Krav Maga: modern combat techniques in the land of traditional styles

Cultural Keys Chinese Culture Centre is 100% focused on the promotion of traditional Chinese culture, with emphasis on the essential aspects, such as traditional kungfu training. But in the tradition of important schools of thought such as Chan (Zen) Buddhism and the Shaolin Temple itself, we know that we can learn a lot from other ways of thinking and training which can help us understand and improve our own styles even more.

Today, we talk to Von Ng, China director of Krav Maga Global (KMG), one of the major Krav Maga organizations in the world today, about teaching Krav Maga in China and how it compares to traditional martial arts!

Born in Manila, Philippines, then migrating to Vancouver before spending his younger years there and in L.A., Von Ng,  China director of Krav Maga Global (KMG), went back to Manila as an adult and lived there for 15 years. He has now  been living in Beijing for 10 years. 

“Our main goal has always been to bring professional Krav Maga training to the Chinese market, by training top caliber Chinese instructors and also tailoring Krav Maga training to the specific needs of the local market.” Von told Cultural Keys. “I work closely with the head of our organization, Master Eyal Yanilov, who was the right-hand man and successor of Grandmaster Imi Lichtenfeld, the creator of Krav Maga.”

Von trains several styles, including the Filipino martial art Kali

How did your gym begin? What need did you see in the market that encouraged you to start up?

KMG first started in China back in 2010, when almost no one had heard of Krav Maga. We opened our first school in Beijing, then under an American Instructor, Steven White. For the first year, most of our market were expats, because the local market either didn’t understand what Krav Maga was about, or didn’t see understand the need to learn self-defense. It was clear to us that there was some interest in training, but it did take some time before the local market started to understand how practical self-defense training was an important and useful life skill.

Who is Krav Maga good for? What kind of people are your students? 

In our Beijing school, our students come from all walks of life. We have a mix of office workers, university students, stay-at-home moms, company managers, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, international school teachers, and more. The one thing they have in common is that they’re looking to learn a practical life skill and enjoy the challenge and community training environment that we have.

The KMG brand exclusively teaches Krav Maga based on the curriculum and methodology developed by Eyal Yanilov. Here in KMG Beijing’s HQ school, located at the Warrior One studio (the local Beijing combat training studio that we also run), we run civilian Krav Maga classes for adults and kids. We also have a professional division that works with law enforcement and security professionals, but we operate that separately from our civilian training base.

The goal of civilian training is to teach people not just the technical skills and tactical thinking, but more importantly, to develop the self-defense mindset that goes with it. This includes things like situational awareness, the ability to function under stress, good decision-making skills, determination (never giving up), etc.

It may be just as important to also explain who Krav Maga is not for: it’s not for competition or combat sports. Krav Maga trainees will likely not win in a squared-off boxing match or an MMA fight, because they are not learning to stay 12 rounds in a ring, fight for points, or work within the rules of competition. But Krav Maga trainees will certainly have a better chance of preventing, avoiding, defend or escaping a danger situation in real life, because that’s what they’re training for.

For people who might not know, what are some of the biggest differences between Krav Maga, one of the main focuses at your gym, and traditional Chinese martial arts?

Krav Maga is really quite different from most traditional martials and combat sports. It’s a much more modern system because it was born in relatively modern-day streets and battlefields. Imi Lichtenfeld first developed it in the 1940s, on the streets of Bratislava, as a way for Jewish communities to defend themselves against attacks from fascists gangs in Europe. 

Because Krav Maga was made primarily for modern self-defense and street combat, everything about it is very direct and designed to end a conflict situation as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unlike traditional martial arts, Krav Maga has no rituals, forms, or katas associated with it. And unlike combat sports, there are no competition rules, no weight classes, no ring and no referees.

Krav Maga was designed to work for anyone, regardless of size, strength or gender, and it has to be applicable even from positions of disadvantage (i.e. if you’re dealing with multiple attackers, if you’re in a closed space, if you’ve fallen to the ground, if your attacker has a weapon, if you have a child to protect, etc.). And the goal for civilians is always to prevent, avoid, or escape a danger situation. You won’t necessarily “win” against an attacker in the traditional sense of knocking them out or submitting them as you would in sports, but rather to “win” is to escape with the least amount of harm to yourself.

Warrior One offers a variety of classes outside of Krav Maga

As traditional Chinese martial arts, kung fu, is very much part of the ‘Chinese brand’ and easily identifiable, have you ever met challenges or obstacles in convincing people of the practicality, usefulness or strengths of Krav Maga?

In China, there seems to be a general impression that Israeli Combat is tough and battle-tested in modern day. So surprisingly, we find that a lot of average people come in with the opinion that Krav Maga is indeed practical and street-applicable.

Where we find occasional misunderstanding is typically from people who come from other martial arts or combat sports. Because Krav Maga’s training and approach is very different from what you see in boxing, muay thai, jiu jitsu, karate, taekwondo, etc., many people who try to compare it side-by-side can sometimes misunderstand what Krav Maga is all about and how training is approached and progressed.

Obviously, you’ve dedicated your life to the study and promotion of Krav Maga. But at the same time, do you have any personal experience with traditional Chinese martial arts?

I unfortunately never got to train Chinese martial arts, but I did train many other martial arts before Krav Maga. I was fortunate enough to start martial arts training from an early age. Like most people in my generation, I did taekwondo, shotokan karate, judo and aikido when I was younger. I eventually landed in Kyokushin Karate and spent 15 years there. While I was living in the Philippines, I also trained sikaran, arnis and mano-mano, and I got to learn under several Filipino masters over the years, like Ernesto Presas, Bambit Dulay, Frank Olea, and Gerald Pilapil, to name a few.

I still personally train other styles even as I train and teach Krav Maga, because I find it important for my personal growth. It makes me a more open-minded martial artist, and it helps with mobility and athleticism. Although Krav Maga is my main focus, training other things enriches my knowledge in martial arts, and gives me a more grounded perspective. It makes me appreciate Krav Maga even more, while also making me appreciate and respect the different martial arts and combat sports out there.

What do you think people who dedicate themselves to traditional Chinese martial arts can gain from taking time to learn more about Krav Maga and even train it? Do you think there is any way practitioners of modern combat styles could benefit from practicing traditional Chinese styles?

Definitely there is benefit to cross training. For people who learn modern combat styles, you can pick up things like improving balance in stance and weight, controlling your energy and breathing, being more fluid in your movement, using tension and relaxation together, and other things like this from traditional martial arts. There is also a certain discipline to traditional martial arts training that may not be for everyone, but I particularly like and sometimes try to still include in our Krav Maga classes.

For the reverse, I can share my own experience. As someone who came from a traditional martial arts background, some of the key things that Krav Maga immediately taught me were the difference in mindset between sport or rules/points-based fighting and survival/self-defense fighting; the importance of simplifying the approach to self-defense; the need for progressive (but still safe) stress inoculation; and the benefits of immediate, hands-on training for dealing with modern, real-world attacks.

Thank you for talking with us today Von! Any parting thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

In the end, it’s not about one martial art being better than the other. It’s all about personally knowing what you want in a martial art – do you want to learn practical self-defense, do you need it for a professional job, do you want to compete, do you want to do katas, do you want to do tricking and stunts, do you want to regulate your energy, etc. – and choosing the style or system that leads you towards your goal. It’s great to also cross train, to keep yourself open-minded, humble, and more educated, but in the end we have limited time in this world, it is important to keep your focus and find your martial path.

Many thanks to Von for taking the time to talk with us. For more information about the fantastic fitness, combat and self-defence classes offered at Warrior One, follow their Official WeChat Account by scanning the QR code below, or call 15010514712. They are waiting to train with you and help unleash your fire!

Cultural Keys is extremely proud to be able to offer traditional Chinese martial arts at Warrior One, Krav Maga Global’s Beijing gym at Shang, near Liangmaqiao. For more information about the kung fu training Cultural Keys offers, please fill out the contact form below, or email us directly at [email protected] We’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credits
– Von Ng, Cultural Keys

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