Krav Maga (Hebrew: קרב מגע, IPA: /krɑːv mə’gɑː/, Hebrew IPA: ['kʁav ˌma'ga], lit. “contact combat” or “close combat”) is an eclectic hand-to-hand combat system developed in Israel. Principally designed by Imi Lichtenfeld as a means for self-defense from Nazi youth in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War, it matured as a fighting system with the Hagana during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It has since been refined for both civilian and military applications. Unlike most martial arts, Krav Maga is essentially a survival skill. Its philosophy emphasizes threat neutralization, simultaneous defensive and offensive manouvres, and aggressive endurance in a ‘him-or-me’ context. Krav Maga is still used by the IDF and several closely related variations have been developed and adopted by law enforcement, Mossad, FBI and the US military. There are several organisations teaching variations of Krav Maga internationally including Commando Krav Maga, Krav Maga World Wide, International Krav Maga Foundation and Israeli Krav Maga Association.
Krav Maga was developed in Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld, also known as Imi Sde-Or. (Sde-Or – “Light Field” – a calque of his surname into Hebrew). Imi (Imerich) Lichtenfeld, was born in Budapest on 25th of June 1910 to a Jewish family. Imi spent his youth in Bratislava (Presburg).
He began training when he was 10 years old. Imi earned the junior boxing and wrestling titles for the Slovak team, which was the basis for his fighting system. He first taught his fighting system in Bratislava in order to help protect the local Jewish community from Nazi militia. Upon arriving in the British Mandate of Palestine, Imi began teaching Kapap to the Haganah, the Jewish underground army.
With the establishment of the State of Israel 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 15 years, during which time he continued to develop and refine his hand-to-hand combat method. In 1978, Imi founded the non-profit Israeli Krav Maga Association with several senior instructors to promote krav maga throughout the world. After Imi’s retirement in 1964 as the military’s chief instructor of physical training and self-defense, he focused on adapting his system to provide both professional security agencies and ordinary civilians – men, women, and children – with solutions to avoid and/or end a violent encounter. The IKMA sponsors worldwide programs and courses are available at the International Training Headquarters in Hamilton, New Jersey and the Association’s Israeli main training facility in Netanya, Israel.
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.
One thing that is immediately recognizable about Krav Maga, is how strikingly similar the principles are to Jeet Kune Do. Ironically, both arts were essentially developed around the same time, in completely different parts of the world, with no recognizable or traceable connection between the two individuals who created the arts, Imi Lichtenfeld and Bruce Lee.
Unlike in martial art sports, there are no hard-and-fast rules for Krav Maga fighting, and no built-in distinctions in training between men and women. It has no sporting federation, and there are no official uniforms or attire, although some organizations, internally, do recognize progress through training with rank badges and different levels.
Techniques generally focus on training combatants in conditions approximating real-life scenarios. Krav Maga trains combatants for situations where losing would be potentially fatal. Its attack and defense maneuvers aim to neutralize the threat and facilitate rapid and safe escape. These include crippling attacks to vulnerable body parts, and various efficient and often brutal strikes. The improvised use of any available aids is encouraged, and maximizing personal safety in a fight is emphasized.
While no limits are placed on techniques to be used in life-threatening situations, during training the legal need to minimize damage is generally stressed (at least in civilian contexts) and instructors are required to demonstrate how to moderate the techniques to suit the seriousness of the circumstances.
Krav Maga basic training emphasizes the following:
Krav Maga trainees learn to deal first with the immediate threat and then prevent further attacks, if necessary by neutralizing the attacker. Actions are carried out in a methodical manner. In order to avoid a dangerous situation some circumstances may call for anticipatory action.
Krav maga is based on our most primitive and natural instincts. In developing the self-defense system, survival in any situation was foremost in Imi’s mind. Accordingly, krav maga relies on a person’s natural instincts and reflexes for self-defense. Awareness and mental conditioning are integral to krav maga training.
Krav maga’s philosophy is never to do more than necessary, but to react with speed, economy of motion, and the appropriate measure of force. If a situation is dire, the defender must do whatever is necessary to overcome the threat. This may include multiple strikes to the groin, throat, and kidneys, a finger planted into an eye, shouting into an attacker’s ear, a head butt, breaking an attacker’s elbow using an armbar variation, severing an attacker’s Achilles tendon using an ankle lock, a bite to the neck, or choking an assailant into unconsciousness.
Speed is paramount and one is taught to strike instinctively at the human body’s vulnerable parts. Krav maga is dynamic and constantly evolves as situations require.
The Israeli krav maga system is one of the most effective, practical, and holistic fighting systems in the world. Krav maga will build your body, mind, and soul. Imi designed krav maga to benefit people of all shapes, sizes, and physical abilities regardless of age.
You may be your first and last line of defense in an increasingly violent world. You must be prepared to whatever it takes to survive. Most important, there are no rules on the street.
Krav Maga breaks down it’s essential concepts into the “6 pillars” which are as follows:
Simultaneous Defense and Attack
Combine your defense and offense into one complete strategy.
Focus on Vulnerable Soft Tissue
Counter-attack the vulnerable areas of your opponent’s body including the groin, eyes, and throat.
Retzev Continuous Combat Motion
Move fast, continuously, seamlessly and determinedly to overwhelm your attacker giving him no time to react.
A Building Block Learning Process
Learn one elemental technique at a time and then build on it over time.
Be both decisive and quick in responding to a violent encounter. Do whatever is necessary to overcome a dangerous threat.
If possible, use subduing techniques to de-escalate a situation quickly.
Here is some video of author and Head of the US IKMA, David Kahn using some Krav Maga techniques:
Krav Maga has borrowed many techniques from other martial arts and includes elements from boxing, Muay Thai, Aikido, Judo, and Jujutsu although the training is often quite different. Unlike the set routines and choreographed moves in martial arts, Krav Maga teaches realistic fighting and self-defence even in conditions of stress and exhaustion. Typical training often includes exercises simulating fighting against several opponents, while protecting another, with the use of only one arm, while dizzy, and against armed opponents. Krav Maga training programs involve rapid learning, with offensive and defensive techniques introduced from the first lesson and retzev (pronounced ret-zef and meaning “continuous motion or momentum”) playing an important part in both training and maneuvers.
Most instructors emphasize two training rules: (1) there are no rules in a fight and (2) partner preservation – one must not injure oneself or one’s partner when training.
Basic training is an intense mixed aerobic and anaerobic workout, relying heavily on the use of protective pads. In striking this helps the trainee practice his maneuvers at full strength, while the holder learns a little of the impact they would feel when getting hit. It can be almost as taxing to hold a pad as to practice against one. Students will also wear head guards, mouthpieces, groin protectors, shin and forearm guards, etc. during practice of attack/defense techniques, so that a realistic level of violence may be attained without risk of injury. Some schools incorporate “Strike and Fight,” which consists of full-contact sparring intended to familiarize the student with the stresses of a violent situation.
Training within extreme acoustic, visual, and verbal scenarios prepares students to ignore peripheral distractions and focus on the needs of the situation. Other training methods to increase realism might include blindfolding or exercising trainees to near exhaustion before dealing with a simulated attack as well as training outdoors on a variety of surfaces and restrictive situations.
Training will usually also cover situational awareness, to develop an understanding of one’s surroundings and potentially threatening circumstances before an attack is launched. It may also cover “Self Protection”: ways to deal with potentially violent situations, and physical and verbal methods to avoid violence whenever possible.
A typical session in a civilian school is about an hour long and mixes conditioning with self-defense training. As levels increase, the instructors focus a little more on complicated and less common types of attacks, such as knife attacks, hostage situations and defense under extreme duress.
Classes usually feature a very intense drill to raise the heart rates. This is often done at the beginning of the lesson. Then, after stretching, the instructor will teach two or three self-defense techniques. Techniques will either be combative (punches, hammer-fists, elbows, and knees) or grappling (breaking out of chokes or wrist-grabs, getting out from under an opponent while on one’s back). The class usually moves to a drill that combines the techniques just taught with an aerobic technique. Lastly, there is the final drill intended to burn out the students. Depending on the class, this drill may be at the very beginning or at the end of the class.
A typical class will start with some warmup exercises followed by a group stretch. Classes will show several techniques or drills and students are encourage to go at full speed or near full speed to simulate what may happen in an actual attack. Some schools also use practice weapons to simulate an attack with a weapon such as a knife or gun. Since the concept behind Krav Maga is very militant while at the same time creating a family enviroment among the trainees, most classes end with a hand shake line were every individual provides a sign of respect and thanks for the training to their instructors and partners.
Imi emphasized good citizenship and a strong sense of morality. The following pillars of Imi’s system help summarize his teachings.
Treat your fellow-citizens with respect and obey the law. Imi sought to instill “a sense of self worth.”
Train properly to avoid injury
Do not injure your partner or yourself by training haphazardly or over aggressively.
Do not show-off your skills or provoke others to test your mettle. Act courteously toward others. As Imi said, “The most necessary thing, is to educate you– and that is the hardest thing–to be humble. You must be so humble that you don’t want to show him that you’re better than him. That is one of the most necessary things for pupils. If a pupil tells me, ‘I fought him and beat him,’ it’s no good.”
Avoid or deescalate a potential violent situation whenever possible. When asked about a hypothetical confrontation that could be avoided, Imi responded, “Know what I told you – to be humble. I don’t want to get beaten. I don’t want to beat him. My purpose in learning krav maga is not to get hurt. If you beat him, you want to show him you can beat him. If you turn away, you have enough confidence.”
Do not use unnecessary force
Respond to a threat or attack with only the necessary amount of force to neutralize the attack. Imi underscored, “That is most necessary and difficult thing in krav maga – that I must be so good that I don’t must kill.”
Although most Krav Maga schools do not have uniforms that are consistant with a typical martial arts school, they do have a unique ranking system, where belts are provided to signify rank. The belt ranking system is as follows: Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Brown, Black (dans 1 – 5), Red/White (dans 6 – 7), Red (dan 8). Moving from one level to another requires the mastery of specific techniques and skills as well as a specific amount of time training in Krav Maga, under a certified instructor. A rank is granted after passing examinations conducted by trained professional examiners.
Sources: Wikipedia.com, IsraeliKrav.com, & KravMagaIsraeli.com