Krav Maga

By Yossi Sheriff

Krav Maga (קרב מגע is a self-defense and military martial system developed in Israel by Imi Lichtenfeld and his chief instructor Eli Abigzar. Krav Maga was still in late developing stages in the early 1980's. Today parts of this system are practiced by some military units in the IDF.


The generic name in Hebrew is usually translated as close combat. The word maga (מגע) means "contact". The word krav (קרב) means "fight" or "battle". English-speakers often shorten the term to Krav. Thus, the term "Krav maga" is part of everyday speech in Hebrew and denotes any martial arts focused on self defense.


Imi Lichtenfeld

The media story states that the beginning of the system that would become Krav Maga in Israel was developed in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld, also known as Imi Sde-Or. (Sde-Or - "Light Field" - is a calque of his surname into Hebrew.

The historical facts are a bit different. Imi Lichtenfeld headed the self defence section in the IDF (Israeli defence force) and built his system on previous self defence systems that were practised by his predecessors. The systems that contributed to the what was later named and branded as Krav Maga were rudimentary Jiu Jitsu and Judo, some folk wrestling techniques and boxing. The system was not called Krav maga for many years.

Imi Lichtenfeld first trained in various fighting systems in Bratislava in order to help protect the Jewish community from Nazi militias. Upon arriving in the British Mandate of Palestine prior to the establishment of the Jewish state, Imi began teaching hand-to-hand combat to the Haganah, the Jewish underground army. With the establishment of the State of [srael in 1948, Imi 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 about 20 years, during which time he continued to develop and refine his hand-to-hand combat method. He died in January 1998 in Netanya, Israel.[1]

Most of the advanced techniques and the special, down to earth aproach, were generated by Imi's student Mr. Eli Abigzar. Abigzar was a highly trained aikidoka and Judoka and was extremly competent in street situations. Abigzar (Avigzar), was one of the senior instructors that initiated the spread of Krav Maga to The USA.

After Imi's death, Eli Abigzar, created his own version: Krav Magen, because of political disputes between the senior Krav Maga instructors. The system gained prominence with the entrance of business people into the circle of teachers.

Rare, 2 hour video, of Krav Maga in Israel with Imi Lictenfeld

Expansion outside Israel

Prior to 1980, all experts in Krav Maga lived in Israel. 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 travelled to the US to offer demonstrations of the system, primarily at local Jewish Community Centres.

This, in turn, led to demonstrations at the New York Field Office of the FBI and the FBI's Main Training Centre. 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 travelled to Israel in 1984 and again in 1986 to themselves become instructors. At the same time, instructors from Israel continued to visit the US. Law Enforcement training in the US began in 1985.[2]

After the death of the founder

After Imi's death, a number of different schools and associations developed around the world. Although there is an ongoing debate as to who may claim to be Imi's legitimate successor(s) and whether the term "Krav Maga" refers to a specific martial art or is simply a generic term (much like Boxing)[3], it is generally accepted that there are four mainstream Krav Maga umbrella organizations:


Krav Maga techniques

Basic principles

In Krav Maga, there are no hard-and-fast rules. It is not a Combat sport, and there are no competitions. All the techniques try to focus on maximum efficiency in real-life conditions. Krav Maga generally assumes a no quarter situation; the attacks and defenses are intended to inflict the most pain possible on the opponent. Groin strikes, headbutts, and other efficient and potentially brutal attacks are emphasized.

The guiding principles for those performing Krav Maga techniques are:

  • neutralize the threat
  • avoid injury
  • go from defending to attacking as quickly as possible
  • use the body's natural reflexes
  • strike at any vulnerable point
  • use any tool or object nearby

The basic idea is to first deal with the immediate threat (being choked, for example), prevent the attacker from re-attacking, and then neutralize the attacker, proceeding through all steps in a straightforward manner, despite the rush of adrenaline that occurs in such an attack. The emphasis is put on taking the initiative from the attacker as soon as possible.


Although Krav Maga shares many techniques with other martial arts, such as Boxing, Savate and Muay Thai (for the punches, kicks, elbows and knees) or BJJ, Judo and Wrestling (for the grappling and disarming techniques), the training is often quite different. It stresses fighting under worst-case conditions (for example, against several opponents, when protecting someone else, with one arm unusable, when dizzy, or against armed opponents).

Training in Krav Maga is an aerobic workout, and relies heavily on pads. Students take turns holding pads and doing techniques against the pads. This is important because it allows the student to practice the technique at full strength, and the student holding the pad learns a little of what it feels like to get hit. It can be almost as taxing to hold a pad as to practice against one. Some schools incorporate "Strike and Fight," which consists of full-contact sparring intended to familiarize the student with the stresses of a violent situation.

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