A Brief History of Krav Maga

Unlike most martial arts with ancient roots in Asia, Krav Maga does not have a long history to narrate.  It was developed during the early 1930s.  Krav Maga is based on self defense needed in real world situations.  These techniques cause injury or even death to the attacker.  Krav Maga, which means ‘contact combat’ in Hebrew, was developed in Israel.  It’s used for training their military forces.  An easier version is taught to civilians as a form of self-defense in various Krav Maga schools.  Its philosophies emphasize aggression, offensive and defensive maneuvers, and threat neutralization.

Imi Lichtenfeld and the birth of Krav Maga

Imre Lichtenfeld, also known as Imi, was born in 1910 in Budapest, a city of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. He grew up in Bratislava (then known as Pozsony).  He lived with his father, who worked in the police force and also was an athlete.  Imi trained under his father in self-defense.  Later he went on to become a successful boxer.  After that he became a member of Slovakian National Wrestling Team.

The Jews in Bratislava were under constant threat from anti-Semitic riots during the 1930s. This forced Imi to lead a group of Jewish wrestlers and boxers to the streets to save himself and his community from the rising number of anti-Semitic thugs. He soon realized that sport fighting was not the same as real world self-defense.  Sport fighting was not suitable for the aggressive nature of a street fight.

He re-evaluated the techniques and built a repertoire of techniques ideal for responding in a more aggressive nature.  This marked the birth of a new martial art known as Krav Maga.  His new techniques became successful, much to the displeasure of authorities in the Nazi-fearing society.  In 1940, he was forced to abscond from his homeland to Israel (then Palestine).

Spread of Krav Maga in Israel

On his arrival in Israel, he started teaching his self-defense techniques to Israel’s Haganah paramilitary organization to help them create an independent state of Israel and to protect the Jewish refugees.  Haganah later on merged into Israeli Defense Force and Imi was appointed as the Chief Instructor of Physical Training.  In this position, the taught the military personnel the new martial art known as Krav Maga.  During his 20 years of service in the Israeli Defense Force, he refined and developed Krav Maga.  He developed the techniques to suit military and civil needs.

Upon retirement from official duty, Imi set up Dojo Martial Arts School.  He taught the civilian version to whoever wanted to master the self-defense techniques of Krav Maga. By the 1980s, American security agencies started showing interest in the Israeli martial art.  Twenty two officials came to Israel to attend a basic Krav Maga course. They returned to the U.S. with the new fighting techniques, and from there, it started spreading throughout the globe.

Krav Maga teaches students to counter-attack on the first chance of opportunity.  Students learn to target the vulnerable points of the attacker.  They also learn to maintain awareness of surroundings during an attack, and to neutralize the attacker as soon as possible. It is therefore an ideal defense technique in many real-world scenarios.