Combat Psychology

Combat psychology is an important area of study in Krav Maga or any other martial art of self defence training.

Why is research into this area important?

In boxing you have to learn ring tactics, in MMA you have to learn how to use the cage and on the street there are also many different things that you need to learn which are specific to the street.

“NYPD statistics from 1994 – 2000 showed that at 3 – 7 yards a total of 83% of shots fired missed their target.”

83% is a huge number and certainly one which we should take time to consider. What can we learn from the professionals.

This article aims to  take a deeper look into what goes behind a street attack or assault.

Performance Degradation – Why we drill, realistic attacks, scenarios and multiple ranges

Ever wonder why stress innoculation drills are such an important part of our training in self defence, martial arts or combat sports?

When confronting a life-threatening situation shock can be more of a problem than fear. If you go into shock during an attack you will freeze and do nothing.

The reason people go into shock when attacked is a lack of response preparation. The mind is divided into two sections, the conscious and the subconscious.

The conscious part of your mind is your cognitive thinking process. The conscious mind engages when you have the time to assess the situation thoroughly and respond deliberately. If you are caught off-guard and are overwhelmed with stress your conscious mind shuts down and transfers all though process to your subconscious mind.

“Fear makes men forget and skill that cannot fight is useless” – Brasidas of Sparta


This happens because your mind does not have the time to thoroughly go through its four steps (OODA) due to the overload of information and stress.

The mind short circuits and shuts down. Your subconscious mind is basically an instinctive data bank of muscle memory (why we can walk, breathe, eat without thinking about it).

If your subconscious mind has no concrete muscle memory stored to engage the immediate problem then it will make your body defend itself the best way it knows, often this will be covering up vital organs and making yourself a smaller target e.g. going foetal.

This is why we drill and why we must train all variety of ranges eg striking, clinch, ground, weapons, multiple opponents. If you master one of the ranges but find yourself in a range where you do not have the correct subconscious muscle memory then you are likely to freeze.

Hicks Law

Having trained in the martial arts for a decade it was only when I was first introduced to Krav Maga and became serious about reality based street self defence that I learned about Hicks Law.

Hicks Law states that the more choices and stimuli you add to a situation your responses are slowed down exponentially. Someone who has 4000 responses to a situation will be an encyclopedia of how to fight but might not necessarily be able to.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10, 000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee

This is often the undoing of the martial artist in a street fight. Remember real world violence will happen closer, faster and more aggressively than often occurs in the dojo. We all love to put the gloves on and spar. In fact, sparring is a foundational element of Krav Maga and most Krav Maga schools will spar every session, in all ranges – stand up, clinch and ground. A predator will call you racist or degrading names to shock you and buy himself time to attack. You are statistically likely to be outnumbered and there is a high chance the fight will go to the ground at some point, possibly in a grappling context but also very likely to be football kicks to the head of downed opponent.

So, how do we prepare for an attack?

Physical Preperation

Physical preperation: conditioning. The fitter and stronger you are the better. Your heart rate can accelerate to 200BPM in a single heart beat as the body floods with adrenaline as you experience fear your body needs to be capable of performing under this high heart rate/stress.

Fear is an autonomous response triggered by activation of the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the 4 F’s – Fight, Flight, Fear and Sex. The SNS once activated stimulates the adrenal glands which dumps adrenaline and other chemicals into your body, in regular doses this is actually very healthy for you and will make your body function as it is supposed to and prevent Western diseases such as heart disease, ulcers, colitis, depression etc *for further reading see “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers” by Rob Sapolsky

Simple Gross Motor Techniques

Simple techniques that are effective – aimed at the head and various striking targets – eyes, throat and groin are all effective but will not necessarily end a fight, instead often to be used as an “opener”. Strikes to the head and neck are very effective from both an agressive/psychological viewpoint as well as likely to cause unconciousness.

Techniques must be gross motor skills that are transferrable/able to perform under great stress. IE punching.

Subconscious Movement drilled through continual repetition

Learn it until you forget it – if you have to think HOW to do a technique then you will not be able to perform this in a fight. It needs to be a subconcious movement.

Be decisive

Your best response will be one which is subconscious. A reflexive action such as when you phantom foot brake when someone else is driving and you’re the passenger. Once the initial shock has passed you may find yourself in a better position to make more complex and educated decisions based upon the skills you have.

Pre Emptive Striking

Ok, so. Firstly, if you think someone is going to attack you then it is OK for you to hit them. Give yourself permission. Normal people don’t like to hit other people. You can train and desensitize yourself to this by sparring but even with gloves on for a lot of people this does take some getting used to!

Define your GO Button

Secondly, decide what your “GO” button is. Decide it now and not during the heat of the moment when your SNS will be affecting all of your decision making. Being attacked is a GO. Looking out of my window and seeing my car being broken into is NOT a GO. Its a phone call to the Police and an insurance claim. DO NOT RISK YOUR LIFE FOR ANYTHING THAT IS NOT WORTH DYING OR KILLING FOR!!!


Commonly one of the things I promote Krav Maga for is that training is the opportunity to experience a situation in a controlled environment. This is crucial for improving your chances of surviving a street attack.  In our classes we use a multitude of ways to prepare our students so that they have tons of experience and muscle memory readily available to them.

Set a Goal then Make a Plan

So you want to know how to defend yourself? Maybe if you were put in a situation where someone grabs your wife you want to know what to do about it? Or if they break into your house? I know that everyone thinks they know how to fight even if they haven’t trained – everyone who gets beat up thinks they can handle themselves until after its happened. Or maybe you think it wont happen to you – again, everyone who gets beat up thinks this. Maybe you’re too busy? If some scumbag grabs your wife will you explain to her that you didn’t have the time to learn how to fight?

Rubbish!! Find the time, make the time for things that are important to you.

Set your goal. Make a few hours a week to train.

Things that will help you become a master of Combat:

Go to a reality based martial arts or self defence class

Find a decent and supportive Krav Maga class to train at. You should find one that trains you as a fighter, spars regularly, trains all the ranges (ground, clinch, punch, kick) and also trains in scenario driven drills eg pushing, shoving, threats and weapons

Train under an experienced instructor

Look into the background of the instructor, they aren’t all equal. Your instructors CV should be on their website, if it isn’t ask them what their background is. Do they have any street experience? Have they worked the doors or a frontline Police, Military or Close Protection background? Have they competed in any combat sports? How long have they been training for? Do they train often themselves?

Lift some weights or do some calisthenics

Abraham Lincoln was a woodsman (as well as being President) and famously said:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

If you are stronger you will have more chance of surviving an attack. You will be able to train harder and you will have stronger bones and be able to chuck your kids about and climb mountains for many years. Your body and health should be a priority in your life.

Eat healthy

Just a little bit. There’s So much knowledge out there today, this is such an easy thing to get a hold on. Ask the right people questions. We live in an age of information at our hands. Save your time endlessly browsing and just ask someone who has trained in that area. Or buy a book like this one

Experience the rough

Train hard, at least to a point where you sweat 3 times a week. Make sure you spar! Everyone who trains in any decent self defence system should have sparring as a foundation of their training. There is no better way for a student of the martial arts to become desensitized to contact, to be able to give and most importantly take shots. Sparring will show any holes in your game, but keep it honest – don’t limit it to one range, sparring should include the clinch and the ground as well as multiple opponents and weapons. We aren’t training for a sport, treat it as such.

Get out of your comfort zone

Study! Buy a book, I highly recommend this book on Krav Maga. Train real Krav Maga! Make sure you spar, test everything, get a sweat on, make new friends and enjoy!!

For more articles on Krav Maga, fitness, strength and conditioning please check out our archive here