Eyal Yanilov


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.

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