Scenario Based Self Defence Training

This article assesses the claim that Krav Maga is the most effective self-defence system in the world. We look at the techniques, the training, the philosophy, the history, and the structure of Krav Maga for evidence to back up or refute these claims.

An applied, scenario-based system

Unlike most martial arts, Krav Maga is an applied self-defence system. Its arena is the real world, not the dojo. It focuses on scenario-based training with each technique designed to apply to a specific attack or type of threat. These are techniques designed to win fights, not points or belts. Having said that, there is a belt system which we will look at later. 

In many martial arts, students are trained to master techniques that are technically complex and sometimes beautiful. Such examples are Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, etc. The element of combat, especially the aggression needed to take down an opponent, is often missing. Besides, real-life attacks are often unpredictable which makes them especially hard to block, dodge and counter.

In contrast, Krav Maga’s techniques are clear, simple, and often downright ugly. Each technique is broken down into single movements that are easy to understand and are practiced slowly at first. By constantly repeating the movements during training, students build them into their muscle memory. They will then be able to deploy them instinctively should they need to on the streets.

Real-life scenarios

While the dojo is governed by rules, these do not exist on the street. Therefore, krav maga teaches its students to target the most vulnerable parts of their opponent’s body. These include the eyes, neck, throat, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knees, feet, fingers, and sensitive organs like the liver.

One of the principles of Krav Maga is the simultaneous deployment of offensive and defensive movements. This increases the efficiency of a sequence of movements. For example, by turning a two-step technique (block and counter) into a one-step one (block-attack).

Some techniques will seem counterintuitive. For example, you may need to pull an attacker close to you to hyperextend and dislocate a limb (1).

Krav Maga classes are sometimes themed to focus on a specific type of scenario. For example, you may come across ‘Weapon Attack’ sessions. These will equip students to deal with aggressors wielding baseball bats, knives, or even guns.

Sparring sessions give students the opportunity to practice close combat fighting in a realistic but safe environment using protective gear.

Krav Maga’s holistic approach to self-defence

Krav Maga is effective because it is holistic, focusing on both the physical and mental factors that affect street combat.

A physically fit person is more able to outrun, evade and outfight an assailant than someone who is unfit. An important element in Krav Maga, therefore, is strength, fitness, endurance, and coordination training. The aim is to turn the body itself into a powerful weapon.

Krav Maga also teaches its students to understand the psychology of street confrontation. This is far removed from the state of mind needed to pass grading.

Identifying threats

In order to escape from or deal with a threat, you first have to identify that threat. You need to understand what motivates an attacker and the clues in body language that precedes an attack. Bruce Lee said that he could predict when and where an attacker would strike simply from how they moved their shoulders. (2). Krav maga trains its students to pick up on details like this.

Being aware of an opponent’s likely moves and their emotional state are aspects of a larger discipline of situational awareness. Additionally, it also includes heightened spatial awareness. Krav Maga teaches students to be constantly aware of the important details of their surroundings. Where are the escape routes? From where might an attacker emerge? What objects could be used as weapons?

Manage your stress levels

To effectively deal with a real-life attack, you have to understand your reaction to stress – and cope with it. In a real-world hostile scenario, your system will be flooded with the ‘fight-or-flight’ hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. Like it or not, this will affect your ability to think and plan. How you act on the instinctive level will determine your chances of survival. If you panic and run into a blind alley, you may never emerge.

Krav Maga trains students to master their emotions and make smart decisions. In those vital fractions of a second, that can determine life or death. Combine this with the aggressive deployment of simple, instinctive strikes and you have a supremely effective self-defence system.

Some techniques wielded by Krav Maga students use the art of deception to increase the effectiveness of a blow. For example, the student might feign submission by raising one hand while landing an incapacitating blow with the other (1).

Foundation of Krav Maga

To understand the philosophy behind Krav Maga, you have to know about its origins. The creator of Krav Maga was Hungarian Jew Imi Lichtenfeld. He was a talented athlete who won national and international titles in boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics. Growing up in 1930s Czechoslovakia, he was forced to band together with fellow Jews to defend their neighborhood from escalating antisemitic attacks (3).

It was during this time that Lichtenfeld learned how ineffective his competition training was. Especially in preparing him for the brutality and aggression of the streets.

After Lichtenfeld moved to Mandatory Palestine, he began teaching Krav Maga to the elite units of the Israeli paramilitary group Haganah. These would eventually become the special forces of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Krav Maga is now a compulsory part of IDF training. It is also taught to the FBI, various special forces units, police departments and other security-related groups across the globe.


The philosophy of Krav Maga is all about effectiveness. It is about how quickly you can minimize the chances of an attack (or a counterattack). You are successful if your opponent is unable to start or continue their attack. Whether that is because you have fled to safety or broken their arm, the result is what counts.

To illustrate we can use a punch to the face as an example. It that gives someone a 70% chance of retaliation, while a gouged eye gives them a 20% chance, Krav Maga says go for the eye. Better still, find an option that reduces that chance to 0 percent (a kick in the groin is a good contender) (3).

It is true that other self-defence systems and martial arts include strikes on vulnerable parts of the body. However, Krav Maga adds the fuel of maximum physical aggression, especially in an ‘all out’ fight for survival.

The ‘warrior spirit’

Going back to the earlier section on mastering your emotions, Krav Maga trains its students to embody the ‘warrior spirit’. This is not a mystical state of being but mastery over emotions. Actions are therefore driven by their effectiveness in promoting survival rather than by rage or fear.

Talking an opponent down out of a hostile state is as effective as breaking their arm to disarm them of a blade. Indeed it takes extreme mental toughness, even for a trained fighter. Holding oneself back until there is no option but to attack is what embodies the ‘warrior spirit’.

Rapid progression

The effectiveness of a self-defence system could also be measured in how quickly its students progress. Specifically in their capability to deal with real-life threats. The simple, repeatable movements taught in Krav Maga make for rapid progression. Students can expect to improve in every single class.

In Israel, Krav Maga is used to getting military conscripts up and running as rapidly as possible. The focus remains on getting people battle-ready has been preserved in civilian forms.

Unlike judo or karate, students are not perfecting routines just to achieve a grading standard at some point in the future. A real-life hostile situation can happen at any moment, so the Krav Maga student needs to be up-skilled urgently. This starts from day one with brand new students empowered with basic techniques by the end of their first session. No prior knowledge of martial arts or self-defence techniques is required.

Balancing enjoyment and discipline

Finally, a self-defence class can only be described as effective if people want to come to it.

Krav Maga classes strike a balance between enjoyment and discipline. Lichtenfeld recognized the motivational value of the belt structure in judo. He, therefore, introduced a similar system for Krav Maga. In many schools, students pass from white to black belt through the following colours: yellow, orange, green, blue, and brown. There is then a Dan system for black belts which runs from one to nine.

Other schools use a patch system with five levels of Practitioners, Graduates, and Experts. With the Expert level corresponding to a black belt.

However, it should always be remembered that Krav Maga is first and foremost about self-defence readiness. Gradings are a secondary concern.

If your aim is purely to collect medals, an Olympic martial art like karate or Tae Kwon Do may be more useful for you. However, Krav Maga is definitely a strong contender for the most effective self-defence system in the world.

If effectiveness is measured by the capacity to quickly neutralize real-life attacks, Krav Maga will get you there faster than any other established combat system on the planet.


  1. https://www.standard.co.uk/escapist/health/krav-maga-why-this-martial-art-is-the-best-form-of-selfdefence-a3321496.html
  2. https://salsamacho.com/is-krav-maga-effective
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krav_Maga