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Asking the Wrong Person to be a Demonstration Partner in Self Defense

Raz Chen

Though people may associate Krav Maga in the Israel Defense Forces with men, many of our top combat instructors are women.

Seeing women perform the techniques showed me how effective Krav Maga was. It was hard for me to imagine my larger instructors ever realistically being bear-hugged or choked. Seeing the techniques done with men made it harder to judge whether the techniques were effective.

Therefore, it gave me a lot of confidence to work with instructors whose “attackers” were stronger than them and see they were able to hold their own.

It taught me an important lesson. When doing self-defense demonstrations and videos, many instructors miss a key point and ask the wrong person to be their demonstration partner. They will pick someone they know very well, without considering their body type and the type of attack it would. It’s very important for the attacker role to be played by someone who could actually pose a threat physically to the defender, and be the kind of attack that realistically would happen. Otherwise, it looks very fake. The attacker doesn’t necessarily have to be taller than the defender, but they do need to look like a real and realistic threat. In a competition martial art, it’s fine to work with someone of a smaller size, because most competitions are by weight class and therefore, you’re very likely to be paired with someone your size. In self-defense, the defender is always the underdog.

I have made this mistake a lot. During Covid, I got comfortable working with the same few people and it took me time to realize that working with someone I’m comfortable with is great for technical demonstrations, demonstrating defenses for attacks means making the attack look as realistic as possible.

I remember watching a video in a different martial art discipline, where one teacher demonstrated with a fellow instructor who was far less physically imposing than her. The smaller instructor was acting as the attacker and it looked comical. In reality, no smaller person would go for an attack like that, and if they did, it would be easily defensible. In fact, it looked more like a friend sneaking up behind the other to surprise them with a hug. This concept is really important for videos. I’ve seen a lot of videos where the attacker looks incapable of being a threat. I don’t want to call out institutions that are doing great work that are making this mistake. I’ll reach out to them privately with a more detailed critique. However, I will identify two videos that not only get it right but highlight two incredible former Krav Maga instructors. I’ll be interviewing both women in the next few days, and I thought this would make an ideal introduction.

I know Rachel is a trained combatant who can hold her own and I still felt scared for her when the “attackers” whistled menacingly. It’s a very visceral feeling of danger, highlighted by it being at night. I actually know the “attackers” very well. One was the commander of the instructor course, a highly skilled fighter who was tall and strong and very trained. The other did the advanced instructor course with me, who I remember as being a tough and professional fighter, with an appropriately aggressive fighting style. Both are wonderful guys but are most definitely capable of inflicting a lot of damage individually. Working as a team would make them very dangerous to even a trained fighter. You don’t even need to know their background to see how formidable they are. Showing them jump the fence was a nice touch, it demonstrates they are quite capable of inflicting violence. I have no doubt that Rachel would be fighting for her life. This scenario is sadly one very common to women. A study by women’s rights NGO showed 65% of women reported being subjected to street harassment, which can quickly escalate to physical attack. Therefore, it’s a powerful video that should be used in self-defense classes.

Here’s another excellent video by Lior Bitran. The person playing the attacker (who happens to be her brother, Hagai) is a trained instructor of Seido Karate, Krav Maga, and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and there’s no doubt that he is capable of inflicting damage. Her video highlights a scenario that needs to be discussed more, being attacked by someone you know. Although people usually think of attackers as being strangers in a dark alley, statistics show that it’s more common to know your attacker.

According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, four out of five victims of sexual assaults knew their attackers. I actually know people that this happened to, and watching the video highlights why they still find it so traumatic. In this scenario, the danger comes very quickly. The attacker is not only powerful and capable, but they are someone who was allowed into Lior’s personal space. Therefore, there’s very little warning to prepare for the attack. Having to create the distance and escape lends extra urgency. Therefore, it also fits the criteria for being a great tool for realistic self-defense. Let’s be honest, perception is reality.

One of the most valuable lessons I ever taught was when I selected the largest student in class, a student who towered over me and outweighed me by quite a few kilos. I told them to take me to the ground and put me in full mount. In that position, I looked quite helpless. “He won, right?” I asked. Everyone nodded. I smiled and removed the fake knife I had hidden in my pocket. I mimicked stabbing the student in the kidneys. Everyone’s eyes were wide. “No, he didn’t.”

Had I used a smaller student, the lesson wouldn’t have been so sharp. They needed to understand the dynamics of the situation. Once they did, they were able to truly learn to the most realistic standard.

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