Punched in the Mouth, the Krav Maga way

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”

The following is a correspondence between Lina Gonzalez and myself. Lina has been a member of the Krav Maga Institute NYC for almost two years and will soon be testing for her P3. The situation referenced is what had transpired recently from Lina’s friend Monica Lo. The incident was between a husband and wife during a train ride. During which an argument occurred and became a volatile situation. Verbal threats were exchanged between the husband and wife. Alcohol was present in the situation. The biggest question about the situation, from an outside perspective is, ‘When do you step in for a stranger?’

Lina Gonzalez: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the morality/ethics of Krav Maga NYC (which to me is a tool of self-defense) as it relates to everyday life. I figured I’d approach you with this question since you have been doing this for a long time and probably have arrived to certain sage conclusions about these things.

I guess my first question is – I’ve heard the instructors say many times that Krav Maga NYC is a tool. What makes it more of a tool than a weapon? Or are they the same? If they are different, how so?

Jobe O’Leary: I’ll start by saying my answers tend to be more of an ethical debate driven to understand than simple yes/no. I like to try to see the situation from more than one angle. I hope this helps

I love this question! Let’s expand this question by putting two items, a pistol and a screwdriver, side by side. First though, the definitions of Weapon and Tool from Merriam-Webster:

  • Something (as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy.
  • A means of contending against another tool.
  • A handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task.
  • Something (as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession (a scholar’s books are his tools).

What are the functions of a pistol versus the functions of a screwdriver? A pistol is designed to fire bullets into a target. The target can be comprised of anything: wood, paper, dirt, sand, hay, flesh, and bone. By itself the pistol doesn’t do anything; it just sits there (like a rock). Add the bullet, and it still won’t do anything, just lie there and take up space. Now put the pistol into a person’s hands. Is this now a weapon or a tool? One might say putting a loaded pistol into someone’s hands makes it a weapon (you can deduce why). I on the other hand say no. It is not a weapon, it is a tool. Its purpose for use is based on the situation. Are you hunting for food? Are you using it to protect something/someone dangerous? Does it sit in a drawer for the potential to protect your loved ones? Are you training for marksmanship proficiency, because your job requires it? What end purpose does the pistol serve?

A screwdriver by itself does nothing. It’s designed to tighten and loosen fasteners. Put the screw driver into someone’s hands and it can accomplish this task. The screw driver however can be used for more than just tightening and loosening of fasteners. Chisel, hammer, pry bar, scraper, and punch are all other items that a screw driver has replaced at one point or another. One action it has also been used for is stabbing and slashing.
The item in the hands of the individual used for the end purpose of physical harm makes it a weapon.

Now let’s filter (another tool) this question using the progression of attack/timeline. What is the end purpose of Krav Maga? The motto of So one may walk in peace, is what we strive for. Filtering our day-to-day activities, analyzing threats as we recognize them (P1 prevention), and making a choice. We cannot prevent the altercation or attack, so we choose an action based on what we know and how we have trained (P1-P5 counter to threats and attacks from untrained attackers).

With this lets ask the question through the definitions.
Can Krav Maga be used to injure, defeat, and destroy? Yes it can.
Is Krav Maga a means to contend against another? I am biased in my answer because contend can be further interpreted into contender and contest. Remember this is not a sport. We can contend against a bigger, stronger faster opponent/adversary/enemy, but let’s not forget attacker.
What makes Krav Maga more of a tool than a weapon? In my opinion it is a merging of the two in the favor tool (remove books-scholar and insert techniques/tactics and to protect oneself.)
The last questions are further explained by the examples above.

LG: My second question is related to Monica’s question about a stranger being threatened or harassed. In our third party protection seminar, I remember Tamir’s training was from the approach of protecting our friends and family – but when would it ever extend to becoming involved with a stranger? Should one be involved? If so, how to handle this difficult situation?

JO: This is a difficult one. There are more factors in this situation that we can’t account for. Before I delve into it, I’ll repeat something that was said to me during my Kids Instructor Course. This is from a teacher in a school who got involved with an altercation between students: “If it were my child, I would want someone to step in.”

The factors of this situation that we do know: Guy was drinking, being aggressive and abusive, girl was dealing with it, we’re on a train and there are security type personnel able to deal with the situation. This is New York.

The factors we don’t know: How the guy would react, how the GIRL would react, possible concealed weapons, what happens when the two of them get home.

From studying these type of situations, it’s easy to defeat a drunk (see weapon above:). But the reaction of the girl is an unknown. We may begin to intervene with good intentions, and end up dealing with two attackers. Not that we can’t handle it, but prevention first. Next we have to worry about the girl whenever they get home. A inebriated individual who is being aggressive and abusive, after being emasculated in public tends to get home and exact the retribution upon the other person… and they accept it. Next we have to worry about the environment. We involve ourselves in the situation, a physical altercation takes place, someone is physically injured. What are the repercussions? Legal/Medical bills? Is it worth getting involved? The sheepdog answer would be: Always and without a doubt. My actions would have been verbal contact. Tact is important, begin swearing and you’ve lost control of the situation. Ask the girl if she is OK. Make eye contact with both individuals to evaluate the seriousness. Get security and/or a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) involved. Past experience with LEO’s has taught me that they love ‘handling’ guys who beat on women.

LG: I suppose my concern is that many beginners are still learning and may not be able to identify different levels of conflict (that’s what I’m going to call it for now) and more importantly – the response that is proportional to each of those levels.

JO: With beginners, we treat the situation in the same manner as an oxygen mask situation on an airplane – take care of yourself first, then help others. When someone starts feeling cocky (not confident) about their abilities, that’s when mistakes happen. A parallel would be the situation is similar to a technique. When is the technique over? When there isn’t a threat. If you decide to intervene in the situation, then the situation is over when there isn’t a threat to anyone involved. We react to protect ourselves and sometimes others. Just be as prepared as possible for a reaction from others as well.

LG: I think there’s a difference between a verbal threat (no actual danger but the potential is there), a physical threat (ie; someone holding a knife), and an attack (someone has engaged with you).

JO: While I don’t live in the city, I figured everyone would be used to verbal threats by now. This is the stereo type from an outsider. With a verbal threat, anyone can just respond with a nice “Go pound sand” or other colorful phrase and keep walking. If the situation escalates from there, choose an action that gets you home safely. Physical threat, P1 and P2 tactics and techniques will solve the majority of the conflicts.

LG: What do you think? Haha, sorry for all the sudden heavy questions!

JO: I think too much!! I’m always eager for questions. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll find out for you. In the words of Doc Brown from Back to the Future: “Heavy? There’s that word again. Is there a problem in the future with the Earths gravitational pull?”

Ask questions! Thanks to Lina for asking about a situation I’m sure has played out more than once in all of our minds. Until we are put in the situation, we don’t know how we’ll react or what our choices will be. Mike Tyson said it best, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. If you find yourself in a difficult situation where you are not in immediate danger, take a second and evaluate what you know about the situation. Don’t be nervous about getting the attention of security or Law Enforcement personnel to get involved. They can potentially address the situation in a way that you cannot.

Stay safe,

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