessment in my view.

    Consider an alternative scale:

    Outstanding: Avoided the incident altogether
    Excellent: De-escalated the confrontation without violence
    Very good: Escaped without injury
    Good: Escaped with minor injury

  2. Yes the self-defense is a bit delusional, and the mind set perhaps even more so, but lets face it–Israeli women are the only women in the world that are not afraid to look a man up and down and then straight in the eye. If Krav Maga is even 10% responsible for that it is my favorite martial art.
    Happy Hanukkah!

  3. I like to read Martial Development every now and again. Many good points are raised. However, in reading this I am confused. Is it not possible for anyone with a computer to “create” a situation where their martial looks better than another? If someone can be persuaded by this type of obvious self promotion I would say they have more to fear from lack of critical thinking than their martial arts choice.

  4. I have not compared one martial art to another, and I don’t sell self-defense. Nor did I script and shoot this video. So where is the self-promotion here? Do you agree or disagree with my point?

  5. To be honest I have read your post a few times and have difficulty understanding it.

    It seems like you are trying to say that someone can look at the same situation as either failure or success depending on their lens?

    However, I feel like your point is not coming through Because you label the KM one a success and the SD a failure. There in lies the confusion. It sounds like are either giving a back-handed compliment to KM or somehow you think one is better than the other. Your words are too ambiguous and leave much to interpretation.

  6. To leave the conclusion to interpretation, is not such a bad thing, I think. Feel free to supply your own.

  7. Aloia, if you look at the link to the original post, Zimmer tells a different story as well. The point is to delineate the difference between a “fighting” mindset and a “self defense” mindset; krav maga just happens to be the content of the video. Either mindset is style-agnostic. A fighting mindset is confrontational; hence the perceived success of the first story. The self-defense mindset involves awareness and avoidance; it is purely about surviving the situation with as little risk as possible, and of course the least risk is not having to fight at all.

    The two stories above could be considered extreme interpretations; look at some of the comments before yours regarding a more nuanced interpretation. Chris has a tendency towards hyperboly in many of his posts, often using potentially inflammatory arguments to provoke discussion. You’re still seeing this as a comparison of styles, when that is completely irrelevant. It’s just the wrong context.

  8. It comes down to a presentation of a dichotomy of choice, though there may be more than two options that is not relevant to the dichotomy.

    The dichotomy is fundamentally illustrated by the following statements:
    1 how do I disable my attacker
    2 how do I avoid a violent encounter
    I did not present these as questions, as I said they are statements. While this is not true in the grammatical sense, it is quite valid as a perspective insofar as each betrays an underlying statement, which are as follows:
    1 violence must be met with violence
    2 violence must be avoided

    Self Defense in wisdom entails minimizing risk, so self defense fits #2. However warriorship, something I detest, is concerned with #1. Martial arts as a broad term can encompass both, and therefore lacks specificity conducive to intelligent consideration unless further defined according to the context.

    Now do I agree with you? I did mention I detested warriorship, including the fighting mentality. However that is a personality flaw of mine and I have no real reason to think it is good or bad either way without a specific context to consider. I do not believe that good or bad exist in the abstract, only in context. So maybe I fail to agree and fail to disagree at the same time.

  9. Jeff, thanks for clarification. One of the reasons I keep coming back to Martial Development is Chris’ position on downplaying the fighting mentality of MA and espousing the more holistic approach of traditional martial arts. By holistic approach, I mean that traditional martial arts have so much to offer more than just fighting. Hence the title Martial Development!

    I see the two points made fighting vs. SD mindset. I feel the original post is misleading in 3 ways.

    One, it uses KM as an example of the fighting mindset. (I am not a practitioner of KM) but it looks as if he is giving a backhanded complimented to KM.

    Two, without offering an explanation of what he thinks is a true SD mindset the outcome is left up to the reader’s interpretation of SD. Mine is she survived with minimum damage. There was another comment which also took it this way.

    Thirdly, by co-opting someone else’s video and putting a new spin on it, one’s intent should be really clear. My first take on this was I thought there was some type of self-promotion to it. The post reads like so many of those ads in the back of a magazine that state, “your martial art will get you killed…”

    Just to finish up, I am a Tai Chi student and I am involved in health research. The main purpose of health research is identify risks and understand ways to avoid it. I believe very strongly in minimizing risk. I used to frequent SD forums and have stopped because many people who gravitate towards SD culture are not genuinely interested in protection of their lives. They are interested in protecting their egos and maintaining their status through force. When you learn to minimize risk I believe you are truly on the path of martial development.

  10. Chris, as one accustomed to the marketing of Krav Maga as a form of self-defense, I was really surprised to see that video. Because as an illustration of good self-defense, that response is technically flawed in nearly every way.

    Yes, I repeat, anyone who walks alone and unarmed into a probable trap, intending to take on their attackers one-on-one in the manner of a cheesy action movie, is a failure at self-defense. It doesn’t matter if they are a good fighter; IRL good fighters get knifed in the back.

    Maybe the video producer just wanted to portray some “realistic combat techniques”, and didn’t think much about the message in the background. Well, from a SD perspective, that is even worse! Self-defense always occurs in context, and it cannot ignore context.

    IMO the video clip unwittingly shows someone who has prepared to fail, and succeeded despite herself. Not a good example to follow.

    I invite you to send this video to your own instructor, without my commentary, and request their personal opinion.

  11. It is very true that self defense begins with avoidance. That is the most basic lesson taught in the Saturday Afternoon Seminars. But, noone is perfect either and sooner or later all of us (due to inattention or neccessity of the situtation) WILL be in an exposed position where personal safety is concerned. That’s just life. If we are lucky, we will walk through it and never realize how easily we could have been hurt. If not, I only hope my training will serve me as well as Adira’s did for her. The point being…if your initial judgement is flawed making confrontation unavoidable, then getting out unharmed is the next best thing. So, I think failure in self-defense is a little harsh. I would say the next step down from perfect is a “B”.

  12. Looks like she used basic combatives–what’s your point? I practice Guided Chaos and Silat, I would have done the same only I would stomped on them a couple of times before I left.

  13. Point of above is that Krav Maga is no better or impresssive than any other reality combative system. Actually, it is an inferior art compared to Guided Chaos.

  14. In reality both men would have rushed her at once and she would have been more or less powerless to defend herself. Her best option was to run away, but considering she seems rather unathletic they’d probably chase her down.

    I recommend a thorough grappling tuition so she can properly utilise leverage and technique to overcome their strength and weight advantages. She needs a new Krav Maga school. Or to attend a more quality-controlled martial arts class.

  15. If this or that had happened then this or that would have happened. So she should do this or that and then she would be ok…

    there I can do it too, don’t I seem wise?

    Just criticize and say what she should have done and then you sound like an expert without having to have participated in the discussion at hand. That’s not pathetic at all. There aren’t ten thousand people doing that online… REAL PROUD OF YA!

  16. Krav-maga is about self-defense, not fighting. The aim of the system is, in the founder’s own words, to empower people so that they may walk in peace. The main difference between KM and other styles or systems is that KM assumes that no quarter will be given, hence the very violent nature of the techniques. This is not suprising given the origin of the system and the inherently lethal nature of the Isreali-Palestine conflict. This video is clearly a demonstration of basic defensive techniques, only to be used when you cannot avoid trouble. Your assumption KM-practioners will always go looking for trouble is faulty, your point that there is a difference between fighting (atangonising people into attacking you or willfully seek out fights) and self-defense (keeping yourself safe, preferably without any violence) is a valid one but do not portray KM in a negative way based on hearsay or one demonstration-video. KM has saved many lives and it’s certainly innovative in its approach to street violence. IMO it’s better suited to self-defense than most traditional styles based on learning-curves or the time it takes to develop skills that will at least give you a good chance to fend off untrained or semi-trained attackers, especially when weapons are involved. This is not meant to knock traditional MA, they have many things to offer KM simply does not adress (tradition, history, spirituality) but it’s only natural it’ll take longer to get good at self-defense when your training is geared towards others goals than basic SD. Any martial artist can fall prey to ego but this goes for any art or system that teaches combative techniques, for whatever purpose or goal. No-one in his right mind would want to face two attackers at once but sometimes you don’t have a choice and your goal should be to deal with the situation as efficiently as you can and make a run for it, basically what the girl in the video did (albeit in a rather acted way). Self-defense should consist of both awareness-training and training in physical combatives, as long as you got out of trouble relatively unscathed you did good and you’re certainly not a failure for getting into a fight you didn’t pick. Especially in heavily populated area’s contact with strangers is inevitable and it’s equally inevitable some of the individuals you pass on the street will have bad intentions and unless you’re a mindreader or have a cloack of invisibility there’s always a chance you’ll have to defend yourself physically. How many of us can say they never fought at least once (for real) in their lives? Awareness is not a magic bullet and although I agree it’s better to be safe than sorry when violence is inevitable you’d better be prepared for it. If awareness alone were enough there simply wouldn’t be a need for physical training, surely you’ll agree this is absurd.

  17. It’s not always possible to run away immidiately, plus if he’s faster than you he could catch you with your back turned. It all depends on the circumstances, in my view it’s difficult to devise a set of rules that would apply to all or even the majority of situations. It’s only a video showing some skills, I’m pretty sure in training they’ll teach the finer points of self-defense and avoidance. I find it amusing when people think they know what a style or system is about by googling a few video’s and pointing out supposed flaws. Then you have those people who are clairvoyants or so experienced they just ‘know’ how typical streetfights ensue (if indeed there is such a thing) or how attackers will behave: “In reality both men would have rushed her at once and she would have been more or less powerless to defend herself.”

    If that is your starting point learning martial arts for the purpose of self-defense is perfectly useless since attackers will always counter whatever you do, they’ll know everything about you, your abilities and fighting in general (if you do this, he’ll do that…) and in any case they’ll always be better than you. Why not just stand there and take a beating? Nothing you’ll ever learn is absolutely foolproof: you could be a black belt in seven systems but if he pulls a gun and points it at you outside your defensive range you’re dead, if someone’s hiding behind the door and hits you over the head with a hammer you’ll have no defense for that… Most attackers are not supermen, highly trained fighters or stone cold assassins: with the proper training and quick reflexes you actually stand a good chance of surviving a streetfight, even against armed adversaries or multiple opponents.

    To the guy recommending she’d take a few grappling-classes: you cannot be serious. While they aren’t any hard and fast rules in this type of situations and any combat skill is valuable I don’t think it’s a good idea to get entangled with a guy (let alone ending up on the ground which is a common occurence in the clinch), giving the others clean shots at your unprotected vitals. Grappling will only give the smaller individual the advantage if they’re highly trained and technically superior to the opponent: smaller individuals are generally more agile and mobile and against a bigger guy it’s in their best interest to keep moving, avoid his attacks and counter. If he can grab you or you grab him he can use his superior strength and size against you, if you’re not there it doesn’t matter how hard he can hit or kick. Against multiple opponents your best asset is mobility and longe range attacks: evade, damage and run. I seriously wouldn’t try to grapple with anybody in that situation, not if I can help it.

    To Xenophon: how can you possibly determine her skill-level or the quality of her instruction from this one video?

  18. Again, the video is scripted, but I don’t see much situational awareness. The defender should seem to be a little more aware of the two gents as she passed… and should sense the person as he closes the distance. She shouldn’t have taken down the first attacker with her back to the second. After downing the first attacker, the walking away should have been a little more tactical … defensive position surveying the landscape. Getting ‘caught’ unawares the second time seems a bit of a shame. Colin

  19. Krav-maga is about self-defense, not fighting. Krav Maga is not considered as a competitive sport, and instead focuses on real life methods of self-defense and training in hand-to-hand combat situations.

  20. This was a demo of a simulated attack. I thought she did the basics well. The first goal is not to be where trouble is. The next level is to avoid the confrontation if you end up where trouble is. The next level is to defend with as little effort and damage as possible. The last level is damaging the attacker so they cannot continue the attack. As I said, I think she did the basics well.

  21. Chris, I haven’t read all of the posts for this thread, but I agree completely with the point you make at the top. Anyone trained in self-defense tries to always be on guard, especially when alone. I understood everything you were trying to say.

    Good post!

  22. This video was clearly showing fighting techniques in a real life situation, not SELF-DEFENSE techniques in a real life situation. It has really nothing to do with krav maga except that KM was the training she had used. I don’t understand why people are nitpicking. You (Chris) are not trying to talk about the style or different things she could have done, but about how she failed to have a self-defense mindset.

    Urgh, not to be rude, but i feel as if i’m trying to defend your post and explain it to kids much younger than me.

  23. Krav Maga is a Self-Defense Art, NOT a Martial Art.
    So you can’t just say “KM vs. SD”, because one is included in the other. You must specify the SD Style you are “criticizing”.

    Truth be told, the “be always alert, always expect danger, always pay atention to the environment, situation and others behaviors” is part of the KM mindset. I don’t know about others SD styles.

Add a Comment