9- Krav Maga (1930s)
“Street fights are unpredictable, dirty fights.” Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that certainly fits for the martial art of Krav Maga. Unlike all of the arts previously mentioned, there is no competitive aspect to it, there is no kata and no governing body: just a collection of techniques that most quickly and efficiently end a fight, preferably before it begins.
The reasoning behind the simplicity of purpose and brutality of action within Krav Maga comes from its origins. It was devised by Imi Lichtenfeld, a young Jew who grew up on the streets of Bratislava, modern-day Slovakia, during a time of high anti-semitism. His father was a policeman who taught him self-defence and he wrestled and boxed to a high level as a young man, but the training that would produce Krav Maga would be learned almost entirely on the streets.
When fascist gangs began to spring up in Bratislava in the mid-1930s, Lichtenfeld and other Jewish boxers decided to defend their neighbours from anti-semitic violence. He began to learn the stark difference between a fighting style that worked in the gym and in the ring and a fighting style that was effective in the streets, in day to day practical usage. He came to discover some of the insights that would become key tenets of Krav Maga: attacking and defending simultaneously, being physically aggressive while remaining mentally calm, attacking before one is attacked, attacking the weakest aspects of the body – the testicles, the eyes, the solar plexus and the throat – as well as using knowledge of available weapons and your direct surroundings to your advantage. It was clear from his experiences that an opponent in the street was always going to fight without rules, and thus one should not hamper oneself with chivalry.
Despite the best efforts of the Jewish anti-fascists in Bratislava, the Nazi menace continued to grow and eventually, Lichtenfeld left for Palestine in 1942. He applied the techniques that he had learned to the cause of Zionism and helped to train fellow Jews, and, on the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, was appointed Director of Physical Fitness in the nascent Israeli Defence Forces. In this position, he developed the over-arching theory of Krav Maga: self-defence based on the weaknesses of the human body, efficiency of movement – heavily influenced by judo, from which Lichtenfeld regularly drew – and spatial awareness.
In the decades since Krav Maga was first developed, it has spread and been perfected. Inside Israel, the millions of recruits that go through the Defence Forces are trained in the art and learn it, while outside of the country, it became a favourite of antifascist groups and women’s self-defence classes. Other armed forces began to train it extensively, with American and British special forces known to teach it as part of their curriculum.
In truth, it is difficult to claim that one “trains” Krav Maga specifically, as it lacks any unified set of rules or accepted techniques. Anything that works in the circumstances is an effective technique and therefore Krav Maga – whether the origins of it are in judo, boxing, wrestling or simply punching your opponent in the nuts.
The proliferation of Krav Maga skills across Israel – where almost everyone has served in the Army and therefore learned it – is huge, but it is surpassed still by the obsession that another nation has for their native martial art. That nation is Thailand, and the art is Muay Thai.