Krav Maga Lessons From The Drunken Master

Krav master

Way back in 1978, the legendary Jackie Chan starred in a movie that was to launch his career as one of the most recognizable faces in Kung Fu cinema for the next forty years.

That classic movie was called Drunken Master, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. (Don’t ask questions, just find it and watch it.)

It tells the story of a young, rebellious man named Wong, who gets into all sorts of trouble before winding up under the dubious instruction of a Kung Fu master who is also a raving alcoholic... and, of course, Wong gets into even deeper trouble as he goes along… and then has to fight a professional assassin in order to save innocent lives. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

In addition to being a story you should honestly watch when you’re a bit drunk yourself, it also showcases the Chinese tradition of “drunken style” fighting within many Kung Fu styles, where the movements mimic those of someone who is fall-down drunk. It’s really cool to watch and is actually a surprisingly good tactic in a fight. (And I have it on good authority that it’s best practiced under realistic conditions, if you get my drift.)

drunken master

So what does this have to do with Krav Maga, I hear you ask? Well, here’s a quick story.
Disclaimer: These events took place several years ago, and are intended for educational purposes only.


Once upon a time, I was conducting instructor certification training with a candidate Krav Maga instructor, who we’ll call Matt. (We can call him that because that’s actually his name.)

Matt lives in Arizona now, and he was an interesting character: he’d competed in international fencing and wrestling at a high level, and he was (and still is) a skilled and strategic Kravist.
At that point, I’d spent the better part of two weeks working through the certification syllabus with him, and it was tiring work: long, hot midsummer days, plenty of bruises, and a great deal of energy and focus being expended.

For the final day of training, he asked if I’d like to come over to his place and finish up the training there, because he wanted to show me two of his hobbies that he’d previously told me about, and I was keen to take a look.

Before I left that morning, Jen reminded me to get back a little earlier.
“Don’t be too late,” she said with a mock sternness and a smile. “You know how absorbed you get. Remember, we have a class to teach this evening.”

Off I went, and was duly welcomed into Matt’s home, where we began training for the day. After two or three hours, the heat was becoming oppressive, and we decided to take a break. And, at that point, Matt introduced me to his two hobbies: making amazing blends of honey sourced from a nearby beekeeper, and brewing craft beer.

I have to tell you that both were delicious. I had no idea just how many kinds of honey there were, and how honey could also be used to make mead – an old Viking-style drink that seduces you and pretends to be harmless. He gave me some – in the interests of historic homage – and it was indeed most seductive.
Then there was the marvelous intricacy of Matt’s home distillery, and I learned that brewing beer, although seemingly simple, is actually science, art, and magic all rolled into one. I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted beer so smooth or refined, or seen quite so many fascinating varieties.

The training continued, and we took regular breaks to replenish the lost fluids and to refresh ourselves. Normally the last day of instructor certification training can feel like an ordeal, but this one flowed beautifully and it felt like Matt was just doing everything right. The time came for me to depart, and we shook hands, slapped backs, had a quick one for the road, and off I went.


There was just enough time to get home, shower, change, and dash off to the evening class. I felt energetic, invigorated, and ready for a great session with the students. Sure enough, the class kicked off, and it was beautiful, with high energy, great attendance, and everyone in the zone.

The only one not in the zone was Jen: she kept looking at me with a slightly worried expression.

About three quarters of the way through, I decided to sit the students down and talk through some of the principles that lay behind the techniques we’d been practicing. I focused on biomechanics: how we use levers, how the human body can be subtly manipulated, and how to switch from oh-so-subtle setups into lightning-fast counterattacks. The students, it seemed, were entranced. They were hanging on every word, nodding thoughtfully, and even making notes.

When I was done, I looked enquiringly at the group.
“Any questions?”
A student named Denis raised his hand. Denis was Russian, tough as nails, and a habitually blunt Krav Maga class questioner whose insights often led to deep philosophical discussions between students, or fistfights between students, depending on the day.

I nodded, and he pointed to my feet.
“I have question. Why you are wearing different shoes?”

I glanced down, and realized, to my bemusement, that I was indeed wearing an orange sports shoe on one foot and a black one on the other. They were different brands, too. I had absolutely no idea how that could have happened.

“It’s an awareness exercise,” I said authoritatively. “Well done, Denis.”
He beamed at me.

Krav Maga guru
After the class, a number of students came up to me, and a couple messaged me later, to say how they’d enjoyed the interlude where I took the time to dig deep into the theoretical concepts behind the physics and philosophy of Krav Maga. It was deep, they told me. A great deal of it was completely beyond their comprehension, they said, but they understood that I was discussing nuances of the martial arts that beginners quite naturally couldn’t be expected to fully understand.

Jen insisted on driving us back home, and the discussion in the car was somewhat illuminating.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me?” she said. “For heaven’s sake, I thought you were having a stroke in class. You were talking so much rubbish that I actually can’t believe anyone fell for it.”

I realized, at that moment, that I was not as together as I had imagined, and that the day of sweaty training, oppressive heat, seductive mead, and smooth beer, had apparently affected me quite adversely.

To this day, there are still people who remember that class, and only one or two know the real reason why it was so… special.

Life, of course, is about lessons, and my most immediate one was the horrifying hangover I woke up with the next morning. But there were other lessons, too, that presented themselves upon further reflection.

drunk krav maga


Lesson 1: There’s an old martial arts quote that says for every drink you have, you lose two years of training. It’s true. You really don’t become smarter or faster or stronger.

Lesson 2: Don’t – DO NOT – drive after you’ve had a drink. Not even one. Don’t do it. I was stupidly irresponsible to do so, even though I didn’t feel like I’d had too much. Please, please, don’t do it, ever. After that day, I instituted a vow that I would never, ever get behind the wheel after even one drink, and I’ve kept that vow. How is that relevant to Krav Maga? Simple. The purpose of Krav Maga is to preserve life – yours, that of your loved ones, and of other people.

Lesson 3: Don’t blindly believe everything your Krav Maga instructor tells you. If it sounds like hogwash, it might be. Pro tip: check his shoes.

Lesson 4: Situational awareness is more than just watching your six in a dodgy part of town. And that’s because “situations” aren’t always what other people do, but also what you do.

kung fu drunk

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