While most forms of martial arts usually come with a traditional and historic background that practically turns the movement into an art form with an aspect of spirituality thrown in for good measure, Krav Maga gives all of that the middle finger. In competitions, there are rules, regulations, and a referee, while Krav Maga throws all that out the window, sourcing the best moves from boxing, Combat Sambo, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, judo, jujutsu, wrestling, aikido and grappling, along with realistic fight training, teaching you the shortest and most effective techniques aimed to paralyze, subdue, or kill your opponent using quick, explosive movements.
With a pretty solid background in karate, taek wan do, boxing, and escrima, I found myself drawn to one of the most brutal forms of street fighting (and self-defense) out there, and partnered up with the International Krav Maga Federation – Philippines to try a session with them and see how I’d fare under the tutelage of the IKMF Regional Director for Asia, Dindo de Jesus.
The Origin Story
Krav Maga was derived from street-fighting skills developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler as a means of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in the mid-to-late 1930s. In the late 1940s, following his immigration to Israel, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF, who went on to develop the system that became known as Krav Maga. It has since been refined for civilian, police and military applications.
Krav Maga has a philosophy that emphasizes threat neutralization, simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers, and aggression. The discipline is used by Israeli Defense Forces, both regular and special forces, and several closely related variations have been developed and adopted by law enforcement and intelligence organizations, Mossad and Shin Bet.
Although very aggressive, Krav Maga encourages students to avoid confrontation. If this becomes impossible or unsafe, it promotes finishing a fight as quickly as possible. Attacks are aimed at the most vulnerable parts of the body, and the training one undergoes is not limited to techniques that avoid severe injury – some even permanently injure or cause death to the opponent.
Ideas in Krav Maga include:
- Counter attacking as soon as possible or attacking pre-emptively.
- Targeting attacks to the body’s most vulnerable points, such as: the eyes, neck or throat, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, etc.
- Maximum effectiveness and efficiency in order to neutralize the opponent as quickly as possible.
- Maintaining awareness of surroundings while dealing with the threat in order to look for escape routes, further attackers, objects that could be used to defend or help attack, and so on.
Training can also cover situational awareness to develop an understanding of one’s surroundings, learning to understand the psychology of a street confrontation, and identifying potential threats before an attack occurs. It may also cover ways to deal with physical and verbal methods to avoid violence whenever possible.
My First Class
The FTX Gym along Tordesillas street in Makati isn’t hard to find. Located on the second floor of the Three Salcedo building right across the park, the IKMF rents out a room there for training every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:30 to 9 o’clock in the evening (Set 1), and Tuesday and Thursday from 7:30 to 9 in the evening and Saturday from 10:30 to 12pm in the afternoon (Set 2).
As Krav Maga was developed for the military, I came into my first class feeling a bit nervous, assuming the training was going to be rigorous and unrelenting. Most of the students in the class were men, and aside from myself, there was one other woman taking the class with me. I found out later that there are a few other women who take up krav maga, mostly to learn self defense. They also happen to be half my size.
In reality, the class I attended wasn’t as rigid or tyranical as I has anticipated it to be. It went on at a steady pace, with lots of breaks in between, with Dindo going through the basics of each move, discussing why it would be more effective when used in a street fight compared to why throwing a punch or kicking in a certain way or at a certain area would most likely hurt you more. We would then shadow each combination of moves for a few minutes before practicing with a partner and pads.
During the class, I found that having a background in martial arts is more of a hindrance than an advantage. Muscle memory starts to kick in when throwing a simple kick or punch, like reflexively stepping or sliding back before throwing a punch, when in krav maga, the power of the punch comes from a slight twist of the body and a different angle of the fist. Sure, the moves don’t look as pretty, but theoretically and practically, krav maga makes so much more sense!
The very last lesson was an all out sparring session with two people holding pads simulating a street fight, whilst doing a combination of kicks, punches, and then dropping to the floor after two minutes for a series of push ups, crunches, and burpees before going back to going all kamikaze on the pads again. I didn’t understand what we were doing, but after the class Dindo explained how it was meant to tire you out, to keep your stamina up when you’re in an actual fight against multiple opponents.
Krav Maga for Women
Sexual assault is a topic that is considered taboo in most countries. It is a threat that most of the time goes unpunished, with most victims being too afraid to step forward, for fear of being publicly shamed or worse, being blamed for the assault because of how they dressed or what they look like. Robbery is also more common among women in the Philippines, as robbers would most likely target a smaller victim.
As this issue is highly disturbing and sometimes difficult to discuss, IKMF Phils does not only offer technical and tactical training but also the appropriate mental capabilities to support their readiness to fight back. This involves substantial emotional training to foster self-confidence, determination and the necessary aggressiveness. Defenses have been modified to accommodate women’s physique and state of mind.
Here’s a scenario when an assailant takes you from behind and tries to subdue you in a headlock. This is perfect for when the attacker targets a smaller victim, and doesn’t need too much force to turn the tables around:
1. So there you are, minding your own business, when your assailant checks you out, waiting for the most opportune moment to take advantage of you; 2. He gets you in a headlock maybe, forcing your head and torso down, probably thinking that he can subdue you into passing out and taking advantage of you or something equally unplesant.
3. Don’t panic, you know krav maga! Open your palms with one hand going for the eyes and forehead or the eyes and the nose, the other going straight for the groin. If you can manage to get your fingers in his eye sockets, better. Squeeze those jewels and don’t let go while pushing his face back with the other hand – that’ll make him squeal in pain, let go of you, and tip back (no matter how big he is); 4. Leading his face with your thumb and index finger, you have one hand free to inflict as much damage as you want to his exposed areas – the groin is always a sweet spot for pain.
5. Tip his head back (women will most likely be smaller than their attacker, but you should be able to tip him all the way back) and aim a punch to another vulnerable area – the throat; and finally, 6. When he’s on the ground, you can either make sure he doesn’t stand up by stomping his diaphragm or getting away to safety.
Pretty straightforward, huh? Additional topics also cover women’s self-defense against home invasion, third party protection (protecting your children) and using common objects (keys, your handbag, etc.) to block the assailant and counterattack. Dindo has been conducting women’s self defense classes with IKMF for more than four years in the Philippines, together with Kitin Flores-Cruz, the assistant instructor for Women’s Krav Maga.
My foray into krav maga was quite an experience! You learn how to defend a wide range of scenarios, and each lesson is always different. One learns to defend against punches, kicks, choke holds, headlocks, knives, and guns. One also learns how to effectively throw a punch, kick, choke hold, headlock, and use a knife or a gun.
So what is krav maga in one word? Effective. You are taught to strike at your attacker’s vulnerable points such as the eyes and the groin, and then escape. It is so effective, in fact, that although it was developed for Israeli’s Mossad, it is now being taught to some of the world’s most elite combat units, and is also popular with women as a self-defense technique.
I also like how the students basically treat each other like family – Why study self defense? Sure, you may never get to use it, but you’ll always be a step ahead of those who don’t. Krav Maga is not only a badass martial art, it is also a way of life, teaching you how to detect and assess danger in order to avoid it. When push comes to shove, don’t be the victim. Make them very sorry they chose to mess with you.
International Krav Maga Federation Philippines holds class at the FTX Gym at Three Salcedo Place, Tordesillas St., Salcedo Village, Makati, with training sets held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:30 – 9pm, and another training set on Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30am – 12pm, and Saturday from 10:30am – 12pm. They also hold classes at Planet Infinity Gym in Quezon City and Summit Wellness Center in Ortigas. For inquiries on rates or their latest promotions, please call +63 2 211 7261 or +63 917 894 2728.