Krav Maga as a Fitness Craze

Posted: February 18, 2012 in Attitude, Class

Before reading this post take a moment to read this article.

Done? Good. On with my take of this. I am all for fitness. We in the U.S. (and many other parts of the world, I bet) have grown very sedentary over the past few decades. We are couch potatoes who generally are more interested in sitting on our ever-expanding butts than getting some exercise.

“We have come for your bacon!”

Now I get that this isn’t actually a very revolutionary thought. But look around — hell, look in the mirror. Odds are you fall into this category since, according to the CDC, a third of adult Americans are ‘obese’ and another third are considered ‘overweight’! We are becoming a society of porkers. For those who want to change that quality of themselves they’ll try just about anything. This includes but isn’t limited to fad diets, running for week (before quitting with plantar fasciitis or shin splints), liposuction, going to the gym for a month or two (before mysteriously getting “too busy” to continue), and, for some, taking Krav Maga.

There’s nothing blatantly wrong with seeking out fitness by way of Krav Maga. I think, to some extent, I was looking for fitness by starting last year. And, don’t get me wrong, I am also in no way, shape, or form the authority on who should and shouldn’t take Krav Maga and for what reasons. That said, I have noticed an interesting take on Krav Maga in the media (as noted in that representative article above) and in a good number of people joining class over the past several months.

There are many ways you could split a class of students. One way that conveniently serves the point of this post is to consider what category a student falls into when it comes to their primary goal, fitness or self-defense. Yes, as I noted above, you can and probably do want both but one of these will dominate. For me it’s always been about self-defense first, fitness second. For others it’s the opposite.

So what, right? What’s the point? Well, first off, let me say that it hasn’t anything to do with machismo or a feeling of superiority over folks in this other category. Someone who’s fitness-centric has just as much right to the dojo as someone who’s self-defense oriented, for sure. But there has to be a consequence to this when you have a mix of the two groups. I find that fitness-centric students have a far different training ethic. They very often lack aggression in their attitude and oftentimes go through the motions and completely wuss out on many of the more intense drills.

We were doing “hammy sprints” back and forth across the dojo the other night. You very likely know the drill but just so we’re all on the same page, this is the drill where you pump your legs up to waist height, landing on your toes, and pump your arms in rhythm. The pace is slow and eventually agonizing. The blood pumps, the heart is thumping, and the sweat flows within a few minutes of this intense drill. If you do it properly you progress very slowly across the length of the dojo, far slower than a walk. Your leg pumps are assertive, violently mimicking the thrust of a driven knee to your unfortunate attacker. By the time you reach the opposite side you are beat. You jog back and start another lap. If you do this drill as a fitness nut you gleefully sprint across the dojo with a grin on your face and silently congratulate yourself for making it across quicker than anyone else. 

Another example to prove my point is any drill involving striking the pads held by your partner. The self-defense oriented student will wail on the pads with violent abandon, grunting, glaring, and glowering. Sweat flies and they are winded to the point of exhaustion at the end, often having to take it down a few notches at the very end because of just how hard they are pushing themselves. They see the attacker in their mind’s eye and are “in the moment”, fighting for their lives in that drill. It’s real, it’s serious, and they never take it easy. On the other hand, generally speaking, the fitness-centric students I have seen or partnered with, see this drill as a fun workout. Their punches are weak, there’s no intensity, and most of the time you won’t see them staggering off the corner to quietly barf or faint from exertion.

Lastly, the overall demeanor of the fitness vs. the self-defense centric student is very often the different during any “downtime”, meaning time between drills, quick rests, or the beginning/end of class. There is a marked lack of intensity in their attitude as many act like it’s a Zumba class. That’s not to say that self-defense oriented students don’t joke around once in a while, talk, or enjoy themselves but overall I think it’s safe to say that Krav Maga is something they take far more….well, seriously as a martial art. It’s something that teaches discipline, makes them more confident, and just maybe might save their lives some day.

As I’ve said, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all good. Who am I to suggest who should or shouldn’t come to class or question their personal motivation? If someone’s got the guts and the dedication to join and stick with it, whatever their reason, I applaud them.

But, at the risk of sounding elitist, if you are here solely for fitness and aren’t going to give it your violent, sweat-flying, brutal all, partner with that guy over there. I’ll be getting my butt whooped over here with another person dedicating themselves to some self-defense.

  1. Interesting blog. I have just signed up for my first KM session, so have read back through your posts with interest, and concern. You seem to have suffered constant injury since you started. The reward is that you can defend yourself. For an Israeli soldier wandering around the occupied territories, balancing constant injuries in training against better self-defence is probably a good trade-off. But for someone in a low crime area, with a low chance of being attacked, paying for better self-defence with a gruelling training program which keeps you in constant pain sounds like way-too-expensive insurance. I am with the keep-fit guys who like the fitness aspect of training, but maybe owing to their neighbourhood and lifestyle, don’t honestly need the self-defence badly enough to justify repeatedly hurting themselves in order to acquire those skills.

    • Thanks a lot for the comment, John. Congrats on signing up and starting your journey.

      I think saying it has been constant injury would be kind of a stretch. It might sound that way based on my focus on that area at times. I am coming up on ten months of going 2 to 4 times per week and, all told, I’ve gotten my share of bruises, a fractured big toe, jumper’s knee, and the usual aches and pains (due mostly to my age, bad knees, and a trick back — none of which were caused by Krav) but nothing even approaching serious. Every sport risks moderate to serious injury — football, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, boxing, hiking, skiing, etc. and Krav’s a contact sport, after all. Shit happens, you can get hurt. It is the same with other martial arts styles in the same way — Kempo, TKD, BJJ, what have you. Training in martial arts shouldn’t be confused with pottery class.

      As for not wanting to train hard for self-defense due to one not living in a dangerous area, I would seriously question the logic. At the risk of sounding paranoid, there is really no area in the world (except maybe at the South Pole perhaps) where you are 100% safe from violence. Where there are people, there is the risk of violence. End of story. Add to that the fact that people frequently move about outside their “safe” towns. Vacations, heading to the city for a night on the town, walking to your car in the remote airport parking lot, going to a concert, moving a friend into their first apartment on the sketchy side of town….and on and on. Living in a place that’s perceived as safe is absolutely no guarantee that someone is attack proof.

      Whether you decide to stick with it for self-defense or just fitness, best of luck with your training!

      With respect,

  2. […] is Reality Based Self-Defense, not an aerobics class. Fitness comes, for sure, but the focus of the class is self-defense and getting down and […]

  3. Michael Park says:

    I think you have to make a distinction between people primarily interested in fitness versus those solely interested in fitness. The latter are the kind of people your post seems to apply to. I am definitely in the primarily interested in fitness group and I don’t think anyone at my school would accuse me of lacking aggression. As much as I believe everyone should know how to defend themselves, if I didn’t also get a fantastic workout from Krav I don’t know that I would stick with it. Basic math says that with my family history I am in much greater danger from a heart attack than a knife attack. It would be a poor method of self defense that didn’t prepare me for the most likely threat. Fortunately, giving it your “violent, sweat-flying, brutal all” is a great way to get in shape.

    • Good points. There are many ways to look at it and it’s not only a topic ripe for lively discussion but also one that can hit a nerve with some folks too. I think a nice way to see the split as I was defining it can be seen on the Krav Maga LA’s site (not my school, by the way):

      Full Experience – 100% Israeli Krav Maga
      This training program will take you from the basic fundamentals of authentic Krav Maga all the way to a real black belt status. If your goal is to truly defend yourself and your love ones against any situation you can possibly imagine, this is the course that will make you reach your potential. The main focus is not only getting stronger physically but also mentally.

      50/50 Mix – Self Defense & Fitness
      An excellent combination of fitness training and self-defense moves. These classes were designed by Roy Elghanayan using Krav Maga techniques that don’t involve any serious physical contact during training, for ex: sparing/full-contact fighting. Expect to release all your aggression on the training bags and get in the best shape of your life by working on muscle confusion.

      This is not to say there aren’t “fitness oriented” students who are brutal, aggressive training partners who could rip your head off in sparring. It’s just that people have certain motivations for training and these motivations can sometimes drive their behavior and attitude in class. Not passing judgement either way, just saying that my preference is to train with committed partners who are more “self-defense oriented” than people just looking to get a good sweat going.

Agree/disagree? Like/dislike this post? Let me know about it!

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