|History of Krav Maga
|Imi Lichtenfeld, founder of Krav Maga. To fully appreciate Krav
Maga, you need to know its history.
The origins of Krav Maga can be traced to pre-World War II
Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia) and a young Jewish athlete
named Imi Lichtenfeld. Imi was a nationally and internationally
renowned boxer, wrestler, and gymnast. Beginning in the mid-1930s,
fascist and anti-Semitic groups rose to power in Czechoslovakia and
began inflicting violence on Jewish communities. Feeling duty-bound
to protect his neighbors, Lichtenfeld organized a group of young men
to patrol his community and defend against would-be attackers. He
quickly learned, however, that his training in sport martial arts was
no match for the anti-Semitic thugs he encountered. Fighting for
points in a match and fighting for your life in a street fight require a
different mindset and different techniques. To effectively defend
himself and his community, Imi began synthesizing his martial art
knowledge and started placing an emphasis on attacks that quickly
disabled and neutralized a threat.
By 1940, Imi found himself living under a Nazi-allied puppet regime
and decided to head for Palestine to join the Zionist Movement and
fight for a Jewish state of Israel. When he moved to Palestine in
1942, he joined the Haganah, a pre-Israel Jewish paramilitary
organization with a mission to protect Jewish settlers from locals who
did not welcome the new arrivals. Israeli military leaders quickly
noticed Imi’s fighting skills and his ability to teach those skills to
others. They put him in charge of training the military’s elite fighting
forces, including the Palmach (elite strike force), the Palyam (marine
commandos), and the Haganah.
After Israel gained statehood in 1948, these separate fighting forces
were merged into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and Lichtenfeld
was named the Chief Instructor of Physical Fitness at the IDF School
of Combat Fitness. It was in this role that he developed what today is
known as Krav Maga. Lichtenfeld needed a combative system he
could teach new military recruits in just three weeks — one that was
simple, efficient, and effective, and could be applied in a number of
lethal situations. To create such a system, Lichtenfeld combined the
most effective techniques of boxing, aikido, judo, wrestling, and
jujitsu into a single, fluid, fighting military discipline that emphasized
continuous motion, simultaneous defense and attack, and attacks to
an assailant’s soft tissue and pressure points. Later in the 70′s he
called his self-defense system “Krav Maga,” meaning “contact
combat” in Hebrew. It quickly became the official combative of the
IDF and continues to be today.
After retiring from the IDF, Lichtenfeld began teaching Krav Maga
to Israeli citizens. Imi taught what’s now know as Krav Maga for
nearly 20 years in the IDF. After retiring from military service in
1964, he began devoting his time and energy to modifying and
teaching the self-defense system to civilians. Imi opened two Krav
Maga studios in Israel where he taught thousands of students and
instructors, all while continuing to add and improve upon the fighting
discipline he had developed in the military. In 1974, Imi founded the
Krav Maga Association, a non-profit dedicated to promoting and
teaching Krav Maga in Israel and throughout the world.
Krav Maga is still the official combative system of the Israeli
Defense Forces. A few of Imi’s early disciples brought Krav Maga to
the United States, and it quickly became a preferred close-combat
system in many U.S. military and police forces. Several commercial
Krav Maga organizations have formed over the years to teach and
promote Krav Maga in the U.S., each with a counterpart in Israel.
Each of these organizations claim to be the “true” heir and guardian
of Imi Lichtenfeld’s original Israeli Krav Maga, and go out of their
way to show their connection to Krav’s founder.
The Principles of Krav Maga
As mentioned above, Krav Maga is a tactical mixed-martial
art/combative and self-defense system that combines boxing, judo,
jujitsu, and aikido. In recent years, other martial arts have been
incorporated into Krav Maga such as muay Thai and Wing Chun.
Neutralize the threat.
The primary goal in Krav Maga is to neutralize your threat as
quickly as possible. This overarching goal governs all the other
principles of Krav Maga. Because your aim is to dominate and
incapacitate your attacker as soon as possible, pretty much anything
goes in Krav Maga. You can’t worry about fighting etiquette when
your life is on the line. You do whatever you have to do to preserve
your life. Keep it simple. There aren’t katas or patterns in Krav
Maga. Just strikes, holds, and blocks. Krav Maga was designed so
that it could be put to use as soon as possible.
Simultaneous defense and attack.
Many martial arts treat defensive and offensive moves as separate
and discrete actions, e.g., first you block (defensive), then you kick
when you find an opening (offensive). The downside of this approach
is that it’s reactive and you typically just end up in a cycle of never
ending defensive movements. In Krav Maga, the fighter looks to
combine an offensive movement with every defensive movement —
he wants to disrupt the attack and simultaneously counterattack. For
example, if an attacker goes for your throat, you’d not only try to
deflect his attack, but also simultaneously counterattack by going for
his eyes, groin, or throat. The goal is to neutralize your threat as
quickly as possible. (Sidenote: Wing Chun also has a similar
simultaneous defensive/offensive principle.)
Retzev, or continuous motion.
Related to the principles of simultaneous defense and attack is
retzev, a Hebrew word for “continuous motion.” David Kahn
describes retzev as a “seamless explosion of violence,” in which the
goal is to neutralize your attacker with a continuous series of
aggressive defensive and offensive movements. As your attacker
reacts to your counterattacks, you’ll respond with more punches,
kicks, and headbutts until the attacker is no longer a threat. Retzev
requires a fighter to work from instinct and not rely on a pre-set
routine. A well-trained practitioner of Krav Maga will know how to
react to any type of threat without hesitation.
Use of weapons of opportunity. You can easily incorporate firearms
and knives into Krav Maga. Besides these traditional weapons, Krav
Maga also teaches practitioners to improvise and use any object at
their disposal as a weapon. Keys, pens, belts, and chairs can all be
incorporated into Krav Maga techniques in order to neutralize your
opponent as quickly as possible.
Besides teaching students how to use weapons, Krav Maga also
shows how to defend yourself from an armed attack.
Focus on vulnerable soft tissue and pressure points. A well-known
principle of Krav Maga is its emphasis on attacking vulnerable soft
tissue and pressure points. Many counterattacks involve eye
gouging, groin attacks, and strikes to the throat. Some criticize Krav
Maga for this, arguing that “it’s not manly to punch a guy in the
nuts.” Krav Maga’s goal is to neutralize a dangerous attacker as
quickly as possible. Plain and simple. Sometimes a strike to the groin
is the best option to neutralize an attack. When you’re violently
attacked in the street, the person attacking you isn’t following some
sportsman’s code of chivalry — he wants to hurt, maim, or possibly
kill you — so why should you give him the courtesy of not punching
below the belt? You can’t worry about fighting etiquette or what’s
‘manly’ when your life is at stake.
In addition to striking attacks, Krav Maga also utilizes subduing
techniques in order to de-escalate a violent confrontation. Joint locks
and various grabs are used to exert control over your attacker and
put you in a position to end the threat.
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