Krav Maga Vs MMA: Which One Is Better?


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When it comes to combat arts, you often hear Krav Maga and MMA. On the surface, they both appear to be similar fighting systems to the untrained eye.

But when you look deeper into these two fighting systems, they aren’t quite the same as they look. As a result if you are trying to find one quick answer as to which one is better to learn, nobody can answer that because these two fighting systems are designed for two different intended purposes. Krav Maga is designed to prepare you for real-life self-defense situations and whereas MMA is designed to prepare you for full contact combat sport.

I will explain further what these two different purposes are and will show you which one of these two fighting systems is better in different situations so you can determine which one is suitable for you to learn.

What Is Krav Maga?

Krav Maga, considered to be one of the world’s most useful martial arts, used to be known to only one region. It was developed by the Israeli Armed Forces as a way to train everyone in the nation in some form of self-defense. It was formed by Imi Lichtenfeld, who trained as a boxer and wrestler while defending the Jewish Quarter of Israel against several fascist groups as he served in Czechoslovakia. 

Imi was there during the late 1930s and would begin providing lessons in the martial art when he immigrated to Mandatory Palestine. Those lessons were taken by the team that would one day become the Israeli Defense Forces or IDF. Krav Maga has been present in the IDF ever since.

Krav Maga is sort of a combination of several different martial arts while also a standalone martial art in some aspects. First, it takes from boxing, aikido, wrestling, judo, and even karate. It was formed to be useful to any person of any size, allowing it to be useful to all who are taught the proper way to employ Krav Maga.

The name actually translates literally to “contact combat” for a reason. You’re often close to an opponent in war, and knowing how to defend yourself against potential issues can be crucial. Usually, Krav Maga is best employed when a person is up close, as you’re wanting to employ something that can allow you to put a person down when they come near you.

Usually, they could be carrying something like a bat or knife. Therefore, knowing how to disarm them as well as put them on the ground can be helpful. At the same time, you might be unarmed and unable to disarm them. Therefore, you need to know how to escape and create distance. Krav Maga teaches that as well.

Pretty much anything you need to know to defend yourself is important. Yet offensively, some of the things you’re taught will be, for the most part, striking as well as takedowns and throws. Yet they can also employ brutal groundwork combat too, such as impressive submissions like a choke or arm/leg lock. Not to mention, you’ll learn the escapes for all sorts of potential submissions.

Krav Maga Misnomers:

While most of the combat you learn will be for use in close-contact situations, this is not the only thing. Krav Maga is all about teaching the up-close combat style because, in a military or self-defense situation, that is needed the most. Yet they also teach strikes such as mid-section to head kicks too.

Sometimes, you need to create distance. Few things do this better in unarmed combat than a properly placed kick. This is where karate tends to come in the most. Karate teaches a lot of different strikes, but most people know the martial art for the impressive kicks it teaches.

In Krav Maga, you won’t learn all versions of Karate kicks. You will mostly be taught those that will result in distance creation. Think of things like the infamous “Teep Kick,” also known as the Front Kick or Push Kick. You might also learn some sidekicks to the mid-section, as well as a few kicks to the shin/calf. They tend to teach “some” head kicks too. However, you’ll learn far more of those in other martial arts.

This is why Krav Maga should not just be assumed as a close-quarters martial art. It can be employed with some medium distance issues too.

What Is MMA?

MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. For many years, there was a lot of talk regarding who would win between people of different fighting backgrounds. For example, could a Boxer defeat a Wrestler? This was actually put to the test when Pro-Wrestling Antonio Inoki fought Muhammad Ali many years ago. Ali had to be hospitalized due to the severe leg shots he took. Although, this fight was just for show mostly.

Others such as a Karate Black Belt might feel they could easily defeat a Taekwondo black belt. All of this was just talk until someone actually did something about it. That was how MMA truly formed. While fights involving people from multiple martial arts happened off and on for years, there was no true set organization to make it happen.

Some Japanese organizations tried to promote MMA fights but nothing really went anywhere significant. That was until the Ultimate Fighting Championship was formed to promote MMA fights, better known today as simply UFC.

The UFC put fights together involving some of the best fighters on the planet in numerous martial arts disciplines, with two men seemingly standing out the most. The first was a catch-wrestling or Shootfighting stand-out named Ken Shamrock. The other was the now infamous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stand-out, Royce Gracie.

MMA Changes:

When the UFC originally began, few rules were applied. It was said to be essentially “human dogfighting.” Therefore MMA rules were put into place to stop this problem. Led by the UFC, rules were applied to keep fighters safer, and very few changes have been made to the rules ever since. Some MMA organizations have different rule-sets, but most tend to follow the Unified MMA Rules.

MMA became so popular that now many fighters begin their martial arts journey in MMA Gyms. Instead of traditionally training in one discipline then moving into another, people can simply begin with mixed martial arts. This is a huge change, but one that is not exactly shocking to see with the popularity of UFC and other MMA organizations.

The big difference between MMA Gyms and your traditional martial arts studio is that there is often not a belt system to move up in. You also might not learn everything from a major discipline in the best possible way. When you train in everything, you leave a lot of things out. As the main concept is to teach only the most necessary concepts, not an entire martial art.

What Are The Main Differences Between Krav Maga vs MMA?

Krav Maga and MMA differ in a few ways. The first is obvious.MMA is a mix of several different martial arts. Wheres Krav Maga is a single martial art. Therefore, that alone is the easiest thing we can point to. Yet there is much more to it than that.

Krav Maga is a martial art usually intended for close-quarters combat. When we say this, we mean anything within your standing reach. For example, put your arms straight out in front of you without bending your body. Whatever is within the distance between your shoulders and hands or fingers is going to be your specific reach. Everything that can be done within that reach is what you’ll see in most close-quarters martial arts.

Krav Maga teaches you how to handle yourself against anyone, literally. No matter their size, there is a move Krav Maga experts can employ to escape and/or put them down. Remember, this martial art was designed for military types to use. Clearly, they do not really care about what one might seem to think of as “fair” or “safe” to do to another person.

That is where MMA differs, as there are rules you’re taught to follow here. There are limits you do not go beyond. There are holds or submissions you simply do not do and might not even be taught, to begin with. In Krav Maga, you learn anything one might need to know to put a person down for a specific period of time or even for good.

That is likely the biggest and most important difference between the two.

Which One Is Better For Self-Defense Or In Street Fighting?

Both can be useful to you. MMA is a complete system, and you will learn some useful strikes and even a lot of groundwork stuff like positioning and submissions. However, due to MMA Gyms only teaching what you truly “need” to know, a lot of things fall through the cracks. They are often teaching you to know how to fight in a sanctioned MMA fight.

Krav Maga’s entire concept is to teach you how to stay alive by defending yourself in life-threatening situations. Therefore, Krav Maga is likely the best overall pick between the two for self-defense. On the same end, both can be useful for street fights.

There is something to be said, yet again, for MMA Gyms teaching you when to hold back and ignoring any rulebreaking moves. Krav Maga has no such concept. Even though they do have Krav Maga competitions that often utilize Unified MMA Rules, the Instructors teach you the entire martial art. Things like competitions are given very little thought in Krav Maga’s teaching.

Obviously, if we were to compare the two on the surface without consideration for how they are taught, MMA would be the easy choice. Learning numerous martial arts over one is going to be a good thing. Yet due to the fact that we cannot ignore the other, Krav Maga is best here.

Which One Is Better For Fitness?

Both can be great for fitness needs, but the clear answer here is MMA. This is simply due to MMA teaching so much stuff that you’ll be pretty well-rounded fitness-wise by the end of a given week. Boxing today, Wrestling tomorrow, etc. Both alone are good for fitness, yet you’re going to do this and more in a given week or month?

MMA Training

Clearly, there is a lot more potential for proper, well-rounded fitness training in MMA over Krav Maga.

Is Krav Maga Used In MMA?

Technically, yes. Since Krav Maga does employ a lot of moves you’ll learn in several different martial arts, you’ll likely see a lot of Krav Maga moves in MMA. However, are there many Krav Maga experts in the world of MMA? Not usually.

Perhaps the most well-known Krav Maga expert who has fought in MMA notably is Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Even then, she also trained in Muay Thai too, and thus, did not just have a Krav Maga background.

However, overall Krav Maga is not really useful in the world of MMA. Of course, MMA has rules and there are very few rules applied in Krav Maga? Most of the things one might want to do with their Krav Maga background might be illegal in the world of MMA. As a result, you won’t see many Krav Maga practitioners in MMA.

Keep in mind too that Krav Maga is really meant for close-up combat needs. In MMA, you need to know how to handle any type of style that comes at you. That is not going to be helpful to someone who only knows Krav Maga. Especially when they cannot apply a lot of the illegal moves that they might do in a street fight or something similar.

Is Krav Maga Dirty Fighting?

In our book? No.

The reason for this opinion is that you must understand why Krav Maga involves what it does. Clearly, they are teaching you things that could truly injure or even end a person’s life. However, it was developed literally for an Armed Forces unit. In war, there are no rules. The war does not stop when you get knocked out or begin to bleed a lot.

The war does not end when you tap out or when someone throws in a towel. In most other martial arts, especially competitions, these types of things are there to utilize. Krav Maga was not formed for fitness or recreation. It was formed to literally help a person survive as they are being attacked by another person who is wanting to end their life, rob, or abduct them.

As a result, there is no such thing as doing something too dirty when it’s about your own survival. Krav Maga might not have many rules, but the reasoning for it is obviously understandable.

Final Thoughts

We always like to tell people that if you’re wanting to just learn how to fight or need something to get proper exercise, MMA is perfect. These gyms will teach you a lot of useful material and you’ll get proper exercise along the way.

Yet if you’re in a place where your life could be in jeopardy at any point, or you have a lot of criminal activity around you, Krav Maga is great. It will give you all the tools you need to survive anything that comes your way.

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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