• Krav Maga Instructor's Diploma | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Stasbess

The Necessity of Jewish Self-Defence

Tal Hartuv - 22 March 2022

Tal Hartuv

With Hitler’s rise to power, Jews began to find themselves as targets of antisemitic attacks throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Deep in the heart of Slovakia, Imi Lichtenfeld, the 25-year-old wrestling and boxing national champion, decided to do something about it.

Imi Lichtenfeld – Founder of the Krav Maga movement | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by לא ידוע

Imi formed a group of other Jewish boxers and wrestlers with the intent to protect his fellow Jews from antisemites. Fighting the thugs in the alleys of Slovakia, Imi learned the hard way. He discovered that the rules of sport do not apply in real life-threatening situations. Wrestling and boxing skills were not enough. He needed to combine what he knew and develop a better form of self-defence. Natural movements, immediate and decisive counterattacks, never using two hands in the same defensive movement, and not getting hurt while fighting, needed to be the foundations. All of these skills were central principles for what was to become the legendary Krav Maga.

“The Haganah commanders enlisted Imi to train Jewish recruits”

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Imi managed to get on an old ship and sail to Eretz Israel which was then under the control of the British. The leaders of the Haganah, the clandestine Jewish paramilitary force and the forerunner of the IDF, were astonished at his hand-to-hand fighting. Admiring his physical fitness, wrestling skills and use of the knife, the Haganah commanders enlisted Imi to train Jewish recruits. But it didn’t stop there. Even the top elite officers of the Haganah, Palmach and police force had to be trained by Imi so they could use their newly-acquired skills against the British and the Arabs.

With the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, the Haganah dissolved and the IDF was formed. The army immediately set up their School of Combat Fitness and appointed Imi as Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga. Imi knew that what was successful with soldiers, could be successful for civilians too. No matter someone’s age, gender, physical fitness or combat experience, he was convinced he could train anyone to save their life while sustaining minimal harm.

Thus, he set about to perfect techniques. He developed ways to redirect an attacker’s strength to use it against them. A bit of common sense was the next ingredient. Imi reasoned that every one of our joints is designed to bend a specific way, so by forcing it in the other direction, it could cause great pain to the assailant.

“In Israel, Krav Maga is the most popular form of military and civilian self-defence”

In no time at all Krav Maga caught on like wildfire. In Israel, it is the most popular form of military and civilian self-defence. But unlike in the rest of the world, in Israel it is not a sport. Even though a fighter can be ranked at different levels and receive belts, Krav Maga has no sporting federation or official uniforms. There are also no rules. All this is because Israelis know that self-defence is not just a “cool thing to do.” For the Jewish people, self-defence was, and always will be, a matter of life and death.

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