CROSS Krav Maga and the art of self defence

“The most important self defence is confidence and awareness,” says Keith Collyer.

Thursday, 16th July 2015, 11:15 am
Instructors (from left) Steve Jenkinson, Paul Warwick, Keith Collyer, and Rene Chetty.

Keith is the creator and head instructor of CROSS Krav Maga, a self defence system now being taught at Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre.

As its name suggests, the system has roots in Krav Maga, the rough and ready close combat methods taught to the Israeli Defence Force. The ‘CROSS’ stands for Combat Ready Offensive Survival System.

Keith said he had been training at Wing Chun - a traditional Chinese martial art emphasising an efficient fighting style - for 16 years.

He took up Krav Maga, eventually becoming an instructor, because he wanted to try something that was more realistic for a modern environment.

Keith devised CROSS Krav Maga, which uses principles and techniques from a range of martial arts and self defence systems.

“The basis is Krav Maga - the Israeli system, and the British combative systems from World War Two - Fairbairn and Sykes,” he said.

“We’ve evolved it to work for our students in England. Stamping on somebody’s head to kill them is reasonable in the theatre of war, but it’s not reasonable force in British law.

CROSS Krav Maga

“The idea is to get you home, not to get you 20 years.”

He added: “I’m always learning, I constantly train myself, and train in other self defence systems.”

Keith said he is always looking for new methods to try out, and is always happy to bring them into his system if they work well.

“The most important self defence is confidence and awareness. You mustn’t be overconfident, always be aware, never assume your attacker doesn’t know anything.”

A lot of lesson time is spent on learning to defend against an attacker armed with a knife - an increasingly common concern in Britain.

“They’re so easy to get hold of,” said Keith, “and it’s a weapon of opportunity - it’s easy for someone to grab one out of the kitchen.”

Assistant instructor Steve Jenkinson said the best way to keep yourself safe from someone with a knife is to run away.

He also said this will not always be an option if, for instance, you have a partner or children with you.

“Most of the time we try to teach our students that if they’ve got a knife, and you’ve got the opportunity to run, then go,” he said. “Don’t be there.”

Keith agreed: “The best defence against a knife is to be somewhere else.

“We also cover blunt weapons and gun disarms, multiple attackers, and ground survival.

“The principle is to deal with the threat, then add combatives.

“Then you will disengage and scan - looking for escape routes, looking for more attackers, getting your peripheral vision back.”

I got to find out what this means during the lesson, as Keith demonstrated techniques for dealing with someone who has a knife to your neck.

‘Deal with the threat’ is a small plucking movement, just enough to keep the knife away from your throat and under control.

The ‘combatives’ are a series of strikes to the attacker’s head, body and knees, putting them off balance and bringing them to the ground.

The psychology of stress is also taken into account - Keith teaches his students to shout at an armed opponent while striking them, ordering them to drop the weapon. This takes advantage of the fact that a person who is confused or in pain is likely to obey an order without thinking.

CROSS Krav Maga includes grappling with an opponent on the ground, an important part of self defence that is sometimes neglected in traditional martial arts.

The idea is to make sure the opponent is disarmed or incapacitated before you attempt to get away.

Keith said there are also important techniques to use once you have escaped, including checking yourself for unnoticed injuries, and bringing your heart rate under control to minimise blood loss from cuts.

The teaching style was friendly and good-natured, with the class size small enough for everyone to get valuable one-on-one coaching from Keith, Steve, and assistant instructor Rene Chetty.

We ran through another scenario, with the attacker approaching from behind. The exact method for dealing with it was different, but the principles remained the same - control the knife, strike, bring them down, disarm them, escape.

Keith said this simplicity makes the system fairly easy to learn: “We’re not learning really big techniques that take years, you can learn the basics in three months.”

Despite this, Keith says he still respects and values the traditional martial arts, and still trains in Wing Chun.

“It’s great if you’ve got 16 years but if, say, you’re going backpacking in eight months, you want to do CROSS Krav Maga,” he said.

“Martial arts teach you how to be skilled, they’re about teaching forms and perfect technique.

“Martial arts are great for so many things, but what we’re doing is teaching people about how messy and dirty it is on the street.”

To make training as realistic as possible, groups sometimes practise outside, or in the dark, against walls, in alleys or underpasses, on grass, or while wearing their everyday clothes.

Lessons are run in Broadbridge Heath (Wednesdays), Crawley (Mondays), Crowborough (Saturdays), Brighton (Thursdays), and Hove (Tuesdays).

Keith offers free introductory sessions - contact him to arrange one on 07751 843751, [email protected] or visit the website at

Krav Maga and Defendu

Krav Maga (a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘contact combat’) has its origins in the fighting techniques taught by Imre ‘Imi’ Lichtenfeld (1910-1998), a champion boxer and wrestler.

Lichtenfeld, a Jewish Hungarian living in 1930s Czechoslovakia, became the leader of a group of boxers and wrestlers who helped to defend Bratislava’s Jewish quarter from anti-Semitic rioters.

He realised that training in combat sports was not enough to prepare a person for street fighting, and began to develop his own techniques and principles for close combat.

Fleeing the Nazis in 1940, he served in the Free Czech Legion in North Africa before heading for Palestine, arriving in 1942.

There, Lichtenfeld taught fighting techniques to local paramilitary groups. When the State of Israel was formed, he became the IDF’s Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga.

Retiring from the military in 1964, he developed Krav Maga further, creating a version intended to be taught to civilians and police officers.

Defendu (also known as Fairbairn’s Gutter Fighting, or the Fairbairn Fighting System) was created by William Fairbairn (1885-1960) and Eric Sykes (1883-1945) before the Second World War. It used techniques from boxing and wrestling, and from Japanese, Chinese and Indian martial arts.

Although Defendu was intended to be a self defence system for civilians, the outbreak of war prompted Fairbairn to develop a more lethal version to provide British commandos with a vital advantage. The name ‘Defendu’ stuck, although in Fairbairn’s books he only used the word to refer to the civilian version.

During the war it was also taught to US and Canadian special forces - including the famous Devil’s Brigade - and to the British Special Operations Executive.

Defendu techniques later formed part of the basic training for FBI and CIA operatives.

Photos courtesy of Steve Jenkinson.

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