Krav Maga, which literally is translated as “contact combat,” is one of the most effective techniques for hand to hand combat in the world today. When it comes to this system of tactical defense, you will find that every single technique focuses on maximum efficiency in conditions that are real to life. Before you can fully understand the principles and techniques that are used in Krav Maga, it is important that you first understand the rich history behind this tactical protection system.
Krav Maga has no single “founder” and no official beginning. It is the product of the needs of the times and the efforts of many instructors over the years, each adding and modifying based on his skills and experience.
Krav Maga includes techniques from judo, Jujitsu, karate, Western Boxing, and elements of wrestling.
The roots of modern Krav Maga began with the need for self-defense in the land of Israel. The Jews living here were regarded as weak and helpless. They were considered fair targets by Bedouin Arabs and other Muslims who did not care for them.
The Arabs did not respect weakness and referred to the Jews as “Walid el mita” – The child of death. Jewish blood was considered cheap. The Jews lived in their own quarters, scared and at the mercy of others. Often they hired Arabs to protect them.
The Jews emigrating to Israel from around the world, coming home to their ancestor homeland, found this situation shocking, intolerable, and unacceptable. They began to “adjust” to the Middle East.
In 1903, the Maccabi Union was formed to teach Jews physical fitness and strength. They wanted to end the era of “Walid el mita.” They soon began training with sticks (early Kapap), but the goal was rifles and other live weapons.
In 1907, a group was formed called “HaShomer” – The Guard, with the purpose of defending Jewish settlements. From this point, and even before this, began a constant exploration and evolution of hand-to-hand self-defense techniques and strategies. This process continues even today.
In 1919, Ze’ev Jabotinsky founded the “Haganah” – Defense - for the purpose of defending Jews against the increasing Arab attacks.
Various instructors are instrumental in developing what would become known as Kapap and eventually Krav Maga.
In January 1941, a self-defense course took place. The chief instructors are Maishel Horowitz, Menashe Harel, Gershon Kofler, and Yitzhak Shtibel. This was a key point in the organized development of Israeli self-defense.
In Czechoslovakia in the 1930’s, Imi Lichtenfeld, an expert in boxing and wrestling, together with other Jews formed a Jewish self-defense group. He was influenced by his father, Shmuel, a detective and Defensive Tactics instructor with the local police force. Shmuel Lichtenfeld was known as a tough officer with a reputation for arresting the most violent criminals.
Young Imi grew up in a tough area and had to deal with fascist thugs, violent gangs, and anti-Semites. On the street, he learned to distinguish between sporting techniques and real-life self-defense.
Imi began to incorporate techniques from different styles to form an effective approach to self-defense to enable the Jewish community to defend itself against Fascist militias.
When Europe became unbearable for Jews, Imi left. He eventually ended up in the land of Israel in 1942, then controlled by the British. Israeli self-defense was already well in the process of development, and he joined this ongoing process.
Imi joined the “Hagana” (Defense, in Hebrew), the defensive force founded by the legendary leader Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky in 1919 for the purpose of defending Jewish settlements from Arabs.
Jabotinsky was one of the great Jewish leaders of that century. He foresaw doom for European Jewry and urged them to relocate to the land of Israel (aliya). He founded the Betar youth movement and the Herut (Freedom) political party. Future Prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Shamir were among his disciples.
Jabotinsky, or Jabo (as he was known by the Jewish masses), was not only a great leader and speaker, but also a writer and a poet. He wrote in many languages: textbooks on Hebrew language, novels, and poems. His works inspired his generation and those that followed. One of his most famous articles was, “Jews, Learn to Shoot!” Jabotinsky formed the Zion Mule Corps as part of the British army in World War One, and he himself enlisted as a private. While Jabotinsky was the philosophical force behind Jewish military revival, others were the hands-on Krav Maga Instructors. Lichtenfeld’s talents were noticed and he was assigned to join the unarmed combat instructors team. Eventually he became a Kapap instructor and was among those who trained the Palmach and Palyam. He is credited with a shifting of emphasis from use of the stick to the greater incorporation of Jujitsu.
When Israel became a state in 1948, all the pre-state militias joined together to form the IDF. Imi was recruited into the staff of the IDF physical training school were he was one of eleven Kapap instructors.
With the establishment of the State of Israel, Krav Maga was adopted as the official fighting style of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police Force.
In 1964, Lichtenfeld retired from the IDF and opened a private Krav Maga club. With this, he became the first to publicly offer Krav Maga to civilians, although in Israel nearly all civilians serve in the military and thus already have some Krav Maga training. His fame comes from his initiation of the development of Civilian Krav Maga. This is a process still going on today with many branches.
Krav Maga is free flowing; all styles of punching, kicking, chokes, and take-downs are employed with the aim of neutralizing the enemy in the shortest amount of time possible. Unlike competitive martial arts, where limits are placed on the type of techniques used or the areas targeted, Krav Maga has no limitations. Groin shots, eyes, throat, and face are all fair game; therefore, Krav Maga does not hold competitions and does not seek to be represented in the Olympic Games. The danger to the participants would simply be too great.
Krav Maga is designed for self-defense, combat, and worst-case scenarios. A major part of the training involves the ability to handle highly stressful situations both physically and mentally.
The style is easy to learn and apply. Krav Maga chooses simple movements that are natural to the body, based on instincts that are already established within us.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Krav Maga is the emphasis on aggressiveness: sticking to the goal no matter what, even when it is hard, even when you feel you have nothing left, and a no compromising attitude towards the enemy. The goal is to neutralize the enemy; the specific technique does not matter.
Krav Maga is taught to all units of the Israel Defense Forces. The level of instruction depends upon the unit. As such, nearly everyone in Israel has some Krav Maga training. Depending on the unit, knife and gun disarms are also taught. All training involves strict discipline, aggressiveness, and a warrior mindset.
For the relationship between Krav Maga, Kapap and Lotar see Israeli Martial Arts.
Learn about warfare in the days of the Bible - Biblical Warfare
Read interview with Israeli historain Noah Gross about the early years of Krav Maga and Kapap - Krav Maga history interview
While for many years Krav Maga was only used in Israel, it eventually became popular throughout the world. The Krav Maga Association of Israel, which was headed up by Imi, along with the Ministry of Education in Israel, held an international instructors course in 1981. There were twenty-three delegates from cities across the U.S. Imi himself supervised this course, even though he was then seventy-one years of age.
Today, Krav Maga is continuing to do well across the U.S. and other countries. In the United States today, many law enforcement and military personnel are trained in Krav Maga, including U.S. Marshals, the FBI, the Coast Guard, CIA, and members of Homeland Security.
In Krav Maga, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and there is no distinction between training for men and women. It is not a sport, and there are no specific uniforms or sparring competitions, although some organizations recognize progression through training with rank badges, belts, or affiliation to a specific group by the wearing of logo bearing attire. All the techniques focus on maximum efficiency in real-life conditions. Krav Maga generally assumes a no-quarter situation; the attacks and defenses are intended for potentially lethal threat situations and aim to neutralize these and escape via maximum pain or damage to opponents - as rapidly and safely as possible. Crippling attacks to vulnerable body parts, including groin and eye strikes, headbutts, and other efficient and potentially brutal attacks, improvised use of any objects available, and maximizing personal safety in a fight, are emphasized. However, it must be stressed that instructors can and do demonstrate how to moderate the techniques to fit the circumstances. While no limits are placed on techniques to be used in life-threatening situations, the legal need to inflict the appropriate minimal damage in other circumstances is recognized and stressed.
1. Avoid injury! This applies to training as well as a combat situation.
2. React naturally. Natural instincts should be transformed into techniques that will work under pressure.
3. Use shortest and most direct way possible. This enables greater speed.
4. Respond correctly, in accordance with and as required by the circumstances. The correct tool for the job.
5. Strike at vulnerable points. When you are fighting larger, stronger opponents, attack sensitive areas.
6. Use any tool or object available nearby. Improvise with daily objects to survive (e.g. a pen as a knife).
7. In Krav Maga there are no rules! Just survive.
8. Only use scientific reality-based training methods. These are the training methods which have been tested and proven in combat.
9. Draw from real world experience. Study from those who have been there for real.
10. Knowledge is power. Keep learning and training!
The basic idea is to deal first with the immediate threat (being choked, for example), prevent the attacker from re-attacking, and then neutralize the attacker, proceeding through all steps in a methodical manner, despite the rush that occurs during such an attack. The emphasis is put on taking the initiative from the attacker as soon as possible. Indeed, some circumstances may require pre-emptive action, which may or may not be violent. Options here could range from “get your retaliation in first” to situational awareness (also part of the training) that might avoid a dangerous situation developing.
Although Krav Maga shares many techniques with traditional martial arts, such as wing chun, kali, aikido, boxing, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Japanese jujutsu, karate, muay thai, savate or wrestling, the training is often quite different. It stresses fighting under worst-case conditions or from disadvantaged scenarios (for example, against several opponents, when protecting someone else, with one arm unusable, when dizzy, against armed opponents). Unlike Karate, there are no predefined sequences of moves or choreographed styles; instead, Krav Maga emphasizes rapid learning and the retzev (“continuous combat motion”) through Adrenal Stress Response Training. By using a scientifically researched series of exercises and drills, the participant’s body and mind learn to fight while under adrenal stress. This does a more than adequate job of simulating the physical and mental conditions a person will experience in a real force on force encounter.
Krav Maga instructors emphasize two training rules: (1) there are no rules in a fight and (2) one must not injure oneself or one’s partner when training (Partner Preservation). Training is an intense mixed aerobic and anaerobic workout, relying heavily on the use of pads in order to experience both delivery and absorption of strikes at full force. This is important because it allows the student to practice the technique at full strength, and the student holding the pad learns a little of the impact they would feel when they get hit. It can be almost as taxing to hold a pad as to practice against one. Students will also wear head guards, gum shields, groin protectors, shin and forearm guards, etc., during practice of attack/defense techniques, so that a realistic level of violence may be used without 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. Keep in mind that sparring is a bit like doing the splits. The splits will measure your flexibility, but will not necessarily increase your flexibility. In the same way, sparring is a great tool to measure your progress, but it is still not a survival combative situation. Here is why: In a fight, there will be intense moments of incredible physical and mental stress, followed by either one person or the other being injured or taken out of the fight. Sparring goes on too long and allows the body to go through peaks and valleys where stress is reduced and the participants allow one another to recover.
As an example, training may employ a speaker system blasting loud music, stroboscope and/or fog machine, meant to train the student to ignore peripheral distractions and focus on the needs of the situation. Other training methods to increase realism might include exercising the student to near exhaustion before having to defend, training outdoors on a variety of surfaces and restrictive situations, wearing a blindfold before being attacked, etc. The whole emphasis is on simulating real fight/attack situations as realistically as possible within the safety limitations of training. 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 might also cover “Self Protection”: ways to deal with situations which could end in fights, and physical and verbal methods to avoid violence whenever possible.
Krav Maga includes the subjects and techniques of:
Preparing the trainee to function in all circumstances and scenarios, in all combat and fighting environments, according to their needs, the risks they are facing, and job descriptions. Krav Maga enables and brings technical, tactical, physical/mental growth and improvements. Krav Maga contains special approaches, tactics, techniques, subjects, drills and training methods for many different sectors of society: Civilians of all ages, men and women, young and old; law enforcement officers; military personnel and units; correction/detention service officers and wardens; security officers; close protection officers; undercover agents; anti-terrorists groups; air marshals; and Special Forces/Commando units.
A typical Krav Maga session in a civilian school is about an hour long and mixes conditioning with self-defense teaching. As levels increase, the instructors focus a little more on complicated and less common types of attacks, such as third party defense, hostage situations, and defense under extreme duress. First, the instructor will run a very intense drill to get the class’ heart rates up. Then, after stretching, the instructor will teach two or three self-defense techniques. In the beginning, the techniques will either be combatives (punches, hammer-fists, elbows, and knees) or grappling (breaking out of chokes or wrist-grabs or getting out from under an opponent while on one’s back). After that, the class usually moves to a drill that combines the techniques just taught with an aerobic technique. Finally, there is the final drill intended to burn out the students. Depending on the class – and on the instructor’s mood – this drill may be at the very beginning or at the end of the class.