Ten Writing Lessons From Krav Maga

When I started taking Krav Maga my writing pal James Queally asked if I was taking it because I wanted to more accurately write about throwing a punch. I told him, no, that’s ridiculous. I was doing it because I was afraid of my daughter.

She’s two and a half now. It’s like living with Leatherface. Peril in every direction.

I’ve been doing it for a year and passed the test for P1 (there are five practitioner levels). Not to say I’m proficient in any of this—a lot of the time I still feel like Bambi slipping on the ice, sliding into a snowbank.

Turns out though, James was on to something—I’ve discovered a couple of writing lessons courtesy of the instructors and students at the Krav Maga Institute.

Fighting is hard.

I take two classes a week, back-to-back (which always seems like a good idea until I’m a half-hour into the second class…). That second class is combat level one, which involves a lot of high-intensity cardio, hitting, and kicking. And halfway through, my hands drop, my punches get sloppy, and I trip over my own feet. I have to put way more thought and effort into form. It puts all those epic fictional brawls into a new perspective—how do these characters maintain their endurance levels?

It’s easier to defend against a pistol than a knife.

I recently took a master class on pistol defense. The instructor, who has a military background and a mile-long martial arts resume, said the minimum safe distance for holding someone at gunpoint is 21 feet. That’s a lot of feet. We also constantly drill knife attacks—and we are constantly told that in a real-life situation we will get cut. We might not even realize it because we’ll be so hopped up on adrenaline. It really served to challenge how I perceive altercations with weapons.

Your fist is a delicate flower.

I don’t hit without gloves anymore. I tried it a few times in the beginning, and it was bad news—your hand is full of tiny little bones that like to break. I had a couple of rough days after hitting Thai pads and kick shields. Human faces don’t have nearly as much padding. This is all to say: It’s made me far more thoughtful about the sheer physical impact of violence.

Pain is progress—and persistent.

Another thing about fictional brawls that now rings as false: Characters who walk away from violent confrontations, rather than limp. I’ve taken classes where I’ve felt it for days afterward. The human body has limits, and the more a character shrugs off unbelievable levels of punishment, the less believable they become.

Fighting is messy.

We might spend 40 minutes of a class going over a technique—how to break a rear choke and counter-attack, for example. After 40 minutes you might feel pretty good that you have it figured out. But then, for the last five minutes of class, the instructor makes it into a stress drill. So you have to spin in a circle for ten seconds and THEN your sparring partner puts you in the choke. Subsequently everything goes to hell, as you try to not puke, stay on your feet, and get through the technique. Even that doesn’t replicate the conditions of a real, actual fight.

A lot of fiction writers would do well to get some fight experience.

I know the prior points were basically leading up to this, but it bears repeating: If you’re going to write about violence it might help to learn more about violence. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and get in a street brawl (but, hey, if you want to, whatever, you do you). Here’s a compromise: Read Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence by Rory Miller. Check out the dude’s background—he’s legit. It was recommended by KMI. I’m glad I read it, both for myself and my writing.


After Logan came out I saw some goon complaining on Facebook that Laura could never throw down with the Reapers—she was too small! Women are frail! Men’s rights! Look, anyone can be a badass. Want proof? How about the girl I sparred with a few months ago. She was half my size, and after ten minutes I was sure she could take me in a straight-up fistfight. If you don’t believe certain characters can be physically capable or dominating, that’s a failure of both imagination and experience.

Embrace the suck.

The same way you have to power through the crappy first draft of a book, you have to power through all those early classes when you’ve got the footing of a toddler on meth. It’s easy to get discouraged if you forget writing is a process just as much as fighting—the more you do it, the better you get. And as you conquer the fundamentals, you can go back and put on the finer touches, be it a chapter or a technique.

There’s always room to grow.

It’s pretty easy, after writing three novels, with a fourth on the way, to feel like: Ok, I think I got this writing thing down. Not to say I wasn’t allowing for space to learn. But doing something like Krav Maga—where I’m starting from square one and I’ve got so much to learn—does well to remind me of how important it is to always consider yourself a student. Doesn’t matter how many books or stories you publish, you can always grow as a writer. And you should always be thinking about making that effort.

Always keep your hands up.

This actually has nothing to do with writing. But I tend to drop my hands and my instructors are always reminding me to keep them up. I hope putting it here will help to reinforce that.


Rob Hart is the author of THE WOMAN FROM PRAGUE, available July 11, 2017, from Polis Books, and picked by Publishers Weekly as one of the best reads of the summer. He is also the author of New Yorked, nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel, City of Rose, and South Village, picked by The Boston Globe as one of the best books of 2016. Short fiction has appeared in publications like Thuglit, Needle, and Joyland. Non-fiction has appeared at Slate, The Daily Beast, and Electric Literature. You can find him online at @robwhart or www.robwhart.com.