Krav Maga is Hebrew for “contact combat”. Its history is relatively short – it emerged less than a century ago. Its founder was Imrich (Imi) Lichtenfeld, born to a Jewish family in Budapest, and raised in Bratislava. When in the 1930s anti-semitic riots spread through Bratislava, Imi used his skills in boxing and wrestling to patrol the city and defend citizens against Nazi gangs. He quickly learned that codified martial arts are not always effective in dealing with street violence. Imi began to develop new, practical techniques based around the body’s natural reflexes, combined with simultaneous counter-attacks. A new style was born.
Imi Lichtenfeld. Photo courtesy of http://www.israeli-t.com/
In 1942, after serving with the Czech Legion in North Africa, Imi arrived in Palestine. The leaders of the Haganah (Jewish paramilitary) quickly recognised him for his fighting skills, and recruited him as combat instructor. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the first prime minister formed the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and recruited Lichtenfeld as head instructor of physical fitness and combat. It is at this time that Krav Maga became the name of the new fighting style. Imi served with the IDF for nearly 20 years, during which time he synthesised his knowledge of different martial arts and developed Krav Maga as a cohesive and efficient fighting style.
Even when he retired from the IDF, Lichtenfeld continued to develop Krav Maga, this time for civilian applications. He opened two Krav Maga centres in Tel Aviv and Netanya, and spent the rest of his life until his death in 1998 teaching students and promoting the style in Israel and worldwide.