Krav Maga Battle Mentality: Why Giving Up Means Death

“Never give up, never surrender!”

– Tim Allen as Jason Nesmith in the movie Galaxy Quest

Lame quotes aside, I present you with one of the basic principles of Krav Maga. We never give up, and we never surrender. Why? Because Krav Maga teaches you techniques to survive an attack and if you give up when you’re attacked, you may well die. Krav Maga, designed as a practical form of close combat, was founded on this principle.

But it’s hard not to give up when you’re beaten down, or when you’re pinned down by someone twice your size and it’s impossible to get out of there. It’s easy to stop when your body hurts all over, when you feel like you can’t move a muscle and when you’re exhausted beyond belief. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible to keep on going against all these odds. It’s for this reason that Krav Maga does not just condition your body by practicing techniques and cardio. Krav Maga focuses just as much on the mental aspect.

Note: this post will discuss battle mentality. The first response to any bad situation is to avoid it or to run away.

If you can not avoid a bad situation/fight, this post will discuss the mentality you need to survive a bad situation.

Krav Maga Technique: High level choke defense by Amnon Darsa

Amnon Darsa performs a Krav Maga choke defense (high level). Picture by Kirsten Leavitt-van Loozen for http://www.institute-kravmaga.nl

Mental training of primal instincts
This mental training part of Krav Maga is tough, as it draws upon your primal instincts. The drills are designed to tap into your emotions and leave you shaken to your core. Your instructor will drive you to the brink, and then shove you way past it, into the deep abyss of emotional turmoil.

Fortunately he won’t entirely abandon you. He’ll have pushed you, but he’ll also pull you through by forcing you to soldier on, no matter how tough it is, how awful and terrible you feel. He’ll keep pushing you, far past your comfort zone and he’ll do it over and over and over again, until you’re physically unable to continue. (And even then he’ll push you on and on).

You know why? Because giving up may mean death, injury or rape.

This sounds grave and ominous – and it kinda is. The mentality you need to keep on going despite all odds is difficult to grow, but not impossible. Some people will start being incredibly stubborn (although not nearly enough to satisfy your instructor’s demands) and have an advantage at first. However Krav Maga will instill this survival instinct in everyone, even if you feel like the wimpiest person on earth. (You’re not btw, you just need to learn a few things about how to kick ass effectively and you’ll be not-wimpy in no time!)

How do you practice mental fortitude? 

Aggression drills
Anger is a good motivator when in a fight – it’s way better than fear because it help to keep you going and stop you from freezing. Anger will make your punches and kicks that much more explosive and will allow you to keep on going and going – and going. Knowing how to get angry is therefore important.

Your instructors will know various drills to practice getting angry. They mainly consist of a striking pad and the instructions ‘GET ANGRY!’ yelled at you.

Yeah. ;)

Like a lot of training, it’s completely up to you whether you do what your instructor says and whether you immerse yourself into your anger or not. (Although he’ll push you to do so continuously – D:<)

The first time I actually did this – I drew upon my inner rage and just went ballistic on the strike pad. I went into a frenzy, both physically and emotionally. I felt stricken and shaky when we were done. I was close to tears – and I still haven’t completely figured out why this is. It still happens with every aggression drill, although I get less shaky now (but still way too shaky).

I think it has to do with the combination of extreme adrenaline that you force through your body in combination with the negative emotion you’re summoning. I also think these aggression drills are sorta mentally intrusive. I THOUGHT I had my mental state all figured out, you know. Years of conditioning by your parents and society (be polite, be courteous, don’t yell, don’t use violence) have to be cast aside to just… become enraged and go into kill mode. (That’s what I call it, although you can also call it survival mode, fighting mode, Krav Maga mode)

The thing is, going into a physical and emotional frenzy like that is incredibly mentally draining and physically exhausting.

But (and here I go again) it is very important you are able to go from passive, every-day person to roaring battle-kill-mode person the moment you can’t avoid a fight or you’re attacked unexpectedly. It’s that Krav Maga mentality right there: you want to survive this encounter! And you will not give up and you will not surrender!  You will do this, because your life is too important. Rawrrr!

Krav Maga Training: Multiple Attackers

Nothing stresses you out as much as being two-teamed. Picture by Tommy Blom from KMG

Stress drills

Krav Maga instructors use various ‘stress drills’ to help build your mental fortitude. During these drills you’ll be put under tremendous mental and physical pressure. Examples:

  1. You’ll be attacked by multiple attackers without being allowed to defend yourself. You’re only allowed to run away and push your way through the crowd of people that are attacking you. You can’t deflect attacks, just protect your head and go, go, go!
  2. You’ll be sparring with partner A, while partner B randomly intervenes to choke you from behind, the side or the front.
  3. You’ll be sparring with multiple partners, whom will partner up to corner and attack you. You’re outnumbered and at a huge disadvantage. You won’t win this, no matter how good you are. Yeah. Deal with it. :(

The thing is, no matter how good you are, eventually you’ll be worn down. You’ll miss one defense, then another, and before you know it, you can no longer keep up with the multiple attacks. By this time, you’re incredibly stressed out and are under tremendous pressure. You’re exhausted. The only thing you still have are your instincts, your adrenaline and a god-awful amount of panic that’s rising in your mind.

In these type of situations (the desperate ones), there’s generally three types of behaviours people will act upon. You will either: Fight, Flight or Freeze.

The names are fairly straight-forward, but I’ll explain them briefly:

Fight

You attack! You counter! You give it everything you’ve got because you don’t want to die. This is the Krav Maga attitude, and the attitude you will be working on during training.

Flight

You’re scared and you run away. This is not necessarily bad (and a very healthy reaction) as every Krav Maga technique focuses on getting away from the bad situation. You’re attacked and you counter immediately so you have the time to flee and run away.

While not an ideal reaction (it’s way better to deliver that first counter so your attacker goes down – it gives you more time to get away), it’s still much better than….

Freeze

As the name suggests, panic overtakes you and you’re so overwhelmed by all the sensations during battle that you no longer know what to do. Your body stops working and your mind shuts down. You stop everything you do and just cower and whimper, trying to hide away, and giving up completely.

This is an incredibly bad thing to do! Your training partners will stop the moment you break down (although sometimes they’re instructed not to) but what do you think will happen to you if you freeze in a real situation? Yeah, that’s right. You’ll die, get hurt, get raped or you’ll watch others get hurt. Literally anything at all is better than freezing. Spitting, biting, kicking, screaming hysterically, anything is better than freezing and doing nothing when in a bad situation. You never give up and never surrender!

For this reason, it’s extremely important you find out what your weak points are during stress drills in training, so you can work on it and overcome these weaknesses. Personal example: When I was 18 I was in a bad situation in which a fellow student forced me down, sat on top of me, and pinned my hands above my head. He refused to let me go until I kissed him, which I absolutely refused to do. I kicked, I headbutted, I wriggled as much as I could, but his physical strength was way more than my own. (As it will be with 95% of the men I’ll ever encounter, a realisation all women need to have as soon as possible.) Furthermore, he terrified me into submission when he just grinned at me and told me that “If you really want me off you, you might want to stop moving, ‘cuz this just wants to make me sit on you longer”.

So I gave up. I gave him the kiss he wanted. Then he left me alone. (The fucker.)

The first time during training I was put in a similar situation (our instructor demonstrated a counter for a mounted choke – he sat on top of me and – you know – choked me) I had a major case of freezage (and emotional upheaval) just like that. I had no idea a repeat of this situation gave me this type of reaction because I did not know the incident had made such an impact on me. It was a really big revelation, together with the knowledge that if I had been put into that situation out ‘in the real world’ I would have been completely helpless, despite the Krav Maga training I had been doing up until that point.

Stress and emotion override all rational thought when you’re in a bad situation. There is no thinking straight (there literally isn’t, your thoughts center on only a few things/ideas which go in circles that you can’t break out of), so work on it! I’m definitely working on my weak point (safe exposure during training). Use training to your advantage, discover your weak points and work on them so they won’t be your weak points anymore.

Krav Maga Technique 'Knife Defense From Ground Position"

Krav Maga Technique: Knife defense from attacker sitting on top of you. (Female attacker has been subdued by male defender) Picture by: Defense and Fighting Tactics Zoetermeer

How effective are all these drills when they sound so awful?

Nonetheless, putting yourself through hell during training  and forcing yourself to deal with these bad situations will mentally prepare you for future bad situations. You know the feeling and effects of the stress effects on your body. You train your body to coöperate with you during bad events and it’ll do what it was taught during training. The Krav Maga techniques are based on instinctive reactions. Practicing them regularly will make them second nature to you. They honestly do! After four months my choke responses have become nearly completely natural. I don’t need to think about it at all. The same will happen with the other Krav Maga techniques. By practicing them in stressful situations, you will teach your body the correct response during a stressful situation, which is exactly what you want. If your instincts are right, you won’t need to think and you can focus on using your (limited at that time) mental capacity to escape.

This is also why regularly practicing Krav Maga trumps taking a limited time self-defense course. You’ll hone your natural instincts by making them stress-proof.  Although taking a limited time self-defense course definitely trumps doing nothing at all!

In conclusion, training your survival instinct is vital to Krav Maga and vital to surviving in a bad situation. Whatever martial art you practice, always cultivate your stubbornness and survival instinct. Train in safe, but stressful situations so you know how your body responds and so that you can teach your body the correct response.

This post has some complicated concepts in it. I hope I managed to convey them properly to you. I will write more on this subject in the future and I will most likely recycle material from this post as well.

If you have anything to add, your own experiences to share, your own stories to tell or questions to ask… well, the comment sections is right down there. I will respond to all questions and queries. (Private comments possible, too).

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Comments
8 Responses to “Krav Maga Battle Mentality: Why Giving Up Means Death”
  1. Red says:

    I really enjoyed this post as it does cover a main issue that a lot of people have with self-defense or fighting in general.

    Yes you can train every day but in the end unless you really get it and can take the mental strains that would come when you’re under attack you’re just going though the motions.

    In the few bits of martial arts I’ve taken you get taught specific forms of how to attack/defend etc but I’ve always thought that it wouldn’t help me a lick in a real situation because it was just motions to me. The Instructors never really got into the mental stress factors and just wanted to make sure that you knew the forms come test-time.

    The more I read about Krav Maga vs what I know of other martial arts and self defense courses the more I want to take it lol.

    (Of course, nothing against other martial arts/self-defense courses, I am very grateful about the things I did learn in those classes haha)

    • kravlady says:

      Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. :)

      I agree with you that martial arts and self-defense courses have their own merits and benefits. It’s just that Krav Maga really stresses the mental preparation and the fight mentality, which makes it really suitable for street fighting and unprepared situations.

      A lot of the martial arts aren’t really geared towards street fighting, I think. They emphasize discipline, tradition and a good condition. Do they actually propagate themselves as self-defense courses / battle-ready systems? I got the impression it isn’t so much about the latter but more about the former.

      I definitely recommend going for Krav Maga! ;D You can always do a try-out for a month. If you don’t like it by then, you won’t like it, probably. I LOVED my first class and I still love going to class.

      Except that I’m sometimes stressed out before training, just because I already anticipate the stressful situations I’m going to be in. (Cue eye roll). I feel like an idiot then, but I guess that knowing I’m going to be in a nasty situation is bound to create some tension. :P

  2. Ben says:

    Hail to the Lady ;) first of all: thank u for your articles and thoughts about Krav Maga! I really enjoy reading them – they are full of energy and enthusiasm – i like that! :) and second i want to mention “urban combatives” and Mr. Urban Combativ: Lee Morrison http://www.urbancombatives.com/ . If u ever have the chance to join one of his seminars all over the world – do it! I did and it was really worth it.
    Quote by Lee: “90% attitude and 10% skill!”

  3. geenexcuses says:

    Lee Morrison is indeed very good.
    Kravlady great article. I agree anything is better than freezing.
    Crappy part is the freeze is a genuine part of the fight. Everybody freezes. The training you do with krab maga will hopefully help you break the freeze in the blink of an eye. Preferably even quicker. Your articles show your quest for knowledge and that you have an excellent teacher. Credits to you both.

    • kravlady says:

      Yeah, he told me that the other day because I was frustrated that I didn’t use certain moves during one of the stress drills. Because apparently you forget loads and loads of stuff when you’re under stress. Sigh. There’s nothing to it but train even harder and even more and hope something sticks, apparently. It’s not a very encouraging thought, but even more motivation to train more. :/

  4. esgees says:

    Hello Kravlady – the choke defense that Amnon Darsa performs in the second picture is (to my knowlege) not a high level technique, but actually a P1 technique. Or am I wrong about that?

    Nice article by the way.

    • kravlady says:

      Hi esgees, it’s very well possible. I’m not entirely sure, though. It’s Amnon Darsa, after well. And these pics were taken at one of the high level camps, so I’d rather be safe than sorry. ;-) Don’t want to make untrue claims… thanks for paying attention and pointing it out to me!! :D

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