The founder – Imi Lichtenfeld
Imrich (nicknamed Imi) Lichtenfeld was born in 1910 in Budapest and grew up in Bratislava in Czechoslovakia, a region ruled at that time by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and under the influence of Germanic culture.
Starting very young, he trained in wrestling, boxing, judo, swimming and gymnastics and participated in the self-defense classes given by his father.
Imi won the wrestling championship of the Slovak Youth.
He won the same championship but as an adult and that in two different categories of weight, as well as the national championship of boxing and the international competition in gymnastics.
A broken rib received during a workout shortly before a competition in Palestine has prevented him to take part; from this incident he drew a security principle for his practice, contrary to the attitude which is to win at any price: “First, do not get injured…“.
From 1936 to 1940
Imi has devoted himself rather to wrestling. He trained, practiced and won a dozen medals and awards. He is considered as one of the best European wrestlers. In parallel, he also practiced acrobatics and was in to the dramatic arts as well. He taught gymnastics to one of the best theater troops of Czechoslovakia and he played in several productions.
During this period, Imi participated in countless confrontations and street fighting against anti-Semitic aggressors alone or in a group. With the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism, the Nazis had spread in Slovakia and the Jews were violently attacked; Imi organized a group of young Jews, mostly summoned from the boxing, the wrestling or the strength training to counter the riots and to prevent the anti-Semitic bands to penetrate in the Jewish quarter.
These incidents have forged the spirit and the body of Imi and have transformed him from a sportsperson to an accomplished street fighter with a unique experience that plants in him the seed that later will become the system of self-defense that he will initiate: Krav Maga.
He applies the bases of his self-defense:
- Use the reflexes, the natural movement
- Attack and defend simultaneously
- Regain your resources after a blow
In 1940 Imi has become a problem for the local authorities that became fascists and he had to leave his home, his family and his friends. He embarked in the last vessel of immigrants who managed to escape the Nazis. It was an old river boat called the Pentcho and converted the transport of hundreds of refugees from central Europe to the promised land Israel (Palestine). The odyssey of Imi to board the vessel was filled with poignant episodes and lasted two years.
In the Delta of Romania, the boat was placed in quarantine in an attempt to starve the passengers. Several times Imi had to jump into the water, putting his life in danger to save fallen passengers or to retrieve bags of food. By rescuing a child from drowning, he takes an ear infection which would have cost him his life.
The boat was not destroyed due to its flat bottom which prevented it from jumping on the mines.
Later, the boiler of the boat exploded, and he escaped onto a Greek island (Kamilanisi).
Imi and four of his friends took a rowboat and went to Crete to ask for help. Preferring to ignore his infection on the ear and the protests of his friends, Imi refused to abandon the oars for a full day. But in spite of their heroic efforts, the violent winds capsized their boat and they never reached Crete. The morning of the 5th day, an English warship retrieved the 5 survivors and brought them to Alexandria in Egypt.
Imi very poorly in point, undergoes several operations at the hospital. He was so close to death that the doctors had no further hopes for his recovery, but the surgeon succeeded in saving his life.
After recuperating, Imi joined the Czech legion commanded by the British army. He then served in different tasks of the Middle East during 1 year and a half and then received an entry permit to Israel (Palestine).
Some friends of Imi presented him to the General Sadeh, General of the Haganah (pre – IDF = Israeli Defensive Forces. Haganah = armed force created in 1920 to organize a defense of the Jews in Palestine, considered illegal by the British army who administered this territory and controlled the defense in that area) who accepted him immediately in the organization due to his talents in the melee combat.
Imi began to train the Israeli fighters. He trained several elite units of the Haganah: Palmach (combat units created in 1941 who will benefit from the knowledge acquired by all the Jews involved in WWII for the British side), Palyam (marine commandos), as well as police officers. He teaches them physical condition for the fight, the surpassing of individual obstacles, the tactics of bayonets, the attacks of sentinels, the melee combat without weapons (Krav Maga in Hebrew), swimming, the fight with a knife and with a stick.
With the birth of the state of Israel and the IDF, Imi became Chief Instructor in physical education and in Krav Maga for the army. He served the IDF for 20 years refining and developing his method of unique self-defense. Imi himself has taught the best fighters of the elite units of Israel and has formed many generations of instructors of Krav Maga – for that reason, he has earned the recognition of the most senior ranks in the army.
Later, the ministry of education gave the recognition of status for the teaching of krav maga to civilians. Krav Maga had to meet the varied needs necessary to the IDF. It had to be easy to learn and to apply, so that a soldier, an office employee or a veteran of the elite unit could achieve the efficiency required in the smallest period of learning and also that the techniques could be applied in situations of extreme stress.
At the beginning of the sixties, while he trained a guard unit of the Royal Police in Ethiopia, Imi realized that one of the pupils really tried to injure him when he showed a defense against an attack with the bayonet. In the next attack, Imi hit him very hard and puts him out of combat. This incident made him reflect on the attitude he wants to transmit to the students to train in good conditions and prevent injuries: “Do not try to prove who you are”.
After retiring from the IDF, Imi began to adapt the Krav Maga to civil requirements. The method is suitable to fit anyone who wants to learn it: men and women, young people and adults, all those who have a need to survive an attack with a minimum of risk and damage.
To spread his method: Imi established 2 training centers in Tel Aviv and Netanya, his city of residence, which became a center for the practitioners of Krav Maga. He adopted the belt system to structure the Krav Maga and to ensure a rapid and safe progression.
During this time, Imi continued to serve as a consultant and a Krav Maga instructor for the IDF and other security forces.
The first instructor training intended for civilians started at the institute Wingate. Henceforth the method is spreading among many civilians.
Since then, thousands of people of all backgrounds are formed in Krav Maga: Israeli secret services, police, schools, private or public institutes, especially since he has been recognized by the Ministry of National Education…
Imi created the Israeli Krav Maga Association to disseminate the method and to transmit its values. He remained the president until the end of his life.
Krav Maga began to develop itself in the whole world.
Richard Douieb was delegated by Imi to represent Krav Maga in Europe.
Up until his last days, Imi continued to develop the techniques of Krav Maga and its concepts. He personally supervised the most senior graded in Krav Maga and spent some time with the instructors. Imi controlled the progress and success of his students, captivating them with his unique personality and his sense of humor and taught them his knowledge and opinion.
On 8 January 1998 Imi died at the age of 87 years, keeping a strong spirit even in his last moments.
“I sought to make of my students human beings. That they became so good that they did not have to kill. I first think of the morality in order to educate the young, during exercises. We must be humble.”