Krav Maga (קְרַב מַגָּע)

Krav Maga means “contact combat” in Hebrew, and is an Israeli self-defense system developed for the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). It is known for its real-world usefulness, such as in street-fighting, and simultaneous attack and defense moves.

The summer before college, I enrolled in a month-long krav maga training program because I wanted to know how to defend myself, and krav seemed like the most practical training method. I attended workshops on weekdays, after long hours of working at a biotech company. I loved the experience, but felt that the gym focused more on getting a good workout from the lessons, than teaching and practicing useful self-defense skills. I wanted to try learning krav maga from the real experts in Tel Aviv, and see what that was like.

As soon as I stepped into the gym, I was intimidated. There were ripped men all over the gym — demolishing punching bags, demolishing each other in the boxing ring, practicing kicks. There was a sign on the wall saying “Unless you faint, puke, or die… KEEP GOING!” I tried to stay out of peoples’ way while making friends with the gym’s bulldog, whom I learned was named Pacquiao (after Manny Pacquiao, the boxer). The lesson started, and the instructor told us that he was going to be teaching us how to defend from knife attacks, in light of the stabbing on the public bus in Tel Aviv that had happened earlier in the day. He lectured for a bit about how in this country, with such high ethnic tensions, such events as terrorist attacks on buses are understandable and unsurprising when they happen in Jerusalem, but are increasing at an alarming rate in Tel Aviv. There isn’t much an average citizen can do to prevent certain events — such as a Palestinian crossing the border and obtaining a knife — from happening. As an average citizen, the only thing we can proactively do is to train for these confrontations, be alert, and help neutralize the target. He pointedly remarked that if anyone on the bus had been trained to respond to such an event, they could have neutralized the terrorist before he stabbed more people.

He then moved on to teaching the technique for blocking knife stabs. He emphasized repeatedly that people don’t die from one stab, but from repeated stabs; therefore, you should not fear if you get stabbed, you just have to react quickly and not let it happen again. He also remarked that almost every terrorist stabbing was either an upper stab or lower stab — not a slash or straight stab — because those are able to inflict the most damage the fastest, take the least planning, and usually used in an emotional frenzy. The goal of the block was to stop the knife stab with your forearm, as close to the hand of the stabber as possible. The next step he moved onto was the simultaneous attack, a defining characteristic of krav. You want to both block the attack and punch the attacker in the face at the same time, serving as “200% defense”. The last step he taught was to (in very typical krav fashion) send a swift kick to the groin and run away. We practiced these simple moves in many permutations — attacks from different sides, as upper stabs or lower stabs, from different directions, and from different people. The most exciting exercise was when the instructor had us close our eyes — we would be tapped on the chest to open our eyes, and have ~1 second to assess the situation, see which direction the stab was coming from, and block and punch back before we got stabbed. The eyes-closed exercise helped instill a healthy dose of adrenaline into the workshop.

All in all, I’m very glad I attended the workshop. I’m far from feeling comfortable defending myself from a terrorist with a knife, but at least I know and have practiced the very basic motions. I just hope that if I’m ever in such a scenario, my muscle memory will kick in and take care of defending myself — whether it’s in the form of running away, or defending and fighting back.

Originally published at on January 26, 2015.

Cryptographer, climber, explorer. Previously working on ZK proofs at Chain/Interstellar, now on Google’s cryptography security team.

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