Imi Lichtenfeld – The Man Behind Krav Maga

Krav Maga was born out of the need for survival.

The streets of Bratislava, Slovakia were dangerous in the 1930’s for anyone of Jewish descent. Anti-Semitic gangs were running rampant through the area and, after the attacks started becoming commonplace, Imrich “Imi” Lichtenfeld was left searching for a way to defend himself and his people.

With a background in boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics, Lichtenfeld was no stranger to violence—but this type of combat was unprovoked. He was used to the fighting at the gym that his father ran and in the competitions that he regularly won but was unaccustomed to the lethality of street fighting.

As bad as things were, they got even worse during the Nazi invasion of Slovakiain 1940; he joined thousands of people attempting to flee a Nazi-controlled Europe. Leaving his family and friends behind, he was able to secure the documentation to set sail on one of the last boats to flee. Never reaching Paraguay, the boat’s intended destination, Lichtenfeld eventually ended up in Egypt fighting for the Czech Legion. After his service, he was allowed to enter Palestinein 1942.

Finding himself in the middle of another struggle Lichtenfeld, like many others in the area, was subjected to violent personal attacks. Protected only by the Haganah, a local paramilitary group, most were left to defend their homes, businesses, and property by themselves. Within the first two years that Lichentfeld was in Palestinethe Haganah leader, Yitzhak Sadeh, recruited him because of his fierce reputation and combat skills.

Between 1944 and 1948, Lichetenfeld taught the art of hand-to-hand combat, then known as Kapap, to soldiers preparing for battle. Then, after the UN grantedIsraelstatehood in 1948, war broke out. The Haganah was disbanded and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) formed. Appointed the head instructor of Krav Maga, or contact combat, Lichtenfeld called on his experience as a military man, boxer, wrestler and swimmer to aid his instruction.

Until the end of his service in the IDF in 1963, Lichtenfeld continued to develop the art of Krav Maga, effectively training some of the world’s deadliest forces. He then modified Krav Maga so that it could be used by anyone, military or civilian, in any practical situation. Practicing on the principles of humility, dignity, and a respect for life, he offered the first civilian course in 1972.

Lichtenfeld spent the rest of his life traveling, training and teaching Krav Maga around the world—the practice was even incorporated intoIsrael’s education system. In 1988, at the age of 87, Lichtenfeld died inIsraelleaving behind a legacy of empowerment that will last forever.

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