Krav Maga started out in the early part of the last century as a military-style of combat specifically and deliberately suited for everyone capable of walking — young, old, fat, skinny, man, woman, whatever. It made sense and it was essential to the survival of Israel in a time of intense conflict with Palestine. Everyone was necessary to join the battle and no one was turned away — they couldn’t be! It worked and, you know what? Krav Maga came about in these circumstances, designed to be suitable for anyone willing to defend the country and all its people not only in a military sense but also from everyday anti-Semitic violence. That doesn’t mean everyone was fighting with the same effectiveness or fury, certainly athletic men in their prime were “out-damaging” young 80-pound girls. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that everyone needed to join the fight and no one could be turned away if they were in any way capable of defending their country and themselves in a very turbulent and violent time in history.
But in today’s Krav Maga classes (in the United States and likely elsewhere), for students not learning Krav Maga to defend their country in hand-to-hand combat, there’s a different set of students joining the ranks and for very different reasons. Some join for peace of mind so that they can feel safer in everyday life, some join for fitness reason, some for the joy of a new hobby.
So, is it really for everyone like you’ve heard so many times? You hear this all the time when it’s described to someone not in the know:
- It was designed to be easily learned
- It takes advantage of the body’s natural instincts so it feels natural
- It takes all comers and turns them all into warriors to be feared and revered…
However, the reality is that dropout rates are astronomically high, at least as I’ve heard and seen them. Something like 1 in 1,000 gets their first degree Black Belt with far fewer getting their 2nd degree, and a staggeringly minute fraction of people who join ever making it to 3rd degree or higher. In Krav Maga’s infancy there couldn’t be large numbers of dropouts. Belts didn’t exist and someone needed to be proficient in the basics ASAP. Failure, as Gene Kranz said, was not an option. If Krav Maga is for everyone and it’s so easy to learn, why are people dropping like flies in all, or most, schools across the country? Why aren’t they just, you know, picking it up? Why does it take 4 long years (plus or minus) to get a Black Belt if it’s so gosh darned “easy” to learn?
A fellow student said not too long ago that all of our Krav Maga techniques could be technically “learned” in about 4 months if you just strung all the techniques together. Well, I really doubt that exact number but running with that point for a minute and playing Devil’s Advocate, does it really take years to get someone proficient or is that just so that gyms and dojos can milk every possible red cent out of its students? Is it really something that should and could be passed on to students in a fraction of the time? In my opinion, no. Why? Repetition, repetition, repetition is the key. So too is building up conditioning, sharpening a student’s timing and reflexes, developing a strong ‘Fight IQ’ through sparring, and getting them used to hitting and being hit. I could teach you 5 guitar chords in 5 minutes. This won’t have you playing “The Wind Cries Mary” right away, that’s for sure.
The Krav Maga schools of today have, shall we say, higher standards for passing tests and the conditioning drills and techniques are imparted in very brutal ways for years, not months. Since the early 1970’s it has been retooled somewhat for the Average Joe in order to be a civilian self-defense style of martial arts, retaining its core but constantly being tweaked and in some cases overhauled to keep pace with the constantly changing tactics of the street.
Maybe the question isn’t so much can anybody learn Krav Maga, it’s does everyone want to learn Krav Maga? Do I think anyone can learn Krav Maga? Except in extreme cases, yes, to a point. There’s someone in our class who is 63 and is doing pretty damn well. But he is not typical nor do we see too many frail and timid people advance all that far before bailing. Even some Black Belts eventually wander from the path after they’ve achieved that incredible goal, that which kept their focus for those grueling years of training.
Do I think Krav Maga is for everyone? Absolutely not. For those not prepared or committed to the ordeal, week after week, year after year without fail, without flagging, without excuses, it is going to chew them up and spit them to the curb. If someone is willing to tough it out, however, regardless of gender, size, strength, or even fitness level and gives it everything they’ve got, leaving each class on the verge of exhaustion and maybe even tears but counting the minutes ’til the next class — they are the ones Krav Maga is designed for today. And they’ll be “playing Hendrix” if their hearts remain in it and they never give up.