History and Evolution of Krav Maga

the evolution of israeli krav maga

everything has a beginning 

where it begins

Having been a practitioner and Instructor of Krav Maga for many years now, something that has always been of interest to me is the history behind the origins of Krav Maga.

 

My own research led me find an amazing paper by Dr Guy Mor titled “The Case for the Recognition of Krav-Maga as Part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Israel,” published in 2018 in the Open Journal of Social Sciences.

 

The entire paper is worth reading, but the following excerpts are noteworthy to me:

“A  key  development  was  the  “Balfour  Declaration”  of  November  2nd  1917,  which  stated  that  the  British  government favored  the  establishment  of  a  national  homeland  for  the  Jews  in  Palestine  [26].  This  statement  led  to  increased  Jewish immigration to Palestine [27] but also to an increase in hostile resistance by the indigenous Arab population.

 

In response, Jewish organizations initiated forms of combat  training  relying  mainly  on  known  martial  disciplines,  such  as  Ju-Jitsu and  boxing,  combined  with  some  practical  experience  and  knowledge  acquired  by Jewish immigrants during training in their countries of origin [28]. Unfortunately, these techniques failed to save lives in real combat situations [29].

 

In  1920,  following  another  wave  of  Arab  attacks  against  Jewish  residents, the Hagana (a Jewish paramilitary organization) was established based on the infrastructure of Hashomer [30]. The Hagana sought to develop an unarmed combat discipline that would provide effective defense  against  Arab  attacks, and  looked  to  experts  such  as  Dr.  Moshe  Feldenkrais  and  others  to  provide  advice  on  un-armed combat.

 

Feldenkrais (1904-1984),  who  had  experience  of  Ju-Jitsu  and  other  hand-to-hand combat  systems,  sought  to  create  a  practical  and  more  effective  solution  based  on  his  own  research  and  incorporating  the  principle  of “unconscious  reaction”  (also known as “reflexive reaction”)

 

This insight led Feldenkrais  to  establish  an  improved  fighting  and  training  regimen  whose  fundamental  principles  were  later  adopted  by  both  Kapap (an  abbreviation  of  Krav Panim  el  Panim  meaning  “face-to-face  combat”)  and  Krav-Maga.  The  Hagana command  considered  his  ideas  sufficiently  promising  to  justify  the  award  of  a  three-year grant allowing Feldenkrais to train Hagana members [32].

 

Between 1936 and 1939…under  the  British  mandate,  open training in combat disciplines was restricted, so Jewish immigrants adapted known hand-to-hand combat tactics to create a unique combat discipline, which could  be  represented  as  a  “defensive  sport”  (Sport  Magen).  This  discipline,  which  incorporated  techniques  from  Ju-Jitsu,  boxing  and  wrestling,  as  well  as  some of Feldenkrais’s ideas, was promoted first by Gersho Kofler as a sport under the sports organization Hapoel [35].

 

During the same period, a British intelligence officer (Charles Orde Wingate) stationed in Palestine decided to support the Zionist  cause  by  forming  small,  armed  assault  units  of  British-led  Jewish  commandos  to  counter  hostile  Arab  actions [36]…

 

During these protests, British policemen used batons to beat Jewish demonstrators, causing significant demoralization within the Jewish  community  and  the  dissolution  of  several  youth  platoons  [38].  This,  in  turn,  encouraged  Hagana  members  to  conduct  “combat  experiments”  to  find  a  practical means of countering the threat of the British batons. The outcome was the introduction of a short-stick fighting method, which became an integral part of  the  general  face-to-face  combat  training  regimen  of  the  time  [39]. 

 

The  conceptual transformation from a defensive to an offensive approach, along with the introduction of the short-stick weapon, was associated with a change in the labeling  of  the  combat  system;  what  was  previously  known  as  Sport  Magen became Kapap [40]…

 

For  the  first  decade  following  the  declaration  of  Israeli  independence  in  1948  and  the  establishment  of  the  IDF,  the  army’s  hand-to-hand  combat  training  relied  heavily  on  Kapap,  and  used  instructors  and  training  materials  from  the  Hagana [41]. From 1948 until the late 1950s, several different terms appeared in IDF documents, but these were used interchangeably. Thus Kapap, Sport Magen and Krav-Maga [42] were all seen as variants of a common hand-to hand  system.

 

Eventually,  towards  the  end  of  the  period,  the  term  Krav-Maga became the accepted term for the IDF’s hand-to-hand-combat method, displacing the term Kapap altogether [43]. The most recent phase in the evolution of Krav-Maga was the development of a  non-military  form,  often  credited  to  Imi  Lichtenfeld,  a  prominent  hand-to-hand combat  instructor  and Kapap  and Krav-Maga  specialist  within  the  Hagana  and IDF [44].

 

From around 1964, Lichtenfeld was active in promoting Krav-Maga as a civilian discipline, introducing new techniques and adopting the judo belt sys-tem. In August 1971, the first civilian Krav-Maga instructor’s course was held in Lichtenfeld’s training club in Netanya [45].”

Yes I know it’s a long read, but in my opinion very much worth it, as the paper points out some very interesting facts.

Lets break it down

the haganah

Haganah (Hebrew: הַהֲגָנָה‎, lit. The Defence) was the main paramilitary organization of the Jewish population (“Yishuv”) in Mandatory Palestine between 1920 and its disestablishment in 1948, when it became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Formed out of previous existing militias, its original purpose was to defend Jewish settlements from Arab attacks, such as the riots of 1920, 1921, 1929 and during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. It was under the control of the Jewish Agency, the official governmental body in charge of Palestine’s Jewish community during the British Mandate. Until the end of the Second World War, Haganah’s activities were moderate, in accordance with the policy of havlaga (“self-restraint”), which caused the splitting of the more radical Irgun and Lehi. The group received clandestine military support from Poland. Haganah sought cooperation with the British in the event of an Axis invasion of Palestine through North Africa, prompting the creation of the Palmach task force in 1941.

Dr.  Moshe  Feldenkrais

feldenkrais-choke

Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais was a Ukrainian-Israeli engineer and physicist, known as the founder of the Feldenkrais Method, a system of physical exercise that aims to improve human functioning by increasing self-awareness through movement.

 

Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais was born in 1904 to a Ukrainian Jewish family in the Russian Empire city of Slavuta (now in Ukraine) and grew up in Baranovichi, Belarus. In 1918, he immigrated to The British Mandate of Palestine. He worked as a laborer and obtained his high school diploma from Gymnasia Herzliya in 1925. After graduation, he worked as a cartographer for the British survey office and began to study self-defense, including Ju-Jitsu. He suffered a soccer injury in 1929 that was aggravated during World War II, prompting him to develop his own method of healing.

During the 1930s, Feldenkrais lived in France, where he earned his engineering degree from the École Spéciale des Travaux Publics. Later he earned his Doctor of Science in Physics at the University of Paris, where Marie Curie was one of his teachers.

He worked as a research assistant to nuclear chemist and Nobel Prize laureate Frédéric Joliot-Curie at the Radium Institute. In September 1933, he met Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo in Paris. Kano encouraged him to study judo under Mikinosuke Kawaishi. Feldenkrais became a close friend of Kano and corresponded with him regularly. In 1936, he earned a black belt in judo, and later gained his 2nd degree black belt in 1938. He was a co-founding member of the Ju-Jitsu Club de France, one of the oldest Judo clubs in Europe, which still exists today. Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie and Bertrand Goldschmidt took Judo lessons from Feldenkrais during their time together at the institute.

On the eve of the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Feldenkrais fled to Britain with a jar of heavy water and a sheaf of research material, with instructions to deliver them to the British Admiralty War Office. Until 1946, he was a science officer in the Admiralty working on anti-submarine weaponry in Fairlie, Scotland. His work on improving sonar led to several patents. He also taught self-defense techniques to his fellow servicemen. On slippery submarine decks, he re-aggravated an old soccer knee injury. Refusing an operation, he was prompted to intently explore and develop self-rehabilitation and awareness techniques by self-observation, which he later developed as his method. His discoveries led him to begin sharing with others (including colleague J. D. Bernal) through lectures, experimental classes, and one-on-one work with a few.

After leaving the Admiralty, Feldenkrais lived and worked in private industry in London. His self-rehabilitation enabled him to continue his judo practice. From his position on the International Judo Committee, he began to study judo scientifically, incorporating the knowledge that he had gained by self-rehabilitation. In 1949, he published the first book on his method, Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning. He studied the work of Gurdjieff, F. Matthias Alexander, Elsa Gindler and William Bates. He also traveled to Switzerland to study with Heinrich Jacoby.

In 1920, following another wave of Arab attacks against Jewish residents, the Hagana (a Jewish paramilitary organization) was established based on the infrastructure of Hashomer. The Hagana sought to develop an unarmed combat discipline that would provide effective defense against Arab attacks, and looked to experts such as Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais and others to provide advice on unarmed combat.

Feldenkrais (1904-1984), who had experience of Ju-Jitsu and other hand-to-hand combat systems, sought to create a practical and more effective solution based on his own research and incorporating the principle of “unconscious reaction” (also known as “reflexive reaction”). This approach is predicated on the assumptions that human beings have a pre-programmed system of reactions to menaces and that these reactions are performed unconsciously. This insight led Feldenkrais to establish an improved fighting and training regimen whose fundamental principles were later adopted by both Kapap (an abbreviation of Krav Panim el Panim meaning “face-to-face combat”) and Krav-Maga. The Hagana command considered his ideas sufficiently promising to justify the award of a three-year grant allowing Feldenkrais to train Hagana members.

kapap

Kapap (Hebrew: קפ”פ‎, קפא”פ‎), often written KAPAP, a Hebrew acronym for Krav Panim el Panim (lit. face-to-face combat), is a close-quarter battle system of defensive tactics, hand-to-hand combat and self-defence.

The Kapap system was developed in the late 1930s, within the Jewish Aliyah camps as part of preparatory training before their arrival in Mandatory Palestine. It was primarily considered a practical skill set that was acquired during the training period of the Palmach and Haganah fighters. The main focus was to upgrade the physical endurance, to elevate and strengthen the spirit, and to develop a defensive and offensive skill set. It included cold weapon practical usage, boxing, judo, jujutsu, karate, as well as fighting with knives and sticks.

In the 1930s, Maishel Horovitz, the leader of HaMahanot HaOlim youth movement, developed a short stick fighting method in order to deal with the British policemen who were armed with clubs. Later, his method became one of the main components of hand-to-hand combat training for all the Haganah fighters, therefore making a major contribution to the development of Kapap. According to the historian Noah Gross, however, Horovitz did not even know that his stick-fighting system was taught to the soldiers until 1959.

The Development of Krav-Maga in Israel (1948 - present)

Krav maga

Krav Maga is a military self-defence and fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli security forces derived from a combination of techniques sourced from Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Aikido, and Karate. Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-world situations and its extreme efficiency. It was derived from the street-fighting experience of Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler, while defending the Jewish quarter against anti-semitic attacks in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, during the mid-to-late 1930s. In the late 1940s, after his aliyah to Mandatory Palestine, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF.

From the outset, the original concept of Krav Maga was to take the most effective and practical techniques of other fighting styles (originally European boxing, wrestling, and street fighting) and to make them rapidly teachable to military conscripts. Krav Maga has a philosophy emphasizing aggression, and simultaneous defensive and offensive manoeuvers. Krav Maga has been used by the Israel Defense Forces’ special forces units, security forces and by regular infantry units. Closely related variations have been developed and adopted by Israeli law enforcement and intelligence organizations. There are several organizations teaching variations of Krav Maga internationally. 

Imi Lichtenfeld
Dr Guy Mor titled "The Case for the Recognition of Krav-Maga as Part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Israel,"

development

For the first decade following the declaration of Israeli independence in 1948 and the establishment of the IDF, the army’s hand-to-hand combat training relied heavily on Kapap, and used instructors and training materials from the Hagana [41]. It is true that from 1948 until the late 1950s, several different terms appeared in IDF documents, but these were used interchangeably. Thus Kapap, Sport Magen and Krav-Maga [42] were all seen as variants of a common hand-to hand system. Eventually, towards the end of the period, the term Krav-Maga became the accepted term for the IDF’s hand-to-hand-combat method, displacing the term Kapap altogether [43].

 

The most recent phase in the evolution of Krav-Maga was the development of a non-military form, often credited to Imi Lichtenfeld, a prominent hand-to-hand combat instructor and Kapap and Krav-Maga specialist within the Hagana and IDF [44].

 

From around 1964, Lichtenfeld was active in promoting Krav-Maga as a civilian discipline, introducing new techniques and adopting the judo belt system. In August 1971, the first civilian Krav-Maga instructor’s course was held in Lichtenfeld’s training club in Netanya [45].

 

Dr Guy Mor titled “The Case for the Recognition of Krav-Maga as Part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Israel,”

Imi Lichtenfeld

krav-maga-style-historyimi
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Emrich “Imre” Lichtenfeld (Hebrew: אימריך “אימי” ליכטנפלד‎) (26 May 1910 – 9 January 1998) was a Hungarian-born Israeli martial artist who founded the Krav Maga self-defence system.

 

Lichtenfeld was born on 26 May 1910 to a Hungarians-Jewish family in Budapest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He grew up in Pressburg (Pozsony, today’s Bratislava). His family moved to Bratislava, where his father, Samuel Lichtenfeld, was a chief inspector on the Bratislava police force and a former circus acrobat. Lichtenfeld trained at the Hercules Gymnasium, which was owned by his father, who taught self-defence.

Lichtenfeld was a successful swimmer, boxer, wrestler, and gymnast since his youth. He competed at national and international levels and was a champion and member of the Slovak National Wrestling Team. In 1928, he won the Slovak Youth Wrestling Championship, and in 1929, the adult championship in the light and middleweight divisions. That year, he also won the national boxing championship and an international gymnastics championship.

 

In the late 1930s, anti-Semitic riots threatened the Jewish population of Bratislava. Together with other Jewish boxers and wrestlers, Lichtenfeld helped to defend his Jewish neighborhood against racist gangs. He quickly decided that sport has little in common with real combat and began developing a system of techniques for practical self-defence in life-threatening situations.

In 1935, Lichtenfeld visited Mandatory Palestine with a team of Jewish wrestlers to participate in the Maccabiah Games but could not participate because of a broken rib that resulted from his training while en route. This led to the fundamental Krav Maga precept, ‘do not get hurt’ while training. Lichtenfeld returned to Czechoslovakia to face increasing anti-Semitic violence. Lichtenfeld organized a group of young Jews to protect his community. On the streets, he acquired hard won experience and the crucial understanding of the differences between sport fighting and street fighting. He developed his fundamental self-defence principle: ‘use natural movements and reactions’ for defence, combined with an immediate and decisive counterattack. From this evolved the refined theory of ‘simultaneous defence and attack’ while ‘never occupying two hands in the same defensive movement.

Imi lichtenfeld

In 1940, Lichtenfeld fled the rise of Nazism in Slovakia, heading for Palestine on the Aliyah Bet vessel, Pencho, which shipwrecked on the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea. He reached Palestine in 1942 after serving with distinction in the British supervised Free Czechoslovak Legion in North Africa. The Haganah’s leaders immediately recognized Lichtenfeld’s fighting prowess and ingenuity. In 1944 Lichtenfeld began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defences against knife attacks. During this period, Lichtenfeld trained several elite units of the Haganah and Palmach (striking force of the Haganah and forerunner of the special units of the IDF), including the Pal-yam, as well as groups of police officers. In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded and the IDF was formed, Lichtenfeld became Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. He served in the IDF for about 20 years, during which time he developed and refined his unique method for self-defence and hand-to-hand combat. After he finished his active duty, Lichtenfeld began adapting and modifying Krav Maga to civilian needs. Imi adopted the Judo Belt system for Krav Maga.

 

Imi Lichtenfeld

krav maga today

Krav-Maga today is taught and practiced in three different modes: As a self-defence system, as a combat system for security forces, and as a martial art. The “unconscious reaction” principle established by Feldenkrais continues to serve as the common feature of all three manifestations of Krav-Maga. However, the particular techniques included within the Krav-Maga portfolio continue to evolve in response to changing threats, such as attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers or snatch their rifles. Thus military Krav-Maga continues as an evolving system of hand-to-hand combat.

 

From a civilian perspective, there are dozens of Krav-Maga organizations all over the world, each promoting participation in the discipline through courses, training camps and international events. Several Israeli colleges offer Krav-Maga training programs for overseas students who may learn the discipline in Israel or in external facilities located abroad.

Over the last two decades, a new segment of the tourism industry has emerged in Israel specifically to satisfy the demand for Krav-Maga training, sometimes paired with touring the country. These training courses and “Tour and Train” experiences bring people of different nationalities together with a common interest in Krav-Maga, through which they develop a sense of identity and solidarity, create friendship bonds, and learn to respect cultural diversity.

Jeff Hollows is the Cheif Instructor of Krav Maga Newcastle and Founder of Krav Maga X – He runs Krav Maga classes in the North East of England and offers specialist training and seminars accross the UK. 

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