Tilak Punn
History of Krav Maga and it's Founder Imi Lichtenfeld

The history of Krav Maga is linked to the development of the state of Israel's military forces and life of the founder, Imi Lichtenfeld. As told, development of the state of Israel and the need for the Israeli military to protect its country in one of the worlds most hostile areas, gave base for creating Krav Maga.

Imrich Sde-or (Imi Lichtenfeld) born in Budapest in 1910, Imi grew up in environment where sports, law and education were respected. Imi was encouraged by his father to engage in a wide
range of sports, including martial arts. Imi's father, Samuel, a circus weightlifter and wrestler, worked later also at the police forces and actually served for many years as Chief Detective Inspector.

As the prove of Imi's physical talents, Imi won the Slovakian Youth Wrestling Championship in 1928, and in 1929 the adult championship (in the light and middle weight division). That year he also won the national boxing championship and an international gymnastics championship. Little bit later Imi's athletic activities focused mainly on wrestling, as a contestant and a trainer.

In the mid thirties, atmosphere in Bratislava started to change. Fascist and anti-Semitic groups rised, with their meaning to upset the public order and harm the city's Jewish community. Imi was involved with groups of young Jews whose aim was to distrupt the anti-Semitic activities that were also supported by some political powers. Imi became the uncrowned leader of a group of young Jews, most of them with a background in boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting. This group attempted to block the anti-Semitic bands from harming Jewish community.

Between 1936 and 1940, Imi was involved with many forcefull protests to the current political powers and was forced to fight in streetbrawls and confrontations. It was in these fights Imi understood the difference between streetfighing and competition fighting.

In 1940, pursued by the government, Imi left his home and boarded the Petchko, the last immigrant ship to escape the Nazi clutches. His efforts to find a new home took two years. Later he proceeded to volunteer for service in a Czech military unit of the British armed forces. The unit served during World War II in Lebanon, Syria, Libya, and Egypt. This combat experience led him to further refine his skills.

When discharged in 1942, he requested and was allowed to immigrate to Israel. After noticing Imi`s extensive self-defense skills, Imi was recruited by Isaac Sadeh, the commanding officer of the Haganah in 1942. Later Imi began to teach Kapap (hand to hand combat) and physical exercise to the most elite special forces units of the Haganah, Palmach, and Palyam.

In the mid-1940's, Imi worked with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), teaching its members physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife and defense against knife attacks. During this period, firearms were outlawed and in very scarce supply. They were hidden away from the British and only used for special missions. The fact that firearms could not be used had a great influence on the development of the style.

In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, Imi became the chief instructor for physical fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF. For the next twenty years, Imi worked with the IDF, developing and refining his method for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. After retiring from active duty from the IDF in the 60`s, Imi began adapting the style for civilian use. He established two schools, to Netanya and in Tel Aviv.

The work in the following years and up to today, was to design the system to confront every day attacks and street confrontation problems. Imi further refined his techniques to be used for civilian needs.

One result of progression was Krav Maga's use of belts. At first Imi didn't want to use belts in training, because it was a millitary system, but trying to get recognition from other martial artists he designed a belt system based on the Judo and also started training in Judo gi`s.

Later Imi desided that belts shouldn't be a part of the system because it originally did not have any reason to use belts and the use of belts did not have any realistic or practical meaning in the system. So the system of grades was kept, and the belts was replaced with a system of Practitioner/Graduate/Expert levels. The Krav Maga training suits today consist of black pants and white t-shirts. Some countries still uses the belts in the curriculum, but not in training.

Imi and his senior instructors formed the first Krav Maga Association in 1978, and in 1995 the International Krav Maga Federation was formed in Netanya, to help spread system to around the world.

After years of training, many changes was made to the system both technically and visual, but Imi never forgot the basic lines of the system: simplicity, effectiveness and realism.

Imi Licthenfeld died on Jan 8th 1998, at age 88.

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