As the popularity of reality-based self-defense continues to grow, we thought Black Belt readers would appreciate a closer look at what's probably the world's first RBSD system, krav maga. We spoke with Darren Levine, head of the Los Angeles-based Krav Maga Worldwide. His historical insights and training tips are sure to be appreciated by self-defense students everywhere. —Editor

Black Belt: Is part of what makes krav maga unique the life-and-death pressures faced by its founders in Israel and its current practitioners in the military and law-enforcement communities around the world?

Darren Levine: Krav maga was born out of a need for self-defense. That's not unique to Israel; it's also present in other countries that have a high level of violence. It's interesting to look back at the martial arts. So much emphasis was placed on pure, clean techniques — punching, kicking, breaking, forms and so on — that the instructors started saying to students: “You have all these great tools. Do whatever you want for self-defense." That's not born out of a need.

When you're a soldier and someone is attacking you with a rock or a knife or a gun, it's not “Do whatever you feel like." When problems like that come up over and over in an environment, you're motivated to build a self-defense system that's based on real-life dangers.

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BB: Is it fair to say that people who've perfected their punches, kicks and chokes but who haven't faced rocks, knives or guns are more likely to freeze up under stress because they don't have mental access to their techniques? In contrast, is it accurate to say that krav maga practitioners, because they train in high-stress situations that involve those variables, have a quicker response to danger?

Levine: To survive, you have to be ready physically, emotionally and spiritually. If you've never faced someone trying to stick a knife in you multiple times — not just once, like many people train — and if you don't face that on a regular basis, you won't increase your ability to survive. We never promise to make people 100-percent safe. We are saying that if you don't train that way, you have a deficit in your preparation. We aim to increase your chances of surviving by 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent. No one can say 100 percent.

BB: So what are the secrets of krav maga's success?

Levine: First, we teach specific techniques that have been found to work against specific families of attacks. Second, we put people under tremendous stress. Our training replicates the things we need to do on the street to survive. We build those skills so we're ready to fight. Third, we train people when they're confused and tired. We divide their attention, use multiple attackers and keep them from knowing when the attack will start. We use drills that increase aggressiveness to put students in touch with that part of their psyche. We take them to the point where they think they're about to quit, but they don't.

You don't see that in a lot of arts, but in krav maga, the reality-based arts, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing, people know that it's mind-body-spirit and that the techniques need to be realistic.

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BB: Explain the families of attacks you mentioned.

Levine: If your self-defense system has 1,500 techniques and those techniques are specific to exact attacks, the way life is, you'll probably walk down the street and find yourself facing attack No. 1,501. I'd rather learn a self-defense system that has the smallest number of techniques that apply to as many attacks as possible. Then there's less repetition involved in learning it, which means you can work on other things like stress. And it's less confusing when you're in a fight.

So when I say “families of attacks," that means we divide them into unarmed attacks (strikes, locks, holds, bear hugs and so on), firearms (with the sub-categories of handguns, shotguns, rifles and sub-guns), edged weapons (knives, screwdrivers, broken bottles, box cutters, etc.) and blunt objects (sticks, coffee mugs, stones, saps, poles, etc.). Then there are mixtures or hybrids—like the ax, which is an edged weapon and a blunt object.

This is important because you must have a good understanding of danger before you can come up with answers. Analytically, if you're not prepared to discern the difference between those families of attacks, you won't come up with the best answers. It's something krav maga has done brilliantly. It's a thinking-man's style of self-defense. We have the fewest techniques that work against the most variations.

For instance, during the photo shoot, we started a technique with a shotgun, then switched to the shorter sub-gun. Someone asked if the response is different. No. It's the same. And it would have been the same if the weapon had been a pole that was being used to stab you. The techniques should apply to a variety of attacks.

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BB: Are there generalized self-defense principles for each family?

Levine: Yes. For example, against a gun, we have four directives. First, redirect the line of fire, using the shortest distance to the gun and by taking the shortest distance off your body. That means the weapon is pointed at you for the shortest time.

Second, control the weapon. That involves two things: You can't let the gunman put the line of fire back on you, and you should never put your body back in line with the muzzle.

Third, that gunman is fighting for his life, so every technique should involve a ferocious attack. You've dealt with the weapon, so now you must break the computer that's telling the body to hold it.

If necessary, the last stage is disarming, or taking the gun away. But if you do the attack right, you don't have to worry about the disarming. You do, however, have to worry about the gun falling into the hands of an accomplice to the attacker.

BB: What about the edged-weapon family?

Levine: By far, edged weapons are the most dangerous. There are two ways a knife can be used: It can be held against you, maybe at your neck, or it can be in motion — stabbing. Against a stab, you have to redirect the action and attack the person.

The worst thing about knife attacks is, most people don't ever see them coming. In my experience as a prosecutor, most police officers and civilians who are attacked find themselves thinking, "Wow, that guy can hit!" Until they start coughing up blood, until they see their face sliced open, until they realize they can't breathe anymore, they don't know they've been cut. Anyone who knows anything about knives will not show it to you before using it against you.

BB: Then how is there any hope of fending off a knife attack?

Levine: That's a good question. In most systems, they teach one way for defending against a hand attack and another for a knife attack. If punch defenses don't work against knife attacks, too, the system will eventually fail.

In krav maga, every empty-hand defense we do takes into consideration that the person might have a knife, and it works whether he does or not.

For example, in boxing, when someone throws a hook, you bend your arm and use your upper arm and forearm to cover the side of your head. On the street, if you do that and it's only a punch, fine. But if there's a knife in the attacker's hand, you'll get stabbed in the arm or the head or the neck. You might be done. That's why krav maga teaches you to keep the attacking arm away from you by bending your arm at 90 degrees and using it to stop the arm.

At the same time, you must attack. That breaks the signal the bad guy's brain is sending to his muscles to attack. When he's thinking stab, stab, stab and he walks into a punch, it stops.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: or go to

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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