You walk along the street, it is dark and there is a group of potentially dangerous-looking people coming towards you. We have probably all been in a situation like this before. The one question we always ask ourselves at that very moment is ‘How do I defend myself if they start attacking me?’
There are many forms of self-defence you can learn to help you feel more safe and comfortable in situations like this, one of them is so-called Krav Maga. We talked to Direct Defence Krav Maga owner and head instructor Adam Holmes who has spent a lot of time in Israel learning from some of the world’s best Krav Maga instructors.
What exactly is Krav Maga?
Krav Maga is a reality-based self-defence and combat system. Originally created for military use, it has since been adapted for civilians, as well as law enforcement and security forces, and can be learnt by anybody to keep themselves safe.
Is it in any way linked to martial arts?
We generally don’t consider Krav Maga to be a martial art, as we don’t have any sporting elements or competitions, and we don’t follow rituals or traditions. We only focus on what works and is effective in reality. That being said a lot of the skills from martial arts can carry over into Krav Maga training, but it’s important to recognize that there is a big difference between martial arts and self-defence. Krav Maga is all about self-defence.
Where does it originally come from?
It was developed in Israel for use in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) as their official hand-to-hand combat system.
I have never heard about Krav Maga before. Is it a new trend? Are there many clubs?
It was created in the late 1940s but it never left Israel until 40 years later. It first came to the UK in the 90s but it remained fairly unknown until quite recently. Now it’s growing in popularity all the time, with several major organizations operating in the UK. Krav Maga Global (KMG), the organization which I belong to, has nearly 40 clubs across the UK.
What makes it different to other self-defence classes?
There are a few things which separate Krav Maga from other self-defence systems. Firstly, it is based on the human body’s natural in-built responses. The defensive techniques we use start from these initial reflex actions, which makes it very easy to learn AND also give it a much higher chance of working when you really need it to, as you don’t have to think about what to do. You just use your reactions as the starting point.
Secondly, our training methods differ to many other systems. It’s important to train in a realistic manner so that what you are doing has some bearing on reality. Many other systems miss this point altogether. Finally, Krav Maga has been used and tested extensively in the field, over decades of conflict, by the military, police, and security forces in Israel. It is constantly being updated and refined to meet new challenges and problems as they arise. There is no other system out there that has been battle-tested to the extent that Krav Maga has.
What are the basic techniques?
Krav Maga is a principle based system. So, whilst we spend time training and learning techniques, it’s more important to understand the general principles and apply them in different situations. One of the primary principles of Krav Maga is using counter-attacks to overcome an attacker as quickly as possible, to switch from being the victim to being the attacker, to do as much damage to the person who is trying to harm you in as short a time as you can, then get away from the danger.
So Krav Maga isn’t just about self-defence but also about countering an attack?
One of our core beliefs is that in order to escape from an attacker you need to turn the tables on them as quickly as possible. You need to match the aggression of the attacker and counter-attack as soon as you can. So yes, counter-attacks are a hugely important part of the system and we spend a lot of time training how to punch and kick effectively.
What does a training session look like?
The great thing about Krav Maga is every lesson is different. One week, we might be training on defending attacks with knives, another week learning how to prevent somebody from grabbing your hair, or your shirt. There are so many topics to cover that it stays interesting week after week, class after class. That being said, most sessions follow a fairly similar format. We start with a warm-up, to prepare the body and mind for training. Then we focus on the main topic, or topics, of the session. Then towards the end, we do some kind of drill that brings it all together, in a realistic way.
The training obviously involves practicing with a partner. What about the risk of getting hurt?
They say there are no rules in Krav Maga, but that’s not true. There is one rule: Don’t get hurt. That means don’t get hurt in reality of course, but also don’t get hurt in training. Safety is the number one priority in our classes, and we train in a way that keeps the realism high but is done with safety in mind. Of course, there are risks in any activity which involves physical contact, but injuries are rare, and we do everything we can to make sure it stays that way.
Does it only involve defending oneself with bare hands or also by using other objects of any sort?
Well, as Krav Maga started out in the military and is also used in law enforcement, of course in those sectors there is emphasis on using rifles and handguns, or batons, or whatever weapons individual units are allowed to use as part of the system. But in the civilian world, at least in the UK, we’re not allowed to carry weapons for self-defence, so as well as using our bodies we also train on using ‘common objects’ to help defend ourselves. For example, using your bag, or a chair to fend off an attack, or throwing small objects like coins to distract an attacker to open up opportunities for escape. All these things and more are incorporated into our training.
What situations do these classes prepare you for? Attacks with knives, other sorts of weapons…?
We train for every eventuality, but we naturally spend more time on those situations which are more likely to happen to us. So, definitely learning to defend against knife attacks, attacks with sticks, bottles and generally heavy objects. We also spend lots of time learning how to defend punches and kicks, and various grabs and holds, like chokes and headlocks. We really try to train everything in different kinds of situations and environments. So not just when you’re standing up facing your attacker, but perhaps when you’re sitting in a chair, and the attacker comes from the side or from behind you.
Does it require a lot of body strength?
Krav Maga was designed from the very beginning to be suitable for everybody to use, so it’s important that the techniques we use do not rely on strength. Of course, the stronger you are, the better. Our training also helps you to increase your strength and overall fitness, but you’re certainly not required to be strong in order to be able to use Krav Maga.
What about fragile women, can they take part in the classes?
Many of our best students are women, and Krav Maga is perfectly suited for women to use. All our classes at the moment are mixed, both men and women training together. I believe this is the best way for women to train, rather than training them in women’s only classes. As I said before, Krav Maga is not about using strength, but rather about using the correct technique and principles to overcome an attacker, so I encourage all women to train in Krav Maga.
You said Krav Maga is designed for everybody. But are there any special requirements when it comes to health or fitness?
Anybody who is reasonably healthy can take part in our classes. It does involve a lot of physical activity and moving about, but if people have limitations then they can still take part. Everyone can work at their own pace and the training can be adapted to suit the needs of the individual students. So, if somebody has a knee problem, for example, and can’t really kick, then they can just work around that problem and still benefit from training.
Will participants in the classes improve their fitness at the same time?
Yes! One of the big benefits from training Krav Maga is improved fitness. The training is very physical, but it’s also a lot of fun, so although you’re working up a sweat and burning a lot of calories, you don’t even notice you’re doing it because you’re so focused on the training itself. It’s much more interesting and enjoyable than spending an hour on a treadmill.
How long does it take to learn the basic skills to be able to defend yourself?
Hopefully, with the right instructor, a new student should have some improved ability to defend themselves after a single lesson. However, I normally say that it takes around 3 months of regular training to start to get a good understanding of the basics of the system. Of course, you’re always learning new things and improving, even after years of training.
Is it only about self-defence or also about being able to defend others who are in trouble?
There are three aspects of the system we teach: Self-Defence, Fighting Skills, and Third Party Protection, which is defending other people. It is indeed an integral part of the Krav Maga system, and not just for people working in the security industry. Even for civilians it’s very important to be able to defend and protect other people, as you never know who you’ll be with at the time you may have to use your training, perhaps a friend, your partner, or your children. They won’t know what to do unless they’ve been training themselves, so you’re the one who will have to step up and protect them.
What about age restrictions for the classes?
All our current classes are open for anyone over the age of 16 although those under 18 need a parent’s permission.
What equipment do people need if they want to do Krav Maga?
To get started training Krav Maga you just need some basic protective equipment like groin and mouth protection. At our club, you’re given both of those when you join, but you’ll also need a pair of boxing gloves and probably some shin protection.
What should people wear during the training?
Students should wear comfortable sports-type clothes. Loose fitting trousers are best, but leggings are ok for women too. A comfortable t-shirt and trainers are recommended. Sometimes, if we’re training something specific, like dealing with a hood or coat being grabbed or pulled, then other clothes will be required, and we sometimes train in more regular clothes like jeans or work clothes to enhance the realism of our training.
Are there also psychological benefits attached to the classes, like a stronger self-confidence for example?
Absolutely! Aside from the ability to defend yourself and the improved fitness, Krav Mag training is great for improving self-confidence. It gives people a real sense of empowerment knowing that they can defend themselves should they ever need to. It also requires hard work and discipline to train every week, so can be very rewarding for people when they see the progress they’ve made.
Direct Defence Krav Maga are currently running classes in Littlehampton on Monday nights, in Westergate on Tuesday nights, and in Worthing on Wednesday nights. In September, they will also start new classes in Brighton. Updated information is available on the club’s Facebook.