Krav Maga

When to Make the First Move in Self-Defense: Hostage Situation

The October/November 2016 issue of Black Belt features an insightful article titled “First Move: Focus on Principles Rather Than Techniques to Neutralize a Knife Attack Against Another Person!” Author and krav maga instructor James Hiromasa provides a detailed analysis of some ways martial artists can respond if they come across a situation — maybe it’s a terrorist attack — in which a criminal is accosting a third party with a blade. Presented here is information on a scenario that didn’t fit in the magazine: a hostage situation in which the stabbing hasn’t actually begun.

— Editor

The same principles that I outlined in the Black Belt article apply to a threat that hasn’t become an active attack. In this case, a hostage taker is standing behind his hostage with a knife held to the person’s neck.

Your best bet is to just keep it simple. You won’t have enough time to mentally run through the scenarios you’ve practiced in search of one that includes all the variables of this particular situation. Stick to principles rather than pre-rehearsed techniques as I discussed.

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In the photo sequence below, it’s assumed that you can approach the hostage taker from behind. Your techniques are almost identical to those for the standing active stabber (see the magazine article for more information), but this time, your job isn’t to stop the next stab. Instead, you’re trying to isolate the threat without getting the hostage cut. In other words, you need to move the knife away from the neck on first contact.

Because the attacker and the hostage are so close together, there isn’t space to overhook the arm at the shoulder or biceps, and even if there was enough space, it wouldn’t solve the immediate problem. However, you benefit from the fact that you need not worry about the attacker’s knife hand moving around a lot, which would make it hard to catch.

To get control of the weapon, you can reach under the attacker’s arm and/or around him, making a “plucking” movement down on the wrist of the knife hand. That will move the knife away from the hostage’s neck. This should happen simultaneously with the cross-face, which is discussed in detail in the Black Belt article.

At this point, you should assume the worst — that the attacker is still holding the hostage with his other arm and still has the hostage partially wrapped with his knife-wielding arm. That means a takedown likely would cause more problems than it would solve.

A better course of action is to use the hand that just delivered the cross-face to quickly overhook the elbow of the knife arm, forcing your limb between the attacker’s arm and the hostage’s body. If necessary, you can continue into a figure-4 control.

As soon as you have control, attack with knee strikes and head butts, or try to drive the knife into the attacker. Once the assailant is separated from the hostage, continue to attack. Disengage only when it’s safe or when an opportunity to use a higher force option presents itself.

James Hiromasa runs the Colorado Krav Maga Regional Training Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

Read the article to which this post refers in the October/November 2016 issue of Black Belt, on sale now!

Israeli Martial Arts: Krav Maga Expert Eyal Yanilov Shows You How to Disable an Opponent and Defend Yourself From the Ground

Krav maga expert Eyal Yanilov in action.Eyal Yanilov is, by far, one of the most respected krav maga practitioners in the world today. He is currently listed as “master level 3/expert level 8” in krav maga — the highest rank krav maga founder Imi Lichtenfeld ever awarded to any student. Eyal Yanilov’s official title today is chief instructor of Krav Maga Global, the organization he founded in 2010 to spread real krav maga to the world.

In the cover story for the March 2011 issue of Black Belt, Eyal Yanilov demonstrated a series of krav maga defenses against variations of the front kick. In this exclusive video, Eyal Yanilov demonstrates his “disable and defend” moves.

Eyal Yanilov Shows You How to Disable an Opponent and Defend Yourself From the Ground Using Krav Maga

Watch Alain Cohen, Moni Aizik, Darren Levine and others demonstrate their
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In the above video’s technique sequence, Eyal Yanilov is sitting on the ground when the aggressor approaches and begins his kick. “In the sitting position,” Eyal Yanilov explains, “[I will deflect] the kick when moving the body out from the area of the attack.”

The krav maga expert shifts to his left to evade the foot and simultaneously deflects the leg with his left arm. “We call it 200-percent defense,” Eyal Yanilov says. “One-hundred-percent efficiency with the hand, 100-percent efficiency with the body.”

Eyal Yanilov explains the final section of the krav maga technique: “As soon as I [can], I counterattack. The moment I [shift] my weight and there’s no weight on the legs, I [can] already function to kick with them.” Eyal Yanilov then falls onto his left side and unleashes side kicks to the man’s leg and body, which prompts him to explain, “From this position, I attack … and from this position, either I continue to attack or move away from the danger zone,” as he finishes his opponent and escapes.

Eyal Yanilov began his training in the Israeli art at age 14 under Eli Avikzar but then shifted to the legendary Imi Lichtenfeld, founder of the system. Eyal Yanilov so impressed the krav maga master that he became Imi Lichtenfeld’s assistant. His primary assignment was to commit the art’s principles and techniques to paper. The result was Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault, co-written by Imi Lichtenfeld (as Imi Sde-Or) and Eyal Yanilov, which was published in 2001 — three years after the founder passed away.

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Israeli Martial Arts: Eyal Yanilov on the Best Krav Maga Techniques Against a Front Kick

In the turbulent world of krav maga, there’s perhaps no name that’s more respected than Eyal Yanilov. Born in 1959, he started training in the Israeli martial arts when he was 14. He began his Israeli martial arts education under Eli Avikzar but then shifted to Imi Lichtenfeld, founder of the system.

Imi Lichtenfeld was so impressed by the aptitude of Eyal Yanilov that he made him his assistant. The Israeli martial arts master tasked his disciple with committing the art’s principles and techniques to paper. The first fruit of the assignment was the Israeli martial arts book Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault, co-written by Imi Lichtenfeld (as Imi Sde-Or) and Eyal Yanilov and published in 2001, three years after the founder passed away.

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In case further evidence of Eyal Yanilov’s qualification as an Israeli martial arts expert is necessary, know that he is currently listed as “master level 3/expert level 8” in krav maga — the highest rank Imi Lichtenfeld ever gave anyone.

The official title Eyal Yanilov carries is chief instructor of Krav Maga Global, the Israeli martial arts organization he founded in 2010 to spread real krav maga to the world — a mission he’s been carrying out since the 1980s.

With that goal in mind, Eyal Yanilov recently traveled to Southern California to meet with the staff of Black Belt so he could explain his system’s defense against variations of the front kick.

Krav Maga Technique Situation #1: Pre-Emption

It goes without saying that the best way to handle an attack — whether a front kick or anything else — is to avoid it. “The first lesson in krav maga is, don’t get into trouble,” Eyal Yanilov says. “But if you do get in trouble, we teach you how to deal with the problem.”

A krav maga technique that he prefers to use against a front kick entails counterattacking before your opponent can complete it. “You identify the problem — an attacker is approaching you from a relatively long range,” Eyal Yanilov says. “One option is to run away. If you can’t, you can do a pre-emptive attack.”

As soon as you detect the incoming technique, move off the line of attack, he says. That way, even if your follow-up krav maga technique fails, you won’t get hit. Immediately launch a kick — perhaps into his groin — before he finishes extending his leg.

Although krav maga technique instructors often demonstrate block-and-counter responses to an attack, Eyal Yanilov prefers pre-emption whenever possible. “We have what’s called the pre-fight or pre-technique,” he says. “The idea is that you should prevent, avoid, de-escalate the problem. Instead of waiting for him to attack you, you attack him while he’s advancing.”

Are the associated skill and theory reserved for high-level krav maga technique practitioners? No, Eyal Yanilov says. “We start this almost from day one in krav maga.”

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Krav Maga Technique Situation #2: Parry If You Must

If you don’t have the advanced warning or range to do a pre-emption, you should employ Eyal Yanilov’s “200-percent defense” principle.

“When he kicks, do a hand defense with your forearm to deflect the kicking leg,” Eyal Yanilov says. “At the same time, move your body out of the channel of the attack. Then move diagonally forward until you can reach him with your counterattacks to the face and throat. Then leave the area. Don’t stay in the danger zone. That’s the post-fight [part of the altercation].”

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Your counters can range from palm strikes to straight punches. “We specify the best technique for a specific situation, the best solution for a specific problem,” the Israeli martial arts expert says. “The best thing is to understand [your abilities and the situation] so you can have the best performance, and if you’re not able to do your best, you’ll still be able to function and solve the problem.”

The krav maga straight punch starts with a vertical fist and rotates to about 45 degrees while making contact, he says. “In training, you may not see a lot of turning because we don’t hit the partner. The turning is only at the end of the strike.”

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Krav Maga Technique Situation #3: Sitting in a Chair

Although the basic concepts of the front-kick defense don’t change, the details for executing your chosen krav maga technique vary according to the situation. If you’re …

Krav Maga: Israel’s Time-Tested Strategy for Street Survival, Part 2

This is the second part of Black Belt’s exclusive interview with Darren Levine, head of the Los Angeles-based Krav Maga Worldwide.

Black Belt:  Knowing how seriously krav maga takes gun and knife defense, a stick, especially a lightweight one, must be viewed as a much lower threat.

Darren Levine: Not really. I’ve worked on murder cases in which a stick, making contact with the edge, has taken chunks out of a person’s head. So I appreciate the danger of the stick. To defeat it, you have three options: Redirect it, build a wall against it or move in. The most dangerous part of a stick is the end because it travels at the greatest speed and therefore has the greatest force. It gets less dangerous as you move down it toward the handle. It loses its effectiveness when you get to the hands of the person swinging it. Then you get to another dangerous part: the butt of the stick.

As you can see, we analyze danger and see how people are using weapons on the street, and we get reports from officers who are using our system. That helps us make krav maga more effective.

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BB: How does krav maga address empty-hand attacks?

Levine: We are extremely well-known and respected for our weapon-disarm techniques. However, we also have a unique, no-nonsense approach to dealing with empty-hand attacks based on the military origins of the art and the people we teach now. Our mission at Krav Maga Worldwide is to teach soldiers, members of anti-terrorism units and peace officers a realistic approach to self-defense because their lives depend on it. When you’re building warriors, failing is simply not an option. If they fail or hesitate in the field, their weapons can be taken away and used against them or against third parties.

Our approach to empty-hand combat is to eliminate the multiple layers of danger in the order of priority that exists in virtually every violent encounter. Our main concern is to teach things that work — instinctive, easy-to-learn, easy-to-perform defenses against punches, kicks and other strikes, as well as against chokes, head locks and other catches, holds and grabs from every angle and position.

Our goal is to quickly end the threat and regain control by neutralizing the assailant before he’s able to inflict injury. Krav maga is designed so operators can successfully perform defenses from diverse positions of disadvantage, from varying degrees of readiness and while under stress.

BB: When women use krav maga against men, how do they overcome the strength difference?

Levine: It’s not going to be what people want to hear, but it’s the truth: Strength is an essential attribute for fighting and self-defense. There’s no way around that fact, period. You need strength to absorb strikes and to deliver powerful attacks and counterattacks. Both women and men must focus on building strength, stamina and mental toughness.

That being said, Imi Lichtenfeld used to remind his students about one way to successfully deal with a more powerful assailant: “The elbow of a baby is stronger than the balls of Muhammad Ali.” What he meant was, women — and men — must exploit the vulnerable parts of an assailant’s body. Women must also be prepared to use objects in the environment as shields or striking tools. Krav maga stresses being aware of your surroundings so you can reduce the chance of appearing to be a vulnerable target. Our classes teach you how to survive a fight by being able to engage the attacker. Psychologically, women often won’t defend themselves, but they will fight to the death for their child. Putting women in touch with this side of aggressiveness is essential.

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BB: Is krav maga a complete art, or do you recommend that hard-core students supplement its stand-up techniques with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, for example?

Levine: From all the special units we teach, the most common comment contained in our end-of-course evaluations is that the participants have waited their whole lives to find such a complete system — and they’re excited and feel strongly that they have found that complete system in krav maga. However, that has nothing to do with the need to constantly improve oneself. To grow, to learn, to evolve, you must cross-train and expose yourself to everything you can. I love Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing. I encourage everyone to be open, to learn, to be hungry for growth. An important lifesaving method can come from any system, right?

BB: Krav maga seems to focus on punching to the face. Is there any special technique for avoiding broken bones in your hands while doing that?

Levine: You must learn to punch properly. I’ve seen as many broken hands from palm strikes as I have from bare-knuckle, fisted …

Krav Maga: Israel’s Time-Tested Strategy for Street Survival, Part 1

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.


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 …