Who Started Krav Maga? | Famous Practitioners
While Krav Maga may not have been around for as long as some other martial arts, it has certainly established itself as a force to be reckoned with over the past 60 years or so. Much of the credit must go to the following three men, whose vision and dedication has made Krav Maga what it is today.
The Federation for Krav Maga and Self Defence was founded in 1978; it was from here that Krav Maga would eventually spread worldwide.
By far the most famous name in Krav Maga is Imi Lichtenfeld; the undisputed father of Krav Maga.
Born in Hungary in 1910, Imi grew up in a Jewish community in the former Czechoslovakia and in his youth he was a talented wrestler, boxer and gymnast. However, when fascism swept across Europe in the 1930’s Imi was forced to take action, teaming up with other young men to defend their homes and families.
As the situation deteriorated many Jews fled, including Imi, who made the long journey to Palestine; here too Jewish people were under attack.
Imi joined a local paramilitary group called Haganah where his skills and experience made him a natural leader and before long he was training the group’s elite fighting units.
When Israel gained its Statehood in 1948 Imi was tasked with creating a system of physical combat for training Israel Defence Forces (IDF) recruits – this is when Krav Maga was born.
For the next 20 years Imi worked with the IDF training thousands of recruits, and following his retirement he spent years refining Krav Maga to be more suited for civilian life.
Imi opened a number of training centres where he taught countless average Israelis and in 1978 he founded the Federation for Krav Maga and Self Defence; it was from here that Krav Maga would eventually spread worldwide.
Born in 1935, Haim grew up in Israel’s Haifa district and he first met Imi Lichtenfeld in 1952. Haim was only 18 at the time and had just begun his military service, while Imi was the IDF’s Chief Instructor of Krav Maga.
It didn’t take long for Haim to become hooked on Imi’s system of physical combat and he soon became a devoted student of Krav Maga.
Following his release from the IDF in 1955 Haim returned home, where he spent years working with underprivileged youth; however, he and Imi never lost touch.
When Imi left the military in 1963 and was preparing to launch a Krav Maga course for civilians he invited Haim to take part. Haim was more than happy to do so, becoming one of only four students to take Imi’s first course.
Haim’s skills in Krav Maga went from strength to strength and he was soon teaching Krav Maga to students of his own. In 1978 he teamed up with Imi to found the Federation for Krav Maga and Self Defence.
Nowadays Haim Zut is considered a Grandmaster of Krav Maga and is regarded as one of its most influential practitioners.
Eli was born in Morocco in 1947 where he spent much of his childhood fighting to defend himself and his community against anti-Semitic attacks.
In 1963 he moved to Israel and the following year stumbled across Lichtenfeld’s Krav Maga institute in Netanya. Eli knew from first-hand experience the importance of what Imi was teaching and wholeheartedly embraced Krav Maga.
Eli had a thirst for knowledge and so, with Imi’s blessing, he moved to Tel-Aviv where he learned Judo, Karate and Jujitsu, returning to Netanya regularly to train in Krav Maga with Imi. During these visits Eli and Imi would spend hours developing moves to counter what Eli was learning in his other disciplines.
In 1971 Eli became the first ever student to be awarded a Black Belt in Krav Maga and when Imi retired from teaching in 1974 Eli was handed control of the Krav Maga Training Centre in Netanya.
Eli would follow in Imi’s footsteps, becoming the IDF’s Head of Krav Maga and by his retirement in 1987 he had trained roughly 100,000 soldiers. He even created a parallel system of hand-to-hand combat known as KAMI that is still taught to this day.
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