Krav Maga (krahv mahGAH) is a Hebrew term that means “contact combat.” This fighting system was established in the 1950s. The system is a combination of philosophy and techniques from several martial arts style. It was the Israeli Army who used Krav Maga techniques first. In the 1970s, Krav Maga training was opened to civilians. Up to this day, local citizens engaged in Krav Maga training for self-defense purposes. Many military groups and law enforcement agencies have also embraced the concepts and techniques of Krav Maga.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the following:
• The origin of Krav Maga
• The life of Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga
• Krav Maga training principles
• Fighting styles that influence Krav Maga
Before engaging in Krav Maga training, it is essential to be knowledgeable about those topics mentioned above. This will certainly deepen your understanding of the basic principles and techniques of Krav Maga.
The Origin of Krav Maga
Krav Maga was established by Imi Lichtenfeld, a Czechoslovakian whose father is a well-known Bratislava police officer. Imi was a heavyweight boxing champion, a ju-jitsu and judo practitioner, a dancer, and a trapeze acrobat artist. There was a time when Imi’s family was forced to emigrate from Czechoslovakia, and they landed in Palestine, presently Israel.
After the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, Imi was requested to build a fighting and self-defense system for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). When Imi was a chief instructor of the hand-to-hand combat group of the IDF, he enhanced the Krav Maga system. Many units of the Special Forces like Haganah, Palyam, and Palmach embraced the principles and techniques of Krav Maga. Eventually, it became the official combative training program used by police, security forces, and military men. Since Imi was dealing with a mix of both out-of-shape and fit soldiers, he created a fighting system that is simple and instinctive instead of complicated and rigid techniques, which may require many years of training.
The Israel Krav Maga Association and the Israeli Ministry of Education held the first ever International Instructor’s Course in 1981. The training was held at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education. There are 23 U.S. delegates who attended the training led by Imi.
Eyal Yanilov, Imi’s adviser and the current president of the International Krav Maga Federation, also conducted the program. During the training, Imi befriended Darren Levine from California. He told him that he would visit the USA to teach and train him. Levine was a martial arts and boxing practitioner and was involved in the implementation of the Heschel Day School physical education program.
Levine then conducted a training at the Heschel Day School. Levine and Joel Bernstein, one of his students, and other members of the Jewish organization in LA established the Krav Maga Association of America at Imi’s request. It was in 1987 that Levine and his top students started offering Krav Maga training to the US law enforcement personnel. With the guidance of Imi, law enforcement agencies integrated Krav Maga in their training.
Right after Levine was given the Krav Maga 6th degree black belt, he was awarded the Founder’s Diploma for Special Excellence in Krav Maga by Imi. There were only two people who received this diploma; the other one was Eyal Yanilov. Imi awarded this diploma to those who were deserving to become Krav Maga leaders.
In January 1999, Krav Maga Worldwide Enterprises was established, which paved the way to the promotion and expansion of Krav Maga in the U.S.A and other parts of the world. Up to this day, Krav Maga is adopted by the local, state, and federal police agencies like the Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, and FBI. There are celebrities as well who engaged in Krav Maga. These include Mia Kirshner, Jennifer Garner, Shannon Elizabeth, and Jennifer Lopez.
The Life of Imi Lichtenfeld
Imi Lichtenfeld was certainly a great athlete. He had undergone a comprehensive training in Japanese jiu-jitsu, wrestling, judo, and boxing. He has more than 12 years of fighting experience in the battlefield and in confronting guerilla. He has been a self-defense and close combat instructor for more than 20 years. These experiences all contributed to Imi’s establishment of Krav Maga. He developed this fighting system to be suitable for people of all walks of life.
Imi’s father was the chief detective and instructor of the local police. With the help and support of his father, he engaged in several sports when he was still a child. He has been performing for many years in the circus, specializing in trapeze performance.
Moreover, Imi also trained in judo and traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu and earned the black belt rank in both martial arts disciplines. He also became a European boxing and wrestling champion. Aside from being a martial arts practitioner, he was a waltz instructor as well and an owner of a large waltz school. Because of his experiences in different fields of physical activity, he had understood the capabilities and limitations of the human body, which later led him to establish an efficient fighting system.
In the middle of the 1930s, Jews in Bratislava experienced a crisis. In the 1940s, the Nazis seized the country. Because of Imi’s passion to protect his fellowmen, he formed groups to fight against the invaders.
During World War II, Imi became part of the Czech Legion, a group that fought against the fascist. After the war was over, he went to Israel and joined the group Haganah. This group fought against the Arab and British states to gain independence. He became a fighting instructor of the group. From that period, Imi became an inspiration and influencer of many fighting groups in Israel.
After the state of Israel was established, Imi became the chief self-defense instructor of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He personally conducted training for the Israeli elite forces. The techniques imparted by Imi and the abilities and courage of the elite forces improved the fighting systems and operations of Israel.
Other Israeli armed organizations heard about the great improvement of the Israeli elite forces through the help of Imi. So they asked him to conduct training for other armed structures like the police and security groups.
In 1967, Imi retired from serving in the military. When Imi was still in the military, he only spent less than 2 weeks training each group of an army; therefore, it is impossible for him to create a new fighting system.
After his retirement in 1967, Imi established a self-defense system using his experiences in the military and in the battlefield. He aimed to create a fighting system that is suitable for civilians including children and women. He then opened training centers in Netanya and Tel Aviv. Each center consisted of 5 students whom he personally trained.
When Imi fully established the fighting system in 1971, he named it Krav Maga, which means close combat. Krav Maga is a combination of techniques that are both applicable for military and civilian practitioners.
Imi remained the advisor and counselor of IDF until his death. Even in his late years, he still conducted training for those who have Krav Maga black belt ranks. He continued to participate in all meetings and seminars in Israel and oversee and shared his experiences and discoveries with his followers. Imi’s creation significantly improved the combat system of IDF. Imi died in 1998 at the age of 88 and was buried in Netanya, Israel.
Krav Maga Training
Krav Maga is intended primarily for self-defense, and not for competitions or shows. Many people train in Krav Maga to defend themselves during a fight or attack. Krav Maga involves training a person to neutralize an attack and use efficient moves and techniques to defeat the opponent while under stressful situations. When using Krav Maga as a self-defense technique, there are no specific moves or choreography to follow and no uniforms and traditional routines.
Krav Maga is a fighting system that involves the use of contemporary, dynamic, and effective fighting moves and techniques. This fighting style enables a practitioner to use his natural instincts to effectively and quickly neutralize the threat and defeat his opponent. In Krav Maga, you are trained to use your instinctive reflexes and to have increased awareness of your surroundings to defend yourself or your significant other.
Krav Maga is not developed to show off or start a fight, but it is intended to save lives. This principle is based on Imi’s statement that Krav Maga training courses are developed “so that one may walk in peace.”
There is no experience required to get started in Krav Maga training. But it is important to take note that there are fighting styles that greatly influence Krav Maga. We will discuss some of these styles in the next section.
At the start of the training, you will be able to learn the basics like stances, striking moves, falling and getting up techniques, and basic defense moves to counteract common attacks such as headlocks and chokes. Aside from dealing with the attacks, you will also be trained to perform moves smoothly and effectively under stressful situations. You will also learn attack prevention and awareness techniques.
After learning the basics, you will then move to the advanced level of training, which includes dealing with simultaneous attackers, using weapons, getting out of complicated or stressful situations, and learning advanced weapon and fighting techniques.
Fighting Styles That Influence Krav Maga
Having prior experiences or knowledge about these fighting styles is an advantage when training in Krav Maga. But again, it is not a requirement. The following are some of the fighting styles that greatly influence Krav Maga:
• Wrestling: This combat sport highly influences Krav Maga. Imi Lichtenfeld integrated his wrestling experiences in developing and improving Krav Maga techniques.
• Grappling: Grappling is a fighting move that is used to gain a physical advantage in a fight like submitting or escaping. Grappling is an important move when practicing Krav Maga. This is useful in escaping from a threat and this enables them to free themselves from danger.
• Wing Chun: Wing Chun, which means “spring chant” is a Chinese martial arts and self-defense style. It is similar to Krav Maga because it also involves hand-to-hand combat, striking, and grappling and relaxation techniques are also incorporated in the training. Being relaxed is important for the victim to remain calm and aware during the attack.
• Boxing: Boxing is among Imi’s major. Undoubtedly, boxing moves are evident in contemporary Krav Maga training. So, if you have a boxing experience prior to training in Krav Maga, you will likely have increased agility and strengthened footwork, which is helpful in executing perfect strikes.
• Muay Thai: This is a Thai combat sport that involves clinching and stand-up techniques. Similar to Krav Maga, Muay Thai also promotes mental and physical disciplines for practitioners to carry out the moves efficiently and swiftly. Muay Thai focuses on the concept of “the art of eight limbs,” wherein the elbows, fists, shins, knees, and feet are used to attack the opponent.
• Savate: This martial art style is also known as French boxing or kickboxing. Similar to Savate, the feet and hands also serve as weapons in Krav Maga. However, Savate has more emphasis on footwork, and it is intended for competition instead of street fighting.
• Judo: Judo is one of the contemporary martial arts and Olympic sports that started in Japan in the 1880s. The goal of the fight is to immobilize the opponent to the ground. As a matter of fact, judo promotes competition as opposed to Krav Maga; however, it still involves hand-to-hand combat moves.
• Jiu-Jitsu: This fighting style begun in Brazil. It is a combination of competitive combat, self-defense, and martial arts principles and techniques. Just like Krav Maga, it was established primarily for protection and self-defense. However, it continued to evolve due to the influence of various practice approaches and experiments. It is also the same as Krav Maga since anyone can practice this fighting style. It is emphasized that jiu-jitsu can be practiced by even weak or small individuals to defend themselves against large attackers.