On skill versus training

As you may know, I have tried at several different points to answer the question of when and where MMA is more effective or "better" to study than Krav Maga. This is not an easy question to answer, and there are a number of different perspectives on the subject that need to be considered. I can only answer these questions from my perspective, and that is a limited one at best.

So I thought it might be useful to get the perspective of a man who has studied both Krav Maga and MMA at the highest levels for many years, and see what he has to say about the differences and similarities between the two disciplines.

By way of introduction, David Weintraub is an instructor at my school. He received his black belt from our grandmaster in December 2012, and I personally witnessed his test to 2nd Dan in 2014. I believe he will eventually test to 3rd Dan in the next few years, and I am very much looking forward to seeing that test as well.

David is a consummately skilled and talented martial artist, who has trained in combat arts and sports with astonishing dedication and single-minded focus since the age of 16. His physical talents have to be seen to be believed. I've sparred against him, I think twice, as a yellow belt. Those were experiences I won't soon forget. We weren't fighting very fast, but his kicks were coming out of freakin' nowhere.

He is not just proficient in Krav Maga, either; he is a highly skilled grappler training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu who has won a number of awards and contests in both gi-only and no-gi contests in the tri-state area.

He has also been involved in MMA for the last six years at the amateur level, and recently turned pro with a kickboxing fight under Glory Rules. Unfortunately, during that fight he picked up a bit of damage and has had to spend some time recovering. I am very much looking forward to his pro MMA debut next year.

It is my great personal honour to call David my teacher and my friend- and, like the rest of the team at my school, he is part of my second family.

Here is David's view of what it takes to be more than just a good Krav Maga practitioner, but a good martial artist in general. The two are not the same thing. I present his own words, completely unaltered and unedited, for you to mull over.

We have a brand new website at KravMagaFederation.com

Our new website for Rhon Mizrachi Krav Maga is a very important resource for understanding what the art of Krav Maga is, its origins, and what is unique about our branch. Being involved in Krav Maga at a high level as well as competing in combat sports, both since I was a teenager, I have insight into the relationship between these two things, the similarities and differences, and the perceptions of each from the opposite perspective.

The truth is that while in the world of Krav Maga there are political disputes all the time and many people claiming to be the best, in the word of high level martial arts the art of Krav Maga is typically looked down on as offering very low level training or sometimes completely unrealistic training. There is absolutely a reason for this. Most of the schools and instructors out there teaching or claiming to teach Krav Maga are essentially teaching garbage from the perspective of a real high level martial artist. Some of that is because there are liars in the world, but some of those people have legitimate lineage in the art and teach what they were taught. Because of the fact that Imi (the founder of Krav Maga) had intended for his art to be used by regular people to effectively defend themselves if necessary, it was considered more important to train than it was to train at a high level. This led to a wide variation in the level of different instructors. Some (very few) were dedicated martial artists while others took short courses and were used as a way to help spread a basic level of training to help more people around the world to stay safe day to day. 

It should be understood that to keep yourself safe in daily life doesn't take an elite skill level, it takes a basic level of training and understanding of self-defense concepts and being a decent human being. However, the idea of a recreational martial artist being a superior fighter to someone who fights professionally JUST because they use different techniques is silly. It has been proven over and over that how good you are at what you do matters at least as much as what you do in a fight. Any recreational martial artist, whether they practice Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu or Karate should not expect to out fight someone who fights for a living (instead just don’t pick fights with people). It generally makes sense to people that while most people can swim, those who swim as a profession have more incentive to improve, improve more, and usually swim better than those who don’t. The same is true of fighting.

People have become confused by the idea that "Krav Maga is for everyone". Krav Maga training should provide a practitioner who has reached even a fairly low level of proficiency with the ability to defend themselves in most situations that might occur because of the specificity of the training and the intelligence behind the methods. That level of training needs to be available to (and maybe adjusted for) all people regardless of size, fitness, disabilities (within reasonable limits) or any other kind of physical variation. So if a fairly low level of training will keep you safe most of the time then the question becomes: what is the meaning or purpose of the higher ranks in this art? Why develop high level martial arts skills at all if one doesn’t need to for their profession or to defend themselves in most cases? It takes a great deal of effort to learn these skills. A low level has carried undeserving people all over the world to high ranks without exploring the depths of the martial arts, but that is not the only approach and it is not our approach.

I am a student of martial arts and not just of a particular art. Martial arts is about cultivation and expression. Of skills and abilities but also of the human them self. An instructor who will tell you when it is ok to stop developing is not a real teacher.

When the entire civilian Krav Maga Curriculum was originally structured by Imi students started as white belts and tested for ranks going from white belt to yellow belt to Orange, green, blue, brown and Black Belt 1st Dan (this is the way that Rhon tested). Each rank above first Dan would be earned either through earning a black belt in particular other arts, winning a championship in particular combat sports, or for every 6 years of ACTIVE teaching (because by this time an instructor may have students approaching the black belt level and a rank would be given to differentiate student from teacher). Eventually control of the art was taken over by people who redistributed exactly the same curriculum to cover 5 degrees of black belts, so the same techniques and requirements were spread over more ranks, making earning a 5th Dan the equivalent of what was a 1st Dan Black Belt. It doesn't take much thinking to realize that this allowed people to essentially take their training more slowly and not expand their training or expose themselves to new possibilities while receiving higher ranks. It was a lazy decision. 

Each of the various branches of Krav Maga now has their own idea of what it means to be at a "high level". Military and law enforcement personnel for example do not need to be high level martial artists, they need to do their jobs as well as possible. Because of this you will never see a truly high level practitioner who’s [sic] only training was in the military, and the people in charge of teaching them will tell you the same. I have heard Krav Maga instructors insist that being more proficient in the art has absolutely nothing to do with technical refinements (stuff like this is why people think the art is a joke) and that at high levels you learn tactical shooting instead of improving your fighting ability. There’s nothing wrong with learning to shoot but that does not exist in the curriculum set forth by Imi and to call it Krav Maga is just a gimmick from instructors who have run out of fighting skills to teach. 

Our federation has taken the opposite approach under Rhon’s guidance. We teach a highly refined, very detailed version of Imi’s curriculum with our primary focus at high levels being developing higher level fighting skills and learning how to best apply those fighting skills in real life situations against opponents with weapons or against multiple opponents (often still with weapons). In other words, high level training becomes about effectively applying all that you have learned in a wide variety of different types of sparring and sparring drills. 

With that said, I am not claiming that there is any way of training which could guarantee a person success against an armed and skillful opponent. The margin for error is too small. People will become more skillful at whatever they choose to practice. In all kinds of combat a fighter specifically trained to function in a particular situation will be more effective than the same fighter trying to adapt their skills to an entirely new scenario. The more well rounded the fighter, the easier adaptation becomes (“well rounded” is not limited to just striking and grappling skills, it includes understanding how different skills are applied in different situations). Therefore, for a martial artist not interested in competitive fighting and not bound by a set of rules it makes sense to learn how their skills should be applied in as many different scenarios as they can. Overextending one’s training can lead to a lower skill level so it’s also important to study the subjects one chooses in depth and not just look at the surface of many (“To know ten thousand things know one well”).

At Rhon Mizrachi Krav Maga we do learn all of the techniques and concepts in the art which are meant for military/law enforcement personnel, and ultimately we explore them in depth by always looking at what happens when the opponent is more skilled or when the situation is more disadvantageous. A black belt should never be training for what happens when they fight with untrained people, that idea is absurd to me. Rhon encourages all of his students to learn as much as they can and almost all of his Black Belt students have trained in other arts as well, some of them quite extensively.

It has become increasingly difficult to defend the art of Krav Maga because out of many thousands of schools in the world there are a handful which produce high level martial artists. The rest are either legitimate schools (regarding lineage) offering low level training (I guess there’s nothing really wrong with this unless you’re lying to people), or are teaching garbage and calling it Krav Maga for marketing purposes. Rhon Mizrachi Krav Maga is a unique branch of this art, with our primary goal being to produce the highest possible level of martial artists with open minds, well rounded skill sets, and a detailed understanding of unrestricted hand to hand combat. No gimmicks. It takes many years to become a really skillful martial artist, feeling comfortable or confident or being able to protect yourself comes much more quickly and easily and while it shouldn’t be undervalued (it is by far the priority in the beginner levels of Krav Maga) the two are not the same. There should not be any compromise on what makes a black belt a black belt. The fact that it is important for training to be available to everybody does not mean that you can receive a rank just for trying.

Some of this may be considered disrespectful by people who either fall into those categories of low level practitioners or are concerned that I think they do. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but those people should take the opportunity to explore the new information which has been presented to them instead of caring about what I think. I’m much more concerned with explaining things accurately than I am with hurting people’s feelings. Hopefully this has been somewhat educational to some practitioners of Krav Maga, but that is not my goal. My goal is for this to reach other martial artists who have preconceived ideas of Krav Maga training without having visited our school. Please read our new website, and click “read more” as many times as you can. It is the most complete and accurate source of information on this art available at the moment. More so than any book or video by far.

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