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Short answer: yes

by | Aug 13, 2020 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

Toe Rogan and one of his guests were talking about Jew-jitsu, also known as Krav Maga, sometime last year:

His answer is basically correct, and I agree with him. Krav Maga is absolutely a legitimate combat art.

That is not, however, the whole story.

I studied KM for 5 years while I was living in the USA. (The fact that I have been unable to study a serious martial art since I left has been one of the worst aspects of my exile from the West – and the fact that I had to leave all of my friends and training partners behind is by far THE worst.) Because of this, I have a perspective on the art that comes from studying it under one of the comparatively few instructors with real legitimacy.

The first thing to understand about Krav Maga is that it’s not “one” system or art. There are various different versions of it taught at various levels.

The words, of course, stand for “contact combat” in Hebrew. But the notion of “combat” is highly fluid and entirely dependent on the situation and requirements of the individual.

A commando operating alone or in a squad behind enemy lines requires a very different set of skills than a line infantryman or artilleryman or a member of a crewed vehicle. The former requires deep knowledge of armed and unarmed combat techniques and is authorised – required – to use extreme and lethal force. Less specialised and qualified fighters require much less deep knowledge of combat and only need the essentials necessary to keep themselves alive if they find themselves without a weapon.

That is why line infantry and combat vehicle crews and cavalrymen don’t spend more than a few weeks of every year learning unarmed combat. They don’t really need any more than that. Specialised troops, such as paratroopers or commandos, have a much wider and deeper range of skills, and with good reason.

The requirements of armed fighting men are in turn entirely different from policemen and law enforcement officers, who have a very limited ability to use lethal force but are confronted by people ready, willing, and able to use deadly force against them. The set of techniques that they learn using Israeli Krav Maga are specific to law enforcement – chokeholds, gun and knife disarms, using and avoiding stick attacks, inflicting non-permanent pain through locks and grabs, submission holds, and so on.

Finally, civilians have an even more limited tool set. Most civilians do not walk around carrying weapons – well, outside of the USA, they don’t. Most civilians are unarmed and can only rely on whatever is in their immediate surroundings to protect them. But unlike law enforcement officers and military personnel, civilians have a much longer time frame in which to perfect their combat techniques.

The great advantage of Krav Maga over most other fighting arts, especially the traditional ones that originated in times of war and have since evolved into competitive sports, is that it can adapt to all of these requirements.

The second thing to understand about Krav Maga is that lineage matters even more in this art than in most others.

Pretty much everyone who teaches KM claims to be “the” true teacher of “the” true version of the art. That’s all a lot of horseshit. There is no accreditation system in martial arts, like there is for college or high school education, so it’s impossible to tell whether an instructor is legitimate or not until you actually take a class with him.

And that is where the problems ALWAYS begin, because the history of civilian Krav Maga is rife with errors of interpretation and execution.

Here’s a condensed version of that history.

The founder of the art was the legendary Imi Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian Jew who grew up as a boxer and wrestler and organised street defence gangs to protect his fellow Jews against anti-Semites and eventually Nazis. He realised very fast from these early street fights that sport-based combat forms had little, if anything, to do with actual street fighting, and took those lessons to heart in order to create a real street defence art. He took that art with him to the newly founded nation of Israel and taught the military the forms of unarmed and armed combat that still make up the Israeli Defence Force’s combat training regime.

He then took the training lessons that he learned into civilian life after retiring from the IDF and started up his own martial arts school. It so happens that I visited the places in Israel where he taught his first students, including Gan Shmuel kibbutz whence several of his original, first-generation students hailed.

It didn’t take too long for Imi’s teaching and training methods to gain notice. As this article points out, the Israeli commandos who staged that incredible raid at Entebbe Airport in Uganda were trained in Krav Maga, and KM has proved its worth repeatedly in combat situations in every war that Israel has ever fought since he was the regimental sergeant-major in charge of combat training.

Now, here is where it gets interesting.

That first generation of students included men like Haim Zut, Eyal Yanilov, Eli Avikzar, Boaz Aviram, and a handful of others. That generation eventually created their own schools of KM and created their own student bodies. The second generation of students included Grandmaster Rhon Mizrachi (under whom I studied), his very close friend Uri Refaeli (10th Dan Grandmaster), Darren Levine, Dr. Denis Hanover (founder and developer of the hisardut survival system), and others.

And if you look at the current crop of second-generation students, almost all of whom are in their fifties and early sixties, most of them cannot bring themselves to so much as spit on one another.

Why is that?

Because in the process of breaking off and creating their own versions of the art, each instructor created a personalised style and training method that worked for him – and then proceeded to call that the “true” version of the art.

The question remains, then, which version is “true”? Well, that rather depends on how various practitioners show off the art itself in demonstrations.

It must be kept in mind that when Imi was teaching the art to the later generations of students, he was already quite an old man. He only started teaching the civilian version of the art when he was already in his sixties, and he moved like a sixty-year-old man – which is precisely how many of his students learned his moves.

If you observe many of those students today, such as the aforementioned Darren Levine, and you have an eye trained to look for such things, you’ll see a lot of sloppiness and stiffness in the movements:

You can see some of the same issues even in the movements of someone like Amir Perets, a genuinely talented martial artist and absolute badass:

And, unsurprisingly, some of the later generations of students have taken the basic principles of the art and pretty much warped them beyond recognition:

That last one in particular breaks one of the cardinal rules of Krav Maga – you have to see what’s coming at you.

Blindfolded martial arts look really cool on camera. In real life, fighting blindfolded GETS YOU KILLED.

The basic principles of Krav Maga are very simple, straightforward, and concrete:

  • Attack and defence must follow the most natural movements of the human body as closely as possible;
  • Threats must be identified, engaged, and eliminated with maximum efficiency;
  • Waste as little energy as possible while extracting oneself from the situation quickly;
  • Always move off the line of an incoming attack and engage along a different vector;
  • Defence must be combined with simultaneous attack if at all possible, or followed up immediately with an attack if not;
  • Engage targets at the longest range possible for a given weapon;
  • Stay off the ground and survive on your feet – the ground is your enemy and being on it gets you killed;
  • Never turn your back on enemies if at all possible, even when engaging multiple targets;

That’s more or less the entire basis of Krav Maga as taught by Imi Lichtenfeld to his students. That is how it was taught to me. And if I ever get a chance to put my dream of creating a martial arts school of my own into action, that’s how I will teach the art to my students.

Now let’s see what those techniques look like when performed by martial artists in peak fighting shape who truly understand these core principles of the art:

I personally witnessed David test to his 2nd Dan in Israel in 2014. He’s only gotten better in the years since, because unlike a lot of pure KM practitioners, he studies other martial arts and is a highly skilled BJJ player on top of his outstanding striking skills.

The key thing to note here is that true Krav Maga is highly effective and truly lethal – but only when its core principles are obeyed and respected.

Otherwise, it becomes basically a cardio-kickboxing class, and unfortunately that is precisely what it has become in FAR too many cases.

The West Coast schools in California are the most guilty of neutering the lethality and power of the art and turning it into a glamourised form of spinjutsu. For those schools, the humourous and rather derogatory appellation, “kosher kung-fu”, is highly applicable. Those guys don’t know how to fight.

I’m serious about that. The green belts from my school spar regularly and with full contact – mostly without headgear and many with limited shin protection. I’ve sustained many injuries over the years from sparring with those guys, and boy do I miss that feeling of full-contact sparring, even with boxing gloves. And those green belts could beat the snot out of most so-called “black belts” in KM who rarely, if ever, engage in any kind of hard sparring.

That is the primary difference between effective and ineffective Krav Maga. Anyone who says that KM without contact, or very light contact, is still “contact combat“, is full of shit. That’s nonsensical on its face.

Turning to the question of where to study, if that’s what you want to do, you need to find a school that not only permits but requires sparring and combat, and which recommends that students study other arts in conjunction with KM. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

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  1. Kraemer

    One thing that I observed in good KM schools ( or any other effective MMA system for that matter ) is that there is flexibility in the forms. My former instructor, a Mr Michael Rüppel, is from the Denis Hannover line, and he often allowed us to deviate as the individual situation dictated. Case in point, I have really long legs ( 36 inseam ), so it often made sense for me to knee someone, even though the form technically called for me to kick my opponent. Rüppel allowed me to knee, because it made much more sense. He also makes everyone spar and forces students to practice new forms under duress. Can't vouch for his schools in the US, cos I went to the one in Germany.

    • Didact

      Your teacher was absolutely right to allow for those deviations. That's directly in line with one of the foundation principles of the art – the most effective strikes are the ones that are easiest for the individual human body.


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