Thinking Outside the Box

by: Craig De Ruisseau

“Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box.” – Deepak Chopra

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things to embrace when learning Krav Maga (krav maga nyc) is how to bring our training to bear on a real-life attack. It’s one thing to repeat a defensive technique over and over again in the safety of a dojo, with a partner you’re comfortable with, against the same exact attack – one that you were, in fact, expecting to come at you. It’s an entirely different thing when you are on a rain-slicked, dirty street at midnight with no street lights, surrounded by two knife wielding thugs with nowhere to run.

Gun for Self defense? Just learn Krav Maga in New YorkCase in point: in a recent class we were reviewing gun to the side (gun in front of the arm). Let’s assume gun to the left side of the body for this. Now, as you might know, the defense is to simultaneously step towards the attacker at an angle while bringing up the left hand to grab the attacker’s wrist, the right hand comes up to secure the gun. The gun is pulled to the body for additional leverage necessary to bend the weapon hand forward forcefully to release it to your control, “punching” the gun through the gap between the attacker’s arm and body. Let’s just pause at the point where the gun is grabbed, twisted, and then punched free. This is the closest I could find online to demonstrate (we punch through all the way but it’s close enough to make my point).

As part of my explanation, let me first tell you that I routinely wear a rash guard shirt underneath a sleeveless shirt (pro tip: this will keep you incredibly cool as your body movement will draw air in across your body, over the rash guard, which is wicking moisture from your body. Natural air conditioning). Anyhow, in one of my earlier attempts, and again it had been a while, the gun got caught up big time in my sleeveless shirt so when I grabbed the gun my shirt was all bunched up around it in the worst way. I panicked and couldn’t figure out the right thing to do. Sure, you could go the crazy route and just punch through the gap mightily over and over again and destroy your shirt. In reality, maybe you even would — maybe it would even work, shirt in tatters, gun in your control, and situation back in your favor. In training, however, with one of my better training shirts on and no replacement with me, I wasn’t really game for this. Not only that but what if that didn’t work or took too long to accomplish. Time is not your friend in a defense. Remember, once you start a gun defense and you’re fighting for control of the gun, there are now two people fighting for their lives – you and your attacker. This stall you introduce by grabbing your shirt along with the attacker’s gun puts you in violent, winner-take-all game of tug of war you cannot lose.

We are in a technique to disarm the attacker and gain control of the gun and of the situation. The technique is interrupted by the harsh reality that stuff doesn’t always go as planned (Murphy’s Law). Do you force the technique through with whatever means necessary or…maybe adapt? In this situation, why not deliver a crushing head butt to the attacker? A groin kick? A knee strike? How about a devastating blow by your left elbow? That’s all within range. In my situation, all of these alternatives – and more – were there for my use and yet – I totally froze thinking about how to force the technique through. Not smart!

This example hopefully illustrates my point. We need to always think outside the box, especially as we’ve been training for a while. When you’re a White Belt, most things are paint-by-number. There really isn’t room for freeform defenses as you are working on the fundamentals and that is the primary focus. As you advance, it isn’t just about technique any more. Now it’s about developing what is referred to a “Fight IQ” at my school. It’s about thinking and applying the best defense and counter-attack to any given situation in less than the blink of an eye. This takes a lot of training, conditioning, practice, and brain power. Faced with an attack in the dojo – and more importantly, on the street – requires a quick response and the defender’s ability to respond with the best defense as quick as possible. This will not be a mental script of, “Okay, get in my fight stance. Next I will throw an elbow, making sure I get good rotation. Then they’ll be knocked back to my kicking range where I will lay into them with a solid roundhouse…” It won’t ever go down like that as the Bad Guys don’t follow scripts and, as I pointed out, nothing ever goes as planned. That set series of actions and reactions won’t play out like that nor will reactions within a given technique be predictable.

I’m finding, more and more, that it pays to keep this mind at all times. We could be working on a bear hug defense or a knife defense where a technique goes from this defense/block to this counterattack, etc. But after you’ve trained for a year or more, you have quite a few tools in your self-defense toolbox! Use them! Don’t get locked into a “classroom mindset” (i.e., “I was told to do this in order and expect exactly the same elements and reactions in my situation”). This is only training part of your brain and won’t ultimately result in effective defenses in the real world. We need to be a thinker, anticipating and reacting – even if it’s not within the boundaries of what we were just instructed in class to perform.

Any Krav Maga NYC instructor worth their salt will recognize students who adapt like this in drills and will no doubt praise them because they will know that developing the Fight IQ, thinking on your feet while under attack, is ultimately the goal of Krav Maga NYC training, not mindless mimicry, imitation, and parroting of technique in the safety of a dojo.


Craig De RuisseauCraig De Ruisseau began training in Krav Maga in 2011. He also trains in kickboxing and Muay Thai. You can find loads more information about Krav Maga on his blog at and in his book “What to Expect When Starting Krav Maga” which is available on

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