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KMI Talks to Amnon Darsa

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Amnon Darsa gives his students the optimal experience.

The beauty of Krav Maga is that it’s the great equalizer — its techniques will even the playing field between the Rock and a Rockette. However, those who want to fully optimize their bodies know that Krav Maga is just one weapon in your arsenal, albeit the most powerful. There are a myriad of exercises you can practice to complement your Krav Maga training, and ultimately help you become a better practitioner. Amnon Darsa understands this, and has created a system accordingly.

Amnon is the co-creator of Krav Maga Core, an organization that focuses on not only teaching the core principles of Krav Maga as established by Imi Lichtenfeld but also augmenting them with full-body strength-building exercises that he says will make you “a better Kraver.” In addition to his mastery of Krav Maga, Amnon is also a senior instructor of RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge), an advanced kettlebell course created by Pavel Tsatsouline.

A longtime proponent of the ancient Russian weight used for strength, cardio, and flexibility, Amnon sees kettlebell training as the perfect accompaniment to Krav Maga. Both share the same principle that your body works as one complete part, and if Krav Maga can be used as a weapon, then kettlebells is what forges it to be as strong as possible.

At the end of the day, however, the focus at Krav Maga Core is still its namesake. Amnon first tried Krav Maga at the age of 13, when a friend told him about a class that lets its students fight without getting in trouble. Intrigued by this sounds-too-good-to-be-true concept, Amnon signed up to try Krav Maga and never stopped.

After finishing his duties in the IDF, Amnon became an instructor at 21 and in 1988 started training under the tutelage of Master Eyal Yanilov, eventually becoming one of his top protégés. Today, Amnon is one of the most well-known and respected Krav Maga instructors in the world, with specialties in military, law enforcement, special weapons training, and VIP protection.

KMI had the opportunity to ask Amnon about his Krav Maga philosophy, life lessons, and why all students should start swinging those handled weights.

What is your personal philosophy for life based on the principles and wisdom you’ve gained through Krav Maga?

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First is live and let other live — meaning that if I want to do my own thing and it’s not hurting you, others, or myself, let me be. Don’t tell me what to do if I didn’t ask for your opinion!

Another philosophy is deal with whatever comes at you as if it were the only thing you have to deal with and do it in the best way possible, as there is always something else waiting around the corner.

The last one, not from Krav Maga, is always be nice and smile as much as possible. Life is nicer like that.

If you could list three of the most crucial Krav Maga principles, what would they be?

  1. Prevention and awareness above all. Be ready and alert in the case you suspect something.
  2.  Don’t get hurt. Do whatever you can to get out of a situation with minimum damage.
  3. If you can help others after you helped yourself, do it.

How does Krav Maga influence your day-to-day mentality?

I try to see what the other side will do, I try to prevent things if it can be done, and raise my alertness when faced with possible problems like driving down the road. In general, I try to be relaxed and deal with everything I face with a calm (as much as as I can) attitude and try to see the big picture in the situation.

What life lessons has Krav Maga taught you? How does it help in other areas of life?

LOL, good one. Krav taught me that the only person you can trust is yourself. Even with all your friends and whoever is around you, in the end it’s you against the “elements” (so to say), so you better be ready to go all the way if needed, and sometimes against what your friends tell you. That said, you can always learn something from someone who has been there before.

And on the practical side, Krav works! It saved my life a few times because I understood what was going to happen before other people did and reacted in time to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening.

What has Imi Lichtenfeld taught you about Krav Maga or beyond?

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A few things that he said on different occasions have stuck with me until today, and I try to go by them when teaching and training. One is learn from anyone who can teach you something. Two, treat people as your equals and with respect no matter who they are or where they come from. Another thing is to be the best instructor to your students as you teach them how to defend themselves; with that comes great responsibility.

You’re a big proponent of kettlebells and you’ve said in the past that they complement Krav Maga perfectly. How exactly? Why do you think many Krav Maga organizations have resisted kettlebells for so long?

For me kettlebells are a tool to make me a better Kraver (Krav maga practitioner). I need to be as strong, smart, intelligent, fast, economical in movement, and efficient as possible, and for me kettlebell training gives me a lot of those things. Kettlebells makes your strength training effective as hell, fun (very important!), and efficient. The thinking behind the RKC system that Pavel Tsatsouline created is simple but smart. He believes that the body is a complex machine and should be trained as one part, with full body movements and efficient in all directions. To me it’s the same in Krav.

I don’t really think other Krav Maga organizations are resisting kettlebells; I think they want to focus more on the clean Krav Maga, the techniques, the fighting, and whatever, but I think we as an organization/instructors should give the student a full package, and strength is an important part of the equation. In Hebrew there is a saying (translated as): “A strong mind in a strong body.” Krav Maga gives you a strong mind to deal with things, kettlebells gives you a strong body.

At the end of the day, it’s also about resources. If you want to teach the instructors kettlebells you need to know it yourself. And a lot of Krav Maga instructors (high-level ones) think they have nothing to learn anymore, or won’t put the efforts in becoming better. Sorry…

How else is your organization, Krav Maga Core, different from other Krav Maga organizations?

Krav Maga Core stands out in many ways. The idea when we created Core was to make an organization that put the instructor first, so on our website you can see instructors from all over the world, not only the country.

Our business plan is geared to give the instructor more benefits and less obligations. We want the instructors to develop their own identity, use their own school logos, and show their talents in the field of Krav Maga. We allow them to — if they want — promote their seminars on our website.

But for me, the most important distinction with our organization is the fact that at the top of Core there are three people (myself, Haim Sasson, and Leann Webb), three professionals who share the same interest and same goal in taking the organization forward. We ask each other all the time what we can do better, and we kick each other’s bums to make things better. We’re constantly asking ourselves if it’s the best we can do.

In most organizations, there is only one guy at the top and whatever he says goes, even if it’s not right, or even very wrong. In self-defense, doing something because someone says so can be very dangerous. (And in business too.) So at Core, we have three people who talk and listen to each other and are always trying to improve.

Why do you think all the Israel-based KM Federations keep splintering?

Ha, that’s a good question! I think it’s not only the Israeli-based KM federations; it’s every Krav Maga federation. More than that, it’s the entire martial arts world. The thing is, we are talking about fighting systems and face-to-face martial arts training that, as you know, involves a lot of aggression, and a lot of controlled aggression in training. At the top levels of every federation and organization are a lot of alpha males. This is a natural recipe for disaster. So there comes a time when the lower guys think that they need to go off on their own into the world.

It’s always a combination of ego, money, and “the way” [the one true tested and trusted method]. Those three things are the key elements that cause separations to happen. The leaders are not smart enough to keep their top people satisfied and happy. So eventually, they will look for their own way.

With a few notable exceptions, why have the Israel-based Krav Maga federations failed to make any impact in the U.S.?

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For me there is a very simple answer: the American market is very “spoiled.”

I am also involved with the Dragon Door RKC organization, and when I see the way they run things, I understand. When a person joins an instructor program in the U.S., he wants to get a full package that encompasses the professional side, the business side, and the support. And all of them at a high level. I think that when it comes to support and business, the Israeli organizations are lacking.

To this day, for over 20 years, Eyal [Yanilov] (of Krav Maga Global) has not had a proper manual to go with the CIC [Civilian Instructor Course] and neither has IKMF, so it’s very hard to get straight-forward answers. Sometimes it takes a good few days before you get answers.

I don’t think this is how it goes in the U.S. Overseas it’s still OK to run things like that because the instructors are doing it as a part-time job and understand that the support they get will not be full support. But this is just my theory — I am not a business expert!

You were widely considered the most respected and best trainer in the IKMF until you left quite suddenly last year. Why did you leave?

The main reason was the loss of “the way.” I was brought up by Eyal, and he always told me, ” If I can’t, as an instructor, convince you that this technique is the best way, you need to keep asking so I can keep explaining it until you’re happy. Then we can continue.” But when I started to get answers from other instructors like “You will teach this technique how I want it because I said so,” I knew that my days there would not last long.

You mentioned in the past that you prefer teaching security companies over teaching kids and everyday civilians. Why is that?

LOL, simple: I don’t have the patience to teach kids! Also, I prefer to teach short, intensive courses where you can see how the person is learning and making progress in a short period of time.

When spreading the word of Krav Maga to the public, how do you make it appealing for people who had never heard of it?

Come have fun training, work on your fitness, and learn some self-defense in the process!

Krav Maga can be “hard to sell,” as it has a reputation for being a very aggressive system, where you learn to gouge people’s eyes and other scary things — which is true, don’t get me wrong — but that’s what you need to do sometimes to survive an attack. However, this makes my work of selling Krav Maga to the regular person very hard. So I need to go around the block…

If you had to choose between being physically small but able to fight well under stress in real-life situations or physically large and strong but only able to fight in the arena, which would you rather be for the sake of self-defense?

I would go with the small guy, because, for me, dealing with stress is more important for the sake of self-defense. I know a number of stories of really well-trained people who, when faced with the reality of a street situation, didn’t do anything … and got hurt.

For me, dealing with stress in training is not the issue; it’s more about learning how to deal with the unknown. The way I see it, we can train in the laboratory (a training studio, a dojo, etc.) all our lives, but if we don’t know how to deal with the unknown, we will fail in the moment of truth. So stress and scenario drills are a very important part of training.

So I’ll go with the small guy who can handle stress!

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