When I first started, I felt myself pinwheeling my arms in front of my face, chin jutted out, feet heavy. Luckily, my partners knew I was a beginner. We went slow and light.
These last few weeks, I’ve been improving in a noticable way.
Here’s what I’ve changed, practiced, or paid attention to in the last month:
I study fighters and fights. I’ve been watching more mixed martial artists, especially kick boxers and boxers. I’ve been watching their footwork and combinations. Specifically, I’ve had my eye on Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Holly Holm, and Valérie Létourneau. These fighters came at the recommendation of Jeff, a more advanced martial artist and someone I highly respect.
I focus on one technique per sparring hour. When I became aware of my poor foot work, I focused on keeping myself light, fast, and balanced on my feet. I found myself dodging more strikes just by moving out of the way.
I listen to my instructors and other students. When someone makes a note of something I could improve I try out the change. This hasn’t failed me yet. I work with really smart people.
I record sparring sessions to see my mistakes. Having someone tell you that you pin wheel your arms is one thing. Seeing yourself do it is much more effective (and embarrassing!).
The fundamentals always come first. I keep my chin tucked, hands up (this is a constant struggle), breathe throughout the whole session, and try not to fight angry. No fancy techniques until I’ve got these reset.
I spar as many fighters as I can. It’s helpful to practice against different styles, sizes, and experience level of partners. I learn something about myself or the way they fight every single time.
I pay attention to my bruises and scrapes. My nose was sore after a few classes and it helped me realize I’m letting people hit me right up the middle. Ouch! In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to see where you leave yourself open to attack. The bruises and sore muscles will teach you what to watch for next time.
I try to throw more than two strikes in a given exchange. It finally clicked in Amy’s sparring glass that I’ve been treating sparring like I do drills. Two strikes and reset. Two strikes and reset. Instead, I’ve been focusing on throwing three, four, fix strikes in an exchange. It means I’ve been landing more hits. I’m more successful.
I move my head even as I’m throwing strikes. This one is really hard. It requires coordination that feels similar to playing the drums. Feet move forward, hands strike out, keep chin tucked, move head left to right. This is a huge work in progress.
Krav Maga is an excellent system for physical self defense, because it’s relatively quick to learn and anyone can do it. It’s also a great place to build confidence, awareness of your body, awareness of your surroundings, and more.
Without further ado, here are 39 reasons Krav Maga is the self defense system for women:
Learn to use your natural reactions to your advantage. Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga, studied how the body moves under stress to create and systematize the most effective defenses. This means many of the defenses are built on reactions you’d have anyway. With a little modification, skill, and practice, you learn to turn those movements into real defenses.
Safety is the #1 priority. You learn proper form in throwing strikes in every class, as well as how to escape specific attacks and get away. Defend, attack, get to safety. Repeat.
You learn to deal with more than one assailant. Group drills are common to build up aggression and train you to handle multiple attackers.
Discover you’re capable and more resilient than you think. Krav Maga looks and sounds intimidating and it is, but there’s something magical that happens when you excel at something you didn’t think was possible.
You learn to be aware of yourself and your surroundings even if you’re in the middle of an altercation. As we’re throwing non-stop knees, instructors yell to keep our eyes up and scan the area for more threats. Situational awareness is part of the training. I’ve been frustrated in the past to receive vague advice to “be more aware of your surroundings.” Krav Maga teaches you specifically how to scan, stay alert, and be prepared.
It’s quick. No learning forms or positions for months before you learn a usable defense. It’s meant to be quickly learned and…
It’s a dirty, all-out system, because in reality there are no rules on the street. You never learn not to do something, because of tournament rules.
They teach you how to hold yourself against both violent criminals and those that are threats only. We often talk through different scenarios and use of force. Because “reasonable force” is different for each country (and each state in the United States), it’s good to think through when you’re in safe learning environment. What you learn is effective and it’s smart to think through possible ramifications of your new skills. You learn what’s appropriate, what’s not and what’s appropriate sometimes, while not appropriate at other times. “Is your wallet worth it? I don’t think so. Give ’em what they want. The risk is too great,” one instructor might teach.
De-escalation. Sometimes, you don’t need to use violence to get away safely. Sometimes, a simple wrist release—techniques to rotate your wrists out of someone’s grasp—is enough to get to safety. You learn those too.
Learn to talk to your potential assailant. Not only do you learn to make aggressive sounds while striking (believe me, it increases the power in strikes for some trainees), you also learn and practice phrases to make your intentions clear to both your assailant AND bystanders in the vicinity. “Get away!” “Leave me alone!” “Stay back!” “Get back!”
You learn to defend attacks in the dark, in loud areas, and by different sized attackers using lots of great drills.
We even practice against attacks where the assaulter makes demands of you, such as “Come with me!” or “Get in the car!” Occasionally, we’ll use profanity as part of our training. It depends on the instructor and the class, but I’ve had coaches turn speaking and yelling into one of the main areas of focus. It can be uncomfortable to yell at an attacker at first, but it becomes easier with practice. As one instructor told me, “Bad guys are like roaches. Once you shine a light on them, they scurry back into the dark.” Sometimes, yelling is enough to make ’em scurry.
Krav Maga was developed for Israeli soldiers to fight Nazis. It needed to be easy to learn and use under stress. Additionally, it had to be a system where soldiers received little ongoing training.
You can expect to learn at least one defense after just a single class. Every step is broken down into simple steps and you build up to one defense in each 1-hour class.
Krav Maga is based on techniques from many different martial arts, including boxing, Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, and street fighting. You learn lots of great moves from many systems. In this regard, it’s also what I’d call a “gateway” system into additional martial arts. I’m already considering other styles to perfect certain skills I’ve learned in Krav Maga.
You’re taught to be assertive AND aggressive. Being assertive or aggressive can be really tough for many women. They’ve never thrown a punch and they don’t want to hurt anyone. It’s understandable. In Krav Maga, your instructors teach you to “turn on” your assertive self. You have it in you. In many cases, you just need a safe, inviting place to practice and a good instructor to show you how.
You’re taught to go from non-aggressive to aggressive quickly so you can neutralize your attacker quickly. By some estimates, most violent encounters last as little as a few seconds. You learn how to go from “regular you” to “aggressive you” so you can stop the violence asap.
You learn to “feel out” your opponent in the moment. One of my favorite instructors once said to me “if I was asked why I hit a guy 10 times, it’s because nine was too few and 11 was too many.” Then I’m pretty sure we did an exciting and exhausting drill where we hit something. The point is that we train to feel out our partner as we’re defending, so you can tell when it’s time in an altercation to retreat to safety.
As in other martial arts, you learn to look for openings. Krav Maga gives you base skills, but it’s not strict. It doesn’t matter if something isn’t “perfect” technique, as long as it works and you get away safely. In fact, when you mess up a technique, we learn to keep going no matter where you’ve ended up. Assailants won’t let you stop and “try it again”. You can know what’s still available to you if you mess up.
Techniques are still being improved by higher level instructors at the worldwide organizational levels based on experiences out in the field. It’s not a static system. It’s evolving and fluid and it makes for smarter self defense.
One defense to rule them all. Sort of. It’s a system with a base set of defenses. Instead of learning 300 different defenses for 300 different attacks, you learn the handful of defenses that will defend against the most attacks AND the most likely attacks.
The system is broken down so you learn the defenses for the most common attacks first. You’re studying the attacks with the statistically higher likelihood of happening to you from the very start. As you progress through the system, you learn more advanced techniques against less likely attacks.
It’s easy to remember, because it’s built on your natural reflexes. If someone were you choke you, your initial reaction might be to put your hands on theirs. Instead of simply placing your hands on your attacker, you learn to use explosive force of that nonaggressive movement to create space and get away.
They teach you to respond as quickly as possible, so you don’t get caught frozen in a moment of danger. Many drills are meant to force you to react faster and with more aggression. “Again! Faster!” It can be as simple as getting into your fighting stance faster and as complicated as getting out of a defense faster.
You practice feeling the impact of a punch. Even though there’s a bag between you and your partner’s punches and kicks, you still feel impact. Many people are frozen in fear when they’re hit the first time. It’s understandable, but you can train that out of yourself. If you take Krav Maga, you’re less likely to be frozen by the unfamiliar feeling of a punch, because it’s not really unfamiliar.
You learn what it feels like to be choked and jostled in a safe environment. These experiences can be unsettling for many in the beginning and it can cause you to freeze in the moment. Your brain will spend less time processing the feeling of being choked or jostled, because it’s a familiar feeling, giving your muscle memory a chance to execute a defense.
You also condition your body to know what it feels like to strike something hard. It takes time to become comfortable hitting someone. By learning this feeling early, you won’t scared to do it in the moment.
You practice stress drills—exercises that put you under pressure both physically and mentally—so you train to perform at many different levels of fear. Because stress causes everyone to get messy in their self defense, these drills help you train to anticipate and excel in moments of stress.
Krav Maga teaches you to think about self defense as a logical series of steps. 1) Identify the primary threat, 2) Neutralize the primary threat, 3) Get away safely.
You’re taught to identify the immediate danger. When you’re choked from the front, you don’t worry about the pressure at the sides of your neck, you worry about the thumbs pressing into your wind pipe cutting off the flow of oxygen. We identify the immediate threats in a safe environment so you’re ready for it if it happens to you on the street.
You learn how to defend and attack simultaneously and quickly. Every class you learn a defense that is paired with a counter-attack. Rarely do we ever defend, pause, and then attack. We almost always learn to defend and attack simultaneously or near-simultaneously. You’re training for the element of surprise, where you get to surprise your attacker.
You learn to see an attack coming. In many classes, we learn about how (untrained) assailants tend move when they throw a punch. We watch what the movement looks like and learn to look for the warning signs so we can effectively defend.
You learn how to get yourself into the best possible position to reduce the effect of an assailant’s strikes. More often than not, that means moving closer to your attacker. While many things in Krav Maga are based on natural movements, this one can be really counterintuitive. It’s important to learn and practice moving towards your attacker in a safe environment, so you’re not caught trying to move towards what feels like immediate danger.
It’s an effective system if your attacker is larger and stronger than you. You don’t have to be an MMA fighter or Rocky Balboa to effectively do these strikes and defenses.
You learn defenses against weapons like guns, knives, sticks, and more. Depending on your gym and your level of experience in Krav Maga, you too can learn how to defend against scary weapons.
It’s a crazy awesome work out and it makes you stronger. I’ve never been in better shape.
Krav Maga has given me confidence in other areas of my life, not just in being able to defend myself. There have been many times when I’ve said “Hey, I should be able to do this. I mean I do Krav Maga… this can’t be much harder, right?” And it’s true. We artificially limit ourselves. Once I started doing Krav Maga, my world opened up to a whole host of things I never thought I could do.
It gets you out of your comfort zone. Like I said before, there’s something magical about watching someone do something, thinking you’ll never be able to do it, and then being able to in the end. I’ve personally gained a lot of confidence in myself.
I’m not saying other martial arts and self defense programs also don’t have these 39 reasons to participate. To be honest, I don’t really care what martial art you train in as long as you’re doing something to practice self defense. There are lots of great programs out there and I’ve found a lot of success in Krav Maga.
My advice is for you to try at least a few classes.
Have you tried Krav Maga or another martial art? What did you think?