History of Krav Maga

Imi Lechtenfeld - Founder of Krav Maga

To understand the origins of Krav Maga we need to understand the amazing life of Imi Letchtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga.

Imi Letchtenfeld was born in 1910 in Budapest, and grew up in Bratislava, in a home where sports, law, and education were equally respected. Samuel Letchtenfeld, Imi’s father, was quite a unique figure and influence on Imi. At age 13 Samuel joined a traveling circus, and for the next 20 years engaged in wrestling, weightlifting, and various demonstrations of strength. For him the circus was also a school, where he met people involved in a wide variety of sports, including some quite unusual ones. These people taught Samuel what they knew – including various martial arts.

Champion in Multiple Sports

In 1928 Imi won the Slovakian Youth Wrestling Championship, and in 1929 the adult champion- ship (in the light and middle weight division). That 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.

Street Fighting Experience Underpins Krav Maga Techniques and Tactics

In the mid thirties, conditions began to change in Bratislava. Fascist and anti-Semitic groups appeared, determined to upset the public order and harm the city’s Jewish community. Imi became the un-crowned leader of a group of young Jews, most of them with a background in boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting. This group attempted to block the anti-Semitic bands from entering the Jewish quarter and wreaking havoc there. In the following years Imi was forced to fight in street brawls and confrontations over and over again.


As the Nazis began to overrun Europe Imi narrowly escaped capture and joined the allied forces to fight. When discharged in 1942, he requested and was allowed to immigrate to Israel. Given Imi`s extensive self defense skills, Imi was recruited by Isaac Sadeh, the commanding officer of the Haganah in 1942. Two years later he began to teach Kapap (hand to hand combat) and physical exercise to the most elite special forces units of the Haganah, Palmach, and Palyamas as well as groups of police officers.

During this period, firearms were outlawed and in very scarce supply. They were hidden away from the British and only used for special missions. The fact that firearms could not be used had a great influence on the development of the style. Unarmed combat was absolutely essential for the success of the military

Krav Maga and the Israeli Defence Forces

In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded and the IDF was formed, Imi 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.

It is notable that in Israel all civilians much undertake compulsory military training and will receive about 30-days Krav Maga training. Krav Maga techniques and teaching methods were therefore refined so they would be effective for all types of people and could be taught relatively quickly. This has been preserved as a principle in the continued development and refinement of the Krav Maga Global curriculum speeding up your rate of learning.

Development of Krav Maga as a Civilian Self Defense System

After he finished his active duty in the 1970s, Imi began adapting and modifying Krav-Maga to civilian needs. The method was formulated to suit everyone – men and women, boy or girl, who might need it to save his or her life or survive an attack while sustaining minimal harm, whatever the background of the attack – criminal, nationalistic, or other. To disseminate his method, Imi established two training centers, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Natanya.

Imi's Krav Maga Legacy

Even during his last years, Imi continued to personally supervise the training of those who had attained high ranks in Krav Maga, and to spend time with the instructors in Israel and abroad. Imi monitored the trainees’ progress and achievements, captivating them with his personality and imparting them with his knowledge.

The Chief Instructor under Imi was Eyal Yanilov director of Krav Maga Global who continues to develop and disseminate the system true to the teachings and principles of IMI.

Imi, a teacher, a fighter and a great human being, passed away on the 9th of January 1998 aged 88.