Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Krav Maga?

Why Taylor Swift Uses Krav Maga

I’m sure we’ve all wondered, how does Taylor Swift stay so fit while fending off the screaming fans and skinny jeans wearing guys?

Today, we'll explore that very topic!

I’m just kidding. I have no idea and don’t care. After the constructive feedback from the last post, I promised my fans I would return to my bubble and not write anymore Taylor Swift posts, so this blog is not about that.

Instead, let's talk about why I chose Krav Maga as the preferred fighting style in the SPECTRE Series.

Knife takedown

“I know,” Baxter said as he calmed down.  “But I was kind of hoping Cal would do some of that Kung Fu stuff on him just for the hell of it.”
“Krav Maga,” Decker corrected.  She frowned at Baxter’s weak attempt at a joke.  “And we certainly don’t need any of that today.” 
“Kung Fu.  Krock Macrotch.  Karate.  Whatever.  That guy just needs an ass-whipping.”
 -      Special Agent Sean Baxter talking to Michelle Decker in AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL.

It’s a conversation I’ve had many times before when discussing my training in Krav Maga. When talking about the Israeli self-defense system, the responses have ranged from “Say what?” to “So does that mean you can kill me with a thought?”

In my SPECTRE Series thrillers, main character Cal “Spectre” Martin is a black belt in Krav Maga, so today I thought I’d go into a little more detail about it and explain what it is and what it isn’t.

What is Krav Maga?

Practicing a defense against a slashing knife attack during class.
If you’re not one of the people who stumble over the pronunciation and look at me like I’m speaking Klingon, you’ve probably seen or heard of Krav Maga in popular culture.

On the TV show Archer, ISIS agents are trained in Krav Maga instead of Karate, with Archer calling Karate the “Dane Cook of martial arts.” Krav Maga has also been featured in the hit TV series 24 and in the Splinter Cell video games. As it has become more prevalent in pop culture, more schools across the United States have begun to pop up.

Pronounced “krahv mah-GAH,” the words Krav Maga are Hebrew for “contact combat.” It is a fighting system developed by Hungarian-Israeli Imi Lichtenfield as a way of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.

When Lichtenfield immigrated to Israel in the late 1940s, he became an instructor for what would later become the Israeli Defense Force. His tactics focused on real-world situations with extremely efficient and brutal counter attacks.

Although Lichtenfield is the father of Krav Maga, Krav Maga in Israel has become as common as Karate in Japan, with many students branching out to form their own derivatives and methods.

One such derivative is Survival (Hisardut) Krav Maga. This is the fighting style that Cal “Spectre” Martin employs in the books. It is also the method in which I am both a Certified Instructor and Brown Belt.
Me with Sensei Miki Erez

Survival Krav Maga was founded by Miki Erez in the mid 1990s. While in the Israeli Air Force, Miki Erez was a student of Imi Lichtenfeld in Krav Maga. Miki Erez studied and earned his 3rd degree black belt in Hisardut directly under Grandmaster Dennis Hanover.

In addition, Erez earned his 6th degree black belt in Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin full contact Karate and World Oyama Karate under Shigeru, and Yasuhiko Oyama. Erez incorporated Oyama Karate with more Thai kickboxing into a modified form of Survival Hisardut, called Survival Krav Maga.

This advanced form of Hisardut is enhanced by the addition of new facets of overall survival, and combat fighting. It is intended to give its students the skills, techniques and the ability needed to escape from almost any threat virtually unharmed (including firearms, knives, clubs).

I was introduced to Sensei Erez in 2009. I had just come back from my first tour in Iraq, and one of the pilots had been telling me all about his training in Krav Maga and how useful it could be in real world applications, especially as fighter pilots.

At the time, the world had been changing for fighter pilots flying over combat zones. Gone were the days that a pilot could expect to wind up as a Prisoner of War, should he end up downed over enemy territory. The video of the beheading of journalist Nick Berg at the hands of Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had taught us that much. An American fighter pilot captured in Iraq or Afghanistan would be nothing more than propaganda for them.

My response in country had been to carry extra ammunition. I always carried five magazines for my Beretta M9 as opposed to the issued three. It made my survival vest a bit heavier, but it was much better than the alternative. My plan had always been that I would use every bullet, saving the last one for myself should it come to that. My flight leads always briefed that whoever was still airborne would do whatever it took to keep the bad guys at bay until help had arrived, but at the end of the day, it was a personal choice to make.

So the idea of adding another tool to my arsenal seemed like a good plan. I had read about Krav Maga on the internet and watched YouTube videos, and it seemed like something I might enjoy. I had also trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in college and Karate as a kid, so I knew it would be both a physical and mental challenge.
The first day of training lived up to everything I had been expecting. I arrived at the address my squadron mate had given me to find that classes were being held in the garage of the now retired Israeli. He had all of the pads, mats, and equipment perfectly lined up everywhere with side-by-side American and Israeli flags as the backdrop.

I shook Miki Erez’s hand and introduced myself. The first thing I learned is that we shake with two hands, a sign of mutual respect. Sensei Erez was larger than life – a big Israeli with an awesome mustache and bodybuilder physique. I would later learn that he had been doing competitions late into his fifties.

Erez’s story was inspiring. He had been paralyzed from the waist down in a helicopter accident in Israel in 1973. Although he had been told he would never walk again, Sensei Erez managed to rehabilitate himself to the point of not only walking, but later competing in the Israeli Olympics in Karate.

If that’s not enough of an inspiration, he would later reinjure himself in the 80s while swimming, causing another long rehabilitation stint in which he defied doctors and got himself walking again. He once told me that later in his life, a Miami doctor looked at his MRI and X-ray and wanted to operate on him, saying, “You shouldn’t even be walking right now.” Sensei refused, and although he walks with a pronounced limp and little to no feeling in his feet, still has a very functional life.

When the training finally began, Sensei pushed me to my limits almost immediately. Although I prided myself as a fitness geek who went to the gym five days per week, I found myself completely out of shape. The basic warm up of air kicks, pushups on the fingers, sit-ups, air punches, more pushups (on the fists this time), and more kicks had me hoping I would make it through the whole hour and a half without puking – especially since I was training with a senior fighter pilot that I liked and respected.

As we moved on to the basic moves of the system, I learned that it was effective because of its simplicity. The system was designed for any Isreali, of any walk of life, to be able to quickly defend him or herself and move forward. After all, Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies. In war, there is no time or ability to retreat. They must be able to neutralize a threat and move forward. And so I learned the first basic tenant of Survival Krav Maga: attack your attacker.

It seemed brilliant in its simplicity. The best defense is a good offense. My basic police academy used to play on those words saying, “nothing good ever happens on defense.” I learned that moving forward, attacking, and moving on were keys to survival. It was a no frills, extremely effective system that had me hooked from day one.

After surviving the first day, I made it part of my life. I wanted to be in better shape. I wanted to add the tools of Krav Maga to myself defense arsenal. I wanted to embrace it.

I started out going to class just on Sunday mornings, but the more I learned the more I wanted to learn. The more I faced off against people twice my size and felt defeated, the more I wanted to master it. And so I began adding days, going from once a week to three days per week.

And then one day after class, Sensei Erez pulled me aside. He offered me an opportunity – to become a certified instructor in Survival Krav Maga. I had helped him give seminars to local security firms before, but he wanted me to be able to teach on my own. It was humbling and an awesome opportunity. I accepted.

I had some leave built up one month, and took the month off to train. I trained nearly every day, and some days twice per day. At the time, I was disappointed when he would have me sit down and take notes instead of physical training, but later I realized that the mental knowledge and preparation were perhaps more important than the physical side of things.

Some of these skills would translate directly into Spectre’s character. Specifically, the concepts of avoidance, negotiation, and then killing. My second novel is completely based on these tenants. It’s spelled out in the first chapter, but the theme of the novel is Spectre’s application of them.

Receiving my instructor certificate in 2011
I graduated with my instructor certificate in late 2011 and earned my Brown Belt shortly before leaving Miami in 2012. It was bittersweet receiving that belt, knowing that my time training regularly with Sensei Erez had come to an end. I was moving on to the Navy Reserve and to Louisiana. I considered him both a friend and mentor that I was sad to leave.
Receiving my Brown Belt in 2012

I never quite found anything close to that experience when I moved to Louisiana. The problem with Krav Maga is that it has become very commercialized. There are many “boutique” UFC gyms that boast Krav Maga instruction, when in reality, they’re nothing more than MMA gyms with one or two instructors who took a one or two day course and received a certificate, having never actually even met an Israeli.

My training now is mostly in my own garage. I often invite friends to train with me, and I teach based on the concepts and techniques of Sensei Erez. It keeps me mostly proficient and in shape, but I don’t think it will ever quite be the same. I have also had the opportunity to teach seminars for local law enforcement, which is challenging and rewarding all on its own.

Teaching a seminar for law enforcement
For now, my training and experience live on through Cal Martin as he fights, “attacks his attackers” and pushes forward through the SPECTRE Series books.  

What Krav Maga Isn’t

Krav Maga is not a sport. In UFC and MMA, it usually fails. The reason for that is that in Krav Maga, there is only one rule – survival.

Specific techniques taught in Krav Maga are banned in sport fighting because they are designed to cause serious or permanent injury. Krav Maga is a weapon to be used in self defense only. It requires just as much discipline as owning a taser, baton, OC spray or even a handgun.

This is the reason behind the Avoid, Negotiate, Kill concept. If one can avoid a fight, then that is always the preferred tactic. There is no room for ego in Krav Maga. Living to fight another day without having to engage the threat is by far the most effective method.

If that doesn’t work, negotiation is the second best option. Again, this technique stresses the need for a person to check their ego at the door. Sometimes people can talk their way out of a situation. If that is possible, then it allows the defender to fight another day.

Finally, if all else fails, Krav Maga teaches to Kill.  Kill their will to fight, kill their ability to fight, or kill them. This is where the idea of “attacking your attacker” comes into play. Once the decision has been made to kill, there is no hesitation. The idea now is to quickly and efficiently stand down the threat through violence and swiftness of action. It is unlike boxing or MMA where we can accept standing up and going blow for blow with the adversary. The idea is to use whatever means necessary to end the fight and move forward.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. Hopefully this clears the air and gives a bit more insight into the Cal “Spectre” Martin character. And if you have to ask, yes, I can kill you with a thought.

It was an honor training with Sensei Miki Erez who is now actively involved in helping those in wheelchairs to stay in shape and improve their lives. His story is amazing, and if you have time, I highly recommend visiting and checking out his revolutionary new wheelchair training system.

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for the next blog post.

Until next time.

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