Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fighting and Writing, what is Krav Maga?

In one of my DragonCon reports, I noted that various authors have various reasons to have fight scenes in their novels: to honor those who have fought, to get realism in the writing, to come to grips with wars they've been in.

I'm not so high-minded.

There are some situations my characters won't be able to talk their way out of … in the case of A Pius Man, when there are people who start shooting up the Spanish Steps with a full-on assault with automatic weapons and RPGs, then there is only so much good harsh language can do for my protagonists.

The same goes with my theories on close-quarters combat. Unfortunately, most of my early fight scenes were developed by watching stuntmen dancing in various and sundry TV shows and movies. In fact, one of my characters, Sean A.P. Ryan, was a stuntman before going into the mercenary business—which is the only way that I could justify some of his crazier stunts.

Why not just use a real martial art?

Really? Which one? Tae Kwan Do, which has been referred to as a sport, even by black belts I've met? Karate, with kata dance routines that have about as much to do with an actual fight as ballet (I should know, I went for that when I was ten)?

I had come across penjakt silat, an Indonesian martial style, in Tom Clancy's NetForce novels; it was very practical, but overly complicated for writing purposes. MMA hadn't been popular when I started writing, and that, too, is merely a sport (high kicks are nice, but MMA doesn't have to deal with being kicked between the legs).

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell ConvictionHowever, a few years ago, I was exposed to a system called Krav Maga. Not in standard media, but in a video game—Splinter Cell, to be exact. Yes, for you video game nerds, Sam Fisher is using an actual style of combat. They didn't just make it up as they went along

24 Declassified: Veto PowerLater, I picked up novels based on the series 24, written by John Whitman. And, wow, it was practical.

And Krav Maga kept popping up in things I read. After a while, I took a hint, and I did some research into Krav Maga. I started by doing some research into John Whitman.

I discovered he was a black belt in Krav Maga. And he was more than an authority. He was apparently The authority in the United States.

Complete Krav Maga: The Ultimate Guide to Over 230 Self-Defense and Combative Techniques
For me, Krav Maga worked from a writing standpoint. It was simple, it was straightforward, and, most importantly, it used weapons. Not to mention that it was a style that was practical—a kick to the groin is a standard weapon, one that's practiced repeatedly; eye gouges are another tactic, one that I've never seen in a standard sparring match.

It was so much better for my writing, where all of my characters are … very practical. MMA is nice, and the fighters are all real athletes, but I don't recall the last MMA match that required having participants defend themselves against a knife, or one where someone is bleeding from bite marks.

I decided to look into Krav Maga a little.

A brief history.

Once upon a time, back in Budapest, there was a police officer named Samuel Litchenfield. And when I mean Budapest, I don't mean the bright and sunny spots—assuming there were any. Samuel was a former circus fighter, and I mean a trick fighter, sort of like a trick-shooter (insert obligatory Shoot 'em Up joke here). He knew a few different styles; for some reason, I always think of it as a dozen styles. He also taught self-defense; and you don't get more practical than a street cop.

His son, Imi, grew up as a bit of an athlete. Imi also had several occasions to defend his neighborhood against anti-Semitic riots. By 1948, Imi was training the newly founded Israeli Defense Force, and it had to be trained really, really quickly (as in: “Good News, Israel is now a country. Bad News: everyone around us has just declared war.”)

Since then, Krav Maga is … pretty much everywhere, in police and military circles. Scotland Yard, Australia, even Norway and Sweden.

And even fiction isn't safe from Krav Maga. It's usually speculated that David Weber, in his Honor Harrington series, used Krav Maga for his fictional combat system Coup di Vitesse. And you have a whole slew of celebrities getting on the Krav band wagon (Jennifer Lopez, Hillary Swank, Lucy Liu, John Mayer, Matt Damon, Anna Kournikova, Jennifer Garner, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher and Charlize Theron.)

What it does

For the record, Krav Maga is not a martial art –there is no art to it. It's typically referred to as a self-defense system. While “Krav Maga” is Hebrew for “close combat,” I tend to translate it as “whatever works.” If there is anything from any martial system that can be adapted into a practical situation, it will be absorbed into the system—Krav Maga is the only combat system I know of that holds yearly seminars on how to modify the system.

While there is no art, form is important, at least in terms of body mechanics.

What do I mean by that? Well, for example, there is the act of throwing a right cross. You see boxers throw these all the time. Try throwing one now—do not punch out your computer screen, please. How much of your body is in it? Just the arm muscles, right?

With Krav Maga, Krav practitioners will actually put a slight pivot on the back foot, which helps throw the entire body mass behind a strike. Even a standard ninety-pound grandmother can throw a Krav strike, because the entire ninety pounds will be concentrated on an area about one square inch—where the fist meets the impact area.

As noted above, the system is practical, and was originally developed for the quick training of civilians for all-out warfare. What does that mean? It means you don't have to be an athlete for this system to work for you … and, trust me, I know this from personal experience.

How easy is Krav to learn? Well, let's put is this way. Every time I came back from a Krav Maga session, I would try it out on two people …

One is a friend of mine, who is a black belt in Tae Kwan Do (TKD). He usually finds it most impressive, and can also identify what “martial art” system it was adapted from.

The second person I showed it to would be my sister. While I love her dearly, she tends to be as about as well coordinated as the standard hippo. However, when I brought her to a Krav Maga lesson, she was heavily complimented that she already seemed to know all of the techniques. That's because she had already learned all of the techniques from the few times I had practiced with her.

Other Differences.

Martial arts tend to be very heavy on belts. In Krav, there are levels. And yes, they have belts attached to them. However, since I can never keep the color-coding straight, I go by the numbers. There are, technically, eight levels. Levels 1-5 are standard, and by level 5, combatants are trained how to defend themselves against a full array of weapons at close range. Up to and including “long guns,” which, in this instance, is everything from a shotgun to an assault rifle. I've seen these techniques work, I've tried them at home. They're fun.

After level 5, there are three “expert levels,” which have been described to me as: Multiple attackers. Multiple attackers with weapons. And multiple attackers with multiple weapons.

Unlike most martial arts, Krav Maga doesn't make you wait until level five hundred and sixty-two before you can use it in practical situations. My friend the black belt in TKD has informed me that some of the stuff I did in level 1 and 2 (it took me 4 months to get to level 2), were considered advanced techniques in several martial arts.

In level 1 of Krav Maga, you have multiple defenses against people who try to strangle you, headlock you, or otherwise try to punch you. And everything you learn in level 1 is the foundation for what comes later.

For example? There are standard defenses against a straight punch, cross or jab. All it requires is a simple deflection, and a twist of the body. So, one day, an instructor wanted to encourage our defenses by giving each attacker a practice knife.

It was amazing how fast the defenses improved.

And, like I said, this is not a sport. In any way, shape, or form. There are rules all over the sports world – for Tae Kwan Do, for the much vaunted MMA. Those will not allow you to break people's arms; you don't bite, scratch, gouge, or kick them between the legs.

Krav Maga only has one rule: Win. The standard philosophy is that participants play by street rules, where all things are possible. Hair pulling, eye gouges, arm breaks, biting, etc.

And, for you legal types out there, there have been more than a few classes that have had instructions to the class that begin “there are laws out there that say you cannot do X, Y, or Z. Be sure to be perfectly reasonable until they throw the first punch. That way witnesses can tell the cops later that you had ample reason to put your opponent on the ground / in the hospital / in the morgue.”

Not to mention that Krav Maga (civilian model), has standard rules on lethal force: save it for when a weapons is in play, for when there are multiple attackers, or when your opponent just won't stay down with any other strike.

Culturally, I have rarely found someone standoffish in a Krav studio. Considering the potential for catastrophe during practice, everyone is friendly, most everyone is cautious, and those who are neither friendly nor cautious rarely last very long. Many of the people I have encountered have been professionals, or have graduate degrees, and some even own their own businesses. There are athletes, there are men and women of all ages, and then there are guys like me.

Fighting wisdom I have learned from Krav Maga.

1) Sorry, MMA, but in a standard street fight / bar brawl, going to the ground to grapple with someone is a Very Bad Idea … so are high-kicks to the head. If you must kick them in the head, put them on the ground first and kick them then.

2) When someone is attacking you, do not retreat, go at them. Stepping back only allows them to recoil and strike again. This also applies to being attacked with a weapon. However, don't run into the weapon.

3) Krav Maga also teaches the laws of self-defense: the threshold of proportional force, for one. For example, lethal force is something only for occasions of multiple attackers that need to be cowed, or for someone who pulls a weapon.

Anyway, I can talk about Krav Maga all day, and this is as good a place as any to stop.

And, if, for some reason, you see a similarity between my self defense articles and Krav Maga ... there's a reason for that.

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