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The Not-So-Obvious Rationale Behind Krav Maga Stress Training


Dig the well before you are thirsty.  –   Chinese Proverb

The stress drills that are utilized at the Krav Maga Institute NYC’s classes are perhaps the most critical and beneficial aspect of the self-defense training, but for a reason which may not seem so obvious at first. For the new and uninitiated (and even many times for the veteran student), Krav Maga NYC stress training such as summary drills, multiple attacker drills, “ring of fire” drills, and others, can all be intimidating and overwhelming experiences. Students may even come to feel insecure about the fear or anxiety they experience during these drills, questioning whether they can ever overcome their flight/fight instincts. The truth is, students tend be overly fixated on their “toughness” (or perceived lack thereof), and are not nearly as aware of their body’s natural and often times uncontrollable response to stress. As much as the stress drills are intended to improve your technique (and yes, make you tougher), they also aim to, in a bizarre way, alter your biological processes over time.

In his book Blink, an exploration of the ability to make snap judgments, Malcolm Gladwell references Dave Grossman, a former army lieutenant colonel, and his research on the relationship between heart rate and brain functioning. As Gladwell notes, at a heart rate of 175.

“Blood is withdrawn from our outer muscle layer and concentrated in core muscle mass. The evolutionary point of that is to make the muscles as hard as possible – to turn them into a kind of armor and limit bleeding in the event of injury. But that leaves us clumsy and helpless. Grossman says that everyone should practice dialing 911 for this very reason, because he has heard of too many situations where, in an emergency, people pick up the phone and cannot perform this most basic of functions. With their heart rate soaring and their motor coordination deteriorating, they dial 411 and not 911 because that’s the only number they remember [. . .] ‘You must rehearse it,’ Grossman says, ‘because only if you have rehearsed it will it be there.”

Dialing 911? What about fighting five attackers at the same time? Any thoughtful and well-informed Krav Maga NYC instructor knows that regardless of how well a student performs a defense during the technique-only portion of class, the student’s cognition and motor skills will naturally break down in a stress drill. However tough or aggressive you think you are, your body’s natural response to stress has the potential to render you powerless. Appropriate drills and repetition will condition you to effectively manage your body’s stress and defend yourself successfully. Gladwell points to the training of protection agents at Gavin De Becker & Associates, particularly how they train for defending against a dog attack, in which they are actually attacked by an aggressive dog (assumingly trained) repeatedly. “In the beginning, their heart rate is 175. They can’t see straight. Then the second or third time, it’s 120, and then it’s 110, and they can function,” says De Becker. It is vital we understand that all of us, despite our experience or rank, share this same vulnerability, as evidence suggests. It is also for this reason that the KMI instructors try to take you out of your respective comfort zones, and rightfully so. They know it is absolutely vital that you both learn to manage stress and figure out how to compensate for your body’s natural reaction to stress, so that you can successfully deal with an attack. Ultimately, it is this “rehearsal,” as Grossman calls it, that truly prepares one for a real life situation.