Tag Archives: krav maga

Choosing the Right Martial Art

This is more of a personal question but what MA you’d recommend to a 30 something? There’s krav maga courses at my city but I’m not sure if krav is actually good? I’ve read conflicting opinions on it

It its native environment, Krav Maga is very effective. Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force and designed around combat in very tight quarters. It’s entirely built to operate in modern Israeli urban warfare. That’s also the problem.

Krav Maga was, originally, designed to kill opposing combatants. In its original form, it was ill suited for police or self defense roles, and would have been a disaster for sports and recreational martial artists.

What followed was that Krav Maga filtered out of the IDF. The martial art was revised and modified for people who had different needs. Police didn’t need a martial art that could kill people, they needed one that could keep the suspect alive. Recreational martial artists needed something they could practice safely. MMA fighters looked at the potential applications in sport.

So, roughly 50 years after Krav Maga escaped the IDF, there’s now multiple variants of the martial art. It’s not even that there’s a single sport variant, or a single self-defense variant, because each instructor is going to have a slightly different take on it, and that will filter down to their students. These tend to be almost imperceptible, initially, but when you’re talking over multiple decades, distinct schools of thought will start to emerge.

If someone is teaching Krav Maga as an exercise routine, that’s not going to be what you want if you’re looking for a self defense style. Beyond that, not all schools are created equal. You will find quality differences based on the skill of a school’s instructors. Two different schools practicing the same martial art could produce students of radically different proficiency.

This is where it’s a bit tricky for me. Because I don’t have a background in Krav Maga, I can’t tell you exactly what to look for in a school to immediately determine if it’s what you’re looking for.

Beyond that, a lot of recreational or sport schools will advertise themselves as, “self-defense.” The easy one to point out is Karate. 99 times out of 100, if a Karate school is offering itself as self-defense, it’s not going to deliver on that. It’s going to offer the recreational form of the martial art (because, that’s what actually exists), and at best may offer some practical self-defense considerations above that, but it’s not a good martial art for self defense (unless, you’re really worried about attacks from time traveling samurai from the 17th and 18th centuries.)

So, is Krav Maga a bad martial art? No. It’s an entirely legitimate choice. However, if you’re thinking you can take eight weeks of Krav Maga and come out the other side with hand to hand skills on par with IDF Special Forces, that’s not going to happen.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, but if you’re looking for self-defense training, my recommendation would be Judo as a base. Particularly the, “self-defense,” strand of Judo used by Law Enforcement, if you can find that. (Usually, this will be via police or sheriff’s department community outreach programs.) This is especially useful, because the most important part of self-defense isn’t the martial arts, it’s the threat management skills. Actually, a major red flag with a, “self-defense,” course is if there isn’t a priority given to non-combat skills, such as explaining threat psychology, or methods to make you less attractive as a potential victim. In self-defense, avoiding combat entirely is far safer, and thus more desirable, than testing your combat skills.

If you’re after something spiritual or physical exercise, you have a lot of options, and honestly, most schools will accommodate this goal pretty nicely. If you’ve got the option, Judo and Aikido are my first thoughts here, Karate isn’t a bad choice. There isn’t a categorically wrong answer. If you’re worried about your physical condition, then Tai Chi may a good choice.

If you’re looking to get into competitive martial arts (such as MMA), at your age, I’d strongly recommend against it. As we get older, our bodies slow down (a fact, I’m pretty sure you’re well aware of), and competitive fighting is something that takes an enormous toll on you. When you’re young, you don’t realize just how much damage you’re taking, but all that abuse stacks up. Starting older is an option, but you don’t have the benefit of being able to bounce back from that wear and tear. That said, Muay Thai has been extremely popular as of late. Though there are a lot of popular martial arts, and sport focused Krav Maga isn’t a bad option. The same technical considerations that make it an effective CQC martial art still work in a competitive bout.

If you need practical hand-to-hand training, you probably already have the contacts you’d need to get access to the military strand of Krav Maga, but, then again, if this was the case, you probably wouldn’t need to ask, “why do I see conflicting opinions on it?” You’d be buying a ticket to Israel. If that’s your goal, and you don’t have the contacts, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re unlikely to randomly come across a school teaching practical Krav Maga. Even if you did, it would not be the right choice for, “normal,” self-defense needs. If you want self-defense training, find an off-duty cop moonlighting as a martial arts instructor.


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Realistically and practically, how dangerous IS Krav Maga?

Well, there’s at least two different varieties of Krav Maga.

There’s the version that the Israeli Defense Force teaches it’s soldiers. That one is very dangerous, especially in dense urban environments. Like MAP and other current military hand to hand forms, this is about snuffing your opponent as fast as possible.

The other version is the one you’ll see advertised in the US. Depending on the instructors running the school it could be the military version from 10 to 15 years ago, which is still dangerous, but has also fallen behind the curve, and could easily get you killed if you went up against someone with more up to date training. It could also be a truncated or modified version of the form, with more of a focus on non-lethal techniques, and less on turning people into chunky salsa.

If we’re talking about the active military form, yeah, that will kill you. If we’re talking about the sport/self-defense version, it will vary. You’re still looking at a martial art that’s closer to its combat roots, but it’s no longer an up to date combat form.

Either one will pretty easily mess up an untrained opponent. When you’re dealing with police or military forces though, the out of date version just won’t fly.


“Practical” Combat

Let’s talk about “practical” for a second. In the world of martial arts, and really everything associated with combat, “practical” is a loaded term; it refers to any style or weapon that’s intended for actual combat. It’s distinct from sport or non-combat martial arts, like Tai Bo. In the case of weapons it distinguishes between actual combat weapons and display weapons, like the rainbow knife on my desk.

So, if you’re asking, what’s the most effective combat style, then, whatever fits. There are plenty of active combat forms available to civilians, and military or police characters will know their organization’s hand to hand form. It’s not uncommon for police to actively start looking into other martial arts as a result of their training. Similarly, as I recall (and I could be wrong about this), it’s fairly common for military personnel in overseas postings, to pick up local martial arts and bring them back.

Generally speaking, practical styles split into two families, with a lot of crossover; subdual and lethal. Subdual styles involve restraining the opponent, and holding them in place, usually via joint locks, throws and holds. Most police hand to hand forms, and almost all self defense training are focused on subdual.

Lethal styles are ones that involve quickly breaking someone so they stop screaming and thrashing. Almost all military styles fall into this header. Some exceptions are Chin Na and modern Systema, which borrow heavily from subdual techniques. Where most subdual forms are content to lock a joint, lethal styles will frequently follow with a break.

If your character is a civilian, then you’re probably looking at any of the modern self defense schools. It is probably the most prolific, practical martial style today, and easy to explain in a character’s back story.

If you’re looking for something slightly more obscure, then Krav Maga or Muay Thai are both options. But, Krav Maga is about a decade out of date from the actual military form, and Muay Thai is technically a sport form. Granted, that sport involves tagging someone in the kidneys until they piss blood and die, but still.

If your character is in one of the few places in the world where they can get training in it, Systema’s also an option. In its modern form, it looks more like a subdual form, but it is quite lethal. Unfortunately, it also means your character needs to have come from someplace with a large Russian population. If the character is American, that means : Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, or Miami.

Finally, if you’re willing to do some research on your own, there are a number of Ninjitsu schools in the US. Functionally, it’s not really that different from any other Japanese form, except that it hasn’t been defanged into a sport form yet. Just make sure, if you go this route, to make that completely clear to the reader.


Since you mentioned Jack Bauer and I’m a huge 24 fan, could you talk more about his fighting style? Also, what would be a believable background/fighting style for a character like him? Thank you very much!

As I recall, Jack mostly uses Krav Maga, with some other CQC techniques mixed in. I don’t think we’ve actually talked about Krav Maga yet; it’s a modern combat style designed by the Israeli Defense Force, which focuses on very close quarters combat. It’s a little strange that a Federal Agent would be using them, but, it isn’t completely unreasonable. The style was very popular for a few years back in the early 2000s, and you can still find schools for it in the US.

It’s one of the few actual combat styles that you can get training in “off the street,” though the civilian version is probably about ten years out of date.

Now, as much as I love 24 in a minute to minute context, there’s a lot of stuff in its background that just doesn’t work.

CTU is supposed to be a military or CIA operation. Before the Department of Homeland Security, domestic counterterrorism was a bit of a bureaucratic mess. Theoretically the FBI had jurisdiction, and if it was a bombing, they were the ones called in to investigate. After 9/11, the DHS was set up to coordinate intelligence gathering from the CIA, NSA, and FBI, to assist in the prevention of future terrorist attacks. It outright consumed a few agencies, including the Secret Service, ICE, and, I think, the DSS.

In theory, the CIA has never been allowed to operate domestically; the same is also theoretically true of the NSA. Now, that’s never really been the case, domestic actions by the CIA go back at least to the 1950s, and Echelon, an NSA surveillance network, dates back to the mid 60s. Obviously, this stuff goes down the rabbit hole fast, but the critical thing to take away is that, even after the PRISM leaks, the CIA and NSA aren’t allowed to operate openly on US soil. Meaning, at least in the world we live in, CTU would be a legal impossibility.

If you’re writing a counterterrorism agent in the federal government, today, you’re looking at FBI or DHS. DHS’s primary interest is supposed to be sharing intelligence, not acting on it, so really, if you want a Jack Bauer type counterterrorist investigator, you’re probably looking at a Special Agent in the FBI.

If you want the specific requirements for a character to be an FBI Special Agent, I could rattle what I remember off the top of my head, or just link this: https://fbijobs.gov/114.asp

The short version is, no serious physical impairments, including colorblindness, or less than 20/40 vision, no serious criminal record, at least a four year degree, between the ages of 23 and 37 (when they’re recruited). But, that link goes into some interesting details. (Also, question 17 still cracks me up, until I remember that it really was one of the most common questions they were getting for years.)

What it doesn’t cover is that military service, or a background in law enforcement is a plus. It’s not technically necessary, but a character who didn’t serve, and wasn’t a cop, will be somewhat socially isolated. As far as I know, this isn’t malicious; it’s just that the Agent in question won’t have the same shared experiences to help with making friends and networking.

The FBI does their hand to hand training at Quantico. I don’t have any real details on it, but it’s safe to assume it’s a fairly standard police hand to hand variant. Given recent trends in police tactics, it’s entirely possible that it’s started incorporating military hand to hand techniques.

If you want to avoid the FBI for some specific reason, all of this is still a pretty reasonable baseline for any federal agent.

Jack’s background in Special Forces is, let’s call it “difficult to justify”. Ex-Special Forces has become a flashcard for badass, but, as with a lot of things, it tends to get massively misunderstood by people on the outside. I’ll probably come back to this at a later date, but, in general, people who come out of the Special Forces programs aren’t really well suited for jobs in law enforcement. Most often, this is used to designate a character as trained in combat, just like, literally, everyone  that serves in the Armed Services.

My final advice on writing a character like Jack Bauer is; don’t. The only reason Bauer works at all is Kiefer Sutherland’s performance; he’s walking a very fine tightrope to keep the character likable. On paper, without an actor to kludge the character into line, that’s going to be a very difficult mark to hit.