Krav Maga translates from Hebrew into English, as ‘Contact Combat’. It was developed as an unarmed combat system by Imi Sde-Or (formerly, Imrich Lichtenfeld) for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
Emrich "Imi" Lichtenfeld (Hebrew: אימריך “אימי” ליכטנפלד) (May 26, 1910 – January 9, 1998) was a Hungarian-born Israeli martial artist who founded the Krav Maga self-defense system.
He was born to a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia. Imi was a successful boxer, wrestler, and gymnast, competing at national and international levels, being member of the Slovakian National Wrestling Team.
In the late 1930s, riots threatened the Jewish population of Bratislava. Together with other Jewish boxers and wrestlers, he helped to defend his neighbourhood against racist gangs. He quickly decided that sport has little in common with real combat and began developing a system of techniques for practical self-defence in life-threatening situations. In 1940, Imi fled the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, heading for Palestine.
In 1944 Imi began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defences against knife attacks.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was founded and the IDF was formed, he 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-defence and hand-to-hand combat. After finishing active duty, Imi began adapting and modifying Krav Maga to civilian needs.
In 1964, Imi retired from the IDF. He then modified Krav Maga to fit the needs of police forces and ordinary civilians. He trained teams of Krav Maga instructors to further the knowledge, and it continues to grow til this day.