3 Lessons I've Learned in Krav Maga That Have Changed My Approach to Business
I started taking Krav Maga lessons this year at the recommendation of both my personal trainer and my therapist. I was physically assaulted years before in a nice neighborhood in Washington, D.C. at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. Not a time or place one would expect to be attacked, and it has had long-lasting impacts on my mental and physical health. My trainer and my therapist, for different reasons, thought that learning a fighting skill would help me address the assault and move forward. It turned out to do much more than that.
Krav Maga is a military fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces. It is derived from a number of other fighting systems like boxing, wrestling, judo, etc. Those fighting forms were combined together to create a system for effective self-defense that is not based on bulk, height or gender. It is based on winning.
My first day at Krav Maga was scary. I did not feel like I was winning. I pushed back tears as my instructor Mike took me through different fighting stances and beginner moves. As I was learning to balance on my feet, he looked over at me. I was scared. The terror and fear of the attack I had experienced years ago came flooding back. I kept flinching away and cowering as he came closer toward me. He looked me in the face and very slowly spoke to me: "The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker."
The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker.
This is a fundamental phrase in Krav Maga. It's the idea that you don't allow yourself to become the victim. If you are attacked, you attack back -- stronger and more aggressively -- because your job is to protect yourself.
In business, you are always at some point or another going to be the victim of an attack. This could be small, such as someone who leaves a negative product review, or big, such as a company slandering you or trying to take over your accounts. The question is: How do you respond? Prior to Krav Maga, I would have been a little bit more "nice." I would have shrugged my shoulders, known I would rebound in the end, or receded into a position of victimhood.
My job is to protect myself and my company. It's to protect my employees and my customers. And, Krav Maga has taught me to do that not from a position of victimhood but from a position of preparation. The only way to ensure you can attack an attacker is to have the skills to fight. In business this means:
- Aligning your A-team: Ensuring you have a lawyer, an accountant and a good PR firm at the ready.
- Preparing yourself: Ensuring you understand where threats can arise, what those threats may be and developing a plan to respond to them.
- Preparing your team: Ensuring your team knows that you don't play the role of the victim and that when attacked you address the situation head-on from a position of educated authority. This is about mindset for both leaders and employees.
You will get punched in the face. Understand what that feels like.
In my Krav Maga training, Mike will punch me in the stomach for a few minutes at varying levels of force. The intent is that I will get used to getting punched in the stomach. He has me stand with my arms to my side, stomach muscles tightened and solar plexus alert. I can't punch back. I can only wait and anticipate the blows, tighten my muscles and understand that practice punches in the stomach are the only way to prepare me for punches to my stomach (or anywhere) in a fight.
The first time he did this, I was terrified. Now, I understand that the momentary pain makes me stronger, less afraid of the intentional punch or kick someone years down the road might throw at me. In business, this lesson is incredibly useful and has changed the way I think about planning and development.
Sometimes you need someone to punch you in the stomach.
The role of an advisor or a consultant for your business is the same role as Mike is playing when he punches me in the stomach. He knows what it's like to get hit and he wants to ensure that if I do get hit, the shock of being hit won't be debilitating. Hopefully, those advising you are also seeing the future ways your business can get punched in the stomach. Their role is to help you avoid those punches by preparing you for the little bumps and bruises you'll see along the way.
As a business owner, then, it is your role to:
- Find advisors who have been punched in the stomach (metaphorically) and allow them to watch you along the way. They will know when you are careening too far in the direction of something dangerous and hopefully prepare you for the inevitable danger.
- Allow the little punches to your stomach to be seen as training bumps. These small upsets should be dealt with as upsets, not massive failures. They are preparing you for bigger and more aggressive assaults down the road.
Even blindfolded, we can win.
There is an exercise that Mike has me do, where I close my eyes and he attacks me. The intent is that I use the skills we have learned to ward off the attack. When I was attacked years ago, it was nighttime, and the attacker snuck up and surprised me. As such, Mike's simulation is the hardest emotional thing I have to do all week. That is, until I actually do it.
Normally, I don't do the counterattack move perfectly. I use an open-palm heel strike instead of a punch. Or, I use a knee rather than a kick because I know my knees to the groin are stronger. It doesn't matter. I'm still able to disarm him (when he uses a knife), knock him away and clear enough space to get away. I still win.
I win not because I have perfect form, or a super-human strength but because I don't give up. I don't stop fighting until I win because I don't have the luxury of losing. Losing means victimization. I don't want to be the victim.
When I was assaulted years ago, I didn't give up either. I fought on the ground and then standing until the assailant ran away. I screamed and kicked and refused to let him win. I didn't have any training then; I won only because I had grit and a desire to live through the attack.
Now, I have more training but at the end of the day, I won't be an expert. Few of us ever will be. The thing that all of us can do though is refuse to give up. We can refuse to let the attack keep us down. We can refuse to let the attacker win.
This is the Krav Maga lesson that I think is the most impactful for women business leaders. We are going to get attacked -- every day. Often, we will not see the attack coming. We will be blindfolded in some way by lack of time, lack of awareness or lack of funding, and the attack will come. The only thing we can do, the thing we must do, is know that even blindfolded we can continue to fight. We can refuse to be the victim. We can continue to raise and punch back. Because if there is something I know about female entrepreneurs, is that we all have a lot of grit and a lot of heart.
In the end of the day, heart and grit win fights.