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Krav Maga (/krɑːv məˈɡɑː/; Hebrew: קְרַב מַגָּע [ˈkʁav maˈɡa], lit. "contact combat") is a military self-defence and fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli security forces[1][2] derived from a combination of techniques sourced from boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo and karate, along with realistic fight training.[3][4]

Krav Maga
קרב מגע
Krav Maga lesson at a paratrooper school in Israel, 1955
Country of originIsrael
CreatorImi Lichtenfeld
ParenthoodBoxing, wrestling, aikido, judo, karate and KAPAP
Olympic sportNo

Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-world situations and its extreme efficiency.[5] It was derived from the street-fighting experience of Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler while defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, during the mid-to-late 1930s.[6] In the late 1940s, following his migration to Israel, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF.[7]

From the outset, the original concept of Krav Maga was to take the most simple and practical techniques of other fighting styles (originally European boxing, wrestling, and street fighting) and to make them rapidly teachable to military conscripts.[8]

Krav Maga has a philosophy emphasizing aggression,[9] and simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers.[10] Krav Maga has been used by the Israel Defense Forces' special forces units, the security apparatus, and by regular infantry units.[11] Closely related variations have been developed and adopted by Israeli law enforcement and intelligence organizations. There are several organizations teaching variations of Krav Maga internationally.[12]



The name in Hebrew can be translated as "contact combat". The root word krav (קרב) means "combat" and maga (מגע) means "contact".

Basic principlesEdit

IDF soldier sparring in full combat gear
US Air Force and British Royal Air Force security personnel during Krav Maga training.

Like most martial arts, Krav Maga encourages students to avoid physical confrontation.[13] If this is impossible or unsafe, it promotes finishing a fight as quickly and aggressively as possible. Attacks are aimed at the most vulnerable parts of the body, and training is not limited to techniques that avoid severe injury; some even permanently injure or cause death to the opponent.

Students learn to defend against all variety of attacks and are taught to counter in the quickest and most efficient way.

Ideas in Krav Maga include:[14]

  • Simultaneous attack and defence
  • Developing physical aggression (not to be confused with emotional aggression or anger), with the view that physical aggression is the most important component in a fight[15]
  • Continuing to strike the opponent until they are completely incapacitated.[16]
  • Attacking preemptively or counterattacking as soon as possible
  • Using any objects at hand that could be used to hit an opponent.[17]
  • Targeting attacks to the body's most vulnerable points, such as: the eyes, neck or throat, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, liver, etc.
  • Using simple and easily repeatable strikes.[17]
  • Maintaining awareness of surroundings while dealing with the threat in order to look for escape routes, further attackers, objects that could be used to strike an opponent.
  • Recognizing the importance of and expanding on instinctive response under stress[18][19][20]

Training can also cover the study and development of situational awareness to develop an understanding of one's surroundings, learning to understand the psychology of a street confrontation, and identifying potential threats before an attack occurs. It may also cover ways to deal with physical and verbal methods to avoid violence whenever possible. It also teaches mental toughness, using controlled scenarios to strengthen mental fortitude in order for students to control the impulse and not do something rash, but instead attack only when necessary and as a last resort.


Media footage demonstrating Krav Maga techniques to deal with assailants in mock combat using multiple different types of weapons; namely a pole, a knife, a gun, a rifle and hand-to-hand.
Krav Maga training

Krav Maga is a continuously evolving system (reflecting real-world experience) and so it is not clear cut to specify a universal curriculum, as may be the case for example within some eastern martial arts. However, of the major Krav Maga organizations worldwide, techniques are largely similar.

Adopted techniques
Some of the key focuses of techniques in Krav Maga are—as described above—effectiveness and instinctive response under stress. To that end, Krav Maga is an eclectic system that has not sought to replace existing effective techniques, taking what is useful from available systems, for example:

  • Strikes – as per karate and boxing,
  • Take-downs and throws – per judo, aikido and wrestling
  • Ground work – per judo and wrestling

Techniques taken from such systems have in some cases been modified to reflect the fact that their genesis is in a sport with rules, which limits effectiveness in real fight situations. Beyond this, Krav Maga has developed several supplementary techniques, as necessary.

Examples of techniques that were developed within the system include
Escapes from chokes and holds:

  • As referred to above, often systems that employ holds, chokes, take-downs, etc. are competitive sports and do not allow strikes.
  • Krav Maga thus supplements escapes taken from these systems with strikes including foot stomps, groin strikes, headbutts, etc.[21][22]

Empty-hand weapon defences (based on the premise that the individual who is attacked in e.g. a mugging situation, is most likely to be unarmed), including:

  • Defence against an attacker wielding a knife[23][24]
  • Defence against an attacker wielding a stick/bat[25]
  • Pistol disarm[26]

As there is no universal authority on the system, students may find that different schools advocate different approaches.[27][28][29][30]


Imre Lichtenfeld (also known as Imi Sde-Or) was born in 1910 in Budapest, Austro-Hungary and grew up in Bratislava (Slovakia). Lichtenfeld became active in a wide range of sports, including gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing. In 1928, Lichtenfeld won the Slovak Youth Wrestling Championship, and in 1929 the adult championship (light and middle weight divisions).[31] That same 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.

In the mid-1930's, anti-Semitic riots began to threaten the Jews of Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Lichtenfeld became the leader of a group of Jewish boxers and wrestlers who took to the streets to defend Jewish neighborhoods against the growing numbers of anti-Semitic national socialists. Lichtenfeld quickly discovered, however, that actual fighting was very different from competition fighting, and although boxing and wrestling were good sports, they were not always practical for the aggressive and brutal nature of street combat. It was then that he started to re-evaluate his ideas about fighting and started developing the skills and techniques that would eventually become Krav Maga. Having become a thorn in the side of the equally anti-Semitic local authorities, in 1940 Lichtenfeld left his home with his family and friends on the last refugee ship to escape Europe.

US Air Force Security forces members during Krav Maga training.

After making his way to Mandatory Palestine, Lichtenfeld joined the Haganah paramilitary organization.[32] In 1944 Lichtenfeld began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defense against knife attacks. During this period, Lichtenfeld trained several elite units of the Haganah including Palmach (striking force of the Haganah and forerunner of the special units of the Israel Defense Forces) and the Pal-Yam, as well as groups of police officers.

In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded and the IDF was formed, Lichtenfeld became Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness.[33] 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. Self-defense was not a new concept, since nearly all martial arts had developed some form of defensive techniques in their quest for tournament or sport dominance. However, self-defense was based strictly upon the scientific and dynamic principles of the human body. In 1965 judo training was added as part of the Krav Maga training, and until 1968 there were no grades in Krav Maga. Then a trainee's grades were determined largely by his knowledge in judo.[34]

In 1968 Eli Avikzar, Imi's principal student and first black belt, began learning aikido and in 1971 left for France where he received a brown belt in aikido. Upon his return, Eli started working as an instructor alongside Imi where they worked together to improve Krav Maga by incorporating aikido and counter-defenses into Krav Maga. Then in 1974 Imi retired and handed Eli Avikzar the Krav Maga training center in Netanya. Shortly after, in 1976, Eli joined the permanent force of IDF, as head of the Krav Maga section. The role of Krav Maga in the army advanced greatly after Eli's appointment. More courses were given and every P.E. instructor was obliged to learn Krav Maga. Eli continued to develop Krav Maga within the IDF until his retirement in 1987. Up to this date, Eli had trained 80,000 male soldiers and 12,000 female soldiers.[34]

Further pursuing excellence as a student of martial arts, Eli went to Germany in 1977 and received a black belt in aikido from the European Federation.[34][35] In 1978 the Krav Maga association was established, and in 1989, as an active member of the judo association, Eli Avikzar helped to establish the professional and rank committees by founding the Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA or KAMI).[34] Eli retired as the Chief Krav Maga instructor in 1987 and Boaz Aviram became the third person to hold the position, being the last head instructor to have studied directly with both Lichtenfeld and Avikzar.[36][37]

Krav Maga in the Israeli governmentEdit

Krav Maga Grand Master Imi Lichtenfeld and Yaron Lichtenstein

The IDF offers a five-week Krav Maga instructor course.[38] It has held an annual Krav Maga competition since May 2013.[39]

Krav Maga for civiliansEdit

Upon Lichtenfeld's retirement from the IDF, he decided to open a school and teach Krav Maga to civilians.[40] The first Krav Maga course took place at the Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel, in 1971, under the direct supervision of Imi Lichtenfeld.[41] [42]

In 1978, Lichtenfeld founded the non-profit Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA) with several senior instructors. Upon his retirement Imi nominated Haim Gidon as his successor to be Grand Master and the president of the IKMA.[43] Lichtenfeld died in January 1998 in Netanya, Israel.[44]

When Krav Maga started to spread beyond the borders of Israel, there arose a need to found an international civilian organization. A few of Lichtenfeld's first- and second-generation students, among these being Arviat Zagal, Asaf Halevi, and Dan Levy, eventually formed a new, civilian, international Krav Maga federation.[45]

Grading systemEdit

Most Krav Maga organizations use Imi Lichtenfeld's original colored belt grading system which is based upon the judo ranking system.[46] It starts with White belt, and then Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Brown and Black belts. Black belt students can move up the ranks from 1st to 9th Dan. The time and requirements for advancing have some differences between organizations.

International Krav Maga Federation belt colors/patches

Other organizations that teach Krav Maga in and outside of Israel use the same grading system awarding a series of patches.[47] The patch system was developed by Eyal Yanilov in the late 1980's. The grades are divided into 3 main categories; Practitioner, Graduate and Expert. Each of the categories, which are often abbreviated to their initials, has 5 ranks. Grades P1 through to P5 are the student levels and make up the majority of the Krav Maga community.[citation needed] After P5 are G1-G5, and in order to achieve Graduate level the student has to demonstrate a proficiency in all of the P level techniques before advancing. The majority of instructors hold a G level grade and are civilian instructors. However, passing the instructor's training course is a requirement, and holding a Graduate rank does not necessarily make one an instructor. The Graduate syllabus also builds on the Practitioner syllabus by focusing more on developing fighting skills. The Expert grades cover more advanced military and third-party protection techniques as well as advanced sparring and fighting skills. People who hold these ranks tend to teach in other sectors such as military and law enforcement in addition to civilian. In order to progress to Expert level, one has to demonstrate proficiency in all of the Practitioner and Graduate syllabi and have excellent fighting skills. Beyond Expert 5 there is the rank of Master. However, this rank is held by only a small number of individuals and reserved only for those who have dedicated a lifetime to Krav Maga and made valuable contributions in teaching and promoting the style.

Although there are some subtle differences, the various organizations teach the same core techniques and principles.[48] Some other organizations founded by Aaron Elbaze, and Urban Krav Maga, have less formal grading ranks without belts or patches but do have levels by which students can monitor their progress.[49]


In some organizations sparring is slow and light until the student reaches G2 level. This takes approximately four to six years because rising one level in the Practitioner and Graduate categories takes at minimum half a year of consistent training. It is, however, more common to observe regular trainees grading only once a year from P3 and up.[50]

Once in G2, students also do simulated "real" fighting with protective gear.[51]

Some organizations encourage sparring as soon as students start training. They train full contact with minimal gear in both stand-up and ground fighting, using semi-professional MMA rules for safety. Sparring should always be supervised and monitored carefully by a qualified instructor.

Competition for civiliansEdit

Some Krav Maga organizations do not support a competition component, taking the stance that Krav Maga is not a sport. So-called "fighting" sports tend to operate under principles of using safe techniques, doing minimal harm, and consequently wearing down opponents and using other tactics supported by the "rules" of safe competition. In its role as self-defense and as a hand-to-hand combat system, Krav Maga operates under a completely different set of principles in which techniques may indeed cause significant damage and fights are to be ended as quickly as possible when the conflict cannot be avoided. Krav Maga organizations that involve competition are usually founded and named specifically to focus on using Krav Maga-based techniques specifically under a set of sporting principles.


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit