American Krav Maga – Gabe Cohen

I do not train because I like to fight. People will ask me, “Did you see the fight last night on TV?” Whatever the latest hype may have been about, whether its UFC or boxing, etc. My answer is always the same, ”No, I did not.” Often they think I am being sarcastic but I am serious. Mainly it’s people who know me from the gym that assume I follow these fights.

“Don’t you teach that hardcore brutal Krav Maga stuff?” I answer them but without the explanation of why I don’t follow or participate in competition sport fighting.

Here is my answer…”Yes I do but we like to call it, brutally effective! But I do not enjoy sport fighting.”

Most people dont care to really listen to why I feel this way or hear about why I am so passionate about what I teach. It is sacred to me and i do not waste my time with in sincere people who just want to make small talk or rub elbows with their local “tough guy” ( at least thats my perception of how people look at me sometimes).

I do teach the mindset of total, all out aggression…if attacked. Krav Maga is a self-defense system and I teach people to walk, run away if they can. To pick up an improvised weapon if they do not possess one but if all you got is you, with no exit possible, then I teach them to do as much damage to their attacker in the least amount of time. I do have tremendous respect for people who train with everything they got in their respective martial art or competition fighting system. I just do not enjoy entertaining people hurting other people for trophy, money, sport or any reason. ( to me self –defense is justified violence and I occasionally like seeing video of a bully getting his ass kicked or victim of a crime kicking the predators ass! Guess I do have exceptions).

I have witnessed enough violence in my life in some very dark places, some in broad daylight and at night in the streets of America. I choose not to spend my free time entertaining more of it. I don’t really like violent action movies anymore (Jason Bourne an exception!). I have been a part of a very violent lifestyle in the past it in different capacities, hospitalized by it and sent a few there myself which I am not proud of but this has been my experience. Today I use my past to help people learn to keep themselves safe. It is very satisfying and therapeutic for me to teach people how to wield violence to those that wish to “ walk in peace.” Taking the things I have learned through my experience, many of them from the school of hardknocks, and not just from traditional training in a gym/dojo.

Years of being a bouncer taught me to use my “verbal Krav Maga” skills as much as possible while weathering a storm of verbal abuse and provocation. Sometimes hitting first was the best way to keep myself and others safe, I teach this too but I do not go around looking for the opportunity to use my skills. In fact I will do everything within reason to avoid a physical confrontation.

I have two sons in their early 20’s that love to box and train several times a week in it. They enjoy watching the next bout between champions. I lose potential clients that want to learn mixed martial arts “like the stuff they see in UFC” when I tell them that I incorporate many of those types of techniques, especially striking but that I teach a self -defense system. “Basically,” I say “ I teach all the stuff your not allowed to do inside the ring.”

We all have the right to defend and protect ourselves and our families. I tell people up front that they have to have the mindset that there life is at stake when they train with me. That techniques by themselves aren’t worth much for real world violence unless you’ve trained them under stress and exhaustion. Yes there are many benefits to training in any martial arts or sport fighting system, mentally, physically, and spiritually but my reason for training is for survival. Having the mental, physical and spiritual aspects in your life will only enhance our training but that is not the scope of my focus. I do not teach morals or ethics, I do not teach an art.

So if I don’t like violence and state that I don’t like spending my free time entertaining it then I can understand how this may baffle some when they see me training 3-4 hours a day in a for violence. Some people want to train with me “to learn how to kick ass” if they ever need to bugt there not really willing to put the work in. They want me to show them “magic” things that will keep them safe. Mark Slane, my instructor and founder of The United States Krav Maga Association says it well in his book, American Krav Maga:

“We get people in our gym who want to take one on one lessons from us. They want to learn the techniques…not do drills or be ran into the ground. I turn them down flat. Krav Maga isn’t just techniques. The whole mindset and philosophy that we teach make it a complete system. The philosophy of go forward, go off, go hard and destroy is what will save us in the real world.

Violence of motion trumps technique. Aggression, attitude, meanness, and looking to do major damage is what keeps us safe.”

I have had clients ask me how they can find that place in themselves. They are not used to thinking in such an aggressive manner maybe never having had to muster up such hatred and rage within them.

This was one of my biggest challenges as a new instructor because for me it’s easy to teach people how to physically perform a technique but the ability to help someone come to the understanding that they have and can tap into this aggressive mindset is a different story. Not something that was easy for me to articulate in the beginning of my American Krav Maga instructor journey.
I had a friend that was familiar with some of the “war stories” from my past and some of the more recent bouncing experiences. He asked me how I overcame that fear when I am in a fight or about to engage in a violent confrontation. He had been jumped by several guys, beat up pretty bad and had begun training with me. He said, “ How come you don’t get scared?”

After thinking about it for a moment this question led me to the answer I had been looking for to convey to others how to attain the mindset of all out aggression. To do whatever it takes to survive a violent attack. Conveying this attitude to others came to me in this round about way.

Something I had remembered reading about the psychological screening used for new volunteers applying to train for a special elite military fighting unit was that they would ask these guys what their biggest fear was. Many of these guys had that very macho attitude and would blurt out, ‘I’m not scared of anything,’ and quickly be disqualified. The reasoning was that they needed mature soldiers, men that were self aware and humble enough to recognize and acknowledge their greatest fear. If they weren’t able to do this they could jeopardize the whole team on a mission, putting everybody at risk. If your scared of heights and the whole team is waiting for you to rappel down the side of a building, you never admitted your fear, never focused on facing it, working through it then when the time comes when its life or death you freeze up. Foolish pride gets alot of people hurt and killed.

I train and diligently work hard to be as proficient as possible in my style of self defense. Criminals and predators live there lives lurking in a very dangerous destructive violent mindset. I need to go to any length to meet the challenge of having to defend myself against one of these very sick people because I have identified what one of my biggest fears. I do not want to jeopardize my team. I am responsible to protect and provide for my family. I am not a soldier but I am a father and a husband, a brother and a son I have a family that depends on me for many different things. One of the ways I can take care of them is by taking care of myself.

God forbid we are ever confronted with a horrible violent situation and put in harms way. This is what I think about when I’m training. I see my sons, my wife, my sisters and brothers, my father. I would mind set on the way down to work at the nightclubs where we had 5 of them on one block at 2,000 people in the street after last call. The mindset is, “ I’m going home tonight, safe. We don’t lose.” My family and my responsibility to them comes before anything.

“How come I don’t get scared?”
Quite the contrary. One of my biggest fears is not being able to be there for my family, to make sure their safe and secure. Especially having worked in an arena where I was putting myself and safety at extreme risk, I had better damn well know what this is all about for me. Why am doing it and who I’m doing it for. I’ve learned to identify this fear and harness it. Recognize the initial adrenaline dump and the “freeze” that’s coming in an assault or that is coming as a confrontation escalates. Being aware and knowing what to expect and how to react to this fear is key. It’s going to happen and I’m going to experience but I have a choice on how to train to condition myself on how to respond to the inevitable.

You dont have a family? think of the worst thing that can possibly happen to you, that you don’t want to happen. This is where you start, this thinking is what motivates you to go that extra mile in training and in reality. That’s how I do it.
When I’m dragging my ass in the gym or don’t feel like training or push myself to do that extra rep or sprint, I think about that if I give up in the gym then I’m giving up on my family. My motivation in training isn’t to try to be super badass and look cool in front of the mirror, have great abs and burn 800 calories or compensate for psychological hang ups like insecurity, ego or pride. No. I train and will fight for the people I love and to protect myself if need be. I do train to hurt people and teach people how to cause as much damage in the least amount of time but I pray that we will never have to use it.

Spending quality time with my family is an essential part of my training. This is where the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects come in. Of course we spend time together because we love each other and it’s conducive to a happy, healthy, functional family life but I as I savor the moments we share together it will also be a tool that I’ll reflect on when I’m working out. They are the spark that’s behind the fire in the gym or if necessary, in the street. I do not entertain violence for a pass time or for entertainment value. I do not like watching people get hurt. I am sensitive to other people’s pain…would I, could I unleash the beast I’ve been feeding within me? Absolutely. I would not hesitate, not for a second if it was necessary.

So yeah, I do teach that brutal stuff… brutally effective!