Can Krav Maga Beat Kung Fu? [a detailed comparison]


Everyone has heard of Krav Maga; basically down and dirty fighting. Kung Fu, by comparison, is an ancient, classic martial art. But can Krav Maga beat Kung Fu?

I decided to look into it and here’s what I found:

Krav Maga can beat Kung Fu. Both are effective forms of self-defense, and someone highly skilled in Kung Fu could easily beat a novice. But Krav Maga, with its focus on simple, real-world techniques rather than choreographed movements will usually triumph over a Kung Fu practitioner.

But that’s just my opinion.

And while I have done a lot of martial arts, I haven’t trained in either Kung Fu or Krav Maga. So take that for what it’s worth.

But to come up with my opinion, I did look at a lot of professional fighters, their background, and success rates, so it’s not just a guess.

Let’s explore both and see why I think Krav Maga would be Kung Fu.

Is Krav Maga the deadliest martial art?

Krav Maga is the deadliest martial art because it is designed for combat and practitioners have little to no regard for their attackers. Most martial arts incorporate a philosophy of harmony and doing as little damage as possible. Krav Maga does not share this view.

No. Krav Maga was designed to enable relatively unskilled Jews to do significant harm to anti-Semitic attackers, with little to no harm being received.

It was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, who was into wrestling and boxing.

While he was born in Hungary, he fled to what would later be known as Israel during World War II. The foundations of Krav Maga were born from his quest to help Jews protect themselves against anti-semites if they are physically attacked.

He refined Krav Maga for the newly created State of Israel, as the Chief Instructor for the IDF School of Combat Fitness.

The state of Israel, being created in the middle of Arab countries, instantly created conflict that has never gone away. So, Israel had to adopt a super-effective form of defense, or they may not survive.

Practitioners of Krav Maga don’t have the luxury of trying to live in harmony with folks who are trying to kill them.

Krav Maga was developed by its military, the Israeli Defense Force, and is being used by many military forces. That should tell you something.

It’s a system that has incorporated techniques from various other systems such as boxing, wrestling, karate, judo, and aikido, making it a deadly mix.

Consider, for example, that groin kicks are a part of what you’ll learn.

It doesn’t look nice or harmonious if you ask me, but you’ll agree that it’s deadly in a real fight. It’ll instantly “cripple” your opponent. The goal is to quickly neutralize the opponent by focusing on weak points in their body. You’ll agree that a kick to the groin would do that.

Many people are not familiar with this form of self-defense.

You’ll see a lot of content and competitions on Judo, Karate, and the usual suspects, but not on KM because the techniques are lethal! It’s not like the neatly choreographed and fun martial arts we enjoy watching.

It’s focused on how to fight real-life contests with one or more assailants, armed or without weapons.

Is Kung Fu effective in a real fight?

Kung Fu can be effective in a real fight, especially the Wing Chun or Shaolin King Fu variations. While it is a graceful art form, Kung Fu can teach you valuable techniques that you can use in real fights, especially against someone not trained in martial arts.

Ultimately, Kung Fu is an umbrella term to describe many hundreds of different Chinese martial arts.

So to ask if it’s effective in a real fight, it’s important to note that there’s a big difference between Tai Chi and Wing Chun (what Bruce Lee originally learned), as both are forms of Kung Fu.

So if your opponent is not someone who’s highly experienced and you have Kung Fu chops, you might trounce them. If they’re moderately good or if they’re really badass, they might give you a terrible beat down, Kung Fu skills or not.

The reality of most street fights is that they do not follow any rules!

Nor are they about techniques. They’re usually an “anything-goes” affair, including dirty tricks, and things that would be “against the rules” in a dojo.

So, if you stick to the moves you learned in a Kung Fu dojo, you might be at a great disadvantage.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Kung Fu has no benefits or that it can’t be lethal. It can be.

But, if you’ll want to be prepared for a worst-case scenario kind of fight, it’s not what I’ll recommend. Most of what we watch in our beloved Kung Fu movies are choreographed and scripted. The most skilled practitioner always wins.

On a lighter note, do you recall the Bruce Lee scene in the movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”?

It’s a controversial scene as it portrays Lee in a caricaturish way that made him seem more egotistical than I suspect he really was and his voice was a little cartoonish as well compared to his real voice.

Lee gets beat down by Brad Pitt’s character despite being an incredibly powerful martial artist.

I suspect that it never really happened. The director probably wanted to introduce some humor and perhaps say that a “no-rules” hardened fighter can beat the best martial artist in history.

Lee, of course, started off his martial arts journey in Wing Chun before eventually starting his own type of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do which was rooted in Kung Fu, but with a goal of not being so focused on “clinging to styles, patterns, or molds.”

So, by all means, learn Kung Fu, but don’t assume that it can save you in a really nasty street fight.

And, if you’re going to learn it, I’ll suggest you master it. Don’t just learn some beginner-level skills to impress your friends.

But, how long does it take to be superb at it?

How long does it take to master Kung Fu?

It takes approximately 3 years of training to be proficient at Kung Fu, and approximately 8-10 years to earn a black belt in Kung Fu. 

The height of being a Kung Fu fighter is having a black belt, and truth be told, it takes years to attain.

Masters undergo intense training during which they become highly proficient in the art. If you’re training on a weekly basis, you’ll get the basics in a few months to a year. But, just like in other fields, to become a master requires a lot more.

8-10 years might seem like a really long time, but I’ll tell you, it’s not.

Mastery takes years. It’s a fact of life. Mastery will fill you with so much confidence and, of course, skills, that it will seem as if the years simply flew by. And, more importantly, with the right dojo and teacher, the journey will be incredibly fun and enjoyable.

In fact, if you see a martial arts school claiming you can earn a black belt in 2-3 years, run!

A black belt isn’t the real goal here anyway. That’s why some schools don’t even have belt systems.

No, the goal is to transform your mind and body in a way that:

  • Projects confidence that others feel
  • Improves your awareness of your surroundings
  • Allows you to control your emotions and stay calm in the face of danger
  • Enables you to conserve your energy while allowing your opponent to wear themselves out

That takes years of practice, multiple days a week, to master. It can’t be done in 2-3 years, no matter how often you train.

When a beginner has just started learning, they’re not only unaware of the many techniques available, they also lack confidence.

This is one of the qualities master Kung Fu fighters possess. One of the reasons they’re confident is because they have practiced all the techniques repeatedly in many contests over the years.

So, they are swift, seeing as the techniques are almost second nature now. They don’t have to stop and think for long; they are in a state of flow. You’ll agree that that’s not a position that can be attained in a few months.

It’s vital to remind ourselves that most people, in our modern age, do not have the luxury of Shaolin monks who lived in a monastery where they can practice daily. An average person may not be able to practice more than 4 to 8 times a month.

So, mastery takes time.

We’ve learned about how long it takes to master Kung Fu. Let’s check out how long it’ll take to be a master at the most deadly form of self-defense.

How long does it take to master Krav Maga?

To be a master at Krav Maga takes at least 5 years. This is assuming that you’re training 2 to 3 times each week. Krav Maga has 5 levels below black belt although they don’t actually award or wear belts; it is a certificate only.

And Krav Maga is often taught with Crossfit, so in many cases, practitioners would also be training in that a few times a week as well to condition their bodies.

There are even graduates of the training who would argue that mastery takes a lifetime, and this is understandable.

Since as we’ve noted before, true mastery in anything takes a long time. This is because there are stages in the art. And these stages are perfectly mapped to what one’s required to know as one progresses.

A true master is expected to have mastered all that they’re required to know in all the stages.

Those who say it takes a lifetime imply that there are always new things to know. And even after one has done that, one can also refine and improve certain aspects of one’s grasp of the techniques, in the same manner that a master pianist would probably play the same basic chords day in day out so that they can have an almost intuitive mastery.

That’s also what the Krav Maga black belts strive for.

As I mentioned, there are 5 stages or grading systems below the black belt which is invitation only: 

Belt Color (again, awarded as a certificate) Minimum Training Time in each level Minimum # of Classes per level
Yellow 4 months 40 classes
Orange 6 months 60 classes
Green 9 months 90 classes
Blue 12 months 120 classes
Brown 12 months 120 classes
Black Invitation only

As you can see, to achieve the time frames for each level, you’ll be training, on average, 2.5 times per week.

But again, as I mentioned above, I think it’s a mistake to focus on the belt. Yes, it’s a symbol of your commitment and achievement. But the real prize is transforming your mind and body. (source)

Do any MMA fighters use Kung Fu or Krav Maga?

The most famous MMA fighters with a Kung Fu background include Roy Nelson, Cung Le, and Pat Barry. Krav Maga, with its focus on dirty fighting, isn’t appropriate for MMA’s rules, and most of the martial techniques taught derive from other martial arts anyway.

With Kung Fu and MMA, it is also important to note that as the name mixed martial arts implies, no MMA fighter uses Kung Fu exclusively.

They use the subtle parts of Kung Fu and Krav Maga self-defense systems.

MMA is a sport that has its rules and regulations, so as long as the techniques being used do not conflict with what’s deemed fair, some fighters use them.

But, this is more common in Kung Fu.

It’s not so common with Krav Maga because, as we’ve seen earlier, the goal with Krav Maga is to neutralize your opponent as swiftly as possible. In other words, to injure or kill them fast! You’ll agree that’s not what folks will see as a safe and fun competition.

So Krav Maga teaches lots of things that are against the rules of MMA such as groin attacks and eye-gouging.

But most MMA fighters are skilled in more than one form of martial arts.

That blend of martial arts most often includes BJJ and Muay Thai in combination with some traditional boxing training.

I mentioned BJJ. But what about Aikido?

I get into a comparison between the 2 in a recent article of mine. Unlike Kung Fu and Krav Maga, I’ve actually trained in both BJJ and Aikido, so I get into a lot of the pros and cons of both and which might be better for self-defense.

Just click the link on my site to read it.

Conclusion

In the preceding paragraphs, we’ve explored Kung Fu and Krav Maga.

We looked at how long it’ll take to master each one, whether they’re really effective in real fights, and I also shared which one is better based on my research and knowing people who have practiced both.

Ultimately though, ANY martial art is better than none, and which one is right for you depends on your personal goals.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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