Bullseye… or Bulldozer?

There are hands on your throat and they are choking the life out of you. You’ve only got seconds to react before everything goes dark. What do you do?


This is one of the scenarios that you learn to defend against in Krav Maga, a form of street-fighting self-defense from the Israeli military. I teach Krav Maga pretty regularly these days and I’ve trained with the Krav Maga Federation in Manhattan for over five years. But now, as a budding physical therapist, I have a different view of what happens on the training mat, and it’s always interesting to learn things in school that I can apply and/or observe with my students.

Let’s go back to that example above. What we teach on the mat is meant to be used in extreme circumstances, in those moments when a swift and precise execution of your defense (and its accompanying offense) become a question of basic survival. You want to do the maximum amount of damage in the least amount of time – and go home alive. But truly mastering these techniques? It just don’t happen that fast, sweetness.

One problem I see with a lot of my new students is that they work way, way, way too fast. Elbows flying, kicks everywhere… it’s a mess. But it’s understandable. They’re excited, they’re nervous – after all, it’s not like you have people attacking you on a regular basis unless, say, you’re a prison guard. Because they’re just learning how to coordinate their body appropriately to execute these moves, it’s natural that they’d be making a lot of mistakes. What I have to tell my students again and again and again, what my instructor told me and what his instructor probably told him is this: a fast mistake is still a mistake And when it comes to self-defense, there just isn’t room for mistakes.

It’s the speed-accuracy trade-off, and it’s explained with Fitts’s Law. Quite simply, the law explains that the time it takes you to move quickly to your target has to do with the distance to your target and the size of the target. The smaller and farther away, the harder the target — think about shooting an arrow at a bulleye. It’s intuitive. The speed-accuracy trade-off part of it means that the faster you try to get to that target area, the less accurate you’re going to be. Remember, a fast mistake is still a mistake. If you want to learn how to do the defense moves properly, you have to SLOW DOWN. You want have the precision needed to get to the bullseye, not to bulldoze your way to the finish line. The former gets you home safe, the latter leaves you broken and bloodied… or worse. Ironically, upping your speed at this early stage of the learning process is just going to slow you down when it comes to learning the moves more quickly. You have to put in the time to train your brain and your muscles to respond the way you want them to, and only then does increasing your speed have less of an impact on your accuracy – but you’ll still see this law in action with MMA guys who train all day long and start working at full speed when they’re fighting.

So when you’re getting frustrated, remember that this isn’t just about learning how to defend against a choke: it’s also about learning control, balance, coordination, focus and patience. It’s about facing both your fears and your limitations. And that’s part of what makes Krav Maga and other martial arts, or yoga, or Tai Chi – heck, any movement practice! – so amazing.

Want to see an old clip of some Krav Maga Federation defenses? Of course you do. Check it out! (I’m the girl in the green belt in the first scene.)


6 thoughts on “Bullseye… or Bulldozer?

  1. Great article, you managed to hit(no pun intended) on one of the fundamental concepts-working at an appropriate speed-that a beginner has to master. Thanks for writing it.

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