In the tale of Imi Lichtenfeld and his staunch defense of Bratislava turf in the 1930s, we see an athlete adapting to the times by perfecting street fighting. Later, when Lichtenfeld was advising the Israeli Defense Forces on his “contact combat” techniques, the focus was on soldiers who carried weapons and traveled in battalions. Upon retiring from the army in the 1960s, Lichtenfeld refined his technique and brought it back to its roots from the days in Bratislava. Today’s Krav Maga represents a hybrid of military and street fighting tactics.

The Struggle for Eastern Europe

As Slovakia and other parts of Easter Europe fell to Nazi and fascist forces, the Jewish ghettos became warzones. Lichtenfeld’s hand-to-hand combat technique was pure survival: when he saw a knife exposed, he learned to dodge and when he saw a pack of men, he learned to evade and advance to keep them off-balance; and when he had the opportunity, he struck hard and fast so assailants never got a second chance. This approach was the essence of Krav Maga: street fighting to survive one of the ugliest periods in history.

Birth of an Israeli Nation

The country of Israel was the UN’s answer to the need for a home for exiled and displaced European Jews. Lichtenfeld had been in the country since the 1940s and became a fixture in paramilitary organizations. As the IDF emerged, he remained one of the key forces in training soldiers in self-defense and rapid response to aggression. His “contact combat” technique was military-ready. Soldiers could disarm opponents carrying weapons of all times and attack even when helmets and other protection were in place.

Return to Civilian Self-Defense

When Lichtenfeld retired from the IDF, he used his experience from his Bratislava days as well as his time in the military to perfect a technique that civilians could use for everyday safety. The Israel of his time was as insecure as the modern nation, forcing every civilian find a way to protect him or herself. Instead of advising how to take a machine gun from an opposing solider, Lichtenfeld showed students how to take a knife away and how to block punches and expect advances.

The system of Krav Maga in practice around the world is a product of this final refinement by Lichtenfeld after his military days. Physical fitness and mental toughness remain the cornerstones of the technique. From his early days as a boxer and wrestler, Lichtenfeld knew the importance of stamina, endurance and stubbornness in the face of long odds. Every Krav Maga fighter learns how to make his or her way out of a tough situation. Every Krav Maga fighter knows how to stop an opponent from coming back a second time.

In some ways, the approach of the IDF and regular civilians is the same. Though civilians are typically alone and do not face assailants carrying heavy weapons, the need to stand up to danger and overcome it is the same. Krav Maga fighters know how to come out on top and survive in the toughest possible spots.

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