Subtitle: Krav Homework Sucks a Lot Less Than Trigonometry
There’s a very important but sometimes neglected concept in learning self-defense. Really, it applies to developing any new skill, be it Krav Maga, playing piano, or knitting. It’s practice, or as we like to refer to it to make it sound more intense: training.
Krav Maga as a system is designed to quickly build proficiency in students and provide them with tools that remain effective under stress and/or from a position of disadvantage that will neutralize a threat and keep them safe.
From the principles of Krav Maga:
- Techniques should be movements based on natural instincts.
- Techniques must be accessible to the average person, not just athletes.
- Techniques must work from a position of disadvantage.
That said, without repetition (i.e. practice) the odds are that you will not have developed the muscle memory or reflexive responses required for certain techniques. While our self-defense techniques are based on our natural and often involuntary reactions to certain actions (thereby making them both easier to learn and more likely to be performed at a higher rate of success under stress) we still need to train them. And then train them some more.
Does this mean that a brand new student isn’t capable of an effective punch defense, finishing the fight, and going home safe? Of course not! But we shouldn’t assume that because we’ve done a technique a couple times in class that it’s now part of our toolbox.
An excellent training concept from Pavel Tsatsouline:
Specificity + frequent practice = success
There are two elements that can derail progress. One is that repetitive practice can get boring and lead to burn-out. This is, for example, practicing fall breaks. (Wow, I just heard the groans…) The second is that once we’ve gotten a taste of proficiency we consider a skill mastered and prematurely throw it in the bottom of the toolbox. This is the difference between knowing a gun defense and knowing a gun defense—reacting to the threat without the brain getting in the way, if you will. We instructors try to eliminate the first element for you by varying training through drills and such that keep you developing the same material in different contexts. Unfortunately, the second element often must be eliminated by the individual or it will come to surface all on its own. If we’re lucky, it’ll only be during an in-class drill.
Now, going further, is it enough just to do something a whole bunch of times? No. You’ve probably heard the Vince Lombardi quote: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Practicing something the incorrect way is often worse than not practicing it at all. It’s much harder to unlearn a bad habit than to start from scratch.
Okay, so enough theoretical mumbo jumbo. What are some practical steps for putting this stuff into use? When it comes to learning and improving skills, I always return to an old military saying that is also often used in combat sports:
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
Many times, the way to make a technique faster and more powerful is to slow it down and remove the power from it. It has a neurological basis: good old “muscle memory”, or hardwiring all the connections that make up a movement. This applies not only to physical movement but also the ability to see within the fight. And why is muscle memory so important, specifically to Krav Maga? Because not only are we relying on our natural instincts, but so much of our system builds on the fundamentals, and so much of it interrelates.
- One defense must work against a variety of attacks.
- The system should be integrated so that movements learned in one area of the system compliment, rather than contradict, movements in another area.
If you can’t pull off a picture-perfect technique slowly in a controlled environment, what are the odds that you can use it to keep you safe after an adrenaline dump when surprised by an attack? If your straight punch isn’t perfectly clean, how effective will your high-risk gun or knife defenses be? Our faculties degrade under stress, so better to have your skills at a starting point of 90% than 65%, yes?
Obviously, many of these things are addressed in class, but if you want or need some extra work solidifying your fundamentals, here are just a few examples of elements you can train on your own before class, during our more “free” warm-ups, or outside of class and without a partner or equipment:
- Shadow boxing. Focus on the fundamentals of footwork, movement, and punch mechanics (elbows in tight, twist your body with every punch, full extension, hands always returning to protect your face, etc.). Overwhelmed by free-form shadowboxing? Throw 100 perfect Bas Combo #4s, focusing on all the elements of it rather than how fast you can do it. If you have a full-length mirror, use it.
- Bursting forward from Neutral/Passive Stance. This is our 360° Defense and combatives (e.g. straight punch) from neutral/passive. Being fast and having a solid base increase the efficacy of both the defense and the combatives. Burst off the blocks with as little anticipatory movement as possible. A mirror is great for spotting “tells” in your movement.
- Level 1 Groundfighting Curriculum. Getting up from the floor at home during a commercial? Why not practice a proper get-up? Every time you go to the mat in class, be it to stretch or change your shoes, take advantage of the mats and practice your fall breaks. As Brian says, you may never get into a fight, but you will fall down at some point in your life!
- Calisthenics. Calisthenics play an important part in warm-ups and conditioning drills, but it is not necessary to be a strength and conditioning all-star to be good at Krav. That said, exercises like push-ups have too many benefits inside and outside of Krav to list. How do you improve your push-ups? Do… push-ups! Pavel has a training concept called Grease the Groove. I’ll save the details for another post, but the gist is that you do several sub-maximal effort sets throughout the day. In essence, you’re practicing, not working out. But it works and you get stronger. See the scaling options and build up to a perfect push-up first, then build your max reps. Do 10 perfect push-ups every commercial break!
- Advanced Kicks. Kicks in our curriculum require progressively more balance, agility, “athleticism”. The Side Kick in Level 2 is really the first such kick that gives students trouble. In keeping with the slow is smooth concept, rather than throwing 1,000 side kicks and getting frustrated that you lack the flexibility or the balance to make them really solid, do static holds. Grab a wall or some stationary object and throw a side kick as slowly as you can, hold it at full extension for a while, then slowly retract. Gradually increase the duration of the hold and the height of the kick. Once you can throw a slow, controlled kick at waist level with no balance support, you’re ready to really let ‘er rip. This same method can be used for Back Kicks and the spinning kicks.
Am I prescribing homework? Of course not. Many Krav Maga students come to class for a good workout that has the added benefit of self-defense training. Some are in class almost every day and “do homework” to improve their skills. There is nothing wrong with being at either end of this spectrum. If you do find yourself wanting to develop your skills beyond what we train in class (and if you’ve read this entire post you’re probably at least leaning in that direction!), give some of these training ideas a shot.
Fractal pic: www.enchgallery.com