History of Krav Maga

Imi Lichtenfeld

Imi Lichtenfeld Creator/Founder of Krav Maga

Born in 1910, Imi Lichtenfeld was raised and educated in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. He was a natural athlete, earning national and international awards in gymnastics, boxing, and wrestling. It was, however, from his father, Samuel, a police officer and self defense instructor, that Imi earned many tips and techniques in street fighting tactics that he would later incorporate into the Krav Maga system.

Samuel started his career as a circus acrobat and wrestler, but later entered the Police Department and served for three decades as Chief Detective Inspector. He became well known for his considerable arrest record, particularly of dangerous criminals.

Besides his duties as a detective, Samuel became involved in teaching various self defense techniques to the local policemen, constantly emphasizing the importance of proper moral conduct, whether dealing with criminals or law abiding citizens. Samuel often taught self defense classes at the gym he opened, which was the first gym in Bratislava, called “Hercules.”

Inspired and encouraged by his impressive father, Imi learned many fighting techniques from his father. During the 1930’s, Imi honed his fighting skills in the streets of Bratislava, protecting himself and his Jewish neighbors from local fascist thugs. He took part in numerous brawls, which sharpened his awareness of the basic differences existing between street fights and the sport contests that were so familiar to him. It was at this time that many of the principles, which were later to constitute the foundation of Krav Maga, began to crystallize. As the situation in Imi’s homeland deteriorated, his fights to protect his family and neighbors became rapidly unpopular with the local authorities. As a result, Imi had to leave his home, family, and numerous friends in 1940. After several years of traveling, Imi eventually reached his destination of Israel, then called Palestine. He joined the Haganah, a paramilitary organization of the Jewish community, and fought for the independence of Israel.

During his service in the Haganah, Imi began teaching solders basic self defense techniques. After the formation of the fledging State of Israel, the Israeli government asked Imi to develop an effective system of self-defense and fighting, which later became the Krav Maga system. The Haganah was eventually incorporated into the Israel Defense Forces, and Imi became the Chief Instructor for the military school for Physical Training and Krav Maga.

In the twenty years that he served in the army, Imi developed and refined his unique system of self defense and hand to hand combat, training the instructors and the fighters of the Israeli Defense Force’s elite units. After his retirement from the service, Imi devoted both his time and energy to adapting Krav Maga to everyday life. The system was adjusted so that it would supply solutions to ordinary men, women, and children who might be facing an aggressive encounter.

Since 1964, when Krav Maga became available to the civilian public, its teachings have rapidly spread within the Israeli population, thanks to team of Imi’s qualified graduates. These instructors were personally chosen and trained by Imi and accredited by the Israeli Ministry of Education as teachers of Krav Maga.

In 1978, Imi and several of his students established the Krav Maga Association, a non-profit public benefit organization, aimed at promoting the teaching of Krav Maga in Israel and throughout the world.

Imi’s system of Krav Maga was founded on moral and human values, emphasizing personal integrity, non-violence, good citizenship, and humble conduct. These principles have been, and will continue to be, the guiding force for the students ofKrav Maga. Sadly, Imi passed away in 1998, but his legacy continues on. To date, Krav Maga has been taught to thousands of civilians, law enforcement, and military personnel in Israel, Europe, Scandinavia, and the United States. Through his efforts, Imi has saved numerous lives and has helped many more to “walk in peace.”

Krav Maga’s History in the U.S. →