Combat Instructor-IDF Style
I was drafted to the IDF 900th “Kfir” Brigade, where I was a special operations combatant and the 2010 IDF Krav Maga champion. After serving in the field, I became a combat instructor and was promoted to senior combat instructor. During my time, I taught military Krav Maga to over 10,000 soldiers, including Israeli special forces and US Marines.
In order to be a Krav Maga instructor, you need to have at least five years of experience in martial arts. You also need to have at minimum the level of intermediate, or the equivalent rank in your martial arts tradition.
In my case, the International Krav Maga Federation doesn’t use colored belts, but levels. I started Krav Maga when I was thirteen, and four years later, qualified and was certified as an instructor with the G1 rank. I taught for another year and studied IDF Krav Maga once I entered the military.
I’ll talk about my own journey. I knew in my heart from the beginning that teaching Krav Maga was my passion and I knew I had the qualifications to make me a good candidate, and that it was the best way for me to contribute.
I actually requested to train as an army Krav Maga instructor as soon as I began the process of joining the military. In Israel, this process starts at age sixteen and a half, where you get interviewed for what you want to do. I brought diplomas for G2 (high intermediate rank) and I was headed for civilian instructor training in the summer. I made it clear, this was my path.
The army turned me down. They decided based on my high profile score, I would be a great combatant. (High profile score means I was in excellent physical and mental health, with no conditions that would prevent me from serving in the field, and that I had good moral qualities that would mean I could be trusted to serve honorably. I got a 97. In Israel, no one gets 100, we can always improve. It keeps us humble.)
The army needed more combatants than Krav Maga instructors. Just like Ben Kolber explained in his excellent answer, they usually take people with lower health profiles to do the training. It sounds counter-intuitive and weird, until you hear the story of a really great friend of mine.
He was a Krav Maga instructor in the IDF starting out. He was very qualified, he entered with around eleven years of martial arts training, and would have likely made an incredible combatant. Unfortunately, due to having epilepsy, he was ineligible to serve in the field. He is an amazing instructor who trained many soldiers, including myself. So, it allows people who can’t do combat but have martial arts training to assist in another way.
So I was sent to become a combatant. I sent the army more evidence and documents showing I was really suited to becoming a Krav Maga instructor, but I got the same answer. I was headed for combat. I passed through rigorous selections and chosen for the Kfir Infantry Brigade, where I served as a special operations combatant.
I talked to the instructors from the beginning of my time in Kfir that I wanted to be one of them. They spoke to me about my background and my goals, but it wasn’t going to be easy to alter my path. The army wanted me in the field.
I didn’t let my disappointment lower my expectations for myself. I served honorably and effectively in my role, to the utmost best of my abilities. I may not have been in the role I wanted but I wanted to contribute to my country in the best way possible, and that is what I did. I served with incredible people and served my country by providing security in dangerous areas.
After a year and a half, I decided to try again. I applied again and again to the Krav Maga instructor of my unit. I reached out to army Krav Maga instructors and made my case to them, and they finally allowed me to take the course.
I had to go through a rigorous examination process that tested not only my physical skills but also my mental skills. Not only did I have to show I knew the material, but I had to prove that I could solve problems, improvise, and lead others.
It was at that point that I had the cross-roads. I was asked to go for the commander and officer school as well, and it was really tempting. I loved my unit and I knew I was contributing to Israel, and I would make a great commander and officer. It was a tough choice to alter my path.
However, I knew in my heart where I belonged and also the way I could contribute the most to the country. I had studied Krav Maga with the best teachers in Israel, and I had a lot to offer the soldiers. I wanted to be the one who would make sure they were well trained so that when they were out in the field, they would be ready. A great commander or officer works with a few dozen soldiers. As a Krav Maga instructor, I could work and improve hundreds (it ended up being thousands) of soldiers.
After my training, I was really honored and happy to be assigned to base to work with the rookie soldiers. It was some of the best times of my life, and I really am proud of what I accomplished.
Here’s a video of me teaching.
I’m sure the soldiers I trained remember it quite differently, and I know they went through a difficult time of growth.
It wasn’t my job to be their friend. I was there to toughen them up and turn them into warriors. I couldn’t be nice, because I had to make them ready to take on their duties in highly dangerous areas. Their uniforms made them targets, and they needed to know how to defend themselves.
The uniform also changed their responsibilities. In civilian Krav Maga, you run away from an attacker. In army Krav Maga, you engage the attacker to stop and hopefully arrest them. Soldiers would have to be courageous and competent to protect civilians and take on terrorists that could be armed with knives, guns, or suicide belts.
I had to be really harsh when they made sloppy mistakes in training. In real life, those mistakes could cost them their lives and the absolute last thing I wanted was for any of them to come back in a body bag for something preventable by good training. It was better that I knocked some sense into them when they were safely on the base.
I didn’t enjoy being cruel but I took pride in my work. I wasn’t just an instructor, I had field experience. I knew what was waiting for them when they left base and I made sure I did everything in my power to make them ready.
One rule for soldiers is that they can’t carry their weapons behind them like samurai swords.
THIS IS WRONG.
First, obviously their guns should be in front, at the ready and not behind them. It’s not there for decoration. The point of the gun to be used!
Rifles are “hot weapons” for shooting, but also “cold weapons” as in a heavy piece of metal (3 kilos) that can be used in self-defense. Wasting precious seconds fumbling for your weapon is unacceptable. The gun must be in the proper position for the soldier to do either.
Second, if the guns are behind the soldiers, anyone can come from behind and drag them back, using the rifle for leverage. This could get them slammed back into the ground or pulled into a car or alley or room to be kidnapped.
This is the proper position.
One time, I was with a few other instructors on base and we noticed a group of soldiers with their guns hanging behind them, completely unaware.
As their instructors, we had to teach them a tough lesson. That was our job. We sneaked up behind them and yanked them backward by the rifles hard, sending them to the ground.
Yes, the soldiers were furious and I could see how much they wanted to punch us, but the lesson was learned. You are vulnerable to attack when you get careless. It was better I taught them with a takedown than a terrorist, who would have used a knife to the jugular. Their safety was my number one priority.
How would I have liked it if I had been the rookie? I would have hated the instructor and really wanted to punch him. Then when I matured as a soldier, I would have gratefully realized he wasn’t doing it for his own amusement but because I was his brother soldier and his responsibility, and he truly wanted me to come home safely to my family.
I actually met one of my former soldiers years later, when he was a security agent on a plane. He may not have liked me then, but I saw now he recognized my training had benefited him a lot. I saw respect and appreciation.
That really made my day.