Story and photos by Verniece Zamora
Many have probably heard this at least once: When the student is ready, the teacher shows up. I guess this was the case when students eagerly made their way to Eyal Yanilov’s Master Tour in Sydney presented by Krav Maga Global (KMG) Australia and hosted by Urban Kombat one late Friday afternoon, that not even the downpour of rain or distance — some students came from as far as Newcastle and Wollongong — can dampen the spirit of either the student or the master.
I’ve had the privilege to meet with Eyal before the proper training started, and shortly after having waited in anticipation, Eyal’s presence graced mine. He arrived at the venue an hour before, a bit hungry, and probably a bit hopeful that a dose of sunshine from Gold Coast where he just finished the first leg of his tour had followed him.
“When Eyal is here, it’s a good energy,” Adam White, KMG Australia Director quips while we made our way out to grab a bite. And to that, I can testify. We spent about fifteen minutes driving around just trying to find a decent food shop that hasn’t closed for the day, and no sight of impatience was seen on the man’s face. He was one part chatty, one part collected, and one part that liked Indian food.
KRAV MAGA THEN AND NOW
Nobody can talk about Krav Maga without attributing it to its founder Imi Lichtenfeld. And nobody can talk about Eyal without acknowledging what he did for it (and still doing) over the years.
Eyal shares, “My teacher, the founder of the system was a real genius and have the best solution for specific problems. He didn’t teach a system, he was teaching techniques. So when we look at the way he was doing things, he was solving problems. We got a problem, he made a solution. If the problem was a little bit different, he’d consider a new solution. My job was to make it an integrated system.”
Eyal took up Engineering and assumed a communications role during the first phase of his work in the Israeli army. “I started pretty much in a technical, systematic thinking and background. So this obviously helped me and when I saw some things in the system that were contradicting the basic mechanics and physics, then I came to Imi… this was in the mid ‘80s, so we took very short time to change some things, take things out from the system, put things in the system. Definitely, I was leading this,” Eyal recalls.
During the late ‘80s, Eyal refined the whole curriculum to different levels and what the respective level would contain as they practically had the one Imi made in the ‘60s. As per Eyal, “That was the time when I turned Krav Maga into a technical system, meaning there are principles, and training methods. According to the principles, we do the techniques. We usually teach first the techniques then from the techniques, we drive the principles, and then you apply those principles in solving new problems that are similar to the basic techniques, and use solutions to variations of problems. At the time, I also wrote a section of the system that was about fighting, and tactics of fighting mainly for military books.”
PUTTING POLITICS TO REST
But even after years since Imi passed, one thing that hasn’t seem to die down is the constant debate we see whether online or not, about who’s supposedly next in line. As if the other should be more valid than the rest, as if there’s only one and no space for either or.
When asked how he wants to address this, he began by saying “If I look at my path,” which to me seems the best way to address most things in life. He continues, “I see that I was very close to him. I was for 24 years a student of his. I made an impact on the system. I was the person who made Krav Maga to a system. And I was the main person who was spreading Krav Maga around the world. Nobody did even think we were close to what I was doing. That’s one thing. That’s about myself. Since then, people follow. By myself, I’ve put up Krav Maga in 40 countries, nobody had done something like this in the world, even in other styles. So that’s concerning me, and my abilities, and my thinking.”
While that’s certainly admirable and while not taking anything away from such an accomplishment, what I found most remarkable was his sincerest desire to put the students’ interests first and foremost. “The politics shouldn’t matter to the students for sure. The students should get the best system. The student is the client. The student is the person that should get the best knowledge, the most efficient one in all these things,” he says.
He isn’t blind to certain issues surrounding Krav Maga though, most especially the ones pertaining to the people in it. Eyal notes, “One of the biggest problems is when people get out of organizations to go open their own place and separate from the teacher. Most of them do these because of money, ego, power. They don’t do this, most of them, because of understanding that what the teacher was doing was wrong in the sense of the system. I’m not talking about people who are problematic, or people who are behaving in a criminal way; I’m not talking about that.”
He continues, “I’m talking about a situation where a person is leaving the other person because he wants to be by himself and he’s changing what he knows or he’s changing what he learns from the teacher. And this happened in Krav Maga quite a lot, it happened to Imi, it happened to me, where people left me and opened their own stuff, and they changed just for the sake of changing. And that’s horrible. Because it takes something that’s the best possible or the best that we have now, and you change it, so you put your stamp on it and say, ‘okay I did it’ and then teaching something which is lesser.”
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MASTER
There’s some deep sense of respect for one who’s called a master. And rightly so, one wouldn’t achieve such without putting in all the unimaginable hours of hard work, commitment or blood, sweat, and tears as they put it. But when the topic of being a master was brought to the table, Eyal welcomed this in jest.
“I ask you a question: If I go to the toilet, where’s the master?” he jokes, to which we both shared a hearty laugh or two.
But then again, having done this for over four decades, he recognizes the dynamics between the mentor and the student. He shares, “Sometimes the issue would be that one person wants to control the other person where a school owner wants to control other instructors who want to progress and open their own place. And they see this as a competition. And instead of taking this as a compliment, of course it’s not fair to open across the street, but if I was a school owner and I have an instructor who wants to progress, I’ll help him to progress, I’ll help him to open up his own location because we can all benefit from that.”
He then went on and dropped the F word as in family, and painted this picture: “So if my son came to me and say, ‘I want to leave home to have my own family’, will I tell him no? Of course I would push him to do this. So a good instructor, school or not, should be like the father to the instructors under it. That’s the way it should be — helping to open, encourage him to open, don’t keep him tied and miserable, and without ability to support his own family.”
With that, I had a better understanding that perhaps being a master is more about mentoring, more about empowering, more about releasing people to realize their potential. Perhaps being a master is less about the title itself or the authority the title suggests.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND GREAT
There are good students, good instructors. And there are great students, great instructors. Now how do you tell the difference? Eyal has taught hundreds–thousands even–under his helm and notes what sets apart the good from the great are the motivation and the values.
He shares, “Two very important things. So in values, people don’t think about hurting other people, don’t think about making a name for themselves, don’t think about money. But the motivation is more about being excellent, more about helping other people, assisting other people to get their own goals, own dreams, assisting people to survive in the harsh conditions. These are the people we’re looking for when we think about instructors and people who’d be able to pass them to the next generation.”
Talking about the next generation and the future he sees for Krav Maga and how it’s going to evolve, Eyal shares something I personally subscribe to: constant improvement. Eyal shares, “What I see with what we do is, we are improving all the time. At this moment, it’s evolution. The revolution is in the system, most of them I was in-charge of, like for example making it to a technical system to a tactical system then having a section for third-party protection. There’s revolution in the system. Now we’re talking about evolution. A little bit better here, a little bit better on that.”
To set the trend further, there’s going to be more understanding about violence, more about natural responses. “Maybe there will be a problem or two that we haven’t seen before. Maybe there will be different weapons suddenly and we’ll have to deal with these things. It’s all evolution. We are trying to evolve better in certain countries like U.S., it’s very bad Krav Maga there. China, Japan. Progress in some of the countries,” he discloses.
HUMBLE FOR BOTH BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
Eyal Yanilov. Krav Maga Master Level 3. Expert Level 8. But behind the title he has earned is a simple man who only wishes to lead by example. Ending his interview on a humble note, much like his beginnings, he says, “I understand that yes, you may be high level in this, but still you’re a regular human being. You have one ass that can sit in one chair, one body, and you lie down in one bed. You can drive one car at a time, and if you dress up, and after you have been cleaned, take a shower, put some deodorant, put aftershave, and all these perfumes, and still, you have shit in the stomach, so you see, you’re still a human being.”
Eyal Yanilov. The man behind the master is one who speaks fondly of his family, one who holds the car door open for someone if only to see a glimpse of chivalry, one who thinks about his people, and tries to enjoy life.
He adds, “The mental and spiritual side is something that’s important for me. So definitely to improve my abilities in the mental aspect, the body, the mind. The mind will hopefully be stronger, and the body weaker, that time is passing so that’s me.”
We left the restaurant and made our way to the venue, making sure we don’t keep the students waiting much further. We walked back to the car and I thought perhaps multi-tasking was another of his expertise, particularly eating and indulging my curious wonder at the same time.
We walked back to the car and had this funny exchange. I say, “I hope you enjoyed your food while talking. I feel so bad.”
“Why? You do your mission. I do my mission,” Eyal says back to me.
“Because you should be able to eat your food in peace. Imi wants everyone to walk in peace, and I want you to eat in peace,” I tell him, and we both laugh.
But then again some days, I guess you can’t have it both ways.