Last week I talked about why Krav Maga testing is different than other martial arts and different than what many students are afraid it might be. This week, I’d like to focus on three defining factors of what a good Krav Maga test is:
When I say a good Krav test is stressful, I don’t mean that there should be anxiety about your readiness or performance. I mean that the test itself should be designed to induce physiological, cognitive, and affective stress that replicates what a person will feel in a real life or death situation. Since those are the conditions under which Krav Maga was intended to be utilized, those are the conditions under which a student’s performance should be evaluated.
Early on in my instructional career, I experienced anxiety before a test because I was having an emotional reaction to the unknown parts of the test. As I became informed through my experience, the feelings of anxiety shifted into feelings of dread. I KNEW it was going to be stressful – the uncertainty went away somewhat, and was replaced by a knowledge that, in some ways, the test would truly suck.
But the stress is a requirement of a good test because it would pretty much worthless without it. More on this below, but an evaluation that doesn’t include high-stress training of the techniques and concepts is likely not going to equip the students to function well in real life.
Krav Maga Worldwide Director of Training Kelly Campbell told me a story a few years ago of a student who trained at the West L.A. Headquarters training center. He was a new Level 2 student, just having tested a few weeks prior, when he was attacked outside of a club. I don’t remember the details of the actual confrontation, but this student was outnumbered roughly four to one. Attackers swung and kicked at him, grabbed him, tried to surround him. The student needed to defend bearhugs, headlocks, punches, kicks, and multiple attackers, until he was able to get his hands on an improvised weapon and show the assailants it would go poorly for them if they kept attacking.
But what stuck with me during the story was that afterwards the student said, “It was just like during my test”. The stress, the constant barrage of attacks, the actual possibility of failing and getting injured – it was all real. And the students’ overwhelming reaction was “I’ve been here before, and I succeeded there. I can succeed here.”
And that brings us to our next point. In a real life confrontation, there is such a myriad of possible outcomes that there’s no way any training, technique, or methodology can “guarantee” a positive outcome. In fact, that’s one of the quickest ways to identify a fraud – if an instructor guarantees his/her approach will keep someone safe, “no matter what”, they have no grasp on the reality of violence.
Likewise, in a student or instructor test, the fact that failure is a real, viable option, and that the candidate must do everything they possibly can to push for victory and success, is one of the core values of a test. The reality of failure is necessary to provide credibility to success. Like I said last week, a test where success is a foregone conclusion isn’t really a test – it’s a charade. And it certainly doesn’t set the students up for the third, and most important, characteristic of a true test:
In the story of the Krav Maga student above, he had what it takes to overcome his attackers because he had been given techniques, concepts, drills, and movements that just plain worked under real circumstances. But more than any of that, he was given a mindset – a mindset without which the best training would fail, but a mindset that allows any other technical imperfections to be forgivable. In our training we want our students to feel as though they are capable of defending themselves. But I have seen many self-defense programs that give the same feeling without giving them the actual hard skills + mindset to do so. These other programs give their participants confidence, but the confidence is empty and hollow. It’s not based on any real ability.
Conversely, good Krav Maga training should be physically, mentally, and emotionally hard because real fighting is those things. It should be stressful because real fighting is stressful. It should maximize instinctive reactions and shortened training times because real fighting requires those things. It should test both the techniques and the mindset, because both are needed to persevere in a real assault. In short, the testing process should replicate real life situations because that’s the point of training in the first place. Far from offering a puffed-up, paper-thin feeling, this type of training instills a more permanent, deeper, more settled confidence that, “I have what it takes.”
But what about someone who fails the test? Listen to me on this, brothers and sisters, because this is important:
For a person who is not ready, the most valuable and life-saving knowledge they can have is that they’re not ready.
In our current society of indulgent, placating, institutionally co-dependent, passive-aggressive people pleasers or worse, we need to be reminded that when it’s a matter of life and death, everyone does NOT get a participation trophy. It is possible to be picked last. It is possible to lose your job, your house, your spouse, your health. It is possible to be attacked by a dangerous predator and not survive. And if you don’t have the faculties to endure such a hardship – for whatever reason – the most helpful information you can have is to see clearly your deficiency and start to remedy it.
So while a true, meaningful Krav Maga exam is many things – these three things in my opinion rise to the top of importance. A stressful, difficult, experience wherein the outcome is undecided but that, regardless of the outcome, positions its participants to be stronger, better, and more equipped as a result. If you show me an instructor who is testing his/her students in that manner, and I’ll show you an instructor who is making people safer every day.
Now we’ve addressed what a test is and what it’s not, we’ll shift our focus to how to prepare – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to get the most out of your testing experience regardless of your level.