One night, a few years ago, a close friend of mine was walking to his apartment from the train station. It was late; at the time he was working as a line cook in a restaurant and getting out well after 1AM was the norm most nights. The street was fairly well-lit, and it was one he had walked down many times before. There was nothing particularly unusual about this walk home, until he noticed another man on the sidewalk a bit further down the street. He sensed something was off; the man had a strange presence and my friend felt the sudden urge to flee. His rational mind told him that this was ridiculous. He was exhausted from his 12-hour shift and nearly home, and there was no need to take a detour just because he had a funny feeling about some random stranger. Not only was this feeling likely wrong, he thought, but he also had his work knife kit with him to protect himself if need be. As he approached the man, the feeling intensified, but he ignored it and kept walking. When he got closer, he noticed that the man had his back to him so he sped up to pass by quickly. Suddenly the man turned around, screamed in his face, punched him in the stomach, then the face, and ran away. My friend was left stunned, terrified, furious and in a considerable amount of pain. The man didn’t seem to want anything; he asked for no money or valuables and he certainly hadn’t been provoked. He just wanted to attack someone, so he did.
This situation was entirely preventable. When people talk about self-defense and Krav Maga, the focus is often on the physical act of defending yourself: the techniques, the explosiveness, and the aggression. While learning how to physically defend yourself is a critical aspect of Krav Maga, the reason we are also taught about intuition and deescalation is because fear and intuition are two of the best tools we have for predicting and preventing violence. It is important to understand that the things that cause us alarm are doing so for a reason: that when it comes to danger, intuition is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart. It is your body’s response to a perceived danger so that you may recognize it and keep yourself from harm. Of course, “…not everything we predict will come to pass, but since intuition is always in response to something, rather than making a fast effort to explain it away or deny the possible hazard, we are wiser (and more true to nature) if we make an effort to identify the hazard, if it exists. If there’s no hazard, we have lost nothing and have added a new distinction to our intuition, so that it might not sound the alarm again in the same situation.” (De Becker, Gavin. The Gift of Fear And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence. Dell Publishing, 1997). Rather than fight it, my friend could have trusted his intuition and crossed the street to avoid the man who made him uncomfortable. At worst, he could have been wrong and he would have gotten home five minutes later, safe and unharmed.
My friend learned an important lesson that night, and it’s one I keep in mind every time I step into a Krav class or walk down the street. We must use all of the tools at our disposal, both mental and physical, to thwart attacks and ensure our safety and the safety of those around us.
People sometimes ask me if I’ve ever had to use my Krav Maga training in a real-life situation. This is the story of how I used Krav Maga to survive without injury in a bar situation involving three other men.
At the time I was a P2 or new P3. I was in a Hell’s Kitchen bar at night with my wife and another couple. We had not been drinking long when three men in their late 20’s settled near us and began talking very loudly. One of them was so loud that I couldn’t hear my companions next to me. Soon my ears were hurting.
So I asked him to quiet down, which he did. However, he and his friends began talking amongst themselves and I was aware of them glancing over at me. My companions became uneasy and I could feel the tension in the air. There are times when you can feel a confrontation is coming, and I recognized that something needed to be done.
I turned to the loudest guy and said, “Hey, I didn’t mean anything by that. I respect you. Can I buy you a beer?” He said, “What? Really?” I said, “Yeah, sure. What would you like?” I got him the beer and we smoothed things over. I learned he was out with his two friends who were visiting him from South America. There were mucho gusto’s all around and we ended up speaking a little Spanish together. It turned into a nice, positive experience. The end.
We’ve trained this scenario in class. Let’s examine the real thing in more detail.
Setting: Despite its name, Hell’s Kitchen is not the dangerous area it once was. I would have been far more guarded in a tougher bar, but because attacks can happen anywhere, situational awareness is always important. It’s fundamental to Krav Maga.
Response: Remember Imi’s words: “We train so that we may walk in peace.” Whenever possible, de-escalation should be tried before physical action. Self-confidence, respect for others, and the willingness to resolve rather than antagonize were also key.
What more could I have done? When I asked them to quiet down, I don’t remember if I said “please” but I definitely should have. I know I was annoyed and I probably conveyed some of that annoyance in my tone. These mistakes would have given them reason to react negatively to me. Talking in a level, calm voice and explaining oneself conveys self-confidence and respect. In fact, the words “I respect you” may be all the other person needs to hear to avoid further conflict.
I’m also not 100% certain that I used semi-passive stance when I addressed them, which I definitely should have done in case their reaction was belligerent. I remember not being afraid at all – that really struck me. I suspect they could sense this, and perhaps it gave power to my offer. It also allowed me to be conciliatory without being apologetic. I remember from class that apologizing without cause can be seen as a sign of weakness. (Plus I had no reason to apologize: I hadn’t bumped into them, stepped on their feet, or spilled their beer).
Luckily, everyone involved was reasonable and not hell-bent on throwing punches. What might have become an ugly (and dangerous!) multiple attacker scenario with third party protection implications, police involvement, legal hassles, etc. instead became a cool social interaction. All it took was a $6 pint of beer and some Krav Maga.
The world has become a dangerous place for everyone, but especially for children. Children spend less time outdoors and get less exercise, not just because of the dangers, but because of video games and other entertainment-related electronics. Self-defense training is an option that not only offers physical activity and strength-building exercises, it enhances a child’s sense of self, teaches discipline, and boosts his or her confidence levels.
Children are exposed to a variety of dangers, and few are able to protect themselves if required. Self-defense teaches kids how to recognize dangerous situations and assess them, then make a logical decision as to how to handle it. This training teaches a child self-control, and it builds their self-confidence.
When children are faced with a physical threat such as bullying, they may not understand why they are being targeted, and that it is a weakness in the bully’s behavior, not theirs. Self-defense teaches a child to stand his or her ground, calmly evaluate the situation, and deal with it in a way that will prevent injury to themselves. When a child can protect himself or herself, they become more confident and self-assured, and that affects all aspects of their well-being and safety.
Krav Maga Institute offers training in authentic Israeli Krav Maga for children and adults, law enforcement and security personnel and for those seeking strength and fitness instruction. KMI is the only fully certified Krav Maga school in NYC, and our highly trained, expert instructors have decades of experience. Krav Maga is not a competitive sport like martial arts. It is strictly a self-defense and fighting system intended for protecting yourself in a practical way in locations such as bars, nightclubs, and the streets of NYC. We also offer fight choreography for movies and television, as well as corporate events and training. For more information, visit our website at https://www.kravmagainstitutenyc.com/.