What is Krav Maga?

Why Does It Work, and How Do We Use It?

The simple answer is that it is a physical tool box specifically designed for the purpose of self defence. What that actually means and why it works, is a little more complicated, and is worthy of a little study and explanation !

Any martial art or self defence technique that you choose can be expanded, discussed and focussed on and all the intricate details listed until the motion or reaction itself becomes a whole long list of things that you must do in sequence otherwise the technique is ‘wrong’. This in itself is actually the direct opposite to violence in reality which is, by its very nature, chaotic and something that you cannot plan for in advance.

In the 7 short paragraphs to follow, I would like to investigate this and other areas to see if a plan for violence is truly possible and if so, how to train for it.

The paragraphs are as follows:

  1. Historical examples of ‘Krav Maga Thinking’
  2. Can you define a structure to the chaos of street violence?
  3. Can we plan for a real self defence ‘street fight’ past the initial response?
  4. How can we maintain successive effective attacks?
  5. How do you practise for reality and chaos?
  6. How to make your training ‘more real’
  7. Conclusion


There was a man called Helmuth von Moltke the Elder who was the Prussian chief of staff before World War 1. He was classically trained in military strategy, and the advent of mass human destruction with machine guns and artillery meant that his skills and training no longer applied. This was deeply distressing for him and resulted in his famous quote:

No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy

Subsequently, this distress sparked his development of a new ‘Theory of War’ that could function in this chaos and evolve beyond long range specific plans to a more resilient and adaptive model that could deal with situations as they occurred. This is Krav Maga.

Imi Lichtenfeld was a Hungarian Jew who was a successful boxer, wrestler and gymnast who had also been trained in self defence by his police chief father. In the late 1930’s anti-Semitic riots threatened the local Jewish population, and together with some other jewish boxers and wrestlers he helped to teach and protect his neighbourhood against racist gangs. He quickly realised that his ‘classical’ training had little in common with actual street violence, and so started to adapt his training to reflect the need for a practical and effective answer to the violence of life threatening situations. This is Krav Maga (and indeed became Krav Maga).

Krav Maga in many ways is not so much a martial art or self defence system as it is a way of thinking, or even a state of mind. It is about seeing the world as it is and being able to adapt and deal with it in the most direct, simple and effective way possible.

So if you take my initial paragraph and compare it against the two examples I have given of ‘Krav Maga’ thinking, you can see that any martial art that proposes a structured plan to deal with any kind of violence is ultimately doomed, as you cannot define a structure to the chaos of actual, real, visceral street violence.

Or can you?


To be absolutely clear, if you are attacked and you have no indication of your assailants intentions (for example from directly behind you and you have no advance warning of any kind), you will have no reaction time in which to form a response. In this situation, any action you make will be subsequent to the initial strike landing and will be a dependant on the damage that strike makes.

Given that this is the worst possible situation, what I would like to look at is the situation where you can see your attacker and either they attack you, or it is a distinct threat and you choose to pre-emptively strike.  In both cases, reaction time is a factor – which is the time it takes before a movement is seen, heard or felt and the information makes its way to your brain and then is processed and a signal is sent to your muscles to make a response.

If you want a bit more in depth explanation as to how it works, check out https://backyardbrains.com/experiments/reactiontime according to whom, the average human reaction time is as follows:

Average Human Reaction time

Stimulus TypeAverage Reaction Time
Visual Stimulus0.25 Seconds
Audio Stimulus0.17 Seconds
Physical Stimulus0.15 Seconds

There is a lot of additional study about the variation in reaction time based on age, gender, physical activity and a host of other factors  (more info here : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4456887/#!po=72.5806 ), but as a rough guide you could expect at least a 20% variation each way between any one individual and another.

So, in the situation where you see your attacker making their attack, you have a delay of between 0.2 and 0.3 seconds before your body will respond. What this means is that the attacker has the advantage, so whatever response you make must be as efficient and direct as possible to have any chance of succeeding.

Similarly, if you are making a pre-emptive strike, your attacker suffers the same disadvantage and therefore the more direct, and more effective the initial strike, the greater the chance of it being successful.

So, we have two situations here from an initial attack or threat where your maximum advantage is to respond in the most direct fashion to have any chance of succeeding. This is Krav Maga thinking applied to reality – focussing on looking at the situation and finding the simplest and most effective solution.

Going back to our initial question – can you train yourself in a way to be able to effectively defend yourself against street violence, this is the first step and as I am sure you can agree, as long as

  • You can see your attacker before their attack
  • Your response (pre-emptive or otherwise) is direct and effective,

then you have a reasonable chance of striking your attacker before  they can strike you.

To take this line of thinking a little bit further, if there is the possibility of being able to make a defensive movement within the available time before being struck – if you can simultaneously make an attacking strike then you are combining defence and attack within the same time frame, and being even more effective and efficient in your responses.

To recap, this is our ‘first contact with the enemy’, and we are proposing, with our Krav Maga thinking, that our first step in response to any attack is an efficient defence and simultaneous strike. Our next step of course, immediately following that first strike, finds us at the more chaotic level of post initial engagement and must ask the question:


To answer this, we need to look a little bit past Krav Maga and first look at probability theory and a little bit of human physiology – more specifically, is there such a thing as true ‘chaos’ when you are looking at the movement of the human body?

The human body, when you look at it, is quite restricted in many ways in terms of the directions that joints can bend or where punches, kicks, elbow strikes or head butts can actually come from. So it is not true chaos – the possible ways that someone can attack you have to follow a certain set of physiological restrictions.

In addition to this, in the situation of an attack where you have made an initial defence and simultaneous attack, the number of possibilities for your attackers subsequent response is further reduced, based on what you hit, how successfully you hit it, which part of their body they used to attack, where their bodyweight is centred, how tall they are and so on and so on. It is far from being straightforward, but it is a definable set of possibilities and far from chaos.

If we look back to Helmuth Van Moltke the Elder and his frustration with his classic training, what he sought to put in place was a ‘resilient and adaptive model’, which is exactly the kind of Krav Maga thinking that we want to put in place here, to be able to design a suitable set of responses that work in the majority of situations but can be adapted at need should the environment of the combat change.

Binary probability is the ‘if this happens, then the next thing can be either this or that’ – again not a true representation of the possibilities of a street self defence scenario, but for the purpose of attempting to see if we can make a structure that is both resilient and adaptive then it is a start. We can ‘walk through’ likely scenarios and then, based on range and the availability of targets, build a set of responses that will be flexible enough to deal with minor variations in the attackers movement and, more importantly, be able to change completely in the event of major variations in the attackers movement.

Additional to this of course, after any initial strike (defensive, pre-emptive or otherwise) to maximise the benefits of our advantage in reaction time we would plan to strike again and again in quick succession to give our attacker no opportunity to structure an effective defence.


One of the most important things that Krav Maga aims to instil is an attitude of ‘continuous attack’. We have already discussed how you have an advantage over your attacker if you choose to attack first, as human physiology is on your side giving you around a quarter of a seconds advantage before they will respond.

Subsequent to the initial strike, the following need to be taken into account:

  • Range

This is the striking range for all of your ‘weapons’, by which I mean hands, elbows, knees, shins, feet and head.

  • Proximity

Essentially this is which of your opponents weak points (knees, groin, solar plexus, throat, chin, eyes, etc) are in your weapons range

  • Rotation

This is a slightly more difficult concept to explain, as it draws very much on the physiology and movement of a striking body. A second (and subsequent) strike is far more effective if it is in the opposite quarter of the body from the first as one movement naturally flows into the other. It’s a lot easier to walk than to hop for example !!

  • Flow

This is about optimising the continuation of multiple strikes by minimising the amount of time between each one – as soon as one strike hits the target, the next one begins.

  • Adaptation

As your body moves in relation to that of your attacker, different weak points will move into the range of your various weapons, so you should be able to be balanced enough in your movement to track and strike these as they happen.


The first two of these are a lot easier to visualise as they are about quite mathematically specific things – what you are going to hit and what is the optimal target. The other three are a little more eclectic and deal with actually how in Krav Maga we maintain successive continuous attacks. This is something that can only come with practise – but how do you practise for reality and chaos?? And can this be done in a way that results in an effective long term solution?


In the end it must come down to working and practising multiple self defence situations. You can research the most common types of attacks through the office of national statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/compendium/focusonviolentcrimeandsexualoffences/yearendingmarch2016/overviewofviolentcrimeandsexualoffences) which show what offences the police were called for, but don’t specify what the actual acts of violence were.

The list that seems to be cited the most is by R.J.Nash and concerns ‘Habitual Acts of Violence’ (HAOV) – all details here : http://www.kitsunekan.com/articles/jeffnashhaov.php and is split into two parts, male on male and male on female. There is a small update on this which includes female on female or female on male attacks which is a combination of R.J.Nash’s work and John Titchen, and can be found here : https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/violent-crime-hapv-statistics .

It is important to note this paragraph, where it states that there is no known surviving link as to where the data came from originally:

“Now when Jeff gave me permission to use his list … he told me …that it had come from a steering group looking into European violence. He unfortunately no longer had a reference for it and I have since been unable to find one. I used a modified (and prioritised) version of said list … based on my observations of behaviour in CCTV footage and Emergency Department reports of injuries along with the little glimpses of behaviour patterns we get in various home office reports. There is however to my knowledge no current Home Office’ list of HAOV in order of likelihood or MA text/research including a list with firm evidence indicating any weighting.”

However John Titchen has expanded on the original list using the methods described above, which at the very least is a good place to start ! The full list is as follows :

Setting the scene:

  • Alcohol is a significant factor in violent crime, particularly in the night-time economy.
  • People in their late teens and early twenties are the most common perpetrators of violent crime.
  • Men commit the majority of violent crime, but women and mixed groups are also protagonists.
  • People in their late teens and early twenties are the most at risk group from violent crime.
  • Approximately half of violent crime is committed by people known (by sight, conversation etc.) to the victim.
  • Approximately two thirds of violent crime is one on one.
  • Violent crime happens in all weathers, both indoors and outdoors; light clothing such as t shirts or shirts cannot provide the same levers as a martial arts uniform, and are often torn open or off in fights.

Examples of close quarter male on male physical attacks:

  • Push to the chest followed by a swinging punch to the head
  • Swinging punch /punches to the head
  • Front clothing grab, one handed, followed by punch to the head
  • Front clothing grab, two hands, followed by a head butt
  • Front clothing grab, two hands, followed by a knee to the groin
  • Bottle, glass, or improvised weapon to the head
  • Lashing kick to groin/lower legs
  • Broken bottle/glass jabbed to face
  • Slashing, hacking or stabbing with a small knife
  • Grappling style head lock
  • Tackles (high pushing tackles under the shoulder, to the waist driving down and less commonly to the legs)
  • Kicking or stamping on a prone person

Examples of male on female attacks:

  • Victim approached and threatened with a weapon.  The weapon might then be hidden allowing the attacker to lead the victim away.  Such attacks rely on compliance through intimidation.  There may be opportunities to escape through physical or vocal means in some instances.
  • A silent or rushing approach was made from behind, the victim grabbed in a headlock and then dragged away.
  • A silent or rushing approach was made from behind, the victim grabbed round the waist and then dragged away.
  • Victim pinned to a wall with a throat grab with the attacker’s left hand and threatened with a weapon. The weapon might then be hidden allowing the attacker to lead the victim away.  Such attacks rely on compliance through intimidation. There may be opportunities to escape through physical or vocal means in some instances.
  • Attacker grabbed the victim’s hair with his left hand, and victim dragged away.
  • Swinging punch to the head
  • Push to the front or from behind
  • Pull (downwards) from behind
  • Slap to the head / face
  • Kicking or stamping on a prone person

Examples of close quarter female on female / male physical attacks:

  • Push to the chest followed by a swinging punch to the head
  • Swinging punch / punches to the head
  • Slap to the face or head
  • Hair pulling
  • Front clothing grab, two hands, followed by a knee to the groin
  • Bottle, glass, or improvised weapon to the head
  • Lashing kick to groin
  • Grappling style head lock
  • Scratching the face
  • Kicking or stamping on a prone person or standing person

Now we know the most common attacks, how do we practice for this?

So, very simply – this is what we do to apply our Krav Maga thinking to these various attacks – and practice for reality.

  • For each attack, work out :
    1. the most efficient defence, where possible simultaneously striking
    2. the most efficient pre-emptive strike
  • Subsequent to the above 3 or 4 different groups of chained strikes to various targets on the attackers body.

Once this is done, it is practised slowly with a partner, whose aim is to act in various ways as he is struck in simulation to judge whether the chained attacks are relevant and effective. The repetition of these creates a more automatic response in the person that is training, however it must be stressed that whatever techniques are chosen MUST be simple and easily learned.

The next step is to make the training ‘more real’ – after all, if you are training ‘for reality’ then premeditated situations by definition are ‘not real’.


Obviously, there is no way to make your self defence training ‘real’ other than putting yourself wilfully into a dangerous situation, which is counter intuitive. Again, putting our ‘Krav Maga thinking’ into place, if we build a resilient and adaptive model that is simple and effective we can offer the following options to increase the variations around your standard training model and allow you to practise as close to reality as possible.

  • Shutting the eyes, opening on contact/verbal assault
  • Practising outside, in different environments
  • Using training partners that do not know you or what you are likely to do in response to the attack that you have asked them to do.
    • This is a very effective method, but caution is advised as you may damage your partner
    • Ensure the use of quality protection
  • Practising in a constricted ‘crowd’ situation.
  • Practise when having to defend a third party.
  • Practise with the floor covered with stones/bottles
  • Escalate the initial aggression by using loud voices, swearing and abusive language.
    • This is often a precursor to violence in any case, but is generally not used in training, as it can (when done correctly) be quite unnerving and counter productive. It must be used in the right environment.
  • Escalate the initial aggression using close and threatening body contact/personal space invasion
  • Practise extremely hard, both partners using excellent protection
  • Finally, all of the above but with the specific attack being unknown
    • This is the ultimate test of the individual, where the practise that they have made needs to work in all situations.

All of the above are examples of changing your external environment, and there is therefore one final element to this and that is to train with your internal environment being changed , for example

  • Under the influence of alcohol or any drugs that you may habitually use
  • Extreme tiredness/lack of sleep
  • Sudden change from dark to light
  • Visually impaired –
    1. Glasses removed
    2. Hat pulled over face
  • Simulated body damage
    1. One arm broken/unusable
    2. One leg broken/unusable
    3. One eye shut


Krav Maga is a state of mind, a logical precept applied to self protection. It was created to fulfill a need, and to be the most effective and efficient in all situations where it was needed. Additionally, it had to also be flexible and adaptive in unknown, or hitherto untrained-for situations.

No training can ever simulate reality 100%, as there will always be an element of readiness or awareness in any training environment, no matter how harsh.

However in the questions that we have asked, we have bit by bit drawn out the environments and methods that we would need to employ in order to approach a self defence method which will be able to provide the answers.

A fast, simple, effective self defence method that is efficient, flexible and adaptive under pressure, and encourages all students to question the effectiveness of what they practice to ensure personal understanding :




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