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History of the Israeli Self-Defense System of Krav Maga

Apr 24th, 2019

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.

Expansion to the USA

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.

Expansion to other Countries

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 to 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.


The goal in Krav Maga is to keep one safe. In a violent situation; there are no rules. You need to do anything in your power not to get hurt. What does “everything in your power” mean?

Taking preventative measures comes first. Be aware and avoid violence. You can prevent yourself from getting into a danger zone by keeping your eyes and ears open. If you see a problem around you, stay away. If you have no choice then a kick to the groin, spitting, biting, gouging and hair pulling are all very legitimate. Never escalate the situation and remember; fighting is the last resort.

However, if you must fight, then follow these rules:

  1. Aim to your opponent’s weak points. Weak spots of the body, such as eyes, nose, throat, groin and more, are not organs that can develop muscle and therefore even the strongest or biggest attacker is not immune to attacks in those areas. Since Krav Maga is not a sport, and a violent situation is not like sparring with your friends at the gym, attacks should always be directed to your opponent’s vulnerable spots. Attacks to these spots will cause great effect and won’t be blocked by muscle or fat. If you want to stop the fight, you have to fight back!
  2. Quick and powerful responses. In a nutshell, Krav Maga is all about responding quickly, from 0% to 100% in a split of sec. Explosive power and a lot of mental work are essential in Krav Maga. We learn how to react efficiently under stress. Attacks must be quick and powerful, otherwise, they don’t count
  3. Speed and technique are important than strength. Techniques based on quick responses and efficiency are not strength-dependent. A teenage girl must be able to defend herself against a male adult. This does not mean however that strength is not important: of course, the stronger you are, the better, but it is not the most important and determinative characteristic a good defender must possess.
  4. Acquire skills for real-life situations. Every person attacks in a different way. Most likely, a real attacker will be different (size, strength, aggression and his technique) from those you trained with. Therefore, Krav Maga stresses improvisation and learning to enrich one’s “toolbox”. The more we train, the more tools we gain. Sometimes we have to react under unfamiliar or adverse circumstances, such as dark surroundings, body positions, with limited movement ability or under extreme stress and fatigue. The techniques are taught in their ideal form, with the best possible reaction to a given situation.
  5. Repetition is crucial. Practicing techniques on a one-time basis is never enough. There is a difference between what your brain understands to what your body can perform. We train hard to create muscle memory. Once we “earn” it, it’s there for us. Your body remembers better than your brain.
  6. Simplicity. Maga techniques were designed based on our human natural reactions, therefore if practiced and refined, it will be easy to perform under stress. Simple is effective and efficient.
  7. Krav Maga adjusts to your abilities. Not everyone can kick high, split their legs very wide or lift 200 pounds with one hand. We do not to make you do those things but work with what we’ve got. In Krav Maga, you can find a way to work with your proportions. A heavy person can emphasize fist fighting; a small person can take advantage of his frame for quickness.
  8. Minimal fighting. When you have the upper hand, and your opponent is no longer a threat – so stop fighting! We must respond according to the needs and not beyond them. Crossing this line between self-defense to unnecessary aggressive behavior results in losing control! If you lose it, you lost more than just this fight.
  9. Stay on your feet. You DON’T want to fight on the ground. It takes only one time that you face more than one attacker and your ground skills just won’t count. If you want to finish the fight fast, ground fighting won’t be the right solution.
  10. Krav Maga is an ever-changing set of techniques. Since Krav Maga is a reality, street-based self-defense method, it only makes sense to keep it up to date with knowledge and practice of today’s reality. As long as the above principles are kept, it is encouraged to evolve ALL the time. If we find a better and safer way to respond, we adopt it. Threats always change, 500 years ago, swords were very common, today, it’s knives and guns. Who knows what the next is? Krav Maga is there to provide the best available solutions. Krav Maga is not about ego, and not about staying loyal to any tradition. It is about being safe.

Krav Maga is the core style of martial arts taught at all Premier Martial Arts studios. At PMA you will always find professional experienced Krav Maga instructors dedicated to teaching the best reality-based self-defense.


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