The founder of the world renown Krav Maga system
A young Imi Lichtenfeld
At 18 Years Imi was competing in Gymnastics, Boxing and Wrestling up to an International level
Imi’s Father Samuel.
Imi’s father Samuel. Joined the circus at 13 years, opened a martial arts gym in 1906 and became local Police Chief
Imi Lichtenfeld was born in Bratislava on May the 26th 1910, to Samuel and Channa Lichtenfeld. Samuel was an interesting character, Policeman, ex circus performer and Martial Arts gym owner. Little is known of his mother other than her demise at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944
Imi’s father Samuel, was a former circus acrobat and Chief of Police. two occupations that are not usually associated with one another. Samuel was also the founder and owner of the Hercules Gym – one of Europes early martial arts gyms.
Samuel had joined the circus at just 13 years of age, where he stayed until 1906. Samuel had gained the stage name of ‘Mr Robinson’ because he had lived alone on an Island in the Danube at some time in his youth. Samuel left the circus opening his ‘Ercole,’ (Hercules ), Gym teaching Jiu-Jitsu boxing, gymnastics and wrestling in Brataslavia.
Unsurprisingly, much of Imi’s youth was spent training in acrobatics, gymnastics, boxing and wrestlIng. Imi became highly skilled and began competing for National and International titles in both Boxing and Wrestling.
Early Martial Arts training
Imi learned ‘martial arts,’ from an early age boxing under the tuition of his father. In 1929 Imi went on to compete and win the light and medium weight wrestling championships. The same year he won the national boxing championship and an International competition for gymnastics.
At just 18 Imi was competing nationally and internationally IN 3 separate sports, that’s quite an achievement. We know Imi travelled Internationally for competition and participated in the Maccabi games in Palestine in the 1930’s.
Pencho – The last ship to escape the Nazis
Pencho’s epic 2 year voyage was immortalised the the book ‘Odyssey’
Imi’s father & mother perished in the Gas chamber of Auschwitz. His record can be seen here from Yad Vashem.
In the 1930’s the rise of facism in Europe impacted the life of Imi. A Jewish community of wrestlers and boxers had tried to defend the local community from increasing anti semitic gang violence.
The level of violence experienced in these altercations is hard for us as modern Europeans, to comprehend. Shooting, stabbing and clubbing to death were frequent outcomes of these encounters.
After the late 1930’s Facist participants were not punished by the local facist Government and there were no consequences for the death of a jewish person.
During this time of his life, Imi’s appreciation and understanding of self defence principles evolved rapidly. The street altercations provided a crucible of sorts for his training. Imi learned several fundamental lessons that went on to become founding principles for his Krav Maga.
Imi realised that training for sport fighting (boxing or wrestling) and street violence were separate and distinct. He realised that the use of natural and instinctive movements were superior to trained movement because it was faster to learn and worked better under stress.
Imi also went on to develop his concept of immediate counters or ‘simultaenous defence and attack’. Imi learned while never to occupy both hands for the same defensive movement, instead use one to deal with the attack whilst counter attacking immediately with the other. Today these very same principles can be seen taught at good Krav Maga schools across the world.
In 1940, things were getting too dangerous for Imi who had been targeted by the authorities. If Imi was to survive the war, he had to leave his family and escape Europe. Imi managed to get aboard the very last boat to take Jews out of Europe, The Pencho.
Imi’s mother and father, were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau where they were taken to the Gas chambers in or around September 1944. We found a copy of records for Samuel at Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust Remembrance Centre
In Palestine in1944, Imi came to the attention of the Hagana and Palmach, early pre IDF par military units. Here Imi began teaching fitness, swimming and offensive, defensive use of the knife. In 1948 the state of Israel was founded and Imi at 38 years of age joined the new Israel Defence Force. Over the next 16 years, Imi advanced to become Chief Instructor for Physical and Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF school of combat fitness.
It was during his time teaching in the IDF that Imi had really evolved and developed his street fighting concepts into the IDF Hand to Hand Combat system that he named Krav Maga. After he had left Imi went on to refine his Krav Maga further into the Civilian and Law Enforcement Krav Maga. His objective was to develop a system of self defence that was suitable for everyone, boy, girl, man or woman irrespective of their physical ability.
The system had to be simple, instinctive and work for physical abilities. Consequently the resulting system evolved to be fast to learn, easy to remember and simple to apply. Modern Krav Maga was born.
In 1961 the Mossad became famous for capturing Nazi War criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. Rumour has it that Imi had trained 4 of the 11 Mossad agents involved in the capture.
Imi retired from the IDF in 1964 at 55 years of age.
1948 The infant state of Israel is invaded on all sides
A ‘butterfly’ – an ealy improvised armoured car
Imi lichtenfeld training
An older Imi with Darren Levene
Over the years Imi went on to qualify a number of Instructors who were qualified by him and the Israeli Ministry of Education.
In 1978 together with seniors Instructors Barak Yehoshua, Zvi Morik, Raphy Elgrissi, Haim Zut, Eli Avikzar, Oskar Klein, and Miki Asulim, Imi founded the original Federation for Krav Maga and Self Defence.
In 1979 this was renamed Israeli Krav Maga Association with founder members being, Barak Yehoshua, Zvi Morik, Raphy Elgrissi, Haim Zut, Eli Avikzar, Oskar Klein, Yaron Lichtenstein, Miki Assulin , Richard Douieb, Haim Gidon, Eyal Yanilov, Kobi Lichtenstein, Gaby Noah, Eli Ben Ami, Avi Moyal, Darren Levine, Avi Avisadon, Uri Rafeli, Yoav Krayn. Rick Blitstein and Alan Feldman.
Over the following 20 or so years, Krav Maga became a true a global phenomena being taught across the westernised world and into China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Russia.
The advent of the UFC and the ability to test the previously opaque world of martial arts led to a public hunger for simple and realistic training. The public were fed up with obscure martial arts and the array of unsubstantiated claims made by martial arts instructors.
The advent of the UFC and the fact that so many military units used Krav Maga as a proven combat system created a huge market. As terrorism came to the fore, so did the general publics desire to protect themselves.
Much of this growth came about as a result of work by Eyal Yaniov and Darren Levene who were particularly successful spreading the world and growing huge organisations in their own right.
At the time of his death, Imi had seen his Krav Maga grow from an idea on the backstreets of Bratislava to a world wide phenomena practised by 100 of thousands of students across the world.
Imi passed away in January 1998 aged 87 years of age.