History of Krav Maga

Imi Lichtenfeld Krav MagaKrav Maga is a brutally effective combative self-defense system. In order to fully appreciate this martial art, you must first understand its long history.

Krav Maga can be traced to pre-World War II Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia) and a young Jewish athlete named Imi Lichtenfeld. He was a nationally and internationally renowned boxer, wrestler, and gymnast. Beginning in the mid-1930s, fascist and anti-Semitic groups rose to power in Czechoslovakia and began inflicting violence on small Jewish communities.

In order to protect his people and community, Lichtenfeld put together a group of young men to patrol his community and defend against would-be attackers. He quickly found out however, that his training in sport martial arts was no match for the anti-Semitic gangs that they would encounter.

Fighting for points in an organized match and fighting for your life on the streets require a completely different mindset, discipline, and techniques. To better defend himself against these attackers, Lichtenfeld began formulating his extensive background in the martial arts and started putting emphasis on attacks that quickly disabled and neutralized a threat.

In 1940, Lichtenfeld decided to flee the Nazi-allied regime and headed over to Palestine to join the Zionist Movement and fight for a Jewish state of Israel. When he moved to Palestine in 1942, he joined the Haganah, a pre-Israel Jewish paramilitary organization with a mission to protect Jewish settlers from locals who did not welcome the new arrivals. Israeli military leaders quickly noticed Lichtenfeld’s fighting prowess and his ability to teach those skills to soldiers. They put him in charge of training the military’s most elite fighting forces, including the Palmach (elite strike force), the Palyam (marine commandos), and the Haganah.

When Israel gained statehood in 1948, these separate fighting forces were merged into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Lichtenfeld was quickly appointed as the Chief Instructor of Physical Fitness at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. It was in this role that he completed developing what today is known as the modern system of Krav Maga. Lichtenfeld needed a combative system he could teach new military recruits in just three weeks — one that was simple, efficient, and effective, and could be applied in a number of lethal situations.

To create such a system, Lichtenfeld combined the most effective techniques of boxing, aikido, judo, wrestling, and jujitsu into a single, fluid, fighting military discipline that emphasized continuous motion, simultaneous defense and attack, and attacks to an assailant’s soft tissue and pressure points. He called his self-defense system “Krav Maga,” meaning “contact combat” in Hebrew. It quickly became the official combative system of the IDF and continues to be today.

Lichtenfeld taught Krav Maga for nearly 20 years in the IDF. After retiring from military service in 1964, he began spending his time and energy to modifying and teaching the self-defense system to ordinary civilians. Lichtenfeld opened two official Krav Maga academies in Israel where he taught thousands of students and trained instructors, all while continuing to add and improve upon the fighting discipline he had developed during his time at IDF. In 1974, Lichtenfeld founded the Krav Maga Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and teaching Krav Maga in Israel and throughout the world.

A few of Lichtenfeld’s oldest students brought Krav Maga to the United States, where it quickly became a preferred close-combat system in many U.S. military and police forces. Several commercial Krav Maga organizations have formed over the years to teach and promote Krav Maga in the U.S., each with a counterpart in Israel. Each of these organizations claim to be the “true” heir and guardian of Imi Lichtenfeld’s original Israeli Krav Maga, and go out of their way to show their connection to Krav’s founder.

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