Weapons Defenses of Krav Maga
January 12, 2018
Krav Maga, the official martial art of the Israeli Defense Forces, prides itself on a simple, efficient and aggressive principle-based approach.
When it comes to defending against weapons, there is no time for overcomplicated dance moves. I've been involved in Krav since 2000 or so, and I've been the director of the Krav Maga Alliance's Military and Law Enforcement program since 2011. The system has its strengths and weaknesses. The striking in Krav is not as good as a strictly Muay Thai school. The ground is not as good as most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools. The wrist and twist locks and joint manipulations are not as sharp as you might find in an aikido school. But the Krav Maga weapons defenses are the best in the world.
When you couple all of this with an aggressive mindset and a tough, almost brutal training methodology, you get a system that can take you from couch potato to ass kicker in a reasonable period of time.
When I owned a Krav school, I asked the students to give me a solid year, three times a week, and I'd give them the skills to succeed in 80 percent of violent situations. Give me two years, I'd tell them, and I can get you through 90 percent of violent encounters. It's not a perfect system, but when delivered as designed, it does many things well, and it gets the practitioner's body tough and their mind right. What we're seeing now in many strip malls is Krav in name only. (For more on this, see "Caveat Emptor: Martial Arts" on page 120.)
The Krav weapons defenses are good for several reasons, the primary one being that they are principle based, not technique based. What this means is that I can teach someone relatively few weapons defense principles and they can then apply those principles to make defenses against a wide variety of threats and attacks. When systems focus on techniques, they have to give you 100 defenses for 100 attacks and hope that someone doesn't attack you in way 101. With principles, you can focus on fewer movements and apply them as you see fit depending on the attack. The downside to this is that a lazy instructor will try to just show you the techniques, or the "how" of something. It takes an excellent instructor to get the student to understand the "why" of things, and that's a big part of being able to perform under stress.
Another reason that Krav techniques work so well is that they focus on control of the weapon, and the extensive use of noncooperative training partners allows the student to develop a feel for an actual fight for the weapon. There is no substitute for the stress of training at combat speed. Focusing on these points also allows the student to develop a sense of where the weapon is going to be during a defense, as the attacker will not just sit there like an idiot in real life. In real life, attackers fight back. If you focus on where the weapon is rather than where it's going to be, you run a higher risk of missing it during the defense or not being able to control it effectively, which will probably get you involved in a fight for the gun. This adds an unnecessary layer of difficulty to what is already a high-risk proposition.
Now, before we get into the details of the defenses and the principles behind them, I'm going to tell you what I tell all my students. If you're being robbed, the safest thing to do is to give the perpetrator what they want and let them be on their way. There's nothing in your wallet worth dying for.
After telling this to a roomful of students, I am invariably asked what I would do. Well, I would fight. I can only answer for myself, but it seems to me that if every piece of crap criminal on the planet woke up and knew that every person out there was willing to fight to the death, there would be a lot less crime. Putting street crime aside, the active shooter/killer scenarios and the increased number of kidnapping scenarios that we're seeing in the American Southwest make me believe that weapons defense training is a necessary component to any personal-defense plan. If you are involved in an active shooter/killer incident, it is your duty as an American to attempt to find a way to fight back or protect the people around you.
Countering a Threat
Regardless of the type of weapon with which you are being attacked or threatened, Krav Maga utilizes a very specific set of principles to counter that threat. Some instructors like to use the acronym RCAT for Redirect, Control, Attack, Takeaway. While this is simplistic, it is effective at reducing the defenses down to their component parts. I've broadened my definitions a bit because a broader understanding allows the students a broader palette of options.
When it comes to actual attacks, there are gun threats, knife threats and attacks, and attacks with blunt objects. To cover all of them is beyond the scope of a single article, but because I want to give you a good overview of what Krav does, I'll refer to different attacks in the context of a few simple defenses.
Defense: Gun From the Front
The first defense is a simple "gun from the front" defense. This is a common handgun threat, as the attacker most often wants something from the victim and needs to communicate with them. Think of the common "stick-up" type scenario, with the criminal ordering the victim to give them their wallet while pointing the gun at the victim's torso. In this scenario, the defender would extend their support hand forward and redirect the muzzle of the weapon with the "Y" of the support hand, between the thumb and the index finger. As the support hand closes around the muzzle end of the handgun, the defender's primary hand should draw up and away from the torso, ending up cocked back in a striking position with a clenched fist or open palm, depending on the type of strike the defender plans to use. This not only sets up the impending strike, but it also clears the hand and arm away from the muzzle of the weapon.
At this point, the support hand should be closed firmly around the slide or barrel of the weapon. The defender should then burst toward the attacker, driving the top two knuckles of the support hand toward the attacker's gun-side hip while simultaneously sending a strike into the attacker's face.
It is important to drive the gun toward the attacker's hip because that is where the attacker will pull it back to. We don't want to try to muscle the control, we want to rely on the attacker's natural reflex to regain control of their power, in this case the gun. We don't expect that the strike to the face will knock the attacker down or even back, but it should put the attacker's weight on their heels, which is what we want.
At this point, the defender's primary hand snakes down along their body and controls the rear, or hammer portion, of the pistol. With two hands on the pistol, compared to the attacker's one, I teach to move right into the disarm, as this is when the attacker is the most vulnerable.
The disarm is simple: The defender pulls back with the primary hand and rotates forward with the support hand, rotating the pistol violently and breaking the attackers grip. Finally, the defender pulls the pistol abruptly back to their own primary hip in a straight line, clearing the attacker's grip and allowing the defender to move away from the attacker.
The attacker is now weaponless. I am constantly seeing people training to shoot or, in the case of knife defenses, stab the attacker. Unless it is some sort of terrorist attack with multiple attackers and active shooters, don't do this and don't train this. You will go to prison. If the attacker continues to attack and you are in fear for your life, then use the force and response necessary. If they no longer pose an imminent threat, do not use the weapon you just took from them. You have now attacked an unarmed person. If there is no longer a threat, order them to the ground or let them flee.
Defense: Overhead Stab
Edged weapon defenses are a little different than handgun defenses because sometimes when you need to block an incoming attack, redirecting it will only get you cut worse. Remember, when defending against blades, you're going to get cut. Don't freak out and you'll probably be fine. Let's look at a common attack, the overhead stab.
In this attack, the attacker has a reverse, or icepick, grip on the blade and is attacking in an arcing, downward stab toward the defender's upper torso. The defender defends the blade on the same side, meaning that if the attacker is using their right hand, the defender uses their left. The defense is simple: The defending arm is bent into a strong 90 degrees and the defense occurs wrist to wrist, with the defending hand open, to allow for speed and a little extra margin of error. Simultaneously, the defender punches the attacker in the face.
Much like the gun defense we just talked about, this punch is not likely to seriously hurt the attacker, it is simply a means to help reverse their momentum and regain the temporal advantage. It also puts their weight on their heels, which is helpful. Once the attack has been blocked and the strike delivered, the defender needs to burst through the attacker's primary-side arm and wrap it with their support arm over the top because the attacker will be trying to recoil the arm for another strike. Wrap it up high around the elbow because as they recoil the arm, it will slide to a tight control. Keeping your fist clenched and high up on your pectoral will prevent them from pulling their arm out. Once that arm is controlled, the defender will be on the dead side of the attacker, allowing the defender the time and position to strike the neck and head of the attacker with the primary hand or even use knee strikes and kicks to the attacker's head and face, depending on the defender's skill level. I do not focus on the disarm; after the third knee to the face, the bad guy generally drops the knife on their own accord.
So, there you have it, some down-and-dirty Krav weapon defenses. Even if you train in another system or art, I highly recommend learning some of the principle-based Krav weapons defenses, as they're easy to grasp and retain. The goal should never be survival; the goal should always be victory. Your training should reflect that.