THE ROOTS OF THE SYSTEM
To understand the Krav Maga mindset, you have to know it roots and how and why it was created.
During the 1930s Imre (Imi) Lichtenfeld, Krav Maga’s founding father, honed his fighting skills on the streets of Bratislava, Slovakia. Refining his skills to a high level was a necessity to order to protect himself and his Jewish neighbors from a growing number of local fascist thugs. He was involved in many fights to help stop anti-semitic groups from terrorizing the Jewish community in his city. These fights helped him realize the difference between sport and street fighting. It was during this time that the foundation for the Krav Maga principles was laid out.
Growing up in Bratislava, Imi spent most of his time competing in various sports such as gymnastics, boxing and wrestling. As a natural athlete, he earned national and international awards in all three disciplines. However, his greatest influence was his father, Samuel, a police officer and self-defense instructor. His father served 30 years as Chief Detective Inspector. He became well known for his considerable record for arresting particularly dangerous criminals. In his spare time Samuel taught local police officers various self-defense techniques at “Hercules” the first gym in Bratislava, which he owned. Beyond the physical demands of training, Samuel would constantly emphasize to his students the need for proper moral conduct when dealing with the public and suspected criminals.
By the late 1930s, Hitler’s Nazi Germany had turned Europe into a battlefield and made it a dangerous place for Jews. Imi’s fights to protect his family and neighbors rapidly became unpopular with the local authorities, and he was forced to leave his homeland in 1940. After several years of travel, Imi arrived in Palestine in a part of the country that was later to become Israel. He joined the Haganah, a paramilitary organization in the Jewish community. During this time he began teaching soldiers basic self-defense techniques. It was this group that fought successfully for Israeli independence to be recognized as a sovereign state.
In 1948 the fledgling Israeli government asked Imi to develop an effective system of self-defense and hand to hand combat, which later became Krav Maga. The Haganah was eventually incorporated in the Israeli Defense Force, and Imi became the Chief Instructor for the military school for physical training and Krav Maga.
During the 1950s Krav Maga was tested on the battlefield. Over the 20 years Imi served in the army, he refined his unique system of self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. He trained the instructors and soldiers of the IDF’S elite units. Since Israel was in a constant state of war with its neighbors the tactics and principles he developed were always being tested. Krav Maga is not a theoretical “practice;” it is a real application of defense that is quite literally battle tested.
In 1964 Krav Maga took a leap forward when it was formally offered to all Israeli citizens. After his retirement from the military Imi devoted his time and energy to adapting Krav Maga to everyday Israeli life. Because Krav Maga was created to be a dynamic system, unbound to a traditional martial arts structure, Imi was able to adjust his system to supply solutions to ordinary men, women and children who might face a violent encounter.
The system spread rapidly thanks to the team of Imi’s certified instructors.
In 1978 Imi and several of his students created the Krav Maga association. The sole purpose of this non-profit organization was to promote the teaching of Krav Maga in Israel and throughout the world.
In 1981 my closest mentor in Krav Maga, Darren Levine, was invited to attend the first international Instructor’s course at Wingate Institute for Physical Education in Netanya, Israel. A total of 23 delegates were invited from various cities in the United States to attend this course. Imi who at that time was 71 years old supervised the course. Krav Maga lead instructors Shike Barak, Eyal Yanilov, and Reuvin Moimon taught the course. Darren was chosen to be part of this group because of his martial arts and boxing background as well as his involvement in the physical education program at the Heschel Day School near Los Angeles. It is at Heschel Day School where I would begin my life long passion for teaching and training in Krav Maga.