It’s a recurring theme in the martial arts: A young person is in need of self-defense skills — perhaps he or she lives in an area rife with threats — and that person is fortunate to be taken under the wing of a teacher who’s a whiz at analyzing violent scenarios and then finding solutions to physical problems. The young person demonstrates an aptitude for learning the master’s lessons, which of course gets noticed by the master, who assigns the young person teaching responsibilities. When the master leaves this world, the torch is passed. The art continues to evolve, only now it’s under the leadership of a new visionary.
That, in a nutshell, is the life of Eyal Yanilov. At age 14, he began learning krav maga under an instructor in Israel before becoming a student of Imi Lichtenfeld, the man who created the system. Yanilov excelled, and Lichtenfeld made him his assistant instructor and right-hand man
In those days, Yanilov said, krav maga was not really a martial art or even an organized system. It was more of a collection of effective techniques with little in the way of philosophy or theory. “Imi himself was the ‘walking system,’ but he didn’t teach a system,” Yanilov said.
There were moves for escaping from holds, moves for stopping strikes and moves for taking away weapons. Most were followed by quick and destructive counterattacks. “Back then, military and police techniques such as holds, takedowns, defending against bayoneted-rifle attackers and sentry removals were also taught — even to teenagers,” Yanilov said.
In the mid-1980s, Yanilov, educated as an electrical engineer and with a strong background in physics and mechanics, deepened his understanding of sport science when he attended the School for Trainers and Instructors at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, Israel. The coursework helped solidify his grasp of the
movements that made up krav maga. Later, Yanilov expanded his knowledge of martial arts in general by training with James Keenan, a man with advanced rank in taekwondo, karate and the Chinese arts. His horizons were slowly being expanded.
Yanilov’s efforts were deemed a success by Lichtenfeld, and the two started writing official krav maga books and manuals. In 1985 Yanilov began teaching his modified methods to Israeli anti-terrorism and spec-ops units, and in 1987 he introduced them to American police departments.
In the late ’80s, Yanilov crafted a new krav maga curriculum while transforming it into what he calls a more “technical system,” and Lichtenfeld approved of that, as well. Yanilov set about teaching the curriculum to the top instructors in Israel. Some accepted it and learned, while others did not. Nevertheless, in the ’90s, Yanilov went international with it.
Then in 1998, Lichtenfeld passed away, leaving Yanilov in charge. It was a monumental loss, but it did not deter Yanilov from continuing to fine-tune krav maga. He decided on his next endeavor: formulating tactics for use in a variety of selfdefense situations, including those best dealt with in nonviolent ways. “Krav maga was becoming a holistic and integrated system of selfdefense, fighting tactics and thirdparty/VIP protection,” Yanilov said. It was now a full-fledged martial art.
Before he died, Lichtenfeld awarded Yanilov the highest rank he gave anyone, as well as a Founder’s Diploma of Excellence. Yanilov then left his position as head of the professional committee of the Israeli Krav Maga Association and served as chief instructor and chairman of the International Krav Maga Federation, which he founded with six of his advanced students. In 2010 Yanilov launched Krav Maga Global – KMG. It is active in 60 countries and has more than 1,500 instructors operating in hundreds of gyms.
One thing his followers, no matter which country they hail from, admire about Yanilov is his focus on the practical. “Blocks, deflections and parries — all these are natural responses of human beings,” he said in a 2011 interview. “You raise your hands in front of your face if something is going to hit you. You put out your arms if you’re going to fall. You do the same if something comes toward you and you want to stop it from hitting you. They’re basic reflexes. They definitely work. The natural response is the foundation for the techniques. They start the same way — that’s why they can be used under stress and danger.”
At the same time, he’s brutally honest in his assessment of everything he teaches. “Naturally, if a 250-pound man is attacking a 100pound girl, some defenses she can do and some she can’t,” he said in the same interview.
All who train under Yanilov in Krav Maga Global appreciate that no-holds-barred approach to instruction. It’s one of the reasons they trust his leadership. “I took the techniques Imi showed before he died in 1998, tried to understand the principles behind them, and applied those principles and variations of them to new problems,” he told Black Belt in 2015. “Eventually, the techniques, principles, tactics, mental preparation and physical training become meshed and integrated. It’s all taught in a very specific and unique way. This is modern krav maga.”
For his efforts to make modern krav maga available to all who are in need of its unarguable effectiveness, Black
Belt has named Eyal Yanilov its 2018 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year.