Check out this book excerpt from, “Krav Maga Defense: How to Defend Yourself Against the 12 Most Common Street Attacks” by David Kahn.
The Israeli krav maga self-defense system is world renowned for its brutal efficiency. Krav maga’s street and battlefield survival defenses were developed for a modern army, the Israel Defense Force (IDF), as its official self-defense and close-quarters combat system. The system’s continuing evolution is grounded in street and battle-proven tactics.
An optimized self-defense and hand-to-hand combat system must be based on simplicity, adaptability, practicality, and most important, defensive, instinctive movements. Krav maga fits this bill. Israeli krav maga’s formidable reputation is built on the following four pillars:
- It emphasizes defending against any manner of attack (unarmed or armed).
- It relies on instinctive body movements, which are honed, easily learned, retained, and performed under stress.
- The techniques are based on building blocks that, when combined, allow the defender to prevail in life-threatening situations.
- Defenders react with speed, economy of continuous motion, and the appropriate measure of force.
Not all krav maga is the same. With the rise of krav maga’s popularity, unfortunately, many self-appointed experts and charlatans are pedaling their own interpretations of the art. Krav maga is a specific system founded by Imi Lichtenfeld and promulgated by the original Israeli Krav Maga Association (of which the author is a member).
This article includes educational material excerpts offered in the new book “Krav Maga Defense” (St. Martin’s 2016) along with a few representative techniques. “Krav Maga Defense” is a compact, essential overview of krav maga’s core techniques for defending against and defeating what may be considered the 12 most common unarmed street attacks:
- Arm and shirt grabs
- Hook or haymaker punches
- Straight punches
- Kick/knee attacks to the groin
- Chokes and headlocks
- Bear hugs
Krav maga is often translated as “contact combat.” The translation’s meaning is significant. Combat is a life-and-death battle devoid of rules: the fundamental military underpinning of the krav maga system’s methods and philosophy. This “no rules” credo distinguishes krav maga self-defense from sport fighting.
Krav maga founder Imi Lichtenfeld designed the system for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and physical abilities. Imi understood that actual violence differs greatly from choreographed training and adopted his tactics accordingly. In a scripted sport fight, the following nonexclusive tactics are generally banned: eye gouges; throat strikes; head-butting; biting; striking the spine; small joint manipulation; kidney, liver, clavicle and knee joint strikes; and slamming an attacker to the ground on the attacker’s head. These are exactly the combined core tactics krav maga emphasizes. Most important, krav maga develops a paramount fighting, no-quit attitude. A few instinctive krav maga tactics enable you to survive the most common onslaughts.
You may initially find yourself unprepared to fight for your life. Street violence is volatile, unpredictable, and often unannounced (though there may be pre-violence indicators a victim did not recognize). Concerted, determined violence seldom lasts more than a few seconds. Regardless of an attacker’s size, strength, training, or physical ability, you will prevail by delivering debilitating, overwhelming counter-violence using maximum speed and aggression. Obviously, the sooner you spot a potential aggressor, the more time you will have to act. If there is no nonviolent solution available, proceed with extreme prejudice until you end the violent confrontation on your terms.
When threatened or attacked—and there is no peaceful option and the circumstances are legally justified—you, the kravist, must unleash a torrent of overwhelming counter-violence. Krav maga’s goal is to neutralize an attacker quickly and decisively. The tactics are designed as defensive capability multipliers. A few mastered krav maga techniques are highly effective in most situations. When properly learned and practiced, these tactics become first nature.
Krav maga takes into account limitations that may be imposed on the defender’s movements and flexibility due to equipment and weight loads, such as a duty belt, bulletproof vest, flak jacket, Kevlar helmet, or backpack. Importantly, what a flexible, unencumbered mixed martial arts fighter wearing shorts may be able to accomplish in a ring is often a far cry from what a fully equipped operator or, equally important, average person may be able to accomplish in a combat zone or on the street, respectively.
Krav maga’s defensive philosophy is never to do more than necessary, but to react instinctively with violence of action involving speed, economy of motion, and the appropriate measure of force. The basic principle is to do whatever is practical to deliver a defender from harm’s way. Instinctive trained reaction is paramount. One is taught to strike instinctively at the human anatomy’s vulnerabilities. The krav maga practitioner relies on being proactive, rather than reactive, as soon as possible. Krav maga training attempts to place you in the most realistic pressure scenarios.
The system stresses several adaptable core tactics, and its application is flexible in line with its modern combat evolution. Real-life encounters account for modification, revision, and the addition of new techniques. While krav maga weapons defenses are specific, their application must be adaptable to accommodate the unpredictability of a violent confrontation. Stated another way, krav maga applies general principles, but customize them to suit the needs of a given violent situation. Once again, krav maga emphasizes that there are no rules in a deadly encounter. Do whatever is necessary to overcome the threat in a life-or-death situation and survive.
The defensive tactics are designed for multiple assailant encounters to protect the defender, incapacitate the assailant(s), and, when necessary, commandeer the assailant’s weapon for the defender’s use. Krav maga instills an attack-the-attacker mind-set, providing the defender with an all-important preemption capability prior to a weapon’s active deployment. The defender’s goal is to take away the assailant’s freedom of action.
Responsible people pursue krav maga training as a shield against violence, not as a weapon to orchestrate violence. If you must fight, identify the opportune moment to attack the attacker with a continuous overwhelming counterattack using retzev or “continuous combat motion.” Combined with simultaneous defense and attack (or near simultaneous defense and attack), retzev is a seamless, decisive, and overpowering counterattack.
Read Next: Krav Maga for Women: How to Defend Yourself, IDF style
Krav maga training for civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel all share the same principle: to deliver oneself from harm’s way. Importantly, the “ending” or end goal is different. The exception is when any category of defender faces a situation involving deadly force. The following table summarizes the engagement strategies with the key end-goal differentiations for civilians, law enforcement, and military:
The core tenets and building blocks of Israeli krav maga are taught to civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel alike. The crucial difference, again, is the “finish.” Regardless of one’s professional standing or state-granted immunity, if you are faced with a life-threatening attack, you are generally justified in using lethal counterforce. For civilians or law enforcement, three elements must be present to warrant the use of counterforce: an assailant must have the (1) intent, (2) means, and (3) capability to cause bodily harm.
Recognizing hostile body language and pre-conflict kinesic indicators
Of course, recognition of the warning signs of impending violence allows a defender to thwart an attack at its inception. When facing street violence, you can usually recognize verbal, behavioral, and physical manifestations indicating that violence is imminent. Recognize it or not—and it is decidedly advantageous that you do—it is highly likely there will be some indicator prior to an attack. Nonverbal gestures should be prioritized; these are strong indicators of someone’s intentions and true feelings. Gross motor movements often red flag someone who is adrenalized and about to explode. Here are some examples portending someone attacking you:
- Fidgeting, shaking of one’s limbs, muscle tremors, or clenching one’s hands and teeth.
- Sweating, increased respiration or blinking excessively.
- A forward lean moving onto the balls of the feet in attack preparation.
- Coiling a shoulder or blading the body.
- Stiffening the neck and/or pupillary constriction.
- Puckering the lips or sneering.
- A change in breathing (fast-paced or measured).
- Puffing up and flaring one’s nostrils and becoming loud to intimidate.
- Turning red in the face and neck or becoming pale indicating an advanced stage of fear or girding oneself against an attack.
- Disrobing to free the arms and legs.
Breaking an opponent’s body
In short, injury breaks down human anatomical structure and function—the aggressor’s ability to harm you. When justified, administering sequential injurious physical trauma epitomizes krav maga counter-violence or retzev. To stop an assailant, krav maga primarily targets the body’s vital soft tissue, chiefly the groin, neck, and eyes. Other secondary targets include organs and bones such as the kidneys, solar plexus, knees, liver, joints, fingers, nerve centers, and other smaller fragile bones.
The human body is affected by anatomical injury in a foreseeable manner. With training and a basic understanding of how the human body responds to trauma, you can generally predict how your counterattacks will affect the attacker’s subsequent movements or capacity to continue violence against you. For example, if you knee someone in the groin, you are likely to drop the attacker’s height level thus exposing the base of the skull or the back of the neck to a vertical combative strike.
Israeli krav maga’s tactical Ten Commandants
- Israeli krav maga works against any attacker; the key is your mind-set.
- Assess your surroundings.
- Conflict avoidance or nonviolent conflict resolution is always your best solution.
- A few mastered core tactics go a long way and are highly effective.
- Street violence has no rules.
- The essence of krav maga is to neutralize an attacker quickly.
- A strategy to end your attacker’s fighting ability is paramount.
- Footwork and body positioning allow you to simultaneously defend and attack.
- Optimally, a kravist will move quickly to a superior and dominant dead side position.
- Simultaneous (or near simultaneous) defense combined with overwhelming, decisive retzev counterattacks.
Note, for military and law enforcement personnel, two of the author’s previous books, “Krav Maga Professional Tactics” and “Krav Maga Weapon Defenses” may be of interest. These additional books compliment “Krav Maga Defense” and are geared toward professional applications including both the use and defense of weaponry.
Tactics note: The following sample tactics are represented in a civilian street context, not a hand-to-hand combat encounter where a lethal finish is applied. There are several tactics we do not publish for security considerations in the public interest. These omitted offensive and third-party protection tactics are singularly suited for training vetted military and law enforcement personnel.
Tactic #1: Inside sliding parry against a straight rear punch while stepping off the line
From a passive stance, as you recognize the attacker begin to step and coil his shoulder, initiate with your left leg to step slightly off the line of attack to your left while bringing your right leg with you. Move (and remain) on both balls of your feet. Against a right punch, as you step to your left, simultaneously bring your left hand cupped diagonally across your face close to your left shoulder to deflect the incoming punch.
Your left hand will deflect the incoming punch sliding up the attacker’s arm. With your right arm, simultaneously deliver a half-hook counterpunch to your attacker’s throat, chin, or nose. You will achieve advantageous dead-side positioning. The key, again, is to deflect and step off the line and moving both feet together. Do not lunge; keep your feet equidistant by moving them the same distance.
This defense is readily followed up with trapping the attacker’s left arm and delivering a left straight knee to the groin or midsection followed by a right over the-top-elbow (using just below your elbow tip) to the back of the attacker’s head or neck.
Be sure to pivot your base legs and transfer your weight properly for additional counterattacks. Additional retzev combatives should follow. A follow-up choke option from this technique is a standing triangle choke (not depicted). Lastly, a number of strong takedowns are available including multiple takedown options to land an attacker hard on his head or to create a standing triangular choke position including taking the attacker down into formidable choke positions on the ground.
Note: For both inside sliding parry defenses, if you misread the assailant’s straight punch (i.e., the attacker throws a right instead of a left), stepping off the line properly will still allow the defense to work. Effectively, you will have avoided the punch with a body defense (stepping off the line of attack) while counterattacking. In essence, you will “split” the attacker’s hands with your counterpunch. The immediate danger is if you are still positioned to your attacker’s live side because the attacker may still have the ability to mount an effective counterattack. The preferred defense is always to move to the attacker’s dead side minimizing the attacker’s ability to counterattack. Your counterpunch punch is easily followed up by a right rear straight kick as you have transferred your weight to your left leg.
Note also that the inside sliding parry defenses can be used when on the ground and an attacker is between your legs (widely known as the “guard”). The key is a strong body defense while moving away to the dead side to the punch with a proper slide and simultaneous counterpunch. A closed guard will also help you with a body defense as you shift your hips to unbalance the assailant with your pincered legs as the attacker launches his punches. Be sure to slide fully up the arm as you simultaneously counterpunch to set up additional combatives including, but not limited to, a short palm heel strike to the head or throat to position you on your side for a straight arm bar.
Tactic #2: Defending rear chokes
If an aggressor is able to close the distance on you and violate your personal space, the aggressor can grab or choke you. Once your attacker grabs you, the attacker can inflict a life-threatening choke hold. A choke can quickly render you unconscious or worse. Rear chokes are a preferred ambush method as the attacker gains the element of surprise.
Professional choke release
A “professional” variation of the blood choke hold involves the attacker applying one arm underneath your chin while snaking the other arm around the back of your head and gripping his own bicep. This is a strong hold, especially when the attacker draws back with the choking arm while pressing forward with the rear arm.
As you turn into the crook of the attacker’s elbow, bury your chin, and immediately grasp the attacker’s upper forearm and lower bicep with your hands. Keep your elbows in to harness all of your core power to place counter-pressure against the choke.
Continue to turn into the attacker’s choking arm. As you continue to turn, wrap or “marry” your lower leg and calf to the attacker’s leg. It is crucial that your keep your leg snug against the attacker’s for the pending takedown and pivot on the ball of your foot. Importantly, if you do not keep your leg braced against the attacker, he can turn with you to continue applying the choke and the technique will not work.
As you continue with your counter-pressure using your arms and approximate 180-degree body turn/leg wrap, now step down onto your heel while driving the attacker to the attacker’s left corner. (The left corner concept here is a takedown principle often associated with judo.) If the attacker is exceptionally large or strong, you may need to shift your weight to your left leg pulling the attacker with you thereby forcing the attacker to load the attacker’s weight on his right leg. This weight-shifting tactic will facilitate your wrapping your leg around the attacker’s to take the attacker down and break the choke. Unbalance the attacker by driving the attacker to the attacker’s left corner with strong counter-pressure. (Do not simply force the attacker backward.) Take the attacker down hard.
Administer a heel kick and additional retzev combatives as necessary to defeat the threat.
Tactic #3: Defending the guard
When two opponents are fighting, they may clinch up or grab one another. The physical confrontation becomes a grappling struggle. One opponent may fall backward to the ground to immediately wrap his legs around the second opponent, placing the second opponent in the guard position. The guard can be “open” or “closed.” An open guard is when one’s legs are wrapped around an opponent’s torso, but not crossed behind the opponent. A closed guard is when one’s legs are wrapped around an opponent’s torso with one ankle overlapping the other to lock one’s legs around the opponent. For this tactic, you are the person with the attacker’s legs wrapped around you. Note: Krav maga does not emphasize using the guard because of its inherent anatomical vulnerabilities (except for specific military applications).
Groin strikes if caught in the closed guard
If you maintain proper upright body position, the attacker’s groin is open to strikes.
Before the attacker can get ahold of any part of you, straighten your back or “posture up” and rudely jam your knee into your attacker’s tailbone. This can be a debilitating strike in itself and a counter against your attacker’s attempt to control you with his legs. Strike your attacker’s groin using straight punches, hammerfists, and vertical elbows along with grabs and twists. You may also trap one or both of the attacker’s arms while delivering simultaneous combatives. The high-closed guard can allow your attacker strong body control over placing you in a highly vulnerable position.
You may also deliver an elbow strike to the attacker’s groin instead of a strike to the attacker’s throat or a punch. After delivering your successive counter attackers, use your left arm to force the attacker’s leg away to your right (the attacker’s left). As you push the attacker’s leg away, move to your left (the attacker’s right) and get up. Deliver a kick to head or other part of the attacker’s body as necessary to end the threat.
Eye gouges if the attacker pulls you into his closed guard
If your attacker successfully breaks your posture and clinches your head, use thumb gouges to the eyes to disengage followed by retzev. As the attacker breaks your posture and pulls you in, use your rule of thumbs defense to attack the attacker’s eyes. Although you cannot see, simply find the attacker’s cheekbones with your palms and immediately jam your thumbs into the attacker’s eye sockets.
Upon creating separation, continue your combatives using a knuckle hand strike to the attacker’s throat. Note: This move can seriously damage an opponent and must only be used if you feel you are in jeopardy of serious injury or if your life is at stake. Alternatively, if a throat strike is not necessary, punch the attacker in the groin.
About the author
David Kahn, IKMA United States Chief Instructor, received his advanced black-belt teaching certifications from Grandmaster Haim Gidon and is the only American to sit on the IKMA board of directors. David was also awarded a fifth-degree black belt in combat jiu-jitsu by the United States Judo Association. He has formally trained all five branches of the U.S. military, the Royal Marines, in addition to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in many training school houses including Marine Corps Martial Arts Center of Excellence (MACE), Army Combatives School (Fort Benning), a Navy Advanced Training Command, along with those of the FBI, New Jersey State Police, and a host of other academies. David is certified as an instructor by the State of New Jersey Police Training Commission. David has been featured in various media outlets including Men’s Fitness, GQ, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Penthouse, Fitness, Marine Corps News, Armed Forces Network, Special Operations Report, and Military.com. David is the author of Krav Maga (2004), Advanced Krav Maga (2008), Krav Maga Weapon Defenses (2012), and Krav Maga Professional Tactics (2016). He has produced the award-winning Mastering Krav Maga DVD series (Volumes I, II, III) and Mastering Krav Maga: Defending the 12 Most Common Unarmed Attacks along with the Mastering Krav Maga Online program. David and his partners operate several Israeli krav maga training centers of excellence. For more information visit www.israelikrav.com or for online training www.masteringkravmaga.com or email [email protected]
“Krav Maga Defense: How to Defend Yourself Against the 12 Most Common Street Attacks” is available on Amazon now.
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