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The History of Krav Maga
The formation of Krav Maga is reasonably well known. Imrich Lichtenfeld was born in Budapest on 26th May 1910. His name is often shortened to ‘Immi’ or ‘Imi’ and he is sometimes referred to as Imi Sde-Or as Sde-Or is the Hebrew calque, or literal translation, of Lichtenfeld and would be ‘Light field’ in English.
Imi’s father Samuel Lichtenfeld was a Chief Inspector for the Bratislava Police Force. He had been a circus acrobat and gymnast and owned a gymnasium where he taught self-defence. Samuel Lichtenfeld encouraged his sons to engage in many sports and Imi and his brothers excelled in swimming, boxing, wrestling and gymnastics. Imi trained in Judo and traditional Jiu-Jitsu, achieving black belts and also excelled as a boxer.
In 1930’s Europe, National Socialism (Nazism) was spreading and Imi found increasing hostility as anti-Semitic gangs attacked Jewish citizens, businesses and neighbourhoods. Imi and his brothers went ‘on the barricades’ with a group of young Jewish boxers and wrestlers to prevent the anti-Semitic gangs from entering the Jewish areas where his family lived.
It was in these street confrontations that Imi defined the difference between sports-fighting and real street combat and began to distil what worked from what did not.
After the outbreak of World War Two, Imi joined the British Army and served in the Czech Battalion which – through various name changes and amalgamations – saw action in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Palestine, Tobruk in Libya, the defence of Haifa in Israel and the defence of Beirut in Lebanon. Imi’s service in the British Army exposed him to the Fairbairn-Sykes unarmed fighting methods. This brutal style of hand-to-hand combatives was known by the British officer class as ‘gutterfighting’ – not a positive term – and survived the end of the war as ‘Defendu’.
As a European Jew, Imi’s service in the British Army granted him Palestinian citizenship and at the end of the war Imi joined the resistance movements in Israel fighting for an Independent state. As a member of the Hagana organisation, Imi took his vast experience of sports fighting, boxing, street fighting, military training, armed combat and unarmed combat, and developed his specific techniques of self-defence, unarmed combat, stick fighting, knife fighting and weapon disarms.
Following the British withdrawal from Palestine and the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli in 1948, the provisional government of Israel merged Hagana, Irgun and Lehi into the nascent IDF – Israeli Defense Force.
When the war was settled, Imi became the Chief Instructor of contact combat (in Hebrew ‘Krav Maga’) until he retired in 1967 after 19 years’ service to the IDF, and a lifetime’s service to his people.
After Imi retired, the IDF appointed Eli Avikzar as the Chief Instructor of Krav Maga to train Krav Maga instructors at the Fighting Fitness academies. When Eli Avikzar retired, Boaz Aviram – a young Karateka who won his black belt in Israel in a 100 fight Kumite – became the third Chief Instructor.
Upon retirement, Imi had opened academies in Netanya and Tel-Aviv to train a ‘civilian’ self-defence, or Krav Maga to the population of Israel and it was during those times that Boaz and Imi would share a coffee on a Saturday morning discussing and refining the philosophy.
In 1987 Eli retired from the Krav Maga Association and founded K.A.M.I. – the Israeli Krav Magen Association.
During the 2000’s many people who had trained in Krav Maga were beginning to propagate various methods of self defence or contact combat under the name of Krav Maga. Some had studied under Imi, or Eli, or Boaz. Some had studied under Imi’s early black belts, some had been trainers in, or been trained by, the IDF. Some were martial artists who added a few ‘Krav Maga’ type defences and then called their fighting style ‘Krav Maga’.
This growth in popularity of ‘Krav Maga’ – particularly in the USA – led in some cases to a dilution of its principles and philosophies. Having left the IDF, trained Sky Marshalls, SWAT teams and police teams, Boaz Aviram had moved to New York City and trained as an accountant! Frustrated, however, by what he saw as a dilution of the original Krav Maga, Boaz wrote his seminal book ‘Krav Maga – Use of the Human Body as a Weapon: Philosophy and Application of Hand to Hand Fighting Training System (2009).
Boaz then began demonstrating ‘Pure’ Krav Maga and training interested individuals and produced a DVD series of Pure Krav Maga.
His book was reprinted as ‘Krav Maga: Use your body as a weapon’ in 2014, by which time many people had woken up to the need to check the lineage of the ‘Krav Maga’ they were being trained in. Boaz has not joined any established ‘Krav Maga’ body, nor has he created a ‘pyramid scheme’ of training and trainers; he remains an open and humble man, “loyal to the teachings of Imi Lichtenfeld” (source http://whatiskravmaga.webs.com).
As a young man in the North West of England, Rick Allin-Jones had some early basic training in boxing. The early 1980s in Manchester and Liverpool could be interesting times, and young people often ‘took to the streets’ in promotion or defence of various causes. During these times violence could often be a factor, but after settling down for many years, Rick was introduced to Krav Maga by a close friend in America who had begun to study at an IKMF academy.
Seeking out Krav Maga in the UK, Rick began training in a couple of Krav Maga ‘styles’ in 2006 before deciding to seek out the original ‘root’ of the method. If you ask him, he may well tell you the story of why that search started.
This research led him to train with – and be qualified as a Pure Krav Maga Instructor by – Boaz Aviram in April 2011. He began public training sessions in summer 2011 but was a low key instructor. His classes were primarily discovered through recommendations and word-of-mouth. Rick’s classes are informal, friendly and he still operates on a ‘no belts, no BS’ ethos whilst respecting those who do offer belts & grades.
In November 2012 Rick qualified as a Master Instructor in Pure Krav Maga under the direct supervision of Boaz Aviram, and following a career change in late 2015, is able to offer more scheduled training sessions to the community. He has close links with other Pure Krav Maga instructors across the UK, Europe and the world as a member of the informal ‘family’ of Pure Krav Maga and is registered with and insured by the British Combat Association.
- Imi Lichtenfeld
- Eli Avikzar
- Boaz Aviram
- Rick Allin-Jones