Krav Maga (Hebrew: קְרַב מַגָּע, lit. “contact combat”) is a self-defense system developed for the military in Israel that consists of a wide combination of techniques sourced from Boxing, Savate, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Grappling, along with realistic fight training.
Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-world situations and extremely efficient and brutal counter-attacks.
It was derived from street-fighting skills developed by Slovakian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler, as a means of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava in the mid-to-late 1930s.
In the late 1940s, following his immigration to Palestine, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF, who went on to develop the system that became known as Krav Maga. It has since been refined for civilian, police and military applications.
Krav Maga has a philosophy emphasizing threat neutralization, simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers, and aggression.
Krav Maga is used by Israeli Defense Forces, both regular and special forces, and several closely related variations have been developed and adopted by law enforcement and intelligence organizations, Mossad and Shin Bet.
There are several organizations teaching variations of Krav Maga internationally.
The name in Hebrew can be translated as “contact combat”. The root word krav (קרב) means “combat” and maga (מגע) means “contact”.
Israel Defense Forces soldier sparring in full combat gear
File:Krav Maga demonstration.ogg
Media footage demonstrating a type of Krav Maga to deal with assailants in mock combat using multiple different types of weapons; namely a pole, a knife, a gun, a rifle, and hand-to-hand.
Krav Maga encourages students to avoid confrontation. If this is impossible or unsafe, it promotes finishing a fight as quickly as possible. Attacks are aimed at the most vulnerable parts of the body, and training is not limited to techniques that avoid severe injury; some are even intended to permanently injure or cause death to the opponent. Drills provide maximum safety to students by the use of protective equipment and the use of reasonable force.
Students learn to defend against all variety of attacks and are taught to counter in the quickest and most efficient way.
Ideas in Krav Maga include:
Counterattacking as soon as possible (or attacking preemptively).
Targeting attacks to the body’s most vulnerable points, such as: the eyes, neck or throat, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, etc.
Maximum effectiveness and efficiency in order to neutralize the opponent as quickly as possible.
Maintaining awareness of surroundings while dealing with the threat in order to look for escape routes, further attackers, objects that could be used to defend or help attack, and so on.
Training can also cover the study and development of situational awareness to develop an understanding of one’s surroundings, learning to understand the psychology of a street confrontation, and identifying potential threats before an attack occurs. It may also cover ways to deal with physical and verbal methods to avoid violence whenever possible.
Imre Lichtenfeld (also known as Imi Sde-Or) was born in 1910 in Budapest, Hungary and grew up in Bratislava (Slovakia). Lichtenfeld became active in a wide range of sports, including gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing. In 1928, Lichtenfeld won the Slovakian Youth Wrestling Championship, and in 1929 the adult championship (light and middle weight divisions). That same year, he also won the national boxing championship and an international gymnastics championship. During the ensuing decade, Imi’s athletic activities focused mainly on wrestling, both as a contestant and a trainer.
Krav Maga lesson in paratrooper school in Israel, 1955
In the mid-1930s, anti-Semitic riots began to threaten the Jews of Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. (The country was created from parts of Austro-Hungary in 1918—a result of World War l) Lichtenfeld became the leader of a group of Jewish boxers and wrestlers who took to the streets to defend Jewish neighborhoods against the growing numbers of national socialist party and anti-Semitic thugs. Lichtenfeld quickly discovered, however, that actual fighting was very different from competition fighting, and although boxing and wrestling were good sports, they were not always practical for the aggressive and brutal nature of street combat. It was then that he started to re-evaluate his ideas about fighting and started developing the skills and techniques that would eventually become Krav Maga. Having become a thorn in the side of the equally anti-Semitic local authorities, Lichtenfeld left his home, with his family and friends in 1940; on the last refugee ship to escape Europe.
After making his way to Israel, Lichtenfeld joined Israel’s pre-state Haganah paramilitary organization to protect Jewish refugees from Arabs. In 1944 Lichtenfeld began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defence against knife attacks. During this period, Lichtenfeld trained several elite units of the Haganah including Palmach (striking force of the Haganah and forerunner of the special units of the Israel Defense Forces) and 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-defense and hand-to-hand combat. Self-defense was not a new concept, since nearly all martial arts had developed some form of defensive techniques in their quest for tournament or sport dominance. However, self-defense was based strictly upon the scientific and dynamic principles of the human body. In 1965 judo training was added as part of the Krav Maga training, and until 1968 there were no grades in Krav Maga. Then a trainee’s grades were determined largely by his knowledge in judo.
In 1968 Eli Avikzar, Imi’s principal student and first black belt, began learning aikido and in 1971 left for France where he received a brown belt in aikido. Upon his return, Eli started working as an instructor alongside Imi where they worked together to improve Krav Maga by incorporating aikido and counter defenses into Krav Maga. Then in 1974 Imi retired and handed Eli Avikzar the Krav Maga training center in Netanya. Shortly after, in 1976, Eli joined the permanent force of IDF, as head of the Krav Maga section. The role of Krav Maga in the army advanced greatly after Eli’s appointment. More courses were given and every P.E. instructor was obliged to learn Krav Maga. Eli continued to develop Krav Maga within the I.D.F. until his retirement in 1987. Up to this date, Eli had trained 80,000 male soldiers and 12,000 female soldiers.
Further pursuing excellence as a student of martial arts, Eli went to Germany in 1977 and received a black belt in aikido from the European Federation. Then in 1978 the Krav Maga association was established, and in 1989, as an active member of the judo association, Eli Avikzar helped to establish the professional and rank committees by founding the K.A.M.I. Eli retired as the Chief Krav Maga instructor in 1987 and Boaz Aviram became the third person to hold the position, being the last head instructor to have studied directly with both Lichtenfeld and Avikzar.
Krav Maga in the Israeli government
The IDF Krav Maga instructor course is five weeks long.
The IDF has had an annual Krav Maga competition since May 2013.
Krav Maga for civilians
Krav Maga Grand Master Imi Lichtenfeld and Yaron Lichtenstein
Upon Lichtenfeld’s retirement, he decided to open a school and teach krav maga to civilians. The first Krav Maga course took place at the Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel, in 1971, under the direct supervision of Imi Lichtenfeld. Some of the first students to receive a black belt in Lichtenfeld’s civilian Krav Maga Association of 1st Dan, were: Haim Gidon, Eli Avikzar, Eyal Yanilov, Richard Douieb, Raphy Elgrissy, Meni Ganis, Haim Zut, Shmuel Kurzviel, Haim Hakani, Shlomo Avisira, Vicktor Bracha, Yaron Lichtenstein, Avner Hazan and Miki Asulin.
In 1978, Lichtenfeld founded the non-profit Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA) with several senior instructors. Upon his retirement Imi nominated Haim Gidon as his successor to be Grand Master and the president of the IKMA. Lichtenfeld died in January 1998 in Netanya, Israel.
When Krav Maga started to spread beyond the borders of Israel, there arose a need to found an international civilian organization. A few of Lichtenfeld’s first and second generation students, among these being Arviat Zagal, Asaf Halevi, and Dan Levy, eventually formed a new, civilian, international Krav Maga federation.
Krav Maga belt colors/patches
White Ceinture blanche.png Krav Maga P0 Patch.svg
Yellow Ceinture jaune.png Krav Maga P1 Patch.svg
Krav Maga P2 Patch.svg
Orange Ceinture orange.png Krav Maga P3 Patch.svg
Krav Maga P4 Patch.svg
Green Ceinture verte.png Krav Maga P5 Patch.svg
Krav Maga G1 Patch.svg
Blue Ceinture bleue.png Krav Maga G2 Patch.svg
Krav Maga G3 Patch.svg
Brown Ceinture marron.png Krav Maga G4 Patch.svg
Krav Maga G5 Patch.svg
Black Ceinture noire.png Krav Maga E1 Patch.svg
Krav Maga E2 Patch.svg
Krav Maga E3 Patch.svg
Krav Maga E4 Patch.svg
Krav Maga E5 Patch.svg
Some of the Krav Maga organizations in Israel, such as the IKMA (Israeli Krav Maga Association, by Haim Gidon), KMF (Krav Maga Federation, by Haim Zut) and Bukan (by Yaron Lichtenstein), K.A.M.I. (Israeli Krav Magen Association) (by Eli Avikzar), as well as Ultimate Survivor krav Maga International USKMI and international KMW (Krav Maga Worldwide, by Darren Levine), use Imi Lichtenfeld’s original colored belt grading system which is based upon the judo ranking system. It starts with White belt, and then Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Brown and Black belts. Black belt students can move up the ranks from 1st to 9th Dan. The time and requirements for advancing have some differences between organizations.
Other organizations that teach Krav Maga in and outside of Israel like the International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF), Krav Maga Global (KMG) and International Krav Maga (IKM) use the same grading system based on a series of patches. The patch system was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld after the belt system in the late 1980s. The grades are divided into 3 main categories; Practitioner, Graduate and Expert. Each of the categories, which are often abbreviated to their initials, has 5 ranks. Grades P1 through to P5 are the student levels and make up the majority of the Krav Maga community. After P5 are G1-G5, and in order to achieve Graduate level the student has to demonstrate a proficiency in all of the P level techniques before advancing. The majority of instructors hold a G level grade and are civilian instructors. However, passing the instructor’s training course is a requirement, and holding a Graduate rank does not necessarily make one an instructor. The Graduate syllabus also builds on the Practitioner syllabus by focusing more on developing fighting skills. The Expert grades cover more advanced military and 3rd party protection techniques as well as advanced sparring and fighting skills. People who hold these ranks tend to teach in other sectors such as military and law enforcement in addition to civilian. In order to progress to Expert level, one has to demonstrate proficiency in all of the Practitioner and Graduate syllabi and have excellent fighting skills. Beyond Expert 5 there is the rank of Master. However, this rank is held by only a small number of individuals and reserved only for those who have dedicated a lifetime to Krav Maga and made valuable contributions in teaching and promoting the style.
Krav Maga organizations in the United States, South America and Europe such as Krav Maga Worldwide, Krav Maga Alliance, National Krav Maga Association (NKMA), Apolaki Krav Maga, United States Krav Maga Association (USKMA), Krav Maga Street Defence, South American Federation of Krav Maga, European Federation of Krav Maga, Hagana System and Krav Maga Academy Slovenia (KMAS, by Karli Zaniug) also use a belt ranking system like that of the IKMA, KMF and Bukan. Although there are some subtle differences, the various organisations teach the same core techniques and principles. Some other organizations such as Pure Krav Maga (founded by Boaz Aviram) and Urban Krav Maga have less formal grading ranks without belts or patches but do have levels by which students can monitor their progress.
U.S. Marines practicing Krav Maga
In some organizations like Krav Maga Global (KMG), sparring is slow and light until the student reaches G2 level, which takes approximately 4 to 6 years because climbing from one level to the next in the Practitioner and Graduate levels takes minimum half a year of consistent training (it is however more common to observe regular trainees grading only once a year from P3 and up).
Once in G2, students also do simulated “real” fighting with protective gear.
Some organizations encourage sparring for example Ultimate Survivor Krav Maga International starts from beginner levels and will train full contact with minimal gear in both stand-up and ground-fighting, using semi-professional MMA rules for safety.