What is Krav Maga?
Krav Maga is a self-defense system developed for the military in Israel that consists of a wide combination of techniques sourced from Aikido boxing, judo and wrestling along with realistic fight training. Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-world situations and its extremely efficient and brutal counter-attacks. It was derived from street-fighting skills developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler as a means of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in the mid-to-late 1930s.
In the late 1940s, following his immigration to Israel, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF, who went on to develop the system that became known as Krav Maga. It has since been refined for civilian, police and military applications.
Krav Maga encourages students to avoid confrontation. If this is impossible or unsafe, it promotes finishing a fight as quickly as possible. Attacks are aimed at the most vulnerable parts of the body, and training is not limited to techniques that avoid severe injury; some even permanently injure or cause death to the opponent. Drills provide maximum safety to students by the use of protective equipment and the use of reasonable force.
Students learn to defend against all variety of attacks and are taught to counter in the quickest and most efficient way.
Ideas in Krav Maga include:
- Counterattacking as soon as possible (or attacking pre-emptively).
- Targeting attacks to the body’s most vulnerable points, such as: the eyes, neck or throat, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, etc.
- Maximum effectiveness and efficiency in order to neutralize the opponent as quickly as possible.
- Maintaining awareness of surroundings while dealing with the threat in order to look for escape routes, further attackers, objects that could be used to defend or help attack, and so on.
Training can also cover situational awareness to develop an understanding of one’s surroundings, learning to understand the psychology of a street confrontation, and identifying potential threats before an attack occurs. It may also cover ways to deal with physical and verbal methods to avoid violence whenever possible.
History of Krav Maga
Imre Lichtenfeld (also known as Imi Sde-Or) was born in 1910 in Budapest, Hungary and grew up in Bratislava (Slovakia). Lichtenfeld became active in a wide range of sports, including gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing. In 1928, Lichtenfeld won the Slovakian Youth Wrestling Championship, and in 1929 the adult championship (light and middle weight divisions). That same year, he also won the national boxing championship and an international gymnastics championship. During the ensuing decade, Imi’s athletic activities focused mainly on wrestling, both as a contestant and a trainer.
In the mid-1930s, anti-Semitic riots began to threaten the Jews of Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Lichtenfeld became the leader of a group of Jewish boxers and wrestlers who took to the streets to defend Jewish neighborhoods against the growing numbers of national socialist party and anti-Semitic thugs. Lichtenfeld quickly discovered, however, that actual fighting was very different from competition fighting, and although boxing and wrestling were good sports, they were not always practical for the aggressive and brutal nature of street combat. It was then that he started to re-evaluate his ideas about fighting and started developing the skills and techniques that would eventually become Krav Maga. Having become a thorn in the side of the equally anti-Semitic local authorities, Lichtenfeld left his home, family and friends in 1940 on the last refugee ship to escape Europe.
After making his way to the Middle East, Lichtenfeld joined Israel’s pre-state Haganah paramilitary organization to protect Jewish refugees from local inhabitants. In 1944 Lichtenfeld began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defence against knife attacks. During this period, Lichtenfeld trained several elite units of the Haganah including Palmach (striking force of the Haganah and forerunner of the special units of the Israel Defense Forces) and the Pal-Yam, as well as groups of police officers.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded and the IDF was formed, Lichtenfeld became Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. He served in the IDF for about 20 years, during which time he developed and refined his unique method for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. Self-defense was not a new concept, since nearly all martial arts had developed some form of defensive techniques in their quest for tournament or sport dominance. However, self-defense was based strictly upon the scientific and dynamic principles of the human body. Before retiring from the military, Lichtenfeld elected Eli Avikzar his military successor. With Lichtenfeld’s blessing, Avikzar went on to strengthen Krav Maga with the addition of new techniques from Judo and Aikido which maintained Krav Maga’s central principles of maximum effectiveness and efficiency. Avikzar, later in 1989 founded K.A.M.I. the Israeli Krav Magen Association. Boaz Aviram succeeded Avikzar as Chief Instructor, and was followed only by a handful of others.
Krav Maga for civilians!
Upon Lichtenfeld’s retirement he decided to open a school and teach a civilian form of the military form of Krav Maga intending to keep most of the secrets of the system in the military, but yet teach a civilian version suitable for youth. The first Krav Maga course took place at the Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel, in 1971, under the direct supervision of Imi Lichtenfeld. Some of the first students to receive a black belt in Lichtenfeld’s civilian Krav Maga Association of 1st Dan, were: Haim Gidon, Eli Avikzar, Eyal Yanilov, Richard Douieb, Raphy Elgrissy, Meni Ganis, Haim Zut, Shmuel Kurzviel, Haim Hakani, Shlomo Avisira, Vicktor Bracha, Yaron Lichtenstein, Avner Hazan and Miki Asulin.
In 1978, Lichtenfeld founded the non-profit Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA) with several senior instructors. Upon his retirement Imi has nominated Haim Gidon as his successor to be Grand Master and the president of the IKMA. Lichtenfeld died in January 1998 in Netanya, Israel.
When Krav Maga started to spread beyond the borders of Israel, there arose a need to found an international civilian organization. A few of Lichtenfeld’s first and second generation students, among these being Arviat Zagal, Asaf Halevi, and Dan Levy, eventually formed a new, civilian, international Krav Maga federation.