When you don’t have a lifetime to master an ancient martial art but still want to walk the streets with the confidence that you can protect yourself, your family, girlfriend or boyfriend, etc – you want to learn Krav Maga. It’s not a combat sport that you’ll be able to compete in – doing the attacks and counter-attacks you’ll learn are designed to be quickly devastating and even crippling so you can walk away, not earn points. I’m not here to sell the system, though – just tell you what I’ve learned about the training that’s available in the area.
The first thing you’ll notice is there isn’t a lot to choose from. Unlike MMA training that has popped up everywhere, Krav is a bit of a niche and there are only a handful of places to learn it in the Greater Detroit Area. I hope to visit every gym from Rochester to Detroit to Ann Arbor soon, but it’s going to take some time. For now, I’ve trained at two places and both happen to be located in Troy, MI: Krav Maga Detroit - The big name in town, and Instructor Aaron Hoke at Crossfit Deviate South in Troy and Crossfit Deviate in downtown Rochester (membership is good for classes at both locations).
Two of only a handful of places to learn Krav Maga in the Detroit Area – Krav Maga Detroit in Troy, and Crossfit Deviate in Troy and Rochester
If you’ve used google to look for Krav in the area, you’ve already heard of Krav Maga Detroit run by Pawel Cichowlas. Pawel himself is a 2nd dan black belt in the krav system made popular by Krav Maga Worldwide, a large organization that licenses individuals to teach their particular krav system (there are a number of krav systems out there that have each evolved differently from a common parent system developed by krav founder Imi Lichtenfeld). Pawel has a handful of other instructors helping out with a full class schedule.
Also in the area is Krav Maga Instructor Aaron Hoke at Crossfit Deviate South in Troy and Crossfit Deviate in downtown Rochester. A former USMC special forces (MARSOC) guy with several combat deployments under his belt, Aaron actually taught hand to hand combatives to other special forces guys and holds not only MCMAP (Marine Corp Martial arts Program) and SOCP (Special Operations Combatives Programs) instructor ratings, but also earned his Practitioner Instructor rating in the latest evolution of Combat Krav Maga right from the Israeli army’s elite “Red” unit while working with them on Special Unit Weapons and Tactics. He also has a background in Muay Thai.
Classes at Krav Maga Detroit are 60 minutes long, and are run pretty military/boot camp style with a heavy PT warmup and yelling about team work and doing thing over and over until “we do them as a team.” I later learned that we got extra “warmup” as punishment because a couple of the students weren’t wearing the official krav clothes. Yes – you are required to buy KMD shirts and shorts. The students seem to love the place, though.
In my first class I thought “Am I in a krav class or basic training all over again? Are we going to learn ANY krav?” I love working out, but our “warm up” literally lasted FORTY MINUTES and I came here to learn krav – I spend enough of my own time getting fit. We very quickly went over 3 strikes and did a drill that lasted for 30 seconds. The large class was too big and moving too quickly for the instructor to do any individual coaching on technique. In my 2nd krav class we did more like 15-20 minutes of PT, and thus had closer to 40 minutes of krav. The drills tended to be short with 30-60 seconds of intense striking – sometimes with a strobe light and loud music like you’re in a club. That was kinda neat and I can seen the value in occasionally training in that disorienting environment. All the krav classes are the same for the whole week – what you learn on Monday you’ll learn Tuesday through Saturday. That gives everyone a chance to hammer skills home and keep up with your buddies even if your schedules are different.
The krav classes at Crossfit Deviate run for 90 minutes, and you do a LOT of actual krav! The atmosphere is much more laid back, and like any good military instructor, Coach Hoke injects enough humor to at least make himself laugh while you sweat your ass off. Usually warming up with some movement drills and basic strikes (There is great attention to detail paid even when teaching the basic strikes so each strike is maximally effective), you then move on to weapons defenses and drills that can include anything from striking combinations, multiple attackers with and without weapons, or both. I quickly noticed the lack of PT things like pushups and situps – Aarons says “I’m not here to teach you how to do pushups. I can make you make you exhausted with krav so you’re hammering in techniques, conditioning, and learning to stay in the fight while you’re exhausted all at the same time. Maybe it’s a bad business decision on my part – but I’m interested in teaching you as much krav per class as possible, not wasting your time with stuff you can do on your own.” I like it.
The classes are smaller which is mostly a pro, In my opinion. While having more training partners is always good (everyone will “attack” you differently, forcing you to drill and be comfortable with all the little variables), the smaller class allows for the much more personal attention. There is a lot of individual technique correction, and he even pulls students aside and work with them one on one to help correct technique flaws. Oh – Aaron doesn’t care what you wear, and encourages everyone to train is their normal work/street clothes at least sometimes. (I have, and it definitely changes how you move)
I really don’t want this to be a “which system is better” article, but I feel like some opinions I have are going to show through a little. To be clear – I feel that every system has it’s strengths and weaknesses and everything you learn should be just another tool, not your entire toolbox. Also, I don’t claim to be a tremendously experienced martial arts master – just a guy with some experience in a couple traditional martial arts (Karate and Kuk Sool Won), BJJ, and most recently Krav Maga. A person who commits to either of these systems will be miles ahead of almost anyone else in a real world self defense scenario.
Krav Maga Detroit teaches a system popularized by Krav Maga Worldwide. My biggest problem with Krav Maga Worldwide is that it’s marketing tends to bolster an elitist “If it isn’t Krav Maga Worldwide then it isn’t legit” attitude, when in fact:
- It is only one lineage that evolved from the original
- It isn’t sanctioned by the Israeli government, military or police as the “official” version of krav
- Large organization necessarily get “stale” regarding new, potentially superior techniques/technique tweaks. They have to remain consistent, and how do you retrain thousands of paying licensee/trainers at the same time?
At the core of the Krav Maga Worldwide curriculum is the 360 defense – a system that, while it can be effective, I think has some weaknesses in that it takes some time to master and I just don’t see it working when there is a large disparity in strength (or from your back on the ground…I was really surprised to see this). Look – If anyone tells you something is the standard just because it’s taught the most, we should all look to Tae Kwon Do for self defense. Remember – no one had ever heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu before Royce Gracie whooped everyone in the octagon for 4 years. (But no, neither BJJ or MMA training – although I love them both dearly – are not ideal for street defense either). Sorry for rambling – I just have a severe distaste for misplaced elitism.
So anyway, at Krav Maga Detroit there is a belt or level system. At first, you can only take level one classes and learn some blocking and basic punches and a couple chokes. After about 4 months/40 classes you can test to level 2 where more strikes and chokes are added and “You start to learn to hit back.” according to one of the instructors. A good year until level 3 where you first see weapons defenses and the instructor I talked to said it took him about 2 years to unlock level 4, where serious sparring and weapons training begins. I suppose that’s not too different than a traditional martial arts program, though.
I do have one real beef with the KMD level system – I need to train for a year or more before I’m qualified to learn to defend against a gun or knife, unless I pay extra for the separate “weapons” class, in which case I’m qualified right now? Hmm…
Back at Crossfit Deviate, Aaron is not affiliated with any large, official organizations and has no rank system… so if you’re looking for pretty certificates or colored belts to display, you’re outta luck. Nor are any techniques held back until you’ve unlocked a certain level – You’ll be working on defending yourself from guns, knives, and multiple attackers from day one at no extra charge.
There is also an emphasis on teaching one to be an effective fighter in the shortest amount of time – after a few sessions, you begin to see patterns where the same movements are used for a number of defenses. This may be because US Marines and Israeli soldiers don’t have a lifetime to spend training – they have short enlistment periods and need to be effective asap. Aaron points out that it takes years of dedication to learn how to stand there and block punch after punch and play the bob and weave game – and even then you still get hit in the face. He has some genius ways around that.
It takes about a year for Aaron to cover his curriculum, with plenty of redundancy built in. Classes also tie in together in mini-cycles…you may cover a couple defenses/attacks on Wednesday, review them and add on Friday, then review and have a ridiculous drill using those movements with people hitting you with pads and random guns stuck in your face, knives or sticks swung at you on Saturday…you never know. Long term, I couldn’t be sure – both systems will make an attacker sorry he didn’t pick an easier target – but I do feel Aarons techniques and curriculum will make someone a more devastating opponent in a shorter period of time.
Krav Maga Detroit is a krav-centric facility. Two separate rooms so they can have more than one class at a time. Nice locker room…forgot to check if there was a shower. All the krav training stuff you need…plus some weight/conditioning stuff. This excited me until I learned that you can only use that stuff during their limited weight/conditioning classes with no open gym time to do your own thing. As my guide explained “We’re a self defense center, not really a fitness gym.” Fair enough.
Both Crossfit Deviate locations are fantastic, fully-equipped Crossfit gyms (and are crossfit-centric facilities, although the south location has a room dedicated for krav training). Plenty of weight and conditioning equipment, and full schedules of Crossfit, Olympic lifting, gymnastics, yoga, and most importantly to me – open gym time where I can be a gymrat and do my own thing.
Memberships and Schedules (as of November 2014):
Krav Maga Detroit is significantly pricier, but they do have a great krav-centric facility. $129 per month if you sign a one year agreement gets you the krav-only membership ($159 per month if you want to stay month to month). At first, that gets you access to just the level 1 classes. As you graduate to different levels, you get more classes available to you. The Gold/VIP membership thing runs $189 per month with a year commitment, or $245 monthly. That gets you all the krav classes (up to your level), plus the separate weapons class, conditioning classes, kickboxing, something called fight club – which isn’t what it sounds like (it’s really just some extra stuff…the two I went to included some grappling, although my BJJ snob came out about the techniques, and some fun focus-mitt work), and everything else on the schedule. I really wanted to continue my current training and do drop-ins or a punch card to cross-train at KMD, but that is not allowed. Go all in or go home.
Meanwhile at Crossfit Deviate, you can get memberships for either Crossfit or just krav, or a really sweet deal on both as a package. If the krav schedule works for you, Crossfit Deviate/Deviate South wins hands down for the value. A typical Crossfit membership in the area runs $150, and Deviate is right on that mark for Crossfit only but includes a whole bunch of classes like Olympic lifting, yoga, gymnastics, open gym and other stuff except for krav. Unlimited Crossfit AND Krav membership? Just $200! It’s a huge selling point to people like me that can’t afford their Regular gym and Krav gym memberships. Krav only has a couple of price options – $80 for two days per week, $100 for unlimited (which is really 3 days per week because that’s all that is currently scheduled, although that should increase as class sizes/memberships increase). Drop ins and punch-cards are available, although I’m not sure the price.
Krav classes are Wednesday/Friday evenings at Crossfit Deviate South, and Crossfit Deviate in Rochester on Saturday Mornings. There is one krav-conditioning class every Sunday that isn’t included. It’s $10 per session.