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Krav Maga vs Muay Thai vs Systema | 3 fighting styles explained

We’ve been discussing almost frivolously a lot about how a certain martial arts technique would stack up against another fighting style, but trust me when I say that we’re not doing this to compare which style is better – instead we highlight the best of each style and present it as an inspiration for you to learn martial arts and self-defense.

We also would not insist that you just train in Krav Maga as this website is about Krav Maga, but to choose to train in any of the martial arts that you think is best suited for you, or to train in several of them if you so desired.

Or you can also be just an enthusiast researching about Krav Maga and other martial arts techniques.

So in this article, we will once again highlight three different martial arts techniques and dissect their tactics in combat in order for us to understand how effective they are in real fights.

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The three martial arts in question are Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Systema. Now each of these fighting styles were developed in different countries, influenced by their distinct cultures and used for a specific purpose.

Read more: essential training equipment you’ll need for Krav Maga

Krav Maga Fighting Style

krav maga israeli street fightingKrav Maga was developed in Israel almost a century ago and was used for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Israeli Military needed a martial arts technique that was easy to learn, extremely deadly and efficient enough for rapid deployment.

They wanted their conscripts to be ready for battle in less than 6 months in order to fight against their neighboring countries who had an Islamic fundamental belief that strongly opposes other religions including Judaism and Christianity. The result was the small but strong IDF military that has successfully defended the state of Israel for decades on.

Today Krav Maga is taught to various law enforcement agencies across the globe as well as ordinary civilians and is highly respected as one of the best self-defense techniques in the world!

Principles and Disciplines

The basic principles behind Krav Maga involve over a dozen things which the KM practitioner needs to keep in mind upon entering combat. If he or she has these principles in their minds plus the constant environmental awareness, then they can react and respond accordingly and anticipate an attack based on careful observations.

You simply just can’t let your guard down, especially if the area you work in or live in has a high crime rate, or you’ll most likely become the next victim of a violent crime. In Krav Maga you will be taught how to think on your feet, quickly identify threats around you, plan ahead and be a brute force when the occasion arises.

Here are some of the basic principles of Krav Maga:

Neutralize the Threat Immediately

The primary goal in Krav Maga is to neutralize your threat as quickly as possible. This is the single most important goal in Krav Maga and it influences all of the other key principles in this fighting system because it is crucial to your safety and survival to dominate and incapacitate your attacker as quickly as possible. There are no second chances in a fight, especially if your opponent is determined to end your life, therefore even dirty tricks are acceptable in Krav Maga. So you either hit him hard, fast and put him down or he does the exact same thing to you.

Keep it Simple

Remember that you are trained in Krav Maga and not Kung Fu. While it is difficult to understand why Shaolin monks do the kung fu stance, dances and gestures, they say that it is meant for them to harness their Qi (or chi). It is true that they can do all sorts of crazy stuff once they’ve tuned in their Qi and this includes a bend or break 2-inch thick hardwood, rocks and even steel! But in Krav Maga you do not get that luxury, so no katas it’s just going to be kicking asses with strikes, holds, and blocks.

Simultaneous Attack and Defense

Most martial arts treat defensive and offensive moves as separate and discrete actions where sometimes attacking moves leave the fighter defenseless on their unprotected sides; or conversely defending against attacks will deprive him of the opportunity to strike back or counter. But in some sense these principles in other fighting systems have a purpose, for example, when an expert karateka (a karate practitioner) feels that his opponent is too weak and pathetic for his level of skill, then he will simply fight defensively and not strike the man to cause him severe injury or even death.
In Krav Maga fighters are taught to use both offensive and defensive moves alternately in combat with incredible bursts of speed, precision and without pause. Dominating and overwhelming the opponent so hard that he won’t be able to counter and be put down in mere seconds!

Retzev (Continuous Motion)

What I had just described at the last sentence of the previous principle is what retzev means, continuous motion or more precisely the “seamless explosion of violence.” Retzev allows you to preemptively attack any threat, denying them the opportunity to do counter attacks and ultimately subduing them.

Use Weapons or Weaponize Any Object You can Find

In Krav Maga anything goes when you keep self-preservation in mind and incorporating firearms and knives into your fighting techniques is not only acceptable, but also essential to your survival. But it’s not just these traditional weapons to incorporate in your KM moves that are taught in Krav Maga schools, they also teach KM fighters to be resourceful and use everyday objects such as keys, pens, belts, and chairs in order to add power and lethality to your attacks.

Gun, Knife, and Weapons Disarming

Using weapons to defend yourself in Krav Maga is just one side of the coin and the other side of that is weapons disarming techniques. These lessons are very important for when you’re in situations where you can’t find any item to weaponize and use against your opponent and that it should only be done at very close range fighting.

Focus Your Attacks on the Target’s Vulnerable Spots (Pressure Points and Soft Tissues)

Krav Maga emphasizes a lot on self-preservation, so you don’t ever go soft on your opponent when you’re in a life and death situation. Once you’ve decided to enter battle all your attacks should be focused on the most vulnerable parts of your opponent! Hitting their body’s pressure points and soft tissues guarantee that they’ll go down immediately.
This is especially important if you’re facing multiple opponents. The quicker you dispose of them, the sooner you can deal with the next target until you have cleared the area of any threats, or at least take out half of them to give you enough time to find an escape route and flee to safety and/or plan an ambush in case they’ve decided to keep pursuing you.

Subduing Techniques

In addition to striking attacks, Krav Maga also utilizes subduing techniques in order to de-escalate a violent confrontation. Sometimes you get involved in situations where there are no real threats to your safety, but you simply need to control someone drunk or emotionally unstable and could become a problem for the people in your area. Joint locks and different grab tactics are employed to put the target in enough pain to make them realize what they’re doing and make them stop.

Learn how to get started in our simple 30 minute sparring exercise guide.

Muay Thai Fighting Style

muay thai trainingMuay Thai or Thai boxing is a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. It was dubbed as the “Art of Eight Limbs” like a spider having eight limbs to fight and similarly, this name became symbolic to the martial arts because fighters would resemble spiders fighting in the ring for supremacy; except, in this case, the humans use fists, elbows, knees and shins (8 striking points thus the name) in lightning speed combination moves to put their opponent down.

Muay Thai is among the top 10 most practiced martial arts in the world and, as a matter of fact, most MMA fighters have trained in Muay Thai as it is the basis for mixed martial arts fighting.

History and Key Principles of Muay Thai

The history of Muay Thai can be traced back to the famous Siamese fighter Nai Khanomtom (Siam was the former name of Thailand that started around 1238 AD all the way up to the present) who, during the Burmese and Siam wars, was captured by the rival kingdom in 1767.

The Burmese were aware of his impressive hand-to-hand combat skills and one of the commanders of the camp, where he was imprisoned, wagered him his freedom if he could defeat 10 Burmese fighters in a fair fight full contact match. Khanomtom agreed to the wager and won, as a result, they had to honor their bargain and let him go.

He was later on celebrated as a hero when he returned to Siam.

Soon more and more people learned Nai Khanomtom’s fighting style and competed with other fighters for prize money. As time went on they had given his fighting style a name and they called it muay boran or toi muay which literally translates to “ancient boxing” and included it as a type of sports entertainment in their festivals.

In the 20th century, it was renamed to just simply Muay Thai and had officially become Thailand’s national sport.

The Professional Boxing Association of Thailand (P.A.T) and World Professional Muaythai Federation (WMF) overseas serves as the governing bodies of Muay Thai and kickboxing tournaments. Through these institutions, thousands of Muay Thai competitions have been held and many champions have been declared over the decades.

The core principles of Muay Thai are:

  • Control of position and overall physical balance
  • Be able to hit the opponent to score points or, in a real street fight, hit him with enough force to put him down
  • Utilizing the clinch as a factor in scoring points or pinning the opponent to prepare your next devastating move
  • Strikes that are from the waist and up are crucial to winning a match
  • Aggressive fighting will not win you a fight, dominating and devastating moves will
  • Thai culture is evoked by some sort of rite or custom

It’s Not Just Offense: 5 Defensive Skills for Muay Thai

If you’re familiar with other martial arts, but not Muay Thai, then you can easily mistake this fighting style as a fully offensive martial arts technique much like Taekwondo. However, what people don’t realize is that Muay Thai does teach defensive movements to protect the fighter during the fight.

A good balance of offensive and defensive moves in martial arts is the key to success. Here are 5 defensive skills that are taught in Muay Thai:

#1 Defense Timing

I remember a quote from a wing chun master saying, “observe when your opponent gathers chi (inhales), because that is the signal when he is about to attack you.” Your reaction time in responding to your opponent’s attacks is detrimental to your success or defeat in Muay Thai just as much as any other martial arts.
Reading your opponent’s moves and coupling it with your reflexes plus your agility in fighting will help you a lot in the ring or in a real street fight. You’d need to be able to predict when your opponent decides to attack and where he wants to hit you, so you can decide which arm or leg to use to block his attack and deliver a counter-offensive faster than the eye can blink.

#2 Footwork and Balance

Muhammad Ali was perhaps the athlete who utilized footwork to his advantage and the same principle is also taught in Muay Thai. Being able to use footwork effectively helps you close the distance or to create a significant distance between you and your opponent to bring him within arms reach for a strike, or spring away from him to avoid getting hit.
If you’re able to master shifting your balance between both legs, then you will be able to master the footwork and beat your opponent through strength and agility.

#3 Head Movement

Muay Thai fighters use boxing gloves to protect themselves from serious injuries during the fight and it’s hard to completely block your opponent’s strikes with those things wrapped around your hands. Therefore just like in boxing, you must also master the head movement (i.e. duck, lean to the left or right to avoid jabs, etc.) so you won’t get hit in the face or your head.
Hard knockouts in all fights are usually caused by a powerful hit to the head area, which weakens a person’s nervous system and offset his balance. If you don’t use head movement during the fight, then you’re easier to defeat as it makes you an easy target.

#4 An Effective Teep

The teep is one of the moves that Bruce Lee adopted to his Jeet Kune Do martial arts technique. It is performed by extending either leg to the front, typically in a front kick style to hit the opponent’s knees, midsection, torso and/or if necessary the head in order to push him back and cut off his attacks.
Similar to the jab, the teep can be used as a disruption tool to help control your opponent. Using this tool effectively in a fight will help you recover from a serious hit, give you a few seconds to rest and breathe as well as gear up for the next engagement and plan your next attack to defeat your opponent.

#5 A Strong Guard

So far all the other defensive moves we’ve discussed only help you either block or evade strikes; however, these techniques use up too much of your energy fairly quickly and if you’re not careful, it can wear you out.
This is why you’ll also need to learn to build a strong guard and be able to take hits, while still have enough power to make a counter offensive. Practice this defensive move a lot in order to build your body strong enough to withstand your opponent’s attacks. In time you will become the best Muay Thai fighter that you’ve always hoped for.

Also read more on Krav Maga vs Teakwondo and Kung Fu

The Systema Fighting Style

Systema which is roughly translated in Russian as “The System” or “The Fighting System” is a unique Russian martial arts technique that teaches hand-to-hand combat, grappling, knife fighting, and firearms training.

Although training in Systema have drills and sparring the instructors teaches this fighting style without any katas as oppose to standard Japanese martial arts.

Systema will teach you to free your body off of any tensions to facilitate effortless movements, gain flexibility, explosive potential and build endurance in order to last longer than your opponent in a fight.

You will also be taught how to elevate your mind in order to deepen your spirit by controlling your pride and ego, doing away with fear, self-pity and delusion as well as not linger your thoughts on irritation or anger, which will ultimately keep your state of mind perpetually calm even when you’re fighting.

The origins of Systema

Systema derived from the hand-to-hand combat skills that the Cossack and Slavic peoples have honed for hundreds of years. It is not known whether or not they were influenced by Chinese or any other South East Asian martial arts; however, a few principles of the Systema is similar to that of other South East Asian fighting styles.

These days the Russian Special Forces called Spetsnaz included Systema as well as a few other martial arts techniques into their training and has been proven against domestic disturbances, major wars, and terrorism. Systema is just like Krav Maga and it too doesn’t have a combat “blueprint” or basic kata; it’s also very easy to learn.

Besides the Russian army Systema is also practiced by civilians in Eastern Europe as well as other parts of the world.

There is practically at least one Systema school that teaches this martial art in every country in the world.

The 4 Pillars of Systema (Core Principles)

#1 Breathing

The Cossack and Slavic peoples got it right when it comes to harnessing Qi or chi energy (the human lifeforce), although I doubt their intention was to use it as an offensive weapon like the Shaolin monks do. But still breathing exercises before any training starts is the proper way to learn and develop your martial arts skills and in Systema, this is emphasized. No one ever makes powerful attacks by exhaling first, therefore taking up a lot of oxygen to burn significant amounts of energy for your attacks is the way to go about it.

#2 Relaxation

The second principle in Systema is relaxation and it all has to do with calming the mind, because you will not be able to anticipate the fight nor plan your attacks if your mind is too busy multitasking on useless things. When your mind is clear, you can focus your attention and not get easily distracted, and this is very important during a fight.

#3 Body Positioning

This is an important principle in Systema just as much as in any other martial arts, because it helps you understand which stance is the best to take intaking on an opponent. A weak stance creates a weak balance and it can hinder or restrain your movements, which will then give your opponent the opportunity to strike and put your down. A good stance should always help you block your opponent’s attacks and get around his defenses for you to move in close enough for a good strike that would end the fight quickly.

#4 Movement

Having gone through all of the other pillars of Systema you should now be ready to unleash your explosive potential and become a martial arts monster that you never thought you could become!
The best thing about Systema is that you only use about 25% of your physical strength and the rest of the force you’ll need to take down your opponent comes from his own strength when he created the momentum to attack you. You simply act as a lever to throw him off balance and applied a little of your own strength, which is all that is needed to subdue him.


For me, I think that martial arts should be included in a nation’s cultural heritage as they were given birth to by the people who needed it for self-preservation and to protect their culture and legacy as a people. I sincerely do not believe that a particular martial art is above any other martial arts as each has their own uniqueness.

The martial arts and the culture that they represent have a rich history on their own and their techniques are perfected over the centuries, which is now showcased in television as a sport that we’ve come to love and enjoy.

Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Systema are all great fighting styles and I encourage people to train in them to become the better versions of themselves.