Krav Maga (pronounced KRAHV muh-GAH) dates back to 1910 when Imrich “Imi” Lichtenfeld devised a method of self-defense to help Jews protect themselves, first against bullies and later against the Nazis. The program was readily adopted by Israeli troops, and by 1972, Imi had modified his program for civilians. Today, the fitness and self-defense aspects of Krav Maga are its primary attractions, but you can also find organizations, belt levels and competitions similar to martial arts disciplines.

Although some Krav Maga moves are actually based on the martial arts, it’s more about street fighting and self-defense than artistry. Most of the time, you don’t wear uniforms and there aren’t any rituals. Instead, you’ll learn how to protect yourself from attackers armed with the types of weapons bad guys use in real life, be it sticks, knives or guns. This is where the street-fighting component comes in, as you learn to use “combatives,” techniques like punches, kicks, elbow strikes, biting and scratching.

Krav Maga uses the Four Pillars to train you to rapidly process a series of steps in dangerous situations and instinctively choose the best response. The first step is to sum up the level of the danger you’re in; the second is to take stock of your opponent, surroundings and position; the third is to decide whether it’s better to act or not take any action; and finally, if you do decide to act, to be able to quickly form an effective plan.

There isn’t a master organization overseeing all Krav Maga training, and in fact, you’ll find that various federations and clubs have different training procedures. Krav Maga Worldwide is the largest such organization in the world, with over 240 licensed schools. Typically, Krav Maga is divided into different trainee levels such as Practitioner, Graduate, Expert and Master. If you decide you’d like to progress through belts—yellow to black—as in traditional martial arts, some organizations offer these, with each level requiring you train six months to a year before you can test.

The fact that Krav Maga instructors train more than 300 law enforcement departments including the military, police and FBI employees is a testament to its effectiveness. However, Krav Maga doesn’t only teach you how to defend yourself using weapons on hand such as your body or a purse or cellphone. Krav Maga can help boost your endurance, strength and flexibility and even help you lose weight. Plus, learning how to deal with extreme stress and maintain situational awareness is a tremendous confidence builder for life in general.

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