I’ve been practising Krav Maga since 2015.
That sounds like the setup to a dumb joke but it’s just a statement of fact. I first picked it up through a pistol handling and defence course that I took while I was still in the Army, which was frankly deeply unimpressive and just involved kicking people in the nuts.
Which, contrary to popular opinion, is not all that Krav Maga is about.
Still, that first initial 6-hour workshop sparked off a deeper curiosity. I trained 3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, for months under the instruction of a former commando warrant officer and Ranger School cadre. My assessors included former IDF SF and folks who have been training Krav Maga for decades. They were tough folks who took it very seriously. When I left the Army and went to university, I continued training. I even founded a Krav Maga club because I was too lazy to take the train to the nearest gym in the next town over.
In the thousands of hours I’ve spent getting punched, kicked, stabbed, beaten with sticks, and thrown, I’ve learned a fair few interesting things. One of the lessons I came away with is the difference between fundamental skills and applied knowledge.
Don’t build on sandy beaches
Fundamental skills, the way I see them, are things like how to throw a good punch, whereas applied knowledge is about how to use those skills to maximise success in certain contexts.
Krav Maga is a system of combatives, not a martial art (which is a fact they’re very careful to impress upon you). Among many other things, that means that it’s mainly focused on application. It takes existing skill and amplifies its effectiveness in certain situations - like what do you do if someone tries to stab you on the bus - but if you have no existing skill to begin with, then you’re multiplying by zero.
When I first started sparring outside of Krav Maga, I experienced a rude realisation: my fundamentals weren’t very good. I could throw a punch, sure, but I couldn’t take one very well. My kicks weren’t as snappy as they should be. And don’t even get me started on the throws. When I started training with the Durham boxing team and getting hit in the face by people who meant it, I realised how much more I had to learn before I could box competitively.
So I committed more time to shoring up my fundamentals. I boxed and practised Muay Thai. I expanded my skillset to include Pekiti-Tirsia Kali to shore up my knife fighting and handling skills. I learned Judo for the throws and a little groundwork.
As I learned more about other martial arts, I gained a greater appreciation for the things I learned in Krav. My understanding of how to move, strike, and tolerate pain deepened, and that gave me the ability to get creative.
Here’s a fun little trick. Did you know that all you need to do to completely disrupt someone’s sense of balance is to tilt their head back? Try it. Grab your nearest person, place your hand over the bottom half of their face with the base of your palm under their chin, and just apply pressure until their head is tilted back. Then, just lightly push them back - but be ready to catch them when they stumble.
That was just one of the things I learned outside of Krav that opened up more possibilities within it. Each discipline taught me fundamental skills which in turn unlocked more possibilities.
Boxing taught me head and hip movement, from which I developed better economy of motion. Muay Thai taught me body mechanics and fleetness of foot, which led me to discover smarter ways to engage and disable opponents. Kali taught me coordination, which gave me fluidity when performing complex movements. Judo taught me balance and weight distribution, which was where I gained stability, an understanding for how bodies move, and if we’re being honest, a propensity for takedowns that my old instructor used to chew me out for.
Over time, it dawned on me that Krav works better as a system of applied skills than as a teacher of fundamental ones. It really shouldn’t be that surprising - Krav originated from Jewish athletes using skills they learned in competitive boxing and wrestling to defend their communities from lynch mobs - but developing those fundamental skills isn’t really as emphasised as it should be.
Krav is often sold as an ‘end-all’ fighting solution where you can walk in with zero training, and walk out a killing machine. Which just isn’t true. The folks I enjoyed training with the most were the ones with prior training, or who were actively cultivating their fundamental fighting skills elsewhere, and coming to us to learn how to apply what they already knew. They were great students and teachers in their own right - I learned just as much from them as I had to teach. Our interactions were always richer for their existing knowledge.
The fighter who’s done a year of Muay Thai and a year of Krav will beat the fighter who’s only done two years of Krav. They’ve both spent the same amount of time training, but the mode of learning is different, and the latter is weaker for it. It sounds trite to say it, but applied knowledge built on top of solid fundamentals wins out over pure uninformed application every single time.
Fundamentals vs Application
The point I’m getting at is that sometimes, the best way to develop a solution is often by importing skills acquired outside of the problem space. The corollary lesson therefore is that developing fundamental skills in any discipline is unlikely to be a wasted effort, if you can find an effective point with which to interface in the field of intended application.
I used to be a logistics officer in the Army Engineers, which is a sentence I find myself saying a lot lately as I navigate this pre-seed fundraise for Charter. I learned a lot of things for my job, like how to project requirements, manage many moving parts and groups, and get from A to B to C in a consistent and sustainable manner.
I picked up a suite of fundamental vocational skills that were intended for warfighting, but recently I’ve found them to be incredibly useful in thinking about space operations for Charter.
I’m not going to say it’s because the military is a great clearinghouse for education, because it isn’t. Instead, I think it’s been so useful so far because ‘intended for warfighting’ is another way of saying that they have to work in the worst conditions with people who are exhausted and potentially not very bright. Put another way, these skills have to be idiot-proof, in the sense that they have to be able to produce results even when everything has gone wrong.
One of my old law school lecturers once told us that the point of law school wasn’t to learn the law - we have the internet for that - we were learning a mode of thinking. Techniques with which to view the world, parse information, and make decisions which, by definition, would transcend individual trades and areas of practice. This is not to be confused with generalism, far from it. The fundamental skill there was to think legally, much in the same way that my previous training taught me to think militarily and logistically.
Now, you might say “yeah but boxing and Krav are both about fighting, so it’s basically the same thing anyway”, and you might have a point. But as any martial artist will tell you, each is as distinct from another as they are similar. The trick is identifying those points of similarity, and using them as staging points to bridge your existing skills over.
One way, as I’ve discovered, is to find an issue that annoys everyone in your line of work, but only you are able to identify by virtue of your different background. The conversation will usually go along the lines of:
“It sucks but that’s the way it is.”
“But it doesn’t have to be.”
And from there, you’re off to the races.
Strangers in Strange Lands
I sometimes get asked why no one else has thought about doing what Charter’s doing before. It’s not because they haven’t gotten frustrated by the same problems - they have lived that reality and grappled with its hard edges and sharp corners and out-of-place springs which poke you at inopportune moments when you’re trying to sleep. So it’s not for lack of exposure.
I’d assert that instead, my edge is that I have a different background. I’m not an aerospace engineer, I’m a logistician - I learned to plan at the brigade level involving thousands of troops, aircraft, mechanised vehicles, and all the equipment that goes along with that. That brings with it lessons, principles, and modes of thought that folks in the space industry wouldn’t have had ready opportunities to acquire. I am therefore able to offer ideas that simply don’t occur to ‘purebred’ space folks.
It’s not just about having an ‘external’ perspective as I sometimes see being advocated. An outsider’s view wouldn’t have identified the problems with the mission planning process I did, because it’s an experiential issue - you’re not going to get how much it sucks at an abstract level. Rather, it’s about taking fundamental skills in other areas, and applying them elsewhere.
My point here is that there is value in being ‘the outsider’. As an outsider, I get the privilege to import rare and hard-won wisdom and apply it towards new problems. The benefit is two-fold: I solve problems, and I get a nice little bit of reassurance that what I learned before this holds up well in other contexts too.
So to my fellow outsiders, in whatever fields you are in, I toast your unconventional wisdom. May you use it to solve problems to the amazement and jealousy of your ‘purebred’ peers.