Understanding Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning (Revised Edition)

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By Eyal Yanilov and Ole Boe

It’s easy to be happy when you are healthy and successful. But how about when you are in trouble? How would you behave? How would you deal with disappointment, failure and defeat?

While we, the writers, originally came from the worlds of martial arts, training of Governmental units and Special Forces and specialize in how to deal with conflicts, violence and combat, and except our academic backgrounds, like you, we live in a world where most confrontations aren’t violent or physical.

Every confrontation has mental components and we have lots of these small and stressful non-physical conflicts every day and probably multiple times throughout the day. From those minor & annoying ones like the mother in-law who invited the family to dinner or the neighbor blocking in our car to the boss who is extra difficult & gives us last minute assignments. This except the hundreds of small tasks that are saturating (thus stressing) us daily, like emails, text messages, Facebook, phone calls, meetings. 


To withstand any kind of conflict, you need mental resources and to handle those hundreds of small missions you constantly need some decision making, focusing and division of attention. We all know that to win a street fight, overcome a criminal who invaded our home, be victorious on the battlefield or just finish a strenuous training session or a competition, one also needs to recruit specific mental capabilities:

  • Perseverance
  • Ccontrolled-aggression
  • Determination
  • Courage
  • Focus.

Those capabilities are in addition to, or even the foundation of, the physical and technical components that should be used to prevail in those ordeals. So, in the daily life of a modern homo sapiens, it is important for you to train your mind so you’ll be able to function at your best during a meeting with your employees, a family gathering with people who may criticize your thoughts and way of life, or face your doctor when he is trying to tell you how to handle your body in order to overcome injury or illness.

Have you ever asked yourself: “am I controlling my mind or does it controls me?” This excellent question is probably raised when your palms are sweating, your heart pumping and your legs and hands move restlessly before a competition, an important business meeting or when you wanted to invite someone you fancy to the school’s prom.

Like most of us, you too often feel that your mind is like a wild bull in a Texan rodeo, jumping around, wagging you all over, very dynamic and constantly flickering. What to do about this wild mind/bull?

Simply, and analogous to physical training, you need to get the tools and knowledge to tame this wild one and harness it. Then through a specific mental training regime, you’ll be able to perform much better during all missions, jobs and duties (that one has in life as well as is in confrontation). Eventually, after training you’ll reach a point where you will be able to apply the needed mental resources effortlessly, with the best possible self-control and maximum attention with minimal stress and exertion.

Train in all Directions

In KMG (Krav Maga Global) we talks about four “pillars” that we continually work on improving in ourselves and our trainees:

  • Technical
  • Tactical
  • Mental
  • Physical

If one of them is not sufficiently developed, the whole platform on top will crash down.

In each of the four pillars there is vast amount of knowledge and material. For comparison, just think about the many techniques, principles and training methods you have in a common fighting sport or martial art. How many drills, exercises and regimes do you have in a fitness method like Strong First?

When we are talking about MENTAL TRAINING, it is no different. There is a lot for us to learn and obtain in order to reach higher levels in our lives.


We see Four Integrated “Pillars” in Mental Preparation and Training:

  • Combat Mindset
  • Focusing and concentration
  • Relaxation and
  • Defusing of Destructive Emotions.

In each one of these sections we have principles, techniques, training methods and regimes.

Would you like to be familiar with the best exercises in order to develop a good combat mindset? What happens to our minds & bodies under stress? How should you train yourself in order to maintain focus on a specific task? What are the best techniques for relaxation? How do you become better at turning your aggression on and off? How should we improve decision-making under stressful conditions? How can you assist your clients, colleagues, family or friends with knowledge so they can improve themselves?

This blog post will hopefully give some answers to these questions and direct you on some options how to get more.

Controlling Our Fears and Emotions, Is It Possible?

Some years ago one of our experts, a very experienced officer in a SWAT team, asked for a drill to control and reduce stress (such that rises when on a dangerous mission like hostage rescue or raiding a house with terrorists). He got from us a simple drill of rhythmic breathing and visualization. Its essence was to inhale, stop, and exhale in 4 seconds for each segment, while focusing on the points where the air flow changes direction. This drill should be done during preparation period before the action begins and also on a daily basis.

The next time we met, the guy said “this drill changed my life”. It enabled him to control his mind and the stress during missions. Though a skilled field officer, with a simple mental drill that was practiced diligently he became more focused and was able to function much better, thus even after more than 10 years in the special unit he managed to change his life.

Another example is of a friend studying at a medical university that had to take blood from several patients. That young woman, together with dozens of other medical students, was in a complete panic after they all failed their first ever attempts to take blood from each other. We gave her a drill that we call “accept defeat”. In essence, you start with visualizing and “practicing”, only once, the worst-case scenario. Then, in several stages, you progress from the worst to the best event result and most desirable outcome. After that you visualize, and if possible physically train, 10-20 times on the best possible scenario. The session took about 30 minutes. The next day that young woman came first at her class and flawlessly did the blood extraction from several patients. What happened, her mind was desensitized, in real time her subconscious “felt” that it has “been there and done that” before, even if it was only visualized.

BTW, if you do not think that visualization can change you, do recall what happens in a wet dream J.

A third example is of a lawyer, a fan of fitness training, who occasionally found himself partly paralyzed while defending his clients in court, especially in front of a specific judge. The training drills and the sessions that were given to him were related to focusing on a point while sitting down on a small elevated surface (not to put stress on the back). He had to inhale in a comfortable rhythm of 6 or more seconds, hold his breath for 50% longer, exhale for twice the time and then inhale again. So possible rhythms were 6,9,12, or 8,12,16, etc. depending on the capacity. He had to do this once a day, starting from 5 minutes. The other drill he had to do is pose himself like a military Sargent major giving orders to new conscripts while that judge was one of them. Imagine himself much bigger that the judge and the others, looking at him from above and giving them orders while still having empathy for them, as he, the Sargent major has to prepare them for military life. After few weeks of training, when our lawyer friend had to appear in front of that judge he felt much more confident and performed with assurance and success. The feeling of confidence increased in every appearance in front of other judges too.

In those described cases the difference was in the combat mindset. The dangers stayed the same, the criminals were trigger happy and the patients were no different than usual. The transformation that happened in the minds of the SWAT officer and medical student made a change in the performances, life became controllable, missions easier to handle, and resulted in success.

If you train, surely you’ll learn the proper techniques, practice, and practice more and you will get better. Get the knowledge from the books or the teachers (much better), train and get the experience and you will improve drastically. But, how much to invest in training. There are only 24 hours per day.

You don’t necessarily need to reach the level of a monk in a remote monastery, and indeed you probably should not become one. Most of us are family people, living in western society, owning lots of stuff, working day and night in order to pay our bills, have a home, car, computer, wardrobe full of clothing, spouse, a kid or two, and that’s only the beginning! We need tools and skills to cope and deal with those demands of modern life, but we can’t sit 10 hours a day in a meditation pose. The mental training and preparation, skills, techniques and methods that we need should be suitable to people like us. The more we train (and naturally we should train correctly), the stronger we’ll be. Exactly like in the world of physical training and SF, half an hour a day will do wonders and take you very far.

If we wish to be strong and fit like those models that we have in Strong First, it takes time and they didn’t reach it overnight. If (God forbid) we wish to have big muscles like those of Mr. Olympia, it will take us years, even decades. In mental training the fruits come with time. After 3 months of SF training, you can already notice the results as you got better and stronger, after 1 year the results are even more evident. In mental training it is no different. The conclusion – set your goals, get the knowledge and start training, get feedback from the more knowledgeable student or instructor and continue training accordingly.

Remember, nobody can do it for you, exactly like no one can swing the Kettlebell for you, so in order to become stronger, you have to train.


The Components

When we talk about developing mental skills, we usually think of six mental training strategies (or tree of training regimes):

  • Visualization
  • Goal setting
  • Positive self-talk (and changing of internal monologue)
  • Combat mindset (courage, determination, perseverance,controlled aggression)
  • Focusing

Integrating and utilizing these six main strategies we aim to develop confidence; control of physical arousal; attention control (focusing and spreading attention); arousal control; imagery use or visualization; commitment; self-talk use and the commitment to stay in good physical condition.

Working on determination, decision making skills, training Krav Maga or other fighting styles, martial arts and competitive sports definitely helps to develop your combat mindset. However, there is so much more to mental training, especially if we wish to be successful in life, business and personal relations.

At Krav Maga Global, we designated a framework to teach our guys, instructors and students, the “tools of the trade”. About 20 years ago we started to train managers in the corporate and governmental sectors, using KM as a vehicle to understand and deal with stress. We took a big step several years ago when we developed an Instructor course for KMG instructors and a Specialist course for those high level individuals who have no Krav Maga experience, but still are in relevant fields. People involved in the sectors of teaching fitness, martial arts, corporate coaches and commanders and instructors of military and law enforcement units can benefit immensely from mental preparation and training. We call it – Combat Mindset and Mental Conditioning Instructor and Specialist Courses (since we love abbreviations, the MCIC for short). Some of our fellow KMG instructors refer to the CMIC as “slaying giants” while others call it the “staring into the wall” course, like in the movie:Men who stare at goats!


 Courtesy IMDB.com: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Eeehhh, so we do stare into a wall, but only for a short period of time, it’s even one of the focusing drills in our curriculum. The purpose of such a technique is to quiet the self-talk, the internal monologue going on inside your head, and to make you take control of yourself with a better ability to focus.


The director and the dwarf (Oles Experience)

“Eyal has always been searching for and developing the best mental tools for preparing the mind. I remember an incident around 1999 during an instructor update. Eyal gave us an exercise in which we were to imagine and visualize a specific opponent and change his or her image to something that was better for our minds. I remember at that time the director of Krav Maga in Sweden was a really big guy, and you knew that if it came to sparring with him you would really get punished. So, I decided to try to change this. The exercise was quite simple. We were told to close our eyes and to see our opponent in our mind’s eye. I chose to visualize that big director. Then we were told to change the image of the opponent to black-and white, then to a small cartoon image with a funny voice, like old version of Mickey Mouse. Then we were told to start moving him around in the training room and to put him in a corner like he is punished. I managed to do this and to my surprise, I started laughing. Instead of seeing this huge, quite scary person, I was now seeing a black-and-white kind of dwarf sitting in a corner. Not so scary anymore. I also visualized myself sparring with this dwarf. During the next two weeks I continued to work on this scenario. Then it became time to do another sparring session with that big fighter. Right now, you are probably thinking, did I win? No, I did not, but my mindset was very different. Suddenly it was not scary anymore to spar with him and my performances were much better. This was probably the first time in my life I really understood the power of mental training. Later I learned from Eyal that the technique was in the line of Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP). I had been exposed to a lot of mental training before during selection to the military, different exercises in the military, martial arts and other athletic competitions and so on, but nobody had told me how to control or manipulate my mind. You just did things, and either you succeeded or you did not. So, I figured that Eyal had a point when he was teaching us this and other techniques as well that taught us how to alter our mental state and become better prepared for stress in general and violent conflicts in particular. Since then I have been interested in mental training as a complement to the regular Krav Maga training.”

Training Combat Mindset

Working on your concentration skills is extremely valuable. You will understand what stress is and get an overview of different stress reactions. It is very useful to get to know how your body and mind reacts to different problems and situations. Having a clear overview of the common mental and physical reactions when one experiences a self-defense/fighting situation and the normal sequence (process) that people go through as a response to a threatening situation will help you a lot.

Things you need to get some knowledge about:

  • OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) loop,
  • Mental stalls, and
  • Cognitive rubbernecking (that your attention is drawn to stimuli that have strong emotional aspect).

Then of course you need to get a lot of practical methods/drills for training on igniting and controlling high levels of aggression, determination and persistence, concentration, focusing, neutralization of the destructive emotions, minimizing the stress and self-talk and channeling attention.

It basically boils down to this: If you are not able to be here and now, and keep focusing on current events, you will probably experience some problems in your later mental training and naturally on your decisions and performances. There are several breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that will help you to maintain focus even in stressful situations. Once you master being here and now, you can continue with other types of mental training.

Any new trainee, whether a teenager starting martial arts or KM or a member of a commando unit, initially came from a civilized family and regular community. They were “trained” to be friendly and not aggressive and damaging to their families and friends. Most are very reluctant, especially on a subconscious level, to be attackers. So we even sometimes have a problem when training defenders as we have no good attacks and attackers. Thus, in the training of officers and soldiers as well as martial artists, we take the trainees through certain exercises and families of drills that will elevate their abilities to become very aggressive, but level-headed and with self-control. We teach to attack in the air, hit targets, correctly mark strikes on partners without hitting them. We also attack in specific ways that trigger the mind to be more aggressive while still remembering that we have a human being in-front of us. One of the family of drills is to pass through a crowd of people moving against you, where collisions and resistance are constant. We use drills of protecting others and defending an area or an object in order to elevate the sensation of importance, need and consideration of others.


Focus and Concentration

Each of us has certain mental resources and capacities. To do a mission you need to recruit as much resources as possible. When you have to do serial or parallel missions, the demands are higher. When you don’t have enough resources, when life’s loads are more than you can handle easily, stress rises.

Training the mind is no different than training the body. The body changes due to fitness training, muscles grow, bones strengthen, coordination improves and more. Focus and concentration exercises for mind are like Turkish get-ups and chin-ups for the body. Recent studies and researches show that certain parts of the brain grow and thicken, and more importantly, your capabilities become stronger.

Why do we do physical training, like what SF is offering so professionally?

Is the purpose of the techniques in which we move or swing the Kettlebells or the Olympic weight bar just so we can move more weights in our training sessions? Definitely not.

We do this for several reasons:

  • Fitness
  • Health
  • More attractive bodies,
  • Be stronger in the daily missions

We don’t want to fail the mission of moving the sofa to another corner in the living room or collapse when we try to take the box of groceries from the car to the refrigerator J. Each of us has his/her own goals and priorities in physical training.

Mental training is no different. You do the different drills that belong to the different lines of training in order to better yourself for the missions in life, such as:

  • Deal with different conflicts, confrontations and fights.
  • Overcome common daily stress
  • Better fulfill your missions and work whether you are a manager in a company, a member of a SWAT team or a housewife (most housewives are dealing daily with more missions then us all J)

A good tool for mental conditioning is to use the same method as Pavlov was using with his dogs. Connect a certain mental state with a defined physical signal. After few repetitions, you will be able to reverse the process. When you do the signal you enter the mental state.

Fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, resentment and rage are just some of emotions that we commonlyexperience. When dealing with other people, we expect certain kinds of behavior towards us. When our ego is hurt, when someone is insulting us, damaging or even touching our belongings, those emotions burst out from within. At that point we turn from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.

Many times we can’t control ourselves. We behave outrageously to others, especially to our dear ones and when we cool down we regret. Reflecting on our behavior at those moments we may recognize sort of kind of animal and not human behavior. Yes, sometimes we need to be aggressive, fighting and maybe even destroy our enemies. We know that if we discharge a bullet from our gun, hitting an enemy during war times or while fighting a terrorist, we’ll get a medal. If we discharge the same gun in a local club or school, we’ll find ourselves in front of a bullet or a judge and jury.

You must make the correct decision under stressful conditions. How to reach this level? The only magic components are: get the knowledge from the best teacher you can find around you and practice the drills by yourself or with the best partner you can have.

One of the drills that we do for managers in the corporate world, sport competitors and military commandos is changing the internal monologues, the self-talk. Usually one is inclined to destructive sentences and descriptions of future failures and damages like “I will die; I will get hurt; I can’t do it; the boss is going to fire me; and alike”. That self-talk is distressing you and commonly leading for defeat and set back. The simple drill is first to change this internal monologue and then minimize it entirely. Initially you need to substitute and say to yourself encouraging sentences, complements and inspiring terms. Then with the focusing and breathing drills you are able to totally minimize the self-talk.

Here is a drill of calming the mind integrated with relaxation of the body. You should focus on each part of the body, usually from the feet towards the head. Each area you contract and then relax (an area can be the foot, the face; palm and forearm; the whole leg; or even the whole upper body and neck). Inhale, stop breathing contract the muscles of that area for couple of seconds and the relax that area and exhale. You progress from the feet towards the head. Initially by small parts, then you can do it by larger parts and eventually and training you can shortly contract and relax only your fists and palms and reach a relaxed state of mind.

Do you wish to learn and experience more?

As a participant of the MCIC you will get deep knowledge and understanding, originated both in ancient and recent times, from modern psychology and training methods of Special Forces, Police, Military and undercover agents, as well as from the corporate sector, in Israel and around the world.

You will acquire the knowledge, the tools and the how-tos:


  • Develop appropriate mental state such as courage and determination, combat mindset and fighting spirit, controlling aggression andchanneling anger
  • Use techniques and training methods to control destructive emotionsand defuse stress
  • Focus, relax and overcome fear and anxiety, frustration and anger
  • Create mental conditioning to better the intuitive fighting response
  • Improve self-control and decision-making process under stressful conditions
  • Conduct relevant mental preparation sessions with hard physical training alongside with still sessions to help focus the mind, body and the internal monolog (self-talk).
  • With the utmost advantageous abilities, progress yourself or improve others, including your fitness clients, martial art trainees, active governmental officers, corporate employees

About us:

Eyal Yanilov

Teaching and training Krav Maga for over 40 years, Eyal served as the closest assistant and right hand for Krav Maga founder Imi Sde-Or (Lichtenfeld) for about 20 years.  The only person in the world who holds both the highest grade given by Imi and the “Founder Diploma of Excellence”.

Since 1984, Eyal has developed and turned Krav Maga into an integrated technical and tactical system, and prepared the modern curriculum of Krav Maga. Eyal has been the driving force behind the dissemination of Krav Maga in the world and the Head Instructor and President of KMG – Krav Maga Global, the leading KM organization, active in over 60 countries.

Eyal has been teaching civilians since 1975, preparing instructors since 1980, and since 1985 educating Military, Law-Enforcement, anti-terror, undercover and Special Forces officers, fighters and instructors in Israel and around the world. Eyal has a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering

Ole Boe, Ph.D.

Ole is responsible for the Norwegian Military Academy concept of stress management. Preparing officers both physically and mentally for combat. Ole holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. He became a Krav Maga instructor under Eyal Yanilov in 1998. Currently an Expert Level 3 and a member of KMG´s International Team. Ole has served as an operational officer for many years in a military special unit conducting VIP protection, hostage rescue and close combat training. Served as an instructor in close combat for different police and military special units in several countries. He has served on several international operations all over the world ranging from Congo to Cambodia. Since 2003 he has been working at the Norwegian Military Academy where he teaches leadership and leadership development to army officers. Ole is also responsible for the Norwegian Military Academy concept of stress management and for preparing officers both physically and mentally for combat. Military rank is major.

KMG – Krav Maga Global, the leading provider of training in Krav Maga, fighting skills and 3rd party protection