Krav Maga has sky rocketted to international popularity in recent decades as a no-nonsense and highly effective self defense system. I wanted to see how it compared to a more traditional martial art and for this I chose Silat, a brutal system from South East Asia. Here are my thoughts.
Origins and History
Krav Maga was developed by Imre Lichtenfeld, a Czechoslovakian born to a Jewish family.
He was a renowned fighter who won several championships for wrestling, boxing, and even gymnastics. Aside from competing, he was also a professional trainer.
In the 1930s, anti-Semitic national socialists started to attack the Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia. Lichtenfeld decided to teach people how to defend themselves, but soon realized that the traditional wresting and boxing moves were impractical for actual street fighting
He combined martial arts moves that would help anyone defend himself against an aggressive attacker. These included fighting with common tools like sticks, or disarming a knife. These later became the foundation for Krav Maga, which literally means “close combat.”
Lichtenfield taught the moves to other fighters, but drew the ire of local authorities who supported the anti-Semitic movement. In the 1940s, he fled to Palestine and was recruited by the Haganah paramilitary organization to train elite solders for face-to-face combat.
When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, Lichtenfield became the head instructor of the Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. Over the next two decades, he refined the moves and incorporated more techniques from other martial arts like judo. His students, including Eli Avikzar, helped spread Krav Maga’s popularity around the world.
Silat (sometimes called pencak silat or panchak) is an umbrella term for fighting styles from Southeast Asia. Like Krav Maga, the moves are meant primarily for self defense, and allows full-body combat and many similar moves.
However, silat was not developed by a single person. This fighting style from the Malay archipelago evolved over the centuries, originating from basic hunting moves and ancient war dances used by the natives.
The earliest signs of a recorded fighting style date back as early as the second or third century BCE, from the Riau-Lingga archipelago which connects Indonesia and Malaysia.
Because of the thriving sea trade within Southeast Asian, silat moves quickly spread to Burma, Singapore, Thailand, and Brunei. They were also influenced by India and China, including some of the weapons, animal-inspired moves, and strong meditative and spiritual elements from Mahayana Buddhism. Later, it also incorporated katana and karate moves from Japan.
Today, silat is not just use for martial arts training or professional competitions, including the South East Asian games. Ceremonial silat performances and dances are often held at weddings and other special occasions.
Silat v Krav Maga: Comparison of Combat Moves and Techniques
Modern Krav Maga incorporates the kicks, punches, throws and grappling and ground moves from many martial arts: boxing, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitus, and muay thai. You can use hands, elbows, knees and feet to strike opponents—in fact, the basic principle is that it has no rules, and you have to learn how to defend yourself from any form of attack.
Through repetitive drills, Krav Maga sharpens your skills and reflexes so you can quickly respond to any kind of attack situation: being pulled from behind, pinned to the ground, or threatened with the knife. You learn how to use improvised weapons like a stick, or attack weak points like the eyes, groin, or knees.
Silat also uses boxing moves like the straight punch and uppercut, elbow strikes, and the sweeping and locking techniques found in wrestling. Since traditional silat fighters did not wear armour, much of the training focuses on increasing speed and agility, to avoid attack or quickly counterattack.
Like Krav Maga, Silat allows weapons. However, it has a list of allowed weapons, many of which have origins in tools that natives used for hunting, farming and self-defense.
This includes the wavy-bladed kris, a type of spear called lembing, the sickle-shaped sabit, the machete-inspired parang, and the small but sharp kerambit once carried by ladies.
Fighters can also use a pair of clubs called tongkat, which they use to disarm a weapon or knock an opponent of his feet. The sarong, or cloth wrapped around the waist, is also used to block attacks or for grabs and chokeholds.
Unlike Krav Maga, professional silat competitions do have some banned moves—but these are very, very few. A recent ruling now allows elbow strikes to the back, flying elbows, calf stomps, and very hard body drops.
Fighters are trained to beat down opponents until they’re to weak to fight back, and the risk of injury is so high that it’s considered one of the most dangerous competitive sports in the world.
Silat v Krav Maga: Which is better for Self-Defense?
The two sports are equally effective at teaching moves that can protect you from attackers. However, Krav Maga has an advantage primarily because it mentally prepares you for dealing with this kind of attack.
You are taught how to be more aware of your surroundings and spot the behavior of a potential attacker. You learn how to turn everyday objects into weapons, and how to talk down an attacker and possibly diffuse conflict.
Krav Maga is not a sport, and most students do not do it to join a championship and earn belts or medals. Instead, they learn krav maga for self defense, or to become a body guard or security.
In that way, the training, discipline, and mindset of krav maga will inevitably prove more effective in any self-defense situation.