What is Krav Maga?
Krav Maga ( קְרַב מַגָּע "contact combat") is a military self-defense and fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli security forces derived from a combination of techniques sourced from boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo and karate, along with realistic fight training.
Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-world situations and its extreme efficiency. It was derived from the street-fighting experience of Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler while defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, during the mid-to-late 1930s. In the late 1940s, following his migration to Israel, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF.
From the outset, the original concept of Krav Maga was to take the most simple and practical techniques of other fighting styles (originally European boxing, wrestling, and street fighting) and to make them rapidly teachable to military conscripts.
Krav Maga has a philosophy emphasizing aggression, and simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers. Krav Maga has been used by the Israel Defense Forces' special forces units, the security apparatus, and by regular infantry units. Closely related variations have been developed and adopted by Israeli law enforcement and intelligence organizations. There are several organizations teaching variations of Krav Maga internationally.
Like most martial arts, Krav Maga encourages students to avoid physical confrontation. If this is impossible or unsafe, it promotes finishing a fight as quickly and aggressively 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.
Students learn to defend against all variety of attacks and are taught to counter in the quickest and most efficient way possible.
Training can also cover the study and development of 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. It also teaches mental toughness, using controlled scenarios to strengthen mental fortitude in order for students to control the impulse and not do something rash, but instead attack only when necessary and as a last resort.
Imi Lictenfeld, Father of Krav Maga
After making his way to Mandatory Palestine, Lichtenfeld joined the Haganah paramilitary organization. In 1944 Lichtenfeld began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defense 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, Krav Maga was based strictly upon the scientific and dynamic principles of the human body. In 1965 judo training was added as part of the Krav Maga training, and until 1968 there were no grades in Krav Maga. Then a trainee's grades were determined largely by his knowledge in judo.
In 1968 Eli Avikzar, Imi's principal student and first black belt, began learning aikido and in 1971 left for France where he received a brown belt in aikido. Upon his return, Eli started working as an instructor alongside Imi where they worked together to improve Krav Maga by incorporating aikido and counter-defenses into Krav Maga. Then in 1974 Imi retired and handed Eli Avikzar the Krav Maga training center in Netanya.
Upon Lichtenfeld's retirement from the IDF, he decided to open a school and teach Krav Maga to civilians. The first Krav Maga course took place at the Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel, in 1971, under the direct supervision of Imi Lichtenfeld. In 1978, Lichtenfeld founded the non-profit Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA) with several senior instructors. Upon his retirement Imi nominated Haim Gidon as his successor to be Grand Master and the president of the IKMA. Lichtenfeld died in January 1998 in Netanya, Israel.
Imi Lichtenfeld (also known as Imi Sde-Or) was born in 1910 in Budapest, Austro-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 Slovak 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-1930's, 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 anti-Semitic national socialists. 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, in 1940 Lichtenfeld left his home with his family and friends on the last refugee ship to escape Europe.