Unlike most martial arts with ancient roots in Asia, Krav Maga does not have a long story to narrate as it was developed during the comparatively recent 1930s. It is based on self defense mechanisms in real world situations and can cause injury or even death to the attacker. Krav Maga, which means ‘contact combat’ in Hebrew, was formulated in Israel and used for training their military forces. An easier version is taught to civilians as self defense mechanism in various Karv 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) with his father, who worked in the police force and also was an athlete. Imi trained under his father in self defense and went on to become a successful boxer before becoming 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, as they were 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. By 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 year service in the Israeli Defense Force, he refined and developed the technique to suit military and civil needs.
Upon retirement from official duty, Imi set up Dojo Martial Arts School to teach 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 and 22 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, to target the vulnerable points of the attacker, 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