My entire present life is built on a single decision that I made the summer right after my thirteenth birthday. My older brother Gal had his Krav Maga brown belt test coming up, and invited me to accompany him to the gym to train. As it was summer vacation, I had nothing else to do and thought it would be fun to practice my hobby of Capoeira on the mats, as well as get to hit some pads.
It was that day that I met Master Gabi Noah, the head of the school who would be testing Gal. Getting Gabi’s feedback on my capoeira-style flying kicks made me realize and appreciate the realistic qualities of Krav Maga. I was extremely fortunate to have found a master who I connected with, and who had such an illustrious resume. Gabi has extensive training, both as a combatives instructor in the military and police, as well as a civilian instructor. He is one of the four original students of Grandmaster Imi Lichtenfeld and is one of the foremost experts on Krav Maga in the world. I became his student, and then one of his teachers, and then moved to New York to become a Krav Maga instructor.
On my last trip to Israel, I met with Gabi to interview him. He is a man of few words, preferring to let his skills talk for him. I decided to ask him his favorite story from training under Imi. He told me that he once visited Imi in his home, and they worked on a technique. The next day in the gym, when Gabi tried to teach that very technique, Imi motioned for him to come to the side to speak and told him that the technique had changed. “But we just worked on this yesterday,” Gabi asked, confused.
Imi smiled. “Yesterday was yesterday, and today is today.” While this may sound maddening, I immediately understood the point. As Gabi said, “Krav Maga is always evolving, the base stays the same, but every day it becomes better. We teach the basic principles of Krav Maga to everyone, but we develop the techniques specific to the population we are working with.” What is appropriate in one class will not work in another. We need to make sure we are teaching in a way that will reach the student where they are, and adjust ourselves to help them learn.
When I heard this story, I realized Gabi had taught me the very same lesson. In 2013, while working as an instructor, Gabi invited me to accompany him to a seminar in Belgium and to give a class on my own. This seminar had two sections, one for instructors and one for students.
I had experience working with big groups from my time in the army and knew I would have to maintain a very high level of discipline to make sure no one was injured. Krav Maga training puts a high emphasis on safety because training is inherently aggressive. This can lead to a lack of self-control emotionally and physically, and people going too far. That’s the biggest challenge in being an army combatives instructor, how to push people to their limits without compromising their safety. Injured soldiers cannot serve, so injuries render the training useless and should be avoided.
Therefore, I had to establish a clear authority figure to maintain control. I remember walking with my arms crossed. After the drill, the participants began to practice, and Gabi pulled me to the side. He told me it was confusing for me to walk around as if I was in a boot camp. Looking back, I can see how militaristic I must have looked, but at the time, it had become so natural to me that I never even considered it.
After the lesson, Gabi and I had dinner together and we discussed posture in teaching. Gabi helped me realize I still felt the need to create this barrier between myself and the students. In the military, that was appropriate, but I was now a civilian trainer. As Imi said, “Yesterday was yesterday, and today is today.”
I still needed to maintain that high level of discipline, but I had to use different methods to reach students who weren’t combatants. I learned how to use my hands to bring my students in. Gabi demonstrated through example how to use my own body language to emphasize certain principles, in order to express more effectively what I am teaching the subject and how to communicate the seriousness of safety in a different way, that relied less on command and more on cooperation.
I realize how valuable this lesson was now, as it allowed me to reach students who needed Krav Maga most, those who were shy and timid. Even today, I have taught the same concepts over and over again, but I have never taught the same thing twice. Through Gabi’s example, I treat every lesson as a completely fresh start. As teachers, we need to be in the present, adjusting for each student and evolving our own skills at the same time.
After all, yesterday was yesterday, and today is today.