History of Krav Maga

Krav Maga was developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld, also known as Imi Sde-Or (Sde-Or–”Light Field”–a calque of his surname into Hebrew). He first taught his fighting system in Bratislava in order to help protect the local Jewish community from the Nazi militia. Upon arriving in the British Mandate of Palestine, Lichtenfeld began teaching Kapap to the Haganah, the Jewish underground army. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Lichtenfeld became the Chief Instructor of Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) School of Combat Fitness. He served in the IDF for 15 years, during which time he continued to develop and refine his hand-to-hand combat method. In 1964 he left the military though continued to supervise the instruction of Krav Maga in both military and law-enforcement contexts, and in addition, worked to refine, improve and adapt Krav Maga to meet civilian needs.

Prior to 1980, all experts in Krav Maga lived in Israel and trained under the Israeli Krav Maga Association. That year marks the beginning of contact between Israeli Krav Maga experts and interested students in the United States. In 1981, a group of six Krav Maga instructors traveled to the US to demonstrate their system, primarily to local Jewish Community Centers. The New York field office of the FBI and the FBI’s main training center at Quantico, Virginia saw it and expressed interest. The result was a visit by 22 people from the US to Israel in the summer of 1981 to attend a basic Krav Maga instructor course. The graduates from this course returned to the US and began to establish training facilities in their local areas. Additional students traveled to Israel in 1984 and again in 1986 to become instructors. At the same time, instructors from Israel continued to visit the US. Law enforcement training in the US began in 1985.

Krav Maga is currently being taught as a primary hand-to-hand combat technique at some police departments in the United States. Krav Maga has been growing in popularity over the last several years with more schools opening up the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and a number of other European countries as well as places like Australia and South America. Krav
Maga’s growing popularity is due a number reasons; organizations such as the KMG, FEKM (European Federation of Krav Maga) IKMF and have been promoting it a lot across Europe and various other parts of the world. Films and TV shows such as 24, Taken, NCIS and Archer are known to feature it in the show. Krav Maga being utilized by a number of professional organizations such as the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet, FBI and DEA has led to increased popularity with civilians also.

All Israel Defense Forces soldiers, including all Israeli Special Forces units, learn Krav Maga as part of their basic training. Further, Krav Maga is the defensive tactics system used to train the Israeli Police, Israeli Intelligence and all Security Divisions. Krav Maga is also taught to civilians, military, law enforcement and security agencies around the world. The Norwegian Military and the Swedish Army both use Krav Maga in close combat training for urban warfare. Schools can be found everywhere from Australia and the UK to South Africa. The International Krav Maga Federation in Netanya north of Tel Aviv trains some of the world’s top bodyguards, who use Krav Maga as a trade fighting art since it includes several exercises in evacuating a VIP through a hostile crowd. Also, the tactics for dispatching several opponents quickly is vital for personal protection agents. Krav Maga is also being deployed in the Palestinian territories, particularly for its versatility, where Israeli soldiers adapt it for crowd control purposes.

There are 3 variants of application: for the army, for the police, and self-defense for civilians. Those 3 applications of Krav Maga feature slightly differing techniques due to their specialized applications; i.e. attack, threat-neutralization, or self-defense. Additionally, the civilian curriculum for Krav Maga emphasizes understanding the dynamics of the hostile environment, focusing on the psychology of street confrontation, efficiency (in dealing with multiple attacker scenarios) and threat neutralization.