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The History of Krav Maga and It's Current Day Relevance

by Adam Davis

Krav Maga was created by, Czechoslovakian Jew, Imre 'Imi' Lichtenfeld, born in 1910, to a father who was a former Circus Acrobat, Wrestler, PE Teacher, Detective, and instructor in chief with the local police force. How could Imi not become a high achieving athlete himself?

Despite playing numerous sports, Imi chose to focus on wrestling, gymnastics, and boxing. He won a great many competitions, particularly in wrestling.

In 1929 at the age of 19, Imi won the Slovakian wrestling championship in two different weight categories, as well as the national boxing championship, and an international gymnastics competition.

After injuring his rib while training wrestling, and missing out on a competition because of it, Imi, realised that his, “win at all costs” attitude needed to change to “above all, don’t get hurt.” He carried this practical principle of safety into his future endeavours.

In the lead up to World War 2, fascism and antisemitism was on the rise.

Imi organised a group of Jews with fighting or body building backgrounds to stand up against the rioting and to prevent antisemitic gangs from entering the Jewish quarter in Slovakia.

This meant that Imi was involved in countless confrontations and street fights. Imi began to see the differences between street fighting and sport competitions.

He came up with the following principles (the beginning of Krav Maga):

  • Make use of reflex actions and natural movement

  • Attack and defend simultaneously

  • Recover after a blow

When the local authorities turn Fascist, Imi was forced to leave his home, his family, and his friends. He escaped the Nazi’s by boarding an old river boat called the Pentcho which was headed for Israel (Palestine). The following two years was fraught with perils, daring rescues, starvation, and an ear infection that nearly killed him. The boat never made it to Israel (Palestine). Imi ended up in Egypt where he joined the Czech Legion (under the command of the British Army).

Imi served in different locations in the middle east for 18months until he managed to obtain a permit to enter Israel (Palestine).

Some of Imi’s friends introduced him to General Sadeh. A general in the Israeli armed force at the time (Hagana). Due to Imi’s exceptional hand to hand fighting he was immediately accepted into the organisation.

With the birth of the State of Israel and the forming of the Israeli Defensive Forces (IDF), 1948 saw Imi become the one of the eleven instructors of physical training and Kapap (existing defence style used by Israeli forces) for the IDF.

The first documented use of the term Krav Maga occurs in 1949. 5 years later the term Krav Maga is regularly used interchangeably with Kapap.

At some point, possibly as early as 1956, Imi becomes the Chief Instructor of the IDF and the new branch of Krav Maga training. Over the next 20 years, he developed and refined his unique method of self-defence.

After retiring from the IDF in 1963, Imi began to adapt Krav Maga to civilian needs. It had to be easy to learn, and easy to apply, and it needed to suit everyone - men, women, and children. He set up two training centres, one in Tel Aviv and the other in his hometown of Netanya, adopting the belt system to ensure rapid, safe progressions for his students. During this time Imi continued to consult for the IDF and other security forces.

In 1972, Imi ran the first instructors training course for civilians. Krav Maga then spread more quickly among the general population.

The Krav Maga Association was created in 1978 to help spread the method further and to help ensure that the core values were taught too. Imi remained the President of the association until the end of his life.

By 1981 Krav Maga was worldwide. Imi, never saw the method as complete. Until his death, he continued to develop both the techniques and the concepts of Krav Maga.

On January 9th, 1998, Imi passed away at the age of 87. Having created Krav Maga, a self defence system founded on moral and human values that emphasise the importance of integrity, humility, and respect for others.

Krav Maga continued to be taught. Avikzar Eli (Imi’s best student) took over the school in Netanya and Yaron Lichenstein (Imi’s second-best student) took over the Tel Aviv school. Many of the other founding Instructors remain nameless, due to the overall values of the method. They were teaching civilians, not for credit but because they believed it was necessary.

There have been a great many number of schools, organisations and associations created for Krav Maga by a variety of different people for a variety of different reasons. Some political, others financial, each with various practices, techniques and methods getting changed, adapted and added from time to time.

The early days of the Krav Maga system were influenced by different martial art styles. Kapap, Karate, Judo, Aikido, Boxing, Wrestling, and many more. Nowadays it’s no different. The essence of Krav Maga is to constantly evolve with the needs of the world. For example, when UFC made mixed martial arts mainstream, Krav Maga techniques were revised in order to maintain its effectiveness to the variety of new threats.

There are however a few key points about Krav Maga that have not changed over the years.

o There are no rules, no katas, or forms.

o It has only one goal: self-defence.

o Aggression and speed of response are key.

o The techniques rely on simplicity and instinct.

o It’s about getting results and prevailing.

Krav Maga will always be relevant for the current day, even if 100 years from now looks very different to the present day, Krav Maga will continue to evolve and will therefore always be relevant. It will also, always be necessary for military, law enforcement and civilians alike. Everyone faces threats throughout their lives, no matter their environment.

Krav Maga, teaches you to recognise those threats, to maintain mental control over your body’s nervous system while you analyse the threats, and then it teaches you to respond appropriately. Overall, with the goal to avoid or prevent a fight, and therefore the risk of injury, but when a fight is necessary, it teaches you to neutralise the threat as quickly as possible.

In conclusion, Krav Maga was created by a heroic man that wanted to teach people how to defend themselves. In doing so, he created a highly efficient and effective self defence system that continues to change and adapt to the world, enabling it to always remain relevant and necessary.


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1 Comment

Unknown member
Feb 12

Woooo Adam, nice essay! clap clap clap

I learned some things about Imi that I didn’t know before, cheers

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