Interest in Israeli self-defense has never been higher. Driven partially by a contentious environment in the United States that has seen an increase in street-level demonstration, more and more Americans are seeking ways to protect themselves and their loved ones if they end up in a physical altercation. Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system, has long been trusted by military and police units and is now being sought by civilians.

Modern Americans are inundated with physical combat as a spectacle. With the rise of MMA as a sport and advancements in Hollywood technology and technique, images of elite-level combat are widely consumed. If you’re a fan of military or law enforcement action, you’ve most likely seen Krav Maga techniques used to subdue an attacker. This has led to an increased interest and demand for Israeli self-defense instruction across the country. Let’s take a look at how such a relatively new self-defense system became so big so fast.

Built To Protect The Streets

Krav Maga traces its roots to the years leading up to World War II in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Imi Lichtenfeld, the son of a revered chief detective inspector, used the defense and fighting skills his father taught him to protect his Jewish neighbors from fascist gangs. At first, he relied primarily on boxing and wrestling during anti-Semitic riots to defend the lives and property of the neighborhood. He soon realized that the competitive techniques used in sport combat weren’t always effective in a real fight on the streets.

Imi began the process of distilling these styles down to the most effective techniques, many of which are still found in Israeli self-defense. He slowly developed the core principles on which Krav Maga is based, like using natural movements and reactions to make a defensive system that is more instinctual. As he gained experience and further refined his techniques, he began to train others to defend themselves.

Over time, he organized and trained Jewish groups to master these innovative techniques. Imi’s system was easier to train to a basic proficiency level because it was built to work with people’s natural instincts. Under his tutelage, lives were saved, but as fascism continued to sweep across Europe, it became clear that, however noble, the fight could not hold back worse violence on the horizon. It was time to leave Czechoslovakia.

Joining The Fight

Imi began the process of immigrating to Palestine before joining the fight against Nazism as part of the Free Czechoslovak Legion in North Africa, where he earned a reputation for combat that drew the attention of the Haganah, a paramilitary organization of free Israelis. He instructed Israeli soldiers in basic techniques designed to offer them a chance at survival should they be disarmed or find themselves in close-quarters combat.

After the war, Imi continued to train troops in the newly formed Israeli Defense Force. Going beyond the basics of self-defense, he trained them in knife combat and in techniques against firearms and other weapons. As Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness, Imi continued to develop and refine techniques to ensure that, through Krav Maga, Israeli self-defense students had the best possible chance for survival in any tactical situation.

Returning To Civilian Life

After his retirement, Imi saw a need for common, everyday people to have access to effective Israeli self-defense against common civilian threats. He began transforming Krav Maga from a battlefield discipline to a system that could be used by anyone, from any walk of life, to defend themselves and their loved ones. To further this goal, he began to train students into instructors and eventually formed the Krav Maga Association to ensure that there was a governing body to serve as an authority, both to protect the system from dilution and protect the public from poor instruction.

It was during the Krav Maga Association’s First International Instructors Course that Darren Levine, a martial artist and physical education instructor at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in California, attended as part of a US delegation. The course was an intense six-week training camp that few students passed. Darren Levine was among the few.

Krav Maga Comes To America

Darren began teaching Krav Maga to students attending the Heschel Day School, maintaining a close relationship with Imi. In 1983, at Imi’s request, Darren founded the Krav Maga Association of America with the mission to spread Israeli self-defense training to those in need, and he was granted full instructor certification the next year to teach Krav Maga to not only students but security forces in America.

Shortly after, Darren began training law enforcement and military personnel, starting with the Illinois State Police, in Krav Maga as a means of defense. He worked closely with Imi, who attended some of those first training courses, and the Israeli self-defense fundamentals were fine-tuned for the needs of American law enforcement and military personnel. Eventually, Darren was granted an exclusive license to carry on the training of Israeli self-defense under the Krav Maga name in the United States. As word spread amongst the military and paramilitary communities, popular culture began to take notice.

As Hollywood likewise took notice of this growing phenomenon, more and more action films and TV shows began to use the name, if not necessarily the training, for viewers’ entertainment. Krav Maga may not have used the flashy kicks of some styles, but its brutality made it a star. Soon it was the go-to martial style for heavily trained units, a true case of art imitating life.

Shortly after opening a 6,000-square-foot training facility, now known as KMW Training Centers™ West LA, Darren was recognized by Imi with the granting of The Founder’s Diploma--one of only two in the world--as a grandmaster who had shown the respect, aptitude, and passion for Israeli self-defense that would be needed to take Krav Maga into the future. Since then, KMW has expanded to meet the needs of civilian practitioners, law enforcement, and military students in the United States and around the world.

A System Built For Effectiveness

Krav Maga remains popular because, unlike traditional martial arts, which were often ritualized for show or built for sport, it has remained true to its original purpose: brutal, efficient self-defense. Many of the scenarios that Israeli self-defense was created to combat are faced every day on the streets, where there are no rules to fights beyond survival. For people who are determined to avoid living as victims, Krav Maga offers several attractive qualities.

  • Ease Of Proficiency - While Krav Maga may take long years to master, a base level of effective proficiency can be reached comparatively quickly. From Imi’s first foray into training Jewish neighbors to Darren’s instruction at the Heschel Day School, basic Krav Maga techniques have been distilled to the most effective techniques that can be taught in the shortest amount of time. Since Israeli self-defense eschews flashy moves and ritual for effectiveness, students can focus on what really works in a fight.
  • Built For Real Scenarios - Parents love it when their kids get trophies--some even love getting them themselves. That’s why martial arts tournaments are so popular. Since you can’t have all your participants injured, however, rules are created to keep everyone safe. That’s not how real fights work. Krav Maga was built for real fights with real people who want to do you real harm. There are no forbidden targets or point systems. Israeli self-defense was and is about survival.
  • Warrior Spirit - There is a sense of pride knowing that you have the ability to protect yourself and those around you. Along with the physical training that Krav Maga students undergo, they receive mental training in situational awareness, threat assessment, and tactical analysis. You’re taught to view situations differently. Many students exhibit newfound self-confidence and self-mastery that they take with them into their daily lives at work and home.

Learn Real Krav Maga

Krav Maga’s success lies in the innocent people it has defended and the lives it has saved. During its evolution from the streets of Bratislava, through becoming the Israeli self-defense training for the IDF, to its modern use by people from every walk of life, it has proven its effectiveness time and again.

If you needed to protect yourself right now, would you be able to? You can learn self-defense techniques designed for the threats you face in your day-to-day life. Call or stop by a Krav Maga Worldwide location or affiliate today and register for training in real-world self-defense.

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