I realised today that there was some information about Krav Maga that I didn’t have the time to include in my previous post on the subject. So here it is. This concerns the issue of whether or not civilian KM has legitimate reasons for teaching more advanced and dangerous techniques.
If you go higher up into the belt or patch levels of various organisations and schools, you’ll often find that they go into really esoteric territory, like hostage extractions, sentry takedowns, taking down someone with a grenade in his hand (yes, really), fighting with a rifle and bayonet, and various other military and militarised police applications.
Is this necessary or legitimate? Well, that rather depends on who you ask.
The original belted system as devised by Imi was one of white to black belt – end of discussion. The entire curriculum was self-contained and black belt was the ultimate expression of achievement. There were no additional levels to gain after black belt.
This began to change toward the end of Imi’s teaching career, because many of his senior students were now training their own students to black belt level, and needed to distinguish themselves from their own senior students. So the belt requirements were changed slightly to include stripes, or “dans”.
Senior black belts could obtain new stripes on their belts through one of three ways:
- Teaching for ten years at a time, up to 5th Dan (five stripes);
- Earning a black belt in another legitimate and recognised combat art, like karate or judo or Brazilian jiu jitsu or aikido or whatever;
- Winning martial arts competitions like a K-1 Grand Prix or something similar at a national or international level;
That was it. This method required students training to much higher levels of achievement to be really skilled martial artists – capable of being not only great teachers, but great fighters and incredible practitioners. It required them to devote their entire existence to fighting and become true artists, capable of demonstrating the very highest potential that the human body can achieve when harnessed by a limitless mind.
That was probably the right way to do things. But it changed over time to the point where the curriculum is what it is today, where there is a lot of extra material shoved into the first five higher levels of black belt.
My take, given the information that I have available to me, is that the extra material packed into Dans 1 to 5 in Krav Maga, or in the patch systems for some of the other organisations, was put there specifically to make achieving higher ranks much easier for people who are not real martial artists.
Certainly, if you look at some of the high-ranked people in organisations like Krav Maga Global, Krav Maga Worldwide, International Krav Maga Federation, International Krav Maga Association, and various others, you don’t really see high-level martial artists. You often see fat guys who move stiffly without finesse or speed.
That is not universally true. There are a number of KM organisations around the world in which the instructors are in excellent shape and are Israeli ex-military hardasses who have operated within commando and paratrooper units. Many of them are lifelong students of martial arts and have deep respect and reverence for the principles of strength, honour, courage, and mastery that underpin all true martial arts.
But there are enough bad apples out there that the “brand” of Krav Maga has been very badly tarnished.
That isn’t helped by the fact that these days a lot of organisations include a lot of material for higher-level ranks that really don’t make sense in a civilian context.
The testing methods also change from 2nd Dan upward. Black belt tests, in most organisations, require the student to display mastery of ALL of the material through the ENTIRE curriculum, starting with the hardest and most extensive black belt techniques and all the way back down to the most basic strikes and defensive movements for yellow belt.
But from 2nd Dan upward, you only need to show material down to the level of your top student, because the expectation is that when you start testing for higher belt levels, you are already teaching. So if your highest ranked student is a green belt, you have to show material from 2nd Dan, 1st Dan, brown belt, and blue belt – but not green belt or anything lower.
Trust me on this – that’s PLENTY to wipe out even the toughest and fittest martial artists.
And, in the Krav Maga Federation at least, the sparring sections of 2nd Dan and higher tests require the student to fight against two and even three and four opponents at a time.
(I’ve seen an actual 4th Dan test, in Israel, in which the man being tested fought against two black belts and a brown belt. He beat the shit out of ALL of them. I mean, yeah, granted, two of them had just been through belt tests themselves, so they were exhausted, but he still absolutely mauled them. It was quite an experience.)
The bottom line is that the more advanced belt levels in Krav Maga require a mastery of levels of material far beyond the original scope envisaged by Imi Lichtenfeld in his curriculum. Is this valid? Perhaps. I’m not entirely convinced that the material is applicable for civilian contexts. But what is beyond dispute is that in far too many organisations, the integrity and power of the art has been diluted to the point where KM itself is considered a joke by real martial artists.
And that is a true shame, because the art of Krav Maga, as created by Imi and carried on and developed by his greatest students, is an EXTREMELY effective, lethal, and genuinely terrifying fighting style perfectly suited to urban combat.
I believe, as a matter of firm principle, that those who learn Krav Maga should attempt to become the best martial artists that they possibly can – like all people who study any martial art – to the best of their ability. Most people will not carry on their studies in martial arts beyond the basic belt levels. For those who do carry on, it is incumbent upon them to become the best martial artists that they can be.
And any KM organisation that does not embrace this philosophy, will eventually let its students down by letting them get away with sloppy techniques and bad form.