Today I interview Dan Gador. Dan is a 3rd degree black belt in Krav Maga, and runs a Krav Maga school in Kiryat Gat, Israel. He is also on the Leadership Board of the Global Martial Arts Association. I attempt to decipher the main differences between the style of Krav that you see instructed in its mother country, versus in other parts of the world. And, in doing so, we learn more about how this style developed into what it is today.
Michael: We’ll get started. Dan, can you tell us your name and just a brief background in regards to your martial arts training?
Dan: My name is Dan Gador. I’m 30 years old. I started training when I was 10. I actually started training because a lot of my friends went there, and it was kind of fun. But after a few months of training, I realized that I was actually pretty good at it and after, I think, three years of training, I started helping out as an instructor. That was when I was 13, I started helping with the instructions. And when I was 16, which is the minimum allowed age to do the instructor’s course in Israel, I went and did the instructor’s course.
I instructed a lot and that was my main activity after school. I would instruct sometimes even three days a week. In the army, I didn’t instruct Krav Maga. I kept on learning though, but I didn’t instruct it, and when I got out of the army, I started instructing again. I did my second degree black belt a few years after that.
Then I started studying in a different city. There was a very big problem when I was there, a lot of sexual harassment, so I decided I’d open up groups for women that they could come and learn self-defense in the Krav Maga and everything. And that’s when I decided that I could open up my own dojo, my own school.
Military vs. Civilian Krav Maga
Michael: I wanted to ask you, how different was the Krav Maga you learned from ages 10 to 18 actually, before your black belt, to the Krav Maga that was done in the military?
Dan: Well, the Krav Maga that was done in the military is very simple. It’s a very simplified form. When I was in the military, I wasn’t in the—what do you call it? In a battalion that didn’t have a lot of contact with other people. A lot of the Krav Maga that we did was very basic things to do with the gun and very basic things to defend yourself, but it wasn’t very in-depth. The Krav Maga that I did in the military.
Now, there are other squads in the army where they have very, very high levels of Krav Maga. I’ve seen some of their instructors and some of their instruction is very interesting.
“But the military Krav Maga heavily relies on the fact that you are armed.”
But the military Krav Maga heavily relies on the fact that you are armed. That you have a gun or a pistol with you. So, you disengage as fast as you can doing as much harm as you can while you’re in the conflict and then you move back and draw your weapon and that about ends it.
So, yes, so I think the main difference is that military Krav Maga relies on you having a weapon and civilian Krav Maga relies on—it doesn’t take that into consideration. Anything you need to do, you need to do with your own bare hands and feet.
Israeli Krav vs. Other Countries
Michael: Makes sense. What do you think is the primary difference between Israeli Krav Maga and the Krav you see taught in other countries? And it might vary a lot from the United States to Europe but what are some of the differences that you’ve seen?
Dan: Well, it depends on the gym that you go to, the dojo that you go to. I’ve been to several dojos in the States. Many places have a very big Krav Maga sign on the entrance and then when you walk inside, and you go into a lesson that is called Krav Maga and you learn some sort of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu mixed with some, I don’t know, taekwondo or something, because it varies greatly.
Michael: Do you see that within Israel as well though? If you go to different gyms within Israel, do you see the same thing happening?
Dan: Well, not quite. In Israel, there are different strands or brands or streams. There are different streams of Krav Maga in Israel and you can notice what influences the chief instructor of that same stream had. If there is an instructor that did Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and then he started his own Krav Maga stream, then you would see things that are more similar to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in that Krav Maga, which is fine.
But it would always look like Krav Maga when you walk into a place like that. The basics are always the same. The principles are all the same.
In the States, I have seen a few dojos that teach Krav Maga which is very similar to Krav Maga that I see in Israel, but it’s less strict. I think that Krav Maga, the name, has a certain appeal to it outside of Israel that a lot of instructors use to advertise, in a sense, without actually knowing Krav Maga.
But as I said, there are places that teach good Krav Maga outside of Israel. I’ve seen them, and I’ve seen worse place, it varies.
What Separates Good from Great Instructors?
Michael: What are some of the things that the best Krav Maga instructors do well compared to Krav Maga instructors that are not as well trained, perhaps?
Dan: I think that the better Krav Maga instructors realize that there is a certain—that there’s a book of exercises that you need to perform in order for you to be able to progress in the Krav Maga. There is also the mindset part of Krav Maga. And if all you do in your dojo as an instructor is follow the book and teach those drills and you don’t allow your students to expand their perceptions about self-defense, to expand their abilities, to expand their way of thinking about defending themselves, if all they do is teach them how to move and you don’t teach them how to prepare themselves before they go out to the street, then you’re missing a lot of the Krav Maga and the Krav Maga principles, because there are two different—there are parallel rules in Krav Maga and teaching only one of them is, I think, wrong. It’s not as powerful as it could be. Does that make sense?
Why Do Students Come to You?
Michael: Yeah, that makes sense. I wanted to ask you something a little different now. I was wondering why your students come to train with you? What is the number one benefit they’re usually looking for?
Dan: Well, it depends on the age and the sex of the practitioner. Most of the kids come to practice because their parents want them to be able to stand up against bullies in school. That’s the number one reason that parents bring their kids to me.
Michael: Is bullying a pretty big issue where you live?
Dan: Bullying is not a very big issue where I live, but there is a high level of stress where I live. A lot of parents feel like they need to equip their kids with the ability to defend themselves against bullies and against, I don’t know, just bad people because there’s a heightened sense of alertness here. So, that’s the main drive for parents to send their kids to train in Krav Maga.
The older guys, high schoolers or adults, for them it depends. If they’re male, they primarily come because it’s a very fun way to get in shape and it makes them feel like they have the ability to protect themselves and their surroundings, which is true. But that’s what they are looking for, the heightened feeling of being able to protect themselves and their families.
Women come and train because—mainly because of the fear of being attacked sexually. Not many of them have been attacked sexually, but as I said, there’s a heightened level of stress here in Israel and that comes out in many different ways. One of them is the fear of being attacked, sexually.
Michael: Do you think overall people are starting to feel more comfortable in Israel than they were 5, 10 years ago? Is it going in the right direction or are people starting to have more fear overall?
Dan: Well, that depends. I think that the streets are getting safer in Israel.
Michael: Does it depend on where you live, I guess?
Dan: Well, yeah. The closer you live to like zones where there is fighting and rockets falling all over you. Again, it depends what kind of stress you’re talking about because a lot of people come and learn Krav Maga because they want to feel like they can defend themselves, even against things they can’t really defend themselves. It’s hard to defend yourself against a rocket, you know?
It’s hard to defend yourself against a rocket, you know?
Michael: Yeah. It’s just the mental mindset of not walking around with fear and anything—
Dan: Exactly. Exactly. It’s that mindset that people are looking for.
Michael: Yeah, like they can overcome anything.
Dan: Yeah. I think it happens. I mean, when people have the mindset of Krav Maga, they get caught off guard less often.
If there’s a siren going off or if something bad happens, a car accident happens, it’s more likely that someone who has trained in Krav Maga would be able to react in such a situation than someone who hasn’t because in Krav Maga, we do drills that take that kind of thing into consideration. Now if something happens, now you need to react, how would you react?
In my classes, I encourage people to go into CPR training. What do you call that in English?
Michael: That’s right, yeah, CPR training.
Dan: Yeah, so that kind of stuff. So that people will be aware of the dangers that can happen. Once they’re aware of that, it’s easier to react in a better way.
Michael: That makes sense. I have to ask, what do you think is the main weakness of Krav Maga? Like everything has a strength and a weakness. What do you think is the main weakness of the style?
Dan: Well, as I said, Krav Maga, because it’s a very effective method and because of its effectiveness, it needs to let go of all kinds of mannerisms. Like it’s not pretty. It’s not pretty to watch. It doesn’t give you—you won’t get as flexible in Krav Maga like you would in taekwondo. You won’t get as strong in Krav Maga like you would in karate or as focused like you would in karate. It won’t give you that great overall fitness like you do in Brazilian jujitsu, because it’s very specific. In Krav, it’s a very specific problem and answers that very well. So, all the other things, they get pushed aside.
Why Do Most Students Not Reach Black Belt?
Michael: Yeah, that’s a good answer. That makes sense. Like why do you think most students don’t end up reaching their black belt in Krav Maga? Why did they quit or what really holds them back and challenges them the most, from your perspective?
Dan: I think a lot of people, once they reach like a green or blue belt in Krav Maga, they felt like they’ve touched enough areas of self-defense to be able to react in most of the common attacks.
And in the higher belts, even before black belt, I mean, in blue or brown or black belt, a lot of the training starts to do with the more tactical parts of Krav Maga. How to use a gun, how to defend against a gun, how to use a pistol, how to defend against a pistol, how to react if someone is attacking someone else and you need to come inside or how to react if you’re a security guard and you’re not allowed to punish the other guy because you need to have reasonable force against the person.
So, in the higher belts, you learn things that are more professional and that as a civilian, or as a person who doesn’t deal with that kind of things on a daily basis, you don’t see the benefit in it. Because most of the chokes, you know, how to—you can escape most of the chokes by the green belt. You can escape most of them, you can defend against most of the stabbings by the green belt. So, it just gets much more professional in the higher levels and it’s not something that a lot of people really connect to. I think. That’s what I think.
Can You Learn Krav at Home?
Michael: Do you think students can actually learn Krav Maga at home or if they’re in an online course?
Dan: Yes, I do. I think that they can learn Krav Maga at home doing an online course, but as Michael said there, you need a partner. It’s not something that you can do by yourself. However, most of the techniques in Krav Maga are very, very simple and if you explain them, then people can do them. If they have a high-enough level of feeling themselves. If they know how to move their hand, if they can—anyway, yeah. They can do it. They can do it by themselves. But they do need to get feedback. They do need to be able to send videos of themselves doing things and get feedback on their movements because not everything can be perfect if you don’t have a professional eyes looking at your movement.
Michael: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me this morning, this was very enlightening, I feel like I have a better understanding of what krav is like in Israel.