Early life and sport achievements of Imi Lichtenfeld , the creator of Krav Maga.
The creator of Krav Maga was Imi Lichtenfeld ( also known as Imi Sde-Or in Hebrew) born in 1910 in Budapest, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He spent his childhood and youth in Bratislava, where his father, Samuel Lichtenfeld was a well-known police detective and self- defense instructor. Imi grew up in training rooms as his father founded the first gym and wrestling club in Bratislava named Hercules, where wrestling, boxing, weightlifting and self- defense were trained. Soon, young and very talented Imi became the champion of Slovakia in wrestling (1928) and in boxing and gymnastics (1929). This was the beginning of his sports career. A bit later he began to achieve significant international successes in the wrestling team both as a contestant and as a coach.
The first street fighting experience. The defense of the Bratislava ghetto.
In the 1930s, due to the rising tide of anti-Semitism, Imi organized a group of young Jews who defended the Jewish quarter of Bratislava. He took part in dozens of street fights in which knives, clubs, chains and brass knuckles were used. It was then he realized that although considerable experience in combat sport is very useful, it is often insufficient for fierce street fighting with armed opponents. The effectiveness of used tactics and techniques was quickly verified in real life situations so Imi started to re-evaluate his ideas about fighting and started developing the skills and techniques of the system that would eventually become Krav Maga…
Imi’s departure to Palestine. Imi joins Haganah – a Jewish paramilitary organization.
In 1940, in view of the possibility of arrest, Imi left his homeland and sailed along the Danube River on the vessel named Pentcho that transported one of the last groups of refugees from Central Europe to the promised land. The unusual story of Pentcho riverboat and its passengers was told in the book “Odyssey” by John Myanmar. Imi’s dramatic journey lasted almost two years, until he reached Palestine where he was soon recruited by the commanding officer of Haganah. He became a combat and physical training instructor and he trained both regular army units and special forces.
The birth of Krav Maga
In 1948, along with the creation of the state of Israel, Hagana was transformed into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, or 'Tsahal' in Hebrew). Imi Lichtenfeld became the chief instructor of physical fitness and hand-to-hand combat of the IDF. He held this position until his retirement in 1963. The military training program had to meet several requirements: it had to be simple, easy to use and fast to learn. The goal was that an elite soldier as well as a clerk spending most of his time behind the desk, could achieve a high level of physical, psychological and technical prowess. Imi's co-workers and successors were: Eli Avikzar (Imi's first instructor), colonel David Ben-Asher (Imi's supervisor, author of "FIGHTING FIT" in 1983), Boaz Aviram, Sakhar Klarfeld and others.
After retiring from the army, Imi and his first instructors begin to train civilians...
After retiring from the army, Imi began teaching Krav Maga to civilians. At first Imi trained with a small number of students from the time of military service (including Eli Avikzar, Shayke Barak, Haim Zut, Raffi Algarisi and others), but their number gradually increased. In 1972 the first civilian course for instructors of Krav Maga took place in the School for Trainers and Instructors at the Wingate Institute of Sport and Physical Education. In 1978, Imi and several of his closest students founded the Israeli Krav Maga Association with the intent to spread the method in Israel and abroad and to share its value in self-defense..
The beginning of an international expansion - Krav Maga in America.
The first Krav Maga instructor course for foreign students was organized by the Israeli Krav Maga Association and the Wingate Institute for Physical Education in 1981. A group of 23 people from the United States participated in the course (Darren Levine was among them the founder and head of Krav Maga Association of America and of Krav Maga Worldwide). This was the beginning of the spread of Krav Maga around the world.
Krav Maga reaches Europe.
In Europe, Krav Maga became more and more popular by such activists as Richard Douieb from France (the founder of the European Federation of Krav Maga), Jyrki Saario (the first who introduced Krav Maga to the Nordic countries and for many years the head of IKMF training in Finland and Sweden) and Tomasz Adamczyk (the first who introduced the system to Poland and the founder of the Institute of Krav Maga Poland). In 1994, Jyrki Saario, an outstanding champion of martial arts and combat sports, decided to go to Israel to familiarize himself with the Israeli system of self-defense and hand-to-hand combat which was virtually unknown in Europe. After spending 13 years in Thailand Jyrki has been one of the few European Muay Thai instructors who had studied and received a certificate in the country of this unusual combat sport ( He was granted Muay Thai and Muay Boran instructor certificates by Master Brong Trairot himself). Jyrki personally met Imi and his top instructors and they exchanged experience in contact combat.
The split in the Israeli Association. Imi's death.
In the 90s, the growing conflicts among the leading members of Israeli Krav Maga Association led to the split, as a result a group of instructors decided to take a different path (some of the first generation instructors set up their own schools earlier). In 1996, Imi expressed his wish to establish an International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF). Eyal Yanilov served as the Chairman and head instructor of IKMF and Avi Moyal, Eli Ben-Ami and Gaby Noah, today's leading instructors of Krav Maga in the world, followed him and joined IKMF as well. The new organization was soon joined by Jyrki Saario, who established the first foreign branches of IKMF in Finland and Sweden. Jyrki became head of IKMF training for the whole Scandinavia and took an active part in the organization life. Jyrki Saario has been granted his black belt and instructor certificate from Imi Lichtenfeld himself. Imi wanted his life’s work -Krav Maga to be taught around the world and he personally supervised the development of his instructors in Israel and of those abroad to the end of his days. The Grandmaster Imi Lichtenfeld (Imi Sde-Or) died in January 1998.
The development and split in the International Krav Maga Federation.
Soon, the International Krav Maga Federation has become the largest organization disseminating Imi Lichtenfeld’s heritage. The federation boasted branches in Europe, Asia, North and South America and in Australia. However, during this period there were several internal "friction" as a result of which there was a split in the structures of IKMF.
The new concept - foundation of Krav Maga Network
Besides conducting Krav Maga training, Jyrki Saario has developed a new system of self- defense and hand-to-hand combat called Scandinavian Defendo. In 2008, while conducting Defendo training course he met László Tóth and a few months later, Istvan Nagy. After a four-year cooperation and long consultation in May 2012, Jyrki Saario (the first European IKMF instructor, the Finnish Krav Maga Federation head instructor), Istvan Nagy (the first who introduced Krav Maga to Hungary, the head of a group of instructors in Warsaw) and Laszlo Toth (the owner of the largest martial arts center in Central Europe, he introduced Krav Maga to Hungary together with Istvan Nagy) decided to found a new collaboration platform named Krav Maga Network, which aims at propagating the original, classic version of Krav Maga, which they called Classic Krav Maga. A group of instructors from Sweden will join them soon. The continuation of the above history is held by future….