Krav Maga, “the rest of the story”

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): Krav Maga is an outstanding self-defense discipline if done correctly. Even as a solid self-defense base, you should supplement it with jiu-jitsu (as I’d recommend for any striking-focused art). As with any discipline, caveat emptor (buyer beware), make sure you’re learning from a legit instructor. I would heartily encourage anyone to learn Krav Maga from a good instructor, at a good gym.

In Episode #126 of the Grappling Discourse Podcast, Matt Skaff decided to rant about Krav Maga. In short, I do not agree with his analysis of Krav Maga. I believe his rant is largely due to hasty generalizations and availability bias.

For you Stephen Covey fans, I embrace the idea of “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” Matt Skaff is a 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu Black Belt under Brandon Mccaghren from 10th Planet Decatur. Brandon Mccaghren is a black belt under 10th Planet founder Eddie Bravo. But more than being a 10th Planet black belt, Matt Skaff is a very thoughtful person. I’ve listened to almost all 127 of his podcast episodes and seen him in many 10th Planet Decatur YouTube videos, interacting with him via YouTube chats and Instagram DMs. Skaff seems to have a good heart, the desire to help others, and the desire to continue learning and improving himself.

While Skaff is a very thoughtful, intelligent individual, I disagree with the main premise of his rant, denigrating Krav Maga. Even though Skaff is ranting on Krav Maga, his good nature and thoughtfulness have him providing caveats throughout. First, he notes he doesn’t know any experts in Krav Maga and hasn’t attended any Krav Maga classes. His best exposure is his cousin’s wife who trained Krav Maga for a couple of years at what was purportedly a legit place in California. The rest of his experience with Krav Maga practitioners was gained from random folks in Alabama. While Skaff provided the caveat of his inexperience, he still went on to rant based on his availability bias. Availability bias is our mind’s tendency to believe examples that come to mind are more representative than is the case. (read Thinking, Fast and Slow – it’s an amazing book). I’ll address his specific concerns with Krav Maga after a quick interlude regarding my availability bias.

While many folks Krav Maga introduction might have been through Discovery Channel’s Fight Quest or History Channel’s Human Weapon (dueling shows with the same premise that traveled to different lands to explore their martial arts), I first heard of Krav Maga on a show called NUMB3RS on CBS. Specifically, it gave the same story of Krav Maga being made for the Israeli Defense Force and worked the discipline into the episode due to a suspect using a Krav Maga technique to disarm a pistol-wielding guard. Like so many others, the discipline sounded interesting. At the time, I’d dabbled in kenpo karate, wing chun, and some thai boxing, but all very brief and somewhat non-traditional. Then, in 2012, serendipity hit. I was working and living less than one mile from a phenomenal Krav Maga studio. I had an acquaintance from work tell me how she enjoyed their training. I first got my son involved in their kids program (it’s the foot in the door for a father of three). Then, I found I could study at the same time as my son as they had four training areas. Street Smarts Krav Maga that would later become Triumph Krav Maga had the first three resident black belts from Krav Maga Worldwide in Louisiana. My son and I trained there for 2.5-3 years, basically until I injured my knee, leading to surgery (not their fault I was doing lots of physical training on the side and that whole getting old thing). So, I’m a big fan of Krav Maga instruction as provided by Triumph Krav Maga in New Orleans. One of their former instructors who used to teach my son is hovering near the top 10 of the UFC for female bantamweights (seriously, sometimes he’d be the only one to show to the kid’s level 2 class and he would get to spar and get instructed one-on-one by her for an hour for no extra charge). When I’ve gone back to see family or go on work trips back to New Orleans, they welcomed me back as family and the training was still top notch. Sadly, due to COVID, they have had to shutter their doors for good, leaving a lot of lives improved for the better.

But now that I’ve shared my experience with Krav Maga, let’s talk about Skaff’s issues with the discipline. Let’s talk about the lady who was a brown belt in karate (getting it in 1.5 years) who was also very much out of shape. Okay, Skaff pauses to note she got her brown belt in karate in a ridiculously short time and she apparently only cared about her body enough to throw money at it (paying a personal trainer). Should it surprise us she’s all about weak-sauce opportunities to gain “accolades” with little expenditure of time or effort, just having to spend some cash? Accordingly, this lady spent 12 hours in a two-day course in Knoxville to gain some certificate saying she could instruct Krav Maga. We all know this certification is B.S. Skaff says this group is some sort of IBJJF group. I don’t know which organization they were, but we all know they were B.S. Krav Maga World Wide has much stricter standards for their level 1/Yellow Belt instructors “Phase A is a 7-day (56-hour) intensive instructor course that develops candidates’ physical skills, teaching skills, and fundamental knowledge to teach Level 1 Krav Maga classes. The course culminates with physical, teaching, and written examinations on the course material. Successful candidates typically have a robust athletic background and previous experience teaching self-defense or other contact-based sports. Candidates who pass Phase A are eligible to teach Level 1 Krav Maga classes.” I know a lot of folks that went through Phase A. I was hoping to go before I started having my knee issues (four surgeries thus far). The folks who have gone and earned their Phase A instructor creds are WARRIORS! They trained very hard for weeks before the course to prepare. No slob is getting through that course. And as far as I know, it’s only held at Krav Maga Worldwide HQ in LA. Again, I don’t know who this karate brown belt was or what entity purported to certify her in teaching krav maga, but I think we would all agree this lady and any organization who certified her is a joke.

As for the other folks in the region who Skaff has ran across in the Alabama area, he says they’re generally older, out of shape, and look down on other arts with live training. Skaff rightly adjudges these folks as using their krav maga training as a cop out. Later on, he talks about one of the Elkins brother running into a guy who said he trained in krav maga and was “dangerous” only to get whupped by the Elkins brother. Skaff uses these examples to dismiss krav maga. Later on, Skaff notes many karate schools have started advertising “hot” martial arts like jiu jitsu or krav maga to add luster to their fading names. I’ve experienced this same phenomenon. After New Orleans, I’ve lived in Charlottesville, VA, Oceanside, CA, and New Bern, NC, and I’ve never trained Krav Maga in any of these locations. I found a Krav Maga Worldwide affiliated spot in Vista, CA, but they had to close that location, consolidating to other locations too far away for my family. In Charlottesville and New Bern, I found exactly what Skaff mentioned – karate schools who advertised Krav Maga but were very sketchy on their instructors belts or certifying organizations. When I started pressing them, they got very evasive and I knew it wasn’t worth me or my family’s time. These individuals Skaff and the Elkins ran into more than likely trained at faux krav maga gyms. Let’s look at how those faux gyms may have tried to cover their sketchiness.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Fooled by Randomness, Black Swan, Antifragile) uses “thought experiments” to test hypothesis. Lawyers might call it speculation, but let’s do a thought experiment on these sketchy krav maga instructors. If I was a sketchy instructor who didn’t know how to really practice krav maga, didn’t know how to really get folks to practice the techniques safely, and wanted to get as many folks in my classes as possible, how would I accomplish this mission? Well, maybe I’d start by adding an air of mysticism, saying these techniques were too dangerous to train on anyone. I could add by saying those who were taught by me were so dangerous they should not even engage in discussions with practitioners of other arts about the superiority of our discipline. This diatribe could achieve a few things 1) since we would not spar or provide real resistance, I could get away with letting the severely out of shape continue to train with little resistance…the “kata” Skaff mentions, 2) it could build the self-esteem, though falsely, of my trainees so they felt they were getting the “truth” from me, 3) they would be less likely to question my authority.

Part of Skaff’s problem with Krav Maga is his exposure to questionable practitioners of the discipline. To find a purported decent Krav Maga location, I would check this link. There is no location in Alabama. I looked at the Nashville spot and I wasn’t impressed with the lack of bio for the head instuctor (which could just be bad online advertising). As I mentioned above, caveat emptor: buyer beware. Before you train anywhere, you need to vet the instructors. Check them not only through their bios but try out their classes as well.

Going back to the issue of live training with Krav Maga, there’s some workarounds. For the Krav Maga handshake, also known as the groin kick, we use tombstone pads (a great pad with multiple surfaces for hammer strikes, straight strikes, kicks, etc.), put between your legs allows you to hammer groin kicks without hurting your partner. But, at least in my Triumph Krav Maga education, we would use sparring as part of level 2/level 3 classes and the also had specific sparring classes (which were awesome). This sparring included headgear, gloves (MMA or boxing), cup, mouthguard, and shin guards. My yellow belt test was 3.5 hours or so which included lots of physical endurance/heart training/questioning and a great even where everyone in the class got to go after you to choke you from different angles/or headlock you. This live choke/headlock challenge tested your ability to use the self defense techniques even after exhaustion. During my level 2 test, another 3.5-4.5 hour event, we incorporated more sparring where everyone threw on their head gear, shin guards, mouth pieces, gloves, etc. and did a bull in the ring or more experience (all this after the physical exhaustion test and technique test). So, smart Krav Maga gyms build live training into their practice. While some lower level belt stuff can feel like kata, it all has truth behind it and I always laid hands on and kicked pads during every lesson, especially during level 1 classes.

The Bas Rutten issue: Skaff and BMAC threw in a Bas Rutten story about him putting an upstart krav maga guy into a rear naked choke when the krav maga guy said “what would you do if I eye gouged you.” The usual punch line is Bas Rutten said “if you do that I’ll snap your neck.” Okay, compare that RUMINT (rumor intelligence) with this statement by Bas Rutten. Or we could look at Bas Rutten participating in this seminar. But there’s always Bas Rutten’s foreward in “Complete Krav Maga.” Sufficed to say, we have all encountered martial arts posers. Even though we encounter a poser, it doesn’t mean the art they espouse is trash. I would say the preponderance of the evidence has Bas Rutten supporting Krav Maga as a discipline.

So, should law enforcement train in Krav Maga? Well, Krav Maga Worldwide has specific law enforcement training. I would highly recommend it. Another thing to consider is one of Triumph Krav Maga’s classes was weapons. It was a class designed specifically for countering weapons, including long guns, hand guns, knives, etc. I attended this class as much as possible. These techniques are usually under the higher belt curriculum, but too valuable not to pass up if allowed. Law enforcement and I think anyone would be well served by knowing how to counter different weapons. I found the techniques sound and achievable. I would wholeheartedly recommend law enforcement take the law enforcement seminar and the weapons defense. I would also recommend they take every other course offered by good Krav Maga Schools. Now, does that mean I think the should do so exclusively? No. I definitely agree with Skaff and his interviewee Kevin Primeau who both espouse the idea law enforcement should study brazilian jiu jitsu. I completely agree. As someone who has been responsible for detainee operations and trained folks in it, I would feel much better if those handling detainees knew how to manipulate unarmed opponents. I do truly believe all law enforcement should train BJJ. But, just because BJJ should be a mandatory training element for law enforcement does not mean they should not train Krav Maga.

As Skaff saved himself with the caveat that all martial artists should look to apply different techniques from different arts, I think Krav Maga practitioners need jiu jitsu. When I’d been training in Krav Maga for maybe six months, the folks knew I was a fairly heavy hitter (or maybe I have some rose colored glasses) so they invited me to their “Spar Wars.” I agreed and quickly found myself against guys who’d trained much more than me. I found success using my high school wrestling and limited jiu jitsu found in another discipline in which I’d trained. As the future UFC player stated, “that’s that tactical jiu jitsu you learned, huh,” or words to that effect. So, I was able to stifle a lot of stand-up by taking folks down and using different joint locks or ground and pound. Now, whether right or not, I think that showing led to a lot of cross-training of the folks, including instructors, in that gym. The owner of the gym later became a brown belt in BJJ. Many others of the mainstays I trained with became blue and purple belts (so far) in BJJ. My point is that Krav Maga teaches you to get off the ground because you don’t want to be kicked in the head by your opponent’s friends, etc. They don’t like the ground game because it introduces risk into a life or death situation. So, the majority of their ground game is getting back to standing. While this stance is understandable, you’re leaving a big gap in your training with no real ground game.

In the end, Krav Maga gyms can be great places to learn self defense and get in great shape. They take normal people and help build the controlled aggression to save their lives in a self-defense situation. Krav Maga’s mantra is to get home safe.

While I feel required to respond to Matt Skaff’s Grappling Discourse podcast rant, I appreciate the measured judgments he provided to any martial arts discipline who would seem to support the empirical evidence he had experienced. I’m here to say real Krav Maga and its practitioners are not what most have seen in Alabama to date. My old head instructor who had to relinquish his school is now traveling the country giving seminars, somewhat Kung Fu’s Caine style. I’m going to keep an eye on him. If he gets close to Decatur, I’m going to recommend a rendezvous. As always, nothing but mad respect for 10th Planet Decatur, BMAC, and Matt Skaff, but I think Skaff fell prey to faulty evidence on this issue.

BTW, Skaff has a present coming his way to 10th Planet Decatur in the next week related to this subject (Aug 26-27th). When I finally make it out to train there, I can sign it from “the Egghead Warrior.”

Thanks for your patience with this long post. If it does well, I may talk about my path with jiu-jitsu, boxing, and other martial arts in more detail. I’m also considering adding my experiences/training with firearms and edged weapons as well as fishing and hunting. Let me know if anything interests you. Best, Egghead.

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