Law Student Chronicles: What Do Krav Maga and Legal Reasoning Have in Common?


I’ve had an eventful 2L year! I juggled many responsibilities as a teaching assistant for legal writing, an articles editor on CU’s law review, a student attorney, and a student author in the Journal of Legal Education’s upcoming volume. In my free time, I’ve been attending a Colorado Krav Maga center in Broomfield, and I’m planning a Krav Maga event for Colorado Law. Naturally, then, Krav Maga was on my mind when I started writing this blog.

So what on earth does this Israeli self-defense system have to do with what I’ve learned over this long and eventful year?

More than meets the eye, actually. In a few very interesting ways, the principles of Krav Maga overlap with the principles of great legal reasoning. I’ll focus on three principles here, namely the principles of simplicity, spontaneity, and stress.


Krav Maga’s eye for simplicity sets it apart. There are no elaborate series of moves to Krav Maga, no dazzling flips or high kicks. Instead, its principle is to address threats simply and with economy of force. In my time as a teaching assistant, there is probably no piece of advice I give more often than the advice to “be taut.” Students and attorneys alike often write with a dense, convoluted style, in part because the subject itself is so difficult.

But a great legal argument can be taut regardless of its subject, just as a great self-defense technique can be taut regardless of the threat it addresses. Special relativity is a fairly dense subject, but Albert Einstein summed it up well with “E=mc2”. Ludwig Beethoven’s 5th Symphony takes over half an hour to play out, but its core theme comes down to four notes: ba-ba-ba-bum. Taut is simple. Taut is unforgettable. Taut is also spontaneous.


Part of what makes Krav Maga techniques so simple is that they incorporate people’s natural responses. In other words, since a person’s typical natural response to having a pistol or knife pointed at them is to raise their hands defensively, that gesture becomes the technique’s first step. As a mock judge, I was surprised to find that the best oral arguments flowed naturally and spontaneously off the tongue. Meanwhile, the more elaborate arguments were often so unnatural and forced that they raised more questions than answers.

One argument in particular embodies the principles covered in this blog. During an oral argument, I asked if I, as the Court, should be concerned about a certain discrepancy in the record. The sole witness to a crime identified the fleeing suspect as wearing a dark-blue parka, but the police brought forward a person wearing a light-blue parka. “Well, Your Honor…it was dark out there. And in the dark, stuff looks dark.” Despite the overly colloquial phrasing, logic like that flowed so naturally off the tongue that it silenced me. As simple and spontaneous as that answer was, the stress of oral arguments deserves credit for its role in creating such a well-worded answer.


Few people relish stress, but fewer still can deny that stress works wonders for quickly, enduringly acquiring new skills or knowledge. Every Krav Maga class builds up to a stress test, where the moves learned earlier are brought together again under pressure, in a stressful environment. It’s one thing to punch, kick, and send an elbow strike across an imaginary jaw, but another thing entirely to close your eyes, suddenly be grabbed, then send that punch, kick, and elbow.

While no one is going to grab you and shout “Are drone strikes constitutional?!” incorporating some level of stress into the process of legal reasoning could produce great results. Rather than being something to avoid at all costs, stress in reasonable amounts can sharpen the thought process, can push the mind to exceed its own expectations, and can enhance its creative potential.


Simplicity, spontaneity, and stress are principles that inform everything Krav Maga. A core tenant underlying those principles is that technique is more powerful than brute strength, that brainpower is more valuable than brawn. From simplicity and spontaneity to learning under stress, technique is also no less valuable to great legal reasoning.


image3By Gurney Pearsall. Born and raised in Texas, he is a 2L at CU Law and plans on becoming a judge advocate in the U.S. Army Reserves.