• orjanpettersen


‘If it looks pretty, it’s not Krav Maga’.

This simple perspective was given to me early in my training career and signals the nature of effective and realistic self defence. It’s raw. Its unpredictable. It’s basic.

The nature of dynamic violence dictates this. Punch bags don’t fight back and make things chaotic. People do.

Dojo skills are performance-tested to the limit when the fear restricts your motor skills and a pounding heart rate blurs your thinking and perception.

Slippy surfaces, everyday clothing and footwear, physical environments, bystanders and witnesses, legal consequences, survival strategies and sensory overloads are all new factors you didn’t get regular access to in the dojo.

So real-world violence is ugly. Messy. Not nicely choreographed and played out like you’re used to on television and films.

It’s not what you see in Hollywood. Frankly, if you want to fight like your favourite actor or the latest cool scene, good luck. At best, you’ll fail. At worst, you’re dead. Probably.

The physical and psychological confusion and chaos of violence means that you are even more reliant on your basic self defence skills. Not fancy stuff. Just those simple, gross motor skills, you-can-do-them-in-your-sleep kinda moves.

The very basics.

If this is the proposition, then these are the things you must really focus on to get right in your training. Makes sense?

Let’s call these out. We’ll look at six key essentials to master in your training to improve the basics. Not the pretty, cool stuff.


Moving, striking and fighting in Krav Maga is based on a a balanced weight distribution between your legs and smaller steps to aid dynamic mobility and quick directional changes. If this ‘fighting stance’ is too long or too narrow it will impair your balance, movement and striking capability. These are the essentials of your fighting capacity.

Always practice fighting stance movement, until its second nature, even when just holding a pad for your partner in your class or in your everyday gym warm-up. The faster you solidify this way of moving the better your balance, recovery of balance and mobility will become.


Since we don’t wear 16oz boxing gloves on the street, your capacity to protect your face and functioning computer (brain) is reliant on your hands.

In Krav Maga, we don’t drop hands when we fight, unless it’s a part of another attacking move. Kicking someone? Hands stay up. Striking with one hand? The other hand stays up. Striking with both hands? Both operate on a level between your face and your opponent’s face. Facing a threat? Both hands stay up - and away from you, creating a shield that at least must be circumnavigated to reach you.

Train with paying particular attention to your hands, especially when tiring. If you can’t detect your hands dropping, slow down your exercise to reestablish better controlled motor skills. If you train with a partner, make sure you both slap each other’s face when it happens. It serves as more than a warning. It’s opportunity striking practice.


Krav Maga relies on speed, explosive power and the element of surprise.

That’s how a physically weaker person can get the initial advantage and overcome bigger mass and brute strength. Signalling, or ‘telegraphing’, your strikes by moving excessively or using other parts of your body first, e.g. hand moving far back when punching, stepping first with legs when hand striking or making a big step to get on the right range when kicking, are all ‘dead-time’ actions giving time to your opponent to react, defend or strike back first.

Practice doing hand strikes from the shoulder, putting it forward or into the motion, rather than moving the hand back prior to striking. Train making the punches long (a few inches beyond the target area) and only move your legs after connecting with your hands to rebalance, to stay in touch with the target as it moves or to move somewhere else. When kicking, learn to ‘skip’ or ‘stomp’ with your base leg in a short, sharp forward step where you move your body weight onto the base leg in a very fast motion, releasing the kicking leg loose and free for its devastating job. A long step only means a slower release of the weight off the kicking leg, giving the opportunity to your opponent to evade or fight back.


If you think the power of your hand, arm and leg strikes are proportionally linked to your body muscle mass and size, you’re on the wrong track.

Don’t think power. Don’t think force. Think speed. Think loose. An impactful strike comes from the rapid accelerated transfer of energy into the target, with a small transfer area, quickly disconnecting on contact. A truck hitting you at a steady 1mph will hurt less (and allow you to quickly evade it before or on contact) than a marble connecting and immediately bouncing off you at 100mph. Explosion and recoil in your strikes is everything.

Train this by working as relaxed as you can when striking. Be loose. Stretch to make your muscles as flexible and mobile as possible, limiting your body’s own restrictive physiology. Breathe out on strikes, one breath for a full combination if needed. Hand strikes come from the pivoting or movement of your body or shoulders.


Not connecting or connecting poorly is often an issue of striking distance.

Krav Maga strikes operates at maximum range probably no further than from where you can reach with a small step (or ‘skip’ or ‘stomp’, remember?). This is for front/back/side kicks, your longest range weapons.

At closer distances, you have kicks to the lower body and groin, together with hand strikes. Very close, you operate with elbows, head butts and knees.

A common mistake is that practitioners apply strikes out of the appropriate range. For example, a front kick is made after a longer step is needed to close the distance. A knee is attempted against the groin but misses as the opponent is just the few inches further away. An intended elbow to the face has the same outcome, as a straight hand strike would have been the better option with the face just out of range.

Always practice with contact to practice visuals and check your range of striking. Did it connect at the intended target? Pay attention to your preceding step on your kicks. Was it the short, sharp one or a slower, longer one? When kicking on your partner (with pad or other protection), permit your partner to avoid the kick if they can. If they do, it’s either too slow, signalled or started at the wrong distance. Practice more.


Krav Maga isn’t Hollywood. Being hit in the face hurts and could easily end the fight there and then. The criminals don’t wait their turn to attack you. Multiple aggressors is really bad news. Weapons must be assumed, even if not seen. When attacked, the aggressor doesn’t silently and patiently wait for you to deliver your perfectly sequenced defence moves, where you control their wrist or weapon or arm lock, before attacking or moving again. Falling down hurts and can knock your wind out or break your bones. So is being slammed against a wall. A knee to the head is not easily recoverable.

You can’t train on these false Hollywood premises. It’s not realistic. If in your training, there’s no fight back from your training partners, just static observance of the final movement of their ‘attack’, you’ll find dynamic violence a new ball game that’ll surprise you. If your techniques involves elaborate sequences that require this stationary approach from the attacker to work, you’ll experience failure in real life. If you’re never training in different environments, surfaces and weather conditions, you’ll not be prepared for what risks and opportunities these can give you.

Train with a few basic principles in mind. Learn when and how to strike first. That’s gaining advantage. Follow up with non-stop aggression to overload the aggressor with pain. Use constant movement where possible to always unbalance your opponent for their brain to just focus on pain and destabilisation. Practice simple and repeatable defences, applicable to several types of attacks. (A swinging hand towards your face in the dark can’t be instantly assessed for an alternative defence move if it has a short blade in it, right?). Train where your opponent strikes and fights back. Don’t forget to practice against sudden and unexpected attacks, with several people involved, repeating the same one all the time doesn’t teach you shock management and mentally nimble improvisation. Learn how to move around, get out of balance, receiving blows to toughen you. Practice everywhere, anytime, with any fellow student. The dojo is the least likely place you’ll ever be attacked, nor is it likely to be from someone at your own skill level or weight group. Never play fair. The violent aggressor never regarded you as fair to begin with, but as a victim to abuse. Be twice as unfair back. Feign. Strike up and down and in different places to cause optimal confusion. Strike the worst parts you can. There are no rules but your own survival and legal management later on.

All of the above means it’s not pretty. Not perfect. Not Hollywood. If you practice for this perfection, for the beauty of the martial ‘art’, for the choreography of a fairly matched one on one on a mat or in a ring, with rules, a ref and glory thereafter, Hollywood could kill you.

Stick to the basics. Practice simplicity. Survive. That’s the real trophy that’s worth winning.

Inspired by advice shared by our US-based global federation, the Israeli Martial Arts Federation (FIMA). Check it out at www.theFIMA.com.

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Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire, UK

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