A lot of people haven't heard of Krav Maga. For those who have heard of it or seen it on YouTube or in a movie, they usually categorize it as a Martial Art. While it has several characteristics that are similar to Martial Arts, it actually belongs in a very different category.
Krav Maga is a self-defence, defensive tactics, and combatives system. It is Hebrew for "combat with contact". According to the International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF), it is a "tactical, practical form of self-defence". This system, which originated in Israel in the 1930s, was developed by leveraging all the best aspects of numerous Martial Arts from all over the world into a flexible framework. It was intended to defend against genocide in World War 2 and later became the official combatives system of the Israeli special forces and many others globally.
Let's objectively compare and contrast Krav Maga with the genre of Martial Arts.
What is a Martial Art?
Merriam-Webster says martial arts is "any of several arts of combat and self-defense (such as Karate and Judo) that are widely practiced as sport".
LiveAbout.com says martial arts "refers to all of the various systems of training for combat that have been arranged or systematized."
"The Chinese character “mu” literally means “to stop fighting” or “to put down weapons.” The word “arts” in martial arts points to skill, expression of beauty or creativity. The combination “martial arts” may be interpreted to mean ending conflict skillfully. Peace is the ultimate goal of the martial arts."
Most Martial Arts have rules, codes and some have a spiritual aspect along with their rituals. This structure is excellent for building character and discipline, especially in children. In most Martial Arts, specific techniques are the focus of what they do, and these are passed from one teacher to the next unchanged for centuries.
To summarize, Martial Arts are structured yet artistic systems of combat and self-defence that are now practiced mainly as sports.
How is Krav Maga similar to Martial Arts?
Krav Maga is certainly a system of self-defence and combatives. Like most Martial Arts, Krav Maga was designed to defend oneself and defeat an attacking enemy in times of war.
The goal of Krav Maga is also peace. The founder of Krav Maga Imi Lichtenfeld famously stated the purpose is "so that one may walk in peace."
Krav Maga is a system like other martial arts, meaning there are guiding principles and basic techniques that must be followed and done correctly for it to work.
How does Krav Maga differ from Martial Arts?
The primary goal of Krav Maga is to equip you to survive violence, no matter what you have to do. This includes using tactics to position yourself and make decisions (using your mind), aggression (your attitude regarding surviving and winning) and physical fighting (your body). Other Martial Arts rarely teach how to defend against real attacks with different types of weapons, one or more attackers, in different environments and circumstances. This is what makes Krav Maga a tactical system of self-defence.
Krav Maga is driven by principles, not a structured series of steps. Other Martial Arts follow a defined series of steps or moves (i.e. Kata) whereas Krav Maga has a general framework for all physical interactions. This allows a greater flexibility and effectiveness against an opponent in any situation. Every stance, strike and step is done purposefully for maximum efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility in choosing the next move. Principles are simple, timeless and universal in their application. This makes it far easier to apply under the stress of an actual attack when our brain goes into fight or flight mode.
It was built (and continues to evolve) for the street and the battlefield. Many other Martial Arts systems were originally built for the battlefield but over time became more of an artform. If you've ever watched Karate or Judo, you can see how it flows and is quite beautiful to watch. Krav Maga is less of a dance and more lets-get-down-to-business. Krav Maga is actively used by military and police forces around the world because it is extremely effective. It is not just a self-defence system; it is a tool for defensive tactics in law enforcement to gain control of a subject, and it is also for combatives for defeating an enemy in military engagements.
It does not follow rules as sports do. The only rule is to avoid getting hurt where ever possible, disabling the opponent and removing yourself from the situation as fast as possible. This means that groin strikes and eye jabs are fair game (of course we practice these carefully in training!). This is also why Krav Maga is not permitted in Mixed Martial Arts - it works too well and does not follow any rules of engagement! This is also why it is the ideal system for protecting oneself on the street. The goal of Krav Maga is to keep you safe in real life, against any type or method of attack rather than it being a method for sparring against a person with the same background, as is the case with many Martial Arts systems.
In Krav Maga, there is no competition. There are no tournaments or matches. You won't find it in the Olympics or in MMA competitions as previously mentioned. The only competition is with yourself, to improve your skills compared to where you were at in the previous class. Of course we practice sparring or "light fighting" under controlled circumstances, but the purpose is to learn how to read attacks, and how to counter those with the appropriate defensive tactic, not to defeat our opponent. In real life, winning is surviving, not winning a championship.
Martial Arts are incredible, beautiful, and powerful systems to develop coordination, self-discipline and many other skills. We have all the respect in the world for them.
In some ways Krav Maga is similar, but it many ways it is a very different animal and truly belongs in a category of its own: defensive tactics.
If you are curious about Krav Maga or have been looking for a system of self-defence, Tip of Spear offers classes on a bi-weekly basis for all ages, shapes and levels of fitness! They are fun and very safe in our welcoming community.