Krav Maga - a Brief History of the Brutal Self Defense Discipline

Krav Maga

Krav Maga

Krav Maga is Hebrew for “Contact-Combat”.

Krav Maga is a style of self-defense with Israeli origins. The style of Krav Maga is represented by many variations and organizations worldwide.

A Brief History of Krav Maga

The founder of the Israeli style of Krav Maga is Imi Lichtenfeld. In the 1930’s Licthenfeld grew up practicing gymnastics.  He learned wrestling and boxing in Slovakia at his father’s gym.

When he was in his twenties there was a lot of Antisemitism in his community. Gangs of men would terrorize the neighborhoods. This compelled Imi and other fighters from the gym patrolled and protected the Jewish community.

Imi quickly realized that the sport techniques he was using were inefficient in real combat. Real fighting was dramatically different than sport fighting. He needed to develop a method that would be more practical. His study consisted of a variety of martial arts including Judo.

During this time he was exposed to training from British Allied Forces.  They were the first to pioneer realty based self defense training 50 years earlier.

In 1944, Licthenfeld made his way to Israel and began to train fighters in fitness, swimming, wrestling, knife fighting and knife defense.  They instructed the Haganah paramilitary organization. He later added Judo, Aikido and other systems to expand his knowledge of interpersonal violence.

In 1948, the state of Israel was founded.  Imi became the Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the Israeli Defense Force’s School of Combat Fitness.
Lichtenfeld officially established the Krav Maga Association in 1978.  Thereafter, he began to export his style.

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The World War II Hand to Combat and Krav Maga Connection.

The British were the first to spearhead reality based self-defense in the early 1900’s.

Former British Royal Marine and head of the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) William E. Fairbairn was the pioneer in this field. He was inspired after being nearly beaten to death by the Chinese Green Gang while on patrol.

Every day while on his beat, Fairbairn had walked past a sign that simply said “Professor Okada, Jujutsu – Bonesetter”.  As soon as he recovered from the attack, he didn’t walk past.  He walked in.

Fairbairn’s position and political connections gave him access to some of the most elite fighting and security forces. He too studied Judo and other Japanese martial arts.  He then expanded to Chinese, Indian and Indonesian arts.  Being British, he had a deep knowledge of boxing and prize fighting.

His new rough and tumble system of fighting got him the nickname “Dirty-Dan”. He began to train police officers in his simple and brutal form of self defense. The success of this system grew.  Imi was commissioned to train British Troops and Spies for the next few decades.

World War II and the defeat of the Nazi’s prove the effectiveness of this close quarter combat system.  British close combat experts had commissions to train all over the world, including with the Israeli Haganah.  Later the Israeli Defense Force adapted it. Imi Lichtenfeld was exposed to this British system of close combat. It no doubt had an influence on early Krav Maga.

Modern Krav Maga

Originally Krav Maga didn’t have any belts or ranks. It simply trained troops. Krav Maga transformed into more of a martial art later.  It commercialized and exported to the United States in the 1980’s.  At the time, the most popular martial art was Tae Kwon Do. One couldn’t go through a town in the US without seeing a school.

Many Krav Maga schools adapted the successful Tae Kwon Do business model.  They use similar class formats and ranking.

Why are there so many versions of Krav Maga?

Looking for a Krav Maga school is somewhat confusing.  There are many variations and organizations.  The word “Krav Maga” is a general term, like Karate or MMA.

It can be difficult to tell exactly what you’re getting.  Furthermore, it can be difficult to detect the lineage of the instructor since there are a multitude of Krav Maga organizations and styles. It’s best to look at the school, try a few classes to see if it makes sense to you. Most of all, after so many years of being commercialized it will be hard to find the original, brutal system.


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Published by Damian (Instructor)

Founder, The Self Defense Company

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