An Interview with Nir Maman: Founder and Chief Instructor, Israeli Special Forces Krav Maga

By: Interviewed by Paul Johnstone

Nir Maman served in one of the most elite units in the Israeli Special Forces: the Central Command Counter-Terror Unit (CTU) and the Special Forces Counter-Terror and Special Operations School (CTSO). During his service, he held several positions, including commander of the CTSO's International Training Section, where he was responsible for developing and delivering specialized counterterror, hostage rescue, and Krav Maga training to Special Forces counterterror units from various countries. Maman is the founder of and chief instructor for Israeli Special Forces Krav Maga (ISFKM). In this exclusive interview, Paul Johnstone, who is a former Australian federal agent, military veteran, security contractor, and the ISFKM's Australasia chief instructor, speaks with Nir Maman about his extensive military and martial arts background, fighting and surviving in hostile environments, and the development of ISFKM.

PAUL JOHNSTONE: Hi, Nir. Can you please give the readers an overview of your professional history?

NIR MAMAN: Sure. I began with my mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) after high school, in a Special Forces reconnaissance unit. Upon completing my service, I returned to Canada and got involved in the close protection (CP) field. My Tae Kwon Do coach at that time was in charge of all of the CP details for Korean government officials traveling to Canada, so the CP team he put together for these details was composed of his top black belt instructors and students.

I was then recruited into an international CP and high-risk security operations firm based out of Canada, which was run by former Canadian and U.S. Special Forces personnel. We received extensive training in CP operations, tactical shooting, and hand-to-hand combat. I made my way up to being an instructor with this firm. Around this same time, I also began to work with the Israeli consulate and the United Jewish Federation of Canada, organizing, deploying, and commanding CP details for members of the Israeli government traveling into Canada.

In 2002, I got into policing. I was a sworn police constable working as a use-of-force and tactical instructor at one of the largest police academies in Canada, heading up training for new counterterror and special-response units that were being created as part of Canada's post-9/11 national security initiatives. In the summer of 2006, the second Israel-Lebanon war broke out. I packed everything up in Canada, returned to Israel, and signed up for an additional three years of service in the IDF. I was assigned to the Israeli Central Command and was immediately scooped up by the commander of the CTU and CTSO (LOTAR, as it's called in Hebrew).

During my service, I held several positions, including section commander of the CTSO's International Training Section, where I was responsible for developing and delivering counterterror, tactical-shooting, and Krav Maga training to Special Forces units from the United States and many other countries, preparing them for their combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was also a lead counterterror instructor on the Designated Hostage Rescue Take-Over Units Instruction Section, where I was in charge of training all of the IDF's hostage rescue units. In addition, I was assigned to the CTSO's Chief Instruction Section, where my responsibilities included enhancing and developing strategies and tactics for counterterror warfare, tactical shooting, and Krav Maga, as well as training the CTSO instructors in those subject matters. In addition, I was a team leader on the operational counterterror unit during high-risk, direct-action, and CT missions throughout Gaza and the West Bank.

I completed my last term of service in the IDF approximately two years ago, and since then, I've been occupied with providing specialized training to various military and police organizations around the world. I'm also involved in special high-risk security and counterterror initiatives with various organizations. For one such initiative, I was recruited by a U.S. organization to be the team leader for a mission to rescue hostages being held captive on board vessels seized by pirates off the coast of Africa.

JOHNSTONE: What led you to this path?

MAMAN: My entire family served in both military and police services, and it was the path I wanted to take since I was a young child.

JOHNSTONE: What originally influenced your decision to learn unarmed combat?

MAMAN: I began learning martial arts as a very young child. My father studied karate and judo as a young child and was a Krav Maga instructor during his service in the IDF, so I've always had an innate interest in the martial arts. In addition, growing up in Canada, I was bullied a lot during my school years and was determined to learn the skills I needed to defend myself, as well as defend others who were victims of violence.

JOHNSTONE: How long have you been in the martial arts, and what styles and systems have you previously trained in?

MAMAN: I've been training in the martial arts for 30 years now. The two systems I have trained in that are still the predominant systems in my personal and professional lives are Krav Maga and Jeet Kune Do. In addition, I have trained very extensively in Hap Ki Do, American Kenpo karate, and WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) Tae Kwon Do, which I used to compete extensively in.

JOHNSTONE: You have served in both the military and the police. Can you tell me a bit about your background and experiences in both roles and how it has influenced your skills and knowledge as a well-respected instructor?

MAMAN: My background and experiences in both the Special Forces and policing are the primary influences that guide my knowledge and teachings as they relate to real-life survival. I have not only been involved in many engagements and arrests with high-risk, violent terrorists and criminals but have also witnessed many violent attacks.

I have had the privilege to learn firsthand what the dynamics of real-life violence are about, and this has given me the ability to separate martial arts theories, which unfortunately are what practically every system and instructor out there teaches, from optimal, effective, real-life survival elements.

JOHNSTONE: What are the most important skills and personal traits in your line of work?

MAMAN: In my line of work, the worst thing that can happen is when a subject we deal with decides to initiate a violent reaction to our actions against him. The majority of the subjects we deal with can't afford to get caught and be locked up and are therefore willing to use maximum violence to escape or impede our ability to effect an arrest. This can mean ensuring we walk into an ambush if we approach the subject or the use of deliberate violence against us at the point of arrest.

Therefore, the most important traits in my line of work are solid mental focus and vigilance, and the ability to identify threatening indicators of a possible ambush or impending violence. This includes a thorough understanding of human behavior as it relates to body language and verbalization that can cue you to an individual's true mental intentions. In addition, we have to be 100 percent capable in our physical/tactical skills, to ensure that we can explode into action with surgical precision at the first indication that a subject's mental intention of violence manifests into physical action. We might be in a predicament where we are facing a terrorist armed with a suicide bomb belt who has to do no more than depress a detonator, so we have to be focused and super quick.

JOHNSTONE: How often do you deal with real violence in your line of work?

MAMAN: Any professional who deals with violence and unfavorable human behavior on a regular basis will develop certain perceptions that the regular population does not possess. Dealing with violence in my line of work does not affect me emotionally or mentally. I've chosen this line of work because I know that if there are no warriors willing to stand up and face evil, then innocent people will get hurt and killed, and my love and respect for the gift of life that we have all been given far outweighs the negativity of evil. If anything, given my constant interaction with violent individuals, I've simply become a lot more vigilant in ensuring my safety in my everyday life.

JOHNSTONE: Is it possible for you to leave work at work?

MAMAN: It's easy for me to leave the ugly side of my work at work. I have many great things in my personal life to keep me distracted, but the artistic side of my work is with me constantly. I'm always thinking of and trying new ways to perfect my tactical craft, to be better and more effective in my work.

JOHNSTONE: How would you describe violence in real life?

MAMAN: Unfortunately, the violence we see today is uglier. Both terrorists and criminals are far more desperate and relentless in attempting to achieve their objectives. It used to be that the threat of violence would be their choice of implement, but now they simply attack their victims with no warning or threats. In addition, both criminals and terrorists do not want to get caught, so they use maximum violence to ensure the fastest possible compliance from their victims or to ensure that they achieve maximum death, injury, and damage during an attack in minimal time.

JOHNSTONE: What are some indicators of impending violence?

MAMAN: In almost every single violent attack situation, the subject displays indicators of their violent intentions. The majority of these indicators are presented through body language, which can include physical behavior or gestures that do not correspond with what the subject is verbalizing, such as a subject talking normally but standing in an aggressive stance or concealing a hand behind his back or in his clothing. Or a subject who is communicating with you but is constantly looking around in all directions. Usually when we interact with other people, our mental, visual, and verbal focus is directed at the individual we are interacting with. A subject constantly looking around while interacting with you is most likely ensuring that there are no other people around to witness or impede the ill-intended actions he is about to execute.

JOHNSTONE: What are some physical and mental responses when confronted with violence?

MAMAN: Physical and mental responses to violence vary a great deal from person to person. There are factors that come into play that will dictate how an individual will react, which include, first and foremost, the individual's level of awareness of an impending violent attack. Unfortunately, many people in this world take on a complacent attitude toward survival and figure they can react to an attack in time. This generally fails.

When someone is overwhelmed by unexpected violence, they usually go into shock. Going into mental shock will make you physically freeze as well, so there is not much you can do until you recover mentally. If the attack is initiated with serious injury-inflicting violence, it may be too late by the time you recover.

JOHNSTONE: When did you officially commence ISFKM?

MAMAN: ISFKM is the end result of my lifelong passion, dedication, and research into the science of surviving real-life violence, which is backed by my 30 years of extensive unarmed combat and martial arts experience and over 15 years of professional experience in the Special Forces, policing, and high-risk security fields.

The system, as it stands today, is the package I developed and delivered to all the U.S. Special Forces units at the Israeli Special Forces CTSO. The U.S. Special Forces, along with the SF units of many other allied countries, would come to the Israeli Special Forces CTSO for specialized counterterror warfare training before deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Generally, these units would be at our schoolhouse for as little as one week to as long as six weeks. I was the commander in charge of the CTSO's International Training Section, and it was my responsibility to develop training programs that would ensure that these units could attain optimal real-life combat efficiency in very minimal training time. The ISFKM program I deliver today to civilian and law enforcement organizations is the exact same platform I delivered to the Israeli and other multinational Special Forces units.

JOHNSTONE: Why did you decide to call it Israeli Special Forces Krav Maga?

MAMAN: When I got out of the military and decided to teach my system on an official basis, I wasn't too sure what to call it. My system is real military Krav Maga, unlike any of the civilian Krav Maga organizations out there. I wanted to give it a name that would first brand its identity as a true military/ SF system, and also identify its roots in real Krav Maga. Unfortunately, there are many Krav Maga organizations out there that do not teach the real military platform, and there are even more instructors and organizations out there that claim that what they teach is Krav Maga, when in fact it is not. So, joining the two terms of Israeli Special Forces and Krav Maga was the best solution I could come up with to brand our unique Krav Maga system.

JOHNSTONE: In what countries do you currently have instructors?

MAMAN: It's been almost three years now since I kicked off the very first ISFKM instructor certification course, and presently, we have a team of instructors throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

JOHNSTONE: What individuals have had the most influence on you as a martial artist?

MAMAN: There are several individuals throughout the course of my martial arts education who have influenced me. The first is my dad. He was an avid martial arts practitioner since his childhood and was also a Krav Maga instructor during his service in the Israeli Special Forces. Aside from everything that he taught me, listening to his many stories and experiences of combat during his service as a paratrooper gave me many lessons that I took with me when I first entered my service in the Israeli Special Forces, and which have guided me in my own experiences.

Next there is, of course, Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga. Although I have never had the honor of meeting Imi in person, I am first of all grateful for his creation of Krav Maga, which has trained my mind and body to deal with many obstacles in my professional and personal lives. When you train in Krav Maga and realize just how intelligent and effective a system it is for reallife survival, you can't help but truly admire Imi's work, especially for its time!

Then there's Dave Lane. Dave was one of my instructors when I was growing up in Canada. He had over 40 years of experience in various martial arts, although American Kenpo was his predominant system. Dave was an individual who absolutely loved the science of fighting and was an encyclopedia of information on the subject of real-life survival. Many of the lessons I learned from him still guide me today in my practice and teaching, and I still quote him and share many of his lessons in my teaching today.

JOHNSTONE: Over the past 10 years, there has been an explosion in the various types of "reality-based systems" and defensive tactics (DT) systems that have flooded the market. What are your views pertaining to these systems, and why?

MAMAN: Oh, boy. Yes, there definitely has been! It's the natural progression of people following the trend of the season. This fad began immediately following 9/11, when suddenly there was an overt consciousness about real-world threats and violence, the world's militaries were in combat, Homeland Security was created in every country. Before you knew it, the same old martial artists, who once were on the covers of various martial arts magazines in judogis (the uniforms worn by Judo practitioners) teaching hip throws, were now on the exact same magazine covers, teaching the exact same hip throws, but only now they were wearing military fatigues and claiming that their hip throws were the new secret weapon of the world's Special Forces units fighting in Iraq!

All I can tell you is that it's important for people to realize that not everyone who served in the Special Forces necessarily knows how to teach people to survive, and not everyone who claims they were in the Special Forces really served in the Special Forces. It's important to do your homework, ask a lot of questions, and verify people's claims. And before you become a hard-core fan of a certain instructor or system, compare it to several others in the same category so you have a functional idea of what works and what doesn't.

JOHNSTONE: You have been teaching realistic and no-nonsense DT and reality-based training for over 20 years, and you are regarded around the world as one of the founders of reality-based training. Yet, there have been several instructors who have entered the market in the United States over the past several years saying they were the first reality-based instructor. What are your thoughts about these types of claims, and has it affected your own system?

MAMAN: To reiterate what I mentioned in my previous answer, there is no question that the martial arts field has more impostors than most other fields. For many people, the effectiveness of a self-defense system has to do with the grand perception it portrays. Many instructors feel that the more sensational the stories that surround their system are, the more effective their system actually will become.

give nothing but credit to honest and dedicated people. Some of my most respected and influential instructors from whom I learned invaluable lessons about real-life survival never served as Special Forces soldiers or police officers.

Let's also understand that many of the RBSD (reality-based self-defense) system instructors out there are legitimate and excellent instructors and people.

It definitely bothers me when I know I worked very hard and put my time in to achieve the professional experience I did in my life, and I'm competing [professionally] with someone who didn't put in a fraction of the effort, never served in the Special Forces, but adds the word Commando in front of his system, creates elaborate false claims of Special Forces service, and sells his system to military, police, and civilians under a false banner of credibility.

In the end, I believe that the best always rises to the top. I'm not afraid of legitimate competition, and I'm especially not worried about the frauds out there, because I know that what I have to offer is based on the best real-life experience, with a guarantee that what I teach will offer the average person a higher capability of surviving real-life violence over all other reality-based systems. Until today, the most dedicated members we have are the ones who trained in some of these other RBSD systems, because you can't really know what good is until you've experienced the worst.

JOHNSTONE: What's your opinion on the debate between sport-based and combat-oriented training systems?

MAMAN: I think everyone should do whatever it is that pleases them, as long as they do not mislead themselves. Sport is sport. It is designed for competitive application and not for the street. Individuals should not go into sportoriented systems such as MMA (mixed martial arts) or grappling and walk around with a false sense of security that they will be efficiently capable of surviving real-life street violence.

As for the combat-oriented systems, again, this all depends on the instructor. As long as the instructor actually understands the true dynamics and realistic elements of uncoordinated, no-rules, ill-intended violence, then the system can justify the term combat-oriented.

JOHNSTONE: What is your opinion on the grappling craze that has seized the martial arts community in recent years, and what type of grappling is taught in ISFKM?

MAMAN: The grappling craze can be attributed to Royce Gracie in his first and subsequent victories in the early era of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Royce most definitely proved to the martial arts world that there is a necessity for ground fighting, although the problem is that he did not quite delineate the way in which an individual has to fight on the ground for real-life survival.

Anybody who believes that sport-oriented grappling such as BJJ (Brazilian jiujitsu), judo, and wrestling will suffice for the street should first hold their next grappling match on a concrete pavement with no protective gear. That should be enough to give you an understanding of the problems with rolling around on the street. If not, have your training partner deploy a knife while you are busy fighting for an arm bar.

In ISFKM, our only goal is real-life survival. We don't fight with people, let alone grapple with them. Our goal is to terminate the threat as fast as possible to ensure our safety. What we do on the ground is the exact same thing we do standing up. We eliminate, very quickly, the attacker's ability to function and bring more complex elements into the attack, such as weapons. What we do functions for small civilians the exact same way that it would for a soldier bearing battle equipment or a police officer in his or her duty belt.

JOHNSTONE: What is your opinion regarding the various Israeli DT systems that have spread throughout the world, and why are there differences and much conjecture between many of them and their authenticity?

MAMAN: There are two sides that you must be aware of when you're talking about Israeli DT systems. First are Israeli systems that are actually part of the Israeli culture. These include Krav Maga, Hisardut, and Kapap. Krav Maga is the official, and the only, system of the IDF. Hisardut was developed by Dennis Hanover and has been part of the Israeli culture for many decades. And Kapap, led by Chaim Peer, is a commemorative movement, a tribute to the pre-Israel era of defensive training. Second are traditional martial arts systems represented by Israelis or hybrid systems created by Israelis. Again, some of these instructors are legitimate and talented individuals, while others are dishonest individuals trying to sell their homemade systems as official systems of the IDF or as false representations of Israeli Krav Maga.

JOHNSTONE: In your experience, what qualities do you need to see in a person before you know they are ready to be qualified as an instructor in ISFKM?

MAMAN: The ISFKM instructor certification course is open to individuals who are good people, no criminal records, have extensive martial arts/DT backgrounds coupled with adequate teaching experience, and can demonstrate that they will be good ambassadors of the system and our organization.

JOHNSTONE: What are your current and future plans for ISFKM?

MAMAN: ISFKM is one element of our organization, CT 707 Israeli Krav Systems, Inc. CT 707 specializes in Israeli counterterror warfare, tactical shooting, and Krav Maga training. Our programs are highly regarded by many military and police organizations around the world. We have instructor certifications available for counterterror and active-shooter intervention as well as Israeli dynamic response shooting. As for ISFKM, we offer civilian, police, and military instructor certifications.

JOHNSTONE: It's good to chat with you again, and thanks for your time, mate. We look forward to seeing you in Australia next year.

MAMAN: Thank you, my friend, and I look forward to visiting you guys in 2015.

About the Author(s): Freelance journalist Paul Johnstone has a combined 25 years of experience in protective security intelligence and counterterrorism. A former federal agent with the Australian Federal Police and with service in the Australian Army, Johnstone has been formally recognized for outstanding police investigations pertaining to complex fraud and war crimes. He has lectured and trained law enforcement, security, and military personnel throughout Australia, the People's Republic of China, Afghanistan, and the Pacific Rim and is the founder and principal director of Street-Edge Defensive Tactics and consultancy firm Defensive Measures International.

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