Advanced Self-Defense Techniques? Never met the guy.
Anderson Silva and George St. Pierre are two of the greatest fighters to ever step foot in the cage and fight in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. To watch them fight in their prime was to see a masterful display of what many in the industry call “the basics” but which I prefer to call “fundamentals”. Roger Gracie is arguably the best BJJ practitioner in the history of that sport, submitting a litany of the greatest names in BJJ competition with the cross choke and/or lapel choke, among the most “basic” i.e., fundamental techniques in all BJJ and Judo. In fact, these chokes are among the first we typically teach to children. So, if these men are three of the greatest masters of their respective sports, then why aren’t they regularly busting out “advanced” techniques which are far beyond the capability of the average practitioner amid competing with the world’s best?
While I do realize that there are new techniques coming into combat sports, or at least new spins on older techniques, for the most part, the best in the business rely upon the fundamentals. As I offered earlier in this writing, I prefer the term fundamentals to basics. For me, this mainly has to do with the connotation we often apply to basics. If something is basic, then we often perceive it as simple or something to be grown out of and left behind. If something is fundamental, then it is foundational to everything we practice and can never be left behind, and we all understand that no structure can stand for long upon a weak foundation. I’ve never seen a true master of anything scoff at practicing the fundamentals, regardless of how long they’ve been practicing them. My experience in martial arts, combat sports and SWAT has largely informed my belief that the greater the inherent risk in our action, the more heavily one tends to rely on the fundamentals; to be less “flashy” and stick to the simple and direct foundational aspects of their craft.
In a sport like BJJ or Judo, where the inherent risk of injury is somewhat less than, say MMA, we can afford to work in some riskier or more “advanced” concepts. The added element of having someone trying to pound your face into the back of your head while you’re grappling adds a bit of urgency and less of a tendency to expose one’s self to that danger. During a SWAT mission like high-risk warrant service or hostage rescue, where encountering force may well mean that someone dies, we can’t have any cowboys trying to show off. Similarly, when a very advanced practitioner spars or rolls with a much less advanced practitioner, she will often use that time to try to learn and hone newer or more advanced techniques. In the throes of a competition against another practitioner on her level, she is more likely to stick to the fundamentals and to bolster her defensive potential. So, when my students are training in Judo or grappling, we sometimes have fun slowing down and playing around with more “advanced” concepts. In Krav Maga, not so much.
As I’ve written in other articles, Krav Maga is a self-defense system which ingrains in its practitioners a set of relatively simple and direct concepts meant to get them out of very bad real-world situations where the consequences may mean serious injury, sexual assault and/or death. Everything we do has to be simple, because skills degrade under stress. I recall watching the fight between Anderson Silver and Travis Lutter. Both men are BJJ black belts, and during one phase of the fight, Lutter managed to take the mount position, placing Silva on the bottom. I noted that Silva, a very skilled practitioner, seemed to make the very rookie mistake of sticking his arms straight up toward Lutter, but I understood he was stressed and even the best commit errors. As I watched Bas Rutten give commentary on this after the fight, one of his co-workers asked him, why if Silva was a BJJ black belt, he would commit this fundamental error. Bas, a bit exasperated responded with “Ah geez, I hate this. Look, it’s a fight.” He went on to explain that under the pressure of a fight against another person on your level, even the very best will sometimes make mistakes that go against their training and best practices. In other words; skills and performance degrade under stress.
That is why we keep everything so simple in Krav Maga. In our system, we know that the clear majority of our students aren’t professional MMA fighters or SWAT Operators; they are normal people learning to defend themselves against very bad people who would harm them. They’re putting their lives in our hands when they come to us for training, and the absolute best thing we can do for them is to give them that simple, direct set of skills in a training environment where they experience some level of stress, confusion and exhaustion. That way, they come to truly understand that skills degrade and they have some idea of what that feels like, so they are better prepared for it. It is true that the greater our mastery of the fundamentals and the more exposure we have to stressors, the less our skills degrade, and that reality informs our training methods. It also means as one “advances” or as I prefer to say, “grows” in our system, they never really encounter any concept that is a as technically difficult as what they’ll encounter in my favorite combat sport, Judo. Rather, they encounter in Level 1 things that are more likely to occur and in Level 5, things that are less likely to occur. In other words, I’m much more likely to need a punch or choke defense than a machine gun takedown. To the casual observer who watches handgun and knife defenses, they may believe they are seeing “advanced” work, but what they’re truly seeing are the simple fundamentals of Krav Maga applied to weapon defense.
Another problem I have with “advanced” techniques is that some will use them as a sales tactic or marketing gimmick. One infamous figure whom I won’t name here decided to teach what he said was the advanced version of Krav Maga which is taught to the Israel Defense Force elite or commandos. He faked his reputation and sold a fake Krav Maga system that never existed based upon the “advanced techniques” fallacy. I took one such class, and I recognized right away that what he was teaching was mostly traditional Jiu Jitsu and not Krav Maga at all. In truth, it was well taught Jiu Jitsu, but it wasn’t what he claimed it to be. Still others will use this to upsell. First, take our handgun basics course, then intermediate and then advanced and so on. These may be very good courses, but I find that what most of these courses offer in “advanced” costlier courses are just fundamentals like moving and shooting, drawing from a holster and using cover and concealment. Those things should be fundamental to anyone learning how to defend themselves with a firearm. In a discussion with a friend and fellow professional in the field, Robert Higgins, owner of Muzzle Front, we reached the conclusion that there probably are no real advanced tactics, just good tactics well trained and applied. So, as you’re out there looking for what you will dedicate training resources to, consider that nothing will ever replace a solid foundation. Make that your starting point in all things.