Last week, I interviewed Von Ng, the director of Krav Maga Global (KMG) China and its general manager, Yonina Chan, for a feature on safety in the upcoming Home & Relocation Guide.
There was more good content than we had room for in the print edition, so here’s the full interview in which Ng and Chan (who are married) discuss whether to intervene in potentially dangerous situations, how to respond to armed threats, and KMG China’s upcoming self-defense classes for kids and teens.
What led to this decision to add kids’ classes to the lineup?
Von: We’ve been getting requests for kids’ and teens’ classes for some time now. We finally decided to open classes specifically for them because of the safety issues we’ve had over the past year.
In general, we believe that kids and teens have to learn about safety and self-defense at an early age. They have to develop danger recognition, correct decision-making, problem avoidance, calling for help, reporting incidents, and, if needed, fighting and defending themselves.
Although Beijing is generally seen as a safe city, it is important to develop awareness and the instinct to avoid dangerous situations. In addition, a lot of teens based here will be headed abroad after high school. While Beijing is generally considered safe, the countries and cities these teens may be headed to might not be as safe. Parents are looking to prepare their teens for this stage.
How will the classes be different from adult-only sessions?
Von: Kids’ and teens’ classes are very different from adult classes in terms of objectives, technique application, mindset development, etc. Under the KMG system, kids and teens have their own curriculum and level testing based on age groups.
We take into account the physical, mental, emotional, and social development that is happening at each age group, as well as the dangers presented for each age group. We also deal with bullying issues, and the correct response to this.
With kids and teens, it is also important that we focus on motor skills, coordination, self-confidence, discipline, social skills, and character development. These are built into the classes in a way that is very different from adult classes.
Adopting a self-defense mindset extends to watching over the safety of others. However, the lack of Good Samaritan laws in China and language barriers make many people reluctant to intervene when there’s an accident or potential threat to public safety. How can expats balance doing “the right thing” and protecting themselves from liability?
Von: Adopting a self-defense mindset in the strictest terms does mean protecting only yourself, to an almost selfish degree. However, what we risk as a society is much greater if we go by this definition too strictly. People who seek to do wrong can very much take advantage of an apathetic society; that crimes are now perpetrated in broad daylight and in very public places says a lot about this.
One problem is that in China, it is a cultural/societal issue as much as it is a legal one. For example, although there are now laws against domestic violence, as a culture,the practice is to not intervene in conflicts between family or friends. In general, people believe in minding their own business, and not getting involved in anything not related to them.
To make things worse, there have been cases where Good Samaritans have been conned on the street, and dragged into problems when they were only trying to be helpful. That has made people even more reluctant to help or intervene.
As foreigners unfamiliar with Chinese culture or laws (and unable to speak the local language), it can be hard to figure out when to help. It is first better to familiarize yourself with language, customs, traditions, and environment, which will help you understand the things going on around you, and will help you make better decisions.
But it is important to understand that getting involved will always have consequences. As such, it is always important to gauge a situation properly before going into it. There is a difference between apathy/indifference/obliviousness, and caution.
Of course, there are some occasions where it’s more obvious that you should err on the side of safety. If you see someone with a deadly weapon, alert security, and do not engage with the possible threat yourself. Be familiar with the local emergency hotlines, or know where your local police station is. In these cases, it is important to get the right people to help, and not try to be a hero yourself, which might simply cause a panic or end up in people getting hurt.
Yonina, last June you were quoted on the Beijinger saying that a lot of women are reluctant to tell people that they’re taking Krav Maga. Has this attitude changed in the past year? Has there been a growth in the percentage of female students?
There’s been a steady growth in the number of female students over the past few years, and we still see that at this time. More importantly, we have seen growth in the number of female students who stayed on longer with us and even advanced through level tests over the years. It’s still not as many as the men, and it still doesn’t compare to the number of female students in KMG schools in Europe, North America, Australia, etc., but it’s definitely an increase compared to a few years back.
We haven’t heard comments about reluctance of female students to tell people about their training Krav Maga in awhile (granted, the topic hasn’t come up again so it could be that), and we do see female members more willing to share Krav Maga-related material in public forums like their WeChat moments.
However, we also recognize that the average female student who joins us already comes in with a certain mindset, a willingness or a desire to learn, and perhaps (especially among the local Chinese students) an independence from the constraints of tradition/culture/society.
Most of them do fit a certain demographic, or are driven by the need to learn self-defense to protect themselves (i.e. they have been witness to violence, or they feel they may face danger, or they believe no one else will defend them). We cannot say they are representative of most women in China.
This might be anecdotal evidence, but among the many women who try out the classes but do not sign up, we can see that one reason is because what self-defense requires of you is maybe not something some women in Chinese society are comfortable doing, often because they thinks it looks silly, feels awkward, seems too “masculine,” etc.
These are cultural/social barriers that will take a long time to break, and, try as we might, we cannot build up someone who is not willing to make that change themselves. In the meantime, what we do is simply try to build up the confidence and skill in those who do make the effort to come and train, even if it is a difficult and long process for some, because that willingness to try is the most important thing.
You recently became an instructor. What kind of insights have you experienced in this role as opposed to your managerial one?
Well, I’ve been assisting in class for a long time, so my two roles have overlapped quite a bit over the years.
There has been one constant: working in a school like this means we are working with people all the time – meaning you need to take care of each individual student. Every person learns differently and at different speeds, every person has a different personality and different goals, and, to a degree, you have to work with them accordingly.
We don’t compare students with each other, and we similarly ask them not to compare themselves with others in class. So as managers and instructors, we are doing highly individualized work, even though we are working with a group class.
One other insight I can give: the more open-minded and willing a student is to learn, the better they learn. Almost everyone who comes in thinks that if they’ve never done any combat sport or martial art before, they will learn slower than the people who have had a combat/martial art background.
But the truth is, one big factor in learning is the willingness to learn. Sometimes we have people who come in with a lot of previous experience but who have trouble learning, simply because they insist on their way and doing what they already know.
On the other hand, we have others who have never done any martial arts before, but end up progressing much faster because they actually listen, take in the corrections, and try to be open to what is being taught. Again, progress is also still dependent on other things – coordination, physical ability, frequency of training, patience, temperament, discipline, etc. – but without open-mindedness, nothing else really matters.
To the uninitiated, Krav Maga can seem like a violent sport. What are the most common misconceptions you hear? What is the reality?
Von: There are actually quite a number of misconceptions about Krav Maga, from both ends of the spectrum. Here are the major ones:
1. That KM is similar to any other combat sport.
First of all, combat sports are quite varied and they are all very different from each other.
Second, KM is not a sport; it’s a self-defense system designed specifically for dealing with real-world problems, and it has absolutely no sport aspect to it (i.e. competitions, point system fighting, etc.).
We are dealing with a no-rules type of engagement, but one that also has real-world consequences, whether it is the consequences of being attacked (such as physical harm or even death) or even the legal consequences of certain actions (such as going to jail if you use excessive force in some countries).
2. That KM is all about violence, and that you’re training to be some kind of Jason Bourne-type hitman/super-spy.
Whether for civilian, law enforcement, military or VIP protection application, Krav Maga is first and foremost about defensive action and strategy.
For civilian use, it is about preventing, avoiding, and getting out of a bad situation, and not picking a fight or provoking other people.
For law enforcement or military, the training involves learning how to fight or act if you cannot use your firearm or weapon, still retain your weapon, and complete the job at hand.
For VIP protection, it is about getting your principal/VIP/loved one out of danger in the fastest way possible, though it usually means putting yourself in harm’s way.
Krav Maga is not about becoming a super-spy or about fancy moves, which is the impression you get when you go on YouTube and search “Krav Maga” or watch Bourne movies.
The reality is that most of what you see online or in the movies that calls itself KM is either not KM or is KM mixed with other things. KM itself is efficient and straightforward, which means it’s usually not pretty and not as cool or entertaining to watch as other martial arts/combat sports. But it is very much effective for protecting yourself and/or getting the job done.
3. That KM is just for women, and that’s all about kicking the groin and poking the eyes.
This is the other side of the spectrum that you usually hear about. In certain countries, Krav Maga is marketed heavily for fitness and badassery. So with this, you get a lot of imagery depicting beautiful women in spandex looking like an action star, or women kicking the groin and poking the eyes against a helpless attacker. That’s far from the reality of Krav Maga.
Now, yes, we consider groin kicks and eye gouging as valid strikes, because they are. But we do not see them as one-hit problem solvers that will simply make your attacker drop and give up.
From dealing with prevention and awareness, all the way to fighting to survive, we assume that you are at a disadvantage and need to use all the tools you have and the presence of mind to survive and get away. Developing your reaction to many possible real-world problems is a long process and not something done in a simple one-hour groin-kicking seminar.
4. That civilian KM is useless, only military KM is useful.
Krav Maga as created Imi Lichtenfeld and developed by Eyal Yanilov is divided in to civilian, law enforcement, military, and VIP protection. A lot of the foundational strikes and techniques for law enforcement, military, and VIP protection are from civilian KM, but they have additional tactics and techniques designed specifically for their purposes.
The main difference is the job that needs to be done. In civilian KM, your job is to protect yourself and get home safely. Accomplishing this does not mean your training is “easier” than KM for professional use. You still need to train the physical, mental, technical, and the tactical aspects, which requires intensive regular training over a long period of time.
KMG China’s second branch is slated to open in Shuangjing in May 2016. Classes for kids and teens will eventually be available at both locations. For more info, visit www.kravmagaglobal.com.cn.
Sijia Chen is a contributing editor at beijingkids and a freelance writer specializing in parenting, education, travel, environment, and culture. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, The Independent, Midnight Poutine, Rover Arts, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @sijiawrites or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of KMG China