Krav Maga: Safety in Training
A common problem I see in Krav Maga training in gyms around the world is a high rate of injury in students. This a SERIOUS failure of instructors and in my experience, there are a few causes.
- Emphasis on going full power/speed: Many instructors believe that Krav Maga should rely exclusively on overwhelming aggression and speed. This may be true for some situations in actual application, however in training and sparring students should focus on a slow and smooth drilling methodology with an emphasis on technical performance NOT overwhelming force. If you just learned a technique or movement the LAST thing you want to do is attempt to apply it full force or full speed immediately.
- Poor sparring discipline: When we spar the idea is to mutually work on both offensive and defense in a way where both partners learn. Sparring is not an opportunity to deliver a beating or overwhelm our opponent. Typically, this problem stems from instructors not having enough personal sparring or fighting experience.
- Students sparring or going full speed too soon: Sparring is not an immediate necessity for students. Priority should be given to developing technical skills and physical fitness first! Sparring should only be allowed when the individual student is ready. If the class includes a sparring element and a student is not ready he or she should be allowed to work to the side and drill with a more experienced student or assisting instructor who can help him or her develop the necessary skills for sparring application.
- Poor instructor supervision: I have seen time and again an instructor send the class to spar then pay next to no attention to what is going on. This happens in Krav Maga as well as other combat sports. The instructor should be devoting 100% of his or her attention to the sparring group and giving feedback as well as monitoring power and speed to make sure students work on technique and do no injure themselves or others. If you are sparring and your instructor is looking at his or her phone, there is a BIG problem.
- Poor technical instruction: When technical instruction is given it is important that the instructor makes sure the technical level is sufficient enough for it to be used in sparring. Those proficient can begin sparring while those who are not should be held aside to drill or do scripted sparring drills to bring their level up. Again, individual attention is a must!
- Bullying or poorly disciplined students: Gyms where student temperament is not closely monitored often have one or several students who use sparring as an attempt to bully or assert their ego. Students who cannot properly control themselves or spar safely must not be allowed to spar until they demonstrate the maturity to do so.
Sparring is not a free for all slug fest. If it is, there is a large systemic problem in the gym. These issues ALL come down to the instructor. If the instructor is putting the student needs first, they will be giving students the individual attention necessary to either hold them back from sparring or advance in their sparring safely. Hard sparring has little place in a gym, today even high level competitive fighters are avoiding hard striking sparring due to the toll it takes on the body. Hard force-on-force training in fight camps is usually done in disciplines where there is no hard contact, meaning in grappling and clinching. Hard striking sparring is NOT a priority when weighed against the risks to student health and safety. The instructor MUST be attentive to this and develop a sparring program that is both safe and help students of all levels benefit and develop their fighting skills.
The founder of Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld (Sde Or) told his students one of the most important principles of Krav Maga is to avoid injuries, as an injured student will be unable to protect themselves when they need it. It has become an irony that many Krav Maga gyms have such a high rate of injury. This comes down to instructor competency, we owe it to our students to protect them from needless injuries.