By: Natalia Sobrino-Saeb, Aileen Pohl, and Constance Northomb
The following information is based on an interview with Bart van de Wiel (Trainer at Krav Maga den Haag) on May 5, 2021.
What is the mission of Krav Maga den Haag?
The trainers at Krav Maga want to “teach self-defence, empower people, and make people aware of the risks when it comes to physical danger”. They focus on “preventing physical harm by de-escalation or by avoidance” in order to help manage existing threats that people may face. Through their activities, confidence becomes a side-effect of people’s training. Bart van de Wiel, a civil and children instructor at Krav Maga den Haag, says that “You need to train the mindsets first – the will to fight, it doesn’t really matter how you fight” but how you approach it. Therefore, they aim to prepare children and adults to be first willing and then able to defend themselves.
What is Krav Maga den Haag?
Krav Maga is a Hebrew term for ‘hand contact fight’. In the school in The Hague, they follow the self-defence system created by Imi Lichtenfeld. In the “mid-1930s, as fascist and anti-Semitic groups started roaming the streets. In order to stop these gangs from entering the Jewish quarter, Imi led a group of young Jewish men, most of whom had a background in boxing, wrestling and weightlifting. In the many street fights they fought Imi soon discovered that sports had not much in common with real combat situations” (Krav Maga Den Haag 2021a).
The International Krav Maga Federation
Krav Maga den Haag is part of the International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF), a large federation that oversees the training of instructors and students in the different Krav Maga schools over the world, around 50 countries are part of the federation (Krav Maga Den Haag 2021b). These schools need to keep up to date with the IKMF trainings through trainer exams and train their students to perform well in the IKMF exams.
How do you work?
How Krav Maga is different from other approaches to self-defence
It is a simple system that is easy to learn as it harnesses people’s existing instincts and reflexes into self-defence tactics, rather than learning complicated movies and techniques. Bart argues that Krav Maga schools “teach modern reality based self defense system”, compared to other martial art schools which “teach sports (judo, wrestling or boxing), with rules and competition or they teach traditional martial arts, like kung fu or Jiu Jitsu. Those arts are not really adapted to our modern time.” In comparison, “Krav Maga has no rules, no competition and is not a fighting art. It is developed for self defense in mostly modern urban locations. Working with modern weapons, like guns and rifles. Krav Maga works often with senarios, like robbery or rape, most traditional martial arts don’t.”
Krav Maga Den Haag’s Approach
Krav Maga den Haag work with a timeline. First, they ask the trainees what they would do if a problem came up, and then show how they should act, and how it is permitted. For example, in Netherlands one can only use violence to defend oneself, but no further. Trainers teach techniques for people to be able to scan their setting, create distance, and mainly get away safely. In addition, the organisation also has communication workshops for people to learn how to de-escalate an aggressive situation “how to calm somebody down, how to make them listen”. Currently, Krav Maga den Haag has three trainers who offer different courses and branches for different needs, for example women’s self-defence, and classes for kids, security workers and civilians. Today, the school trains 59 female and 108 male clients. The trainings usually last from one to one and a half hours.
Training for children
When it comes to children’ training, Bart carries out a special program called ‘Fun, fight, fit’ for kids aged 5 to 12 years old, as he says that the younger the children are, the more they learn. In this program, Bart teaches children skills and self-defence techniques by playing, and at the same time, he provides discipline useful for life in general and necessary for the training, with activities encouraging “cleaning up, organizing, listening, cooperation and dealing with winning and losing” (Krav Maga Den Haag 2021c). In addition, kids learn “how to defend themselves and deal with dangerous situations, e.g. kidnapping, dangerous objects and where they can go in a threatening situation” (Krav Maga Den Haag 2021c).
One of the goals is to teach girls that they are capable to fight, and to empower shy and bullied kids. Currently, there is very high demand of the training for children. Bart thinks it’s because “parents want the best for their kids”, and because it’s difficult to balance teaching children “to be strong, be nice, how to work with [their] body”. Therefore, self-defence training can help in providing these aspects. Now, Bart teaches 140 kids and 30 adults, where children’s classes are with both girls and boys, since at that age girls are just as strong, and it can allow kids to see each other as equals and to watch for each other’s safety. Children’s classes are organised by age in the following groups: 5 to 8 years old, 8 to 10, 10 to 14, 12 to 16, and then adults 16 and older. Krav Maga can give children the opportunity to gain confidence and to learn how to protect themselves.
Krav Maga den Haag also has workshops called ‘Stay Away’ aimed specifically for women to learn defend themselves. The course consists of a seminar and 5 lessons, where each lesson lasts 1.5 hours. In the course, women “learn mental, verbal and physical skills to be more resilient in situations of violence. In addition, we also spend a lot of time on prevention tactics (how to prevent dangerous, unpleasant or uncomfortable situations)” (Krav Maga Den Haag 2021d).
When asked if this approach reinforces stereotypes, Bart said that: “It’s realistic…it’s much easier to learn yourself rather than educate every man around you”. This way, self-defence becomes a tool that can’t be taken away from women, they can take their safety into their own hands and not depend on others to stay safe.
What is Krav Maga den Haag’s greatest accomplishment?
They held a workshop for women who were in a safe house where they re-enacted situations where they had encountered violence, and in this re-enactment, they won. In the workshop, they trained the women, who fought and punched, and even after having had therapy before, some women said that “I accomplished so much in this half hour, so much more than I did in two years”. After the workshop where they found out that they could punch and have an effect, they realised that they “didn’t think it could be that powerful” and they found strength in themselves.
What is the biggest challenge?
It’s difficult to teach women to fight and be aggressive, since women tend to not believe that they are capable of fighting. It’s also difficult to get some children to work with the trainers, as they are not used to do what they’ve been told, or they are not very social. It’s challenging at first to teach the kids who misbehave and to show them why their actions are wrong.
Krav Maga Den Haag (2021a). “History of Krav Maga.” Krav Maga Den Haag. At https://www.kravmaga-denhaag.com/our-school-krav-maga-den-haag/history-of-krav-maga/#imi-lichtenfeld.
Krav Maga Den Haag (2021b). “Locations.” Krav Maga Den Haag. At https://kravmaga-ikmf.com/locations/.
Krav Maga Den Haag (2021c). “Schools.” Krav Maga Den Haag. At https://www.kravmaga-denhaag.com/tailor-made-training/schools/.
Krav Maga Den Haag (2021d). “Self-defense for women.” Krav Maga Den Haag. At https://www.kravmaga-denhaag.com/self-defense/self-defense-for-women/.