One topic that gets little to no attention when talking about Krav Maga training is the role of imagination. I mean, as in imagining being attacked, being the Attacker, and so on. All of these roles involve having a good imagination and “playing along” or else the person being the Defender is not applying their training in a way that simulates reality.
Let’s take an example. Say you and your partner are working on a knife technique like an overhand (or ice pick) stab. Your Attacker drives down with the knife, you defend it by creating your 360 defense and bursting in with a counter-punch to their face. What you’re simulating here (but not fully executing) is a nice smash to the Attacker’s face, one that would “short circuit” their brain and result in them halting their downward thrust of the knife for a split second. In reality, this is what would happen. Don’t believe me? Let’s try an exercise to illustrate this point. Try picking something up off the floor and, when you just grasp it, have a partner kick you as hard as they can in the ass. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Okay, done? Go grab an ice pack and we’ll talk about how you did. This painful exercise demonstrates how the mind gets short circuited when you have one thing in mind and are interrupted rudely by something a lot more urgent — and painful. Let me ask you: did you think about picking up that item once you were kicked? Was it even remotely in the back of your mind or did the thought of that completely escape you? Odds are that it was the furthest thing from your mind. Going back to the knife technique, as an Attacker simulating an assault on someone who blocks the thrust and punches you in the beak, you should get yourself into that mindset and try to react in a way that is realistic. Don’t muscle through the attack as if nothing happened.
You might say, “Now, wait a minute. Some attacker could be on PCP or wigged out on some other crazy substance. In that case, they wouldn’t be deterred by a punch to the face!” Fair enough. Then be that attacker once in a while! Mix it up and make it unpredictable. By being that PCP guy once in a while you are still staying true to the principle of Keeping It Real.
There’s a balance between keeping it real and keeping it safe. Obviously you certainly don’t want to be 100% realistic as the Defender. That is, unless you want to injure the entire class full of students during your training session. Partner Preservation tells us that we need to go forward hard and aggressive but have the self-control to pull back and not damage your partner too much. Same goes for the Attacker in many cases as well. As an Attacker, you don’t want to put a choke on so hard that it crushes your partner’s windpipe and kills them. That self-control — and balance — is crucial for both parties involved and judgement is important.
As simple as this concept is, I personally struggle to keep it in mind and apply it to my training — as both the Attacker and the Defender. As the Attacker in a drill, I want my partner to (safely) experience as much of the raw aggression and fear of being attacked as they safely can. This makes them not only better at the technique but also more likely to apply it in the real world if necessary. As an Attacker, I want to be sure that I “fight fair” and a blow to the face really short circuits my brain (that is, unless I’m playing the role of the Manic Psychopath Who Just Booted Some Black Tar Heroin).
Another example: as an Attacker, I am caught in a Defender’s authoritative clinch and I’m being rough-housed and pummeled with punishing knees and groin kicks. I will progressively get more and more limp as the fight and will to resist are pounded ruthlessly out of me. This is how it would go down in that situation! I’d get caught in the clinch and would resist hard initially. Then I’d take a couple of hits to the groin and it would shock and stun me, causing pain, anger. I’d be surprised! Successive blows from my “victim turned attacker” would increase the pain and fear I’d feel and would eventually wipe away all traces of wanting to attack this crazy person and simply want to pass out quietly on the ground. Isn’t that how you’d like to have your partner react as you play the Defender?
Don’t overthink this; have fun with it. Really get into the role and give your partners a good performance. Their enjoyment of the training and, more importantly, their effectiveness in performing the techniques for real will go up dramatically while you have the time of your life, setting yourself up for an in-class Academy Award for Best Supporting Role.