Exploring the Origin of Krav Maga
Recently I was looking at books on judo by Moshe Feldenkrais, and it made me wonder if he had any connection with Krav Maga. I studied Krav Maga for 3 1/2 years in the Krav Maga Global system, and had never heard a word about Mr. Feldenkrais, or anyone of his generation, or earlier, beyond Imi Lichtenfeld, who was always cited as the founder of Krav Maga.
When you speak with those in KMG, or almost anyone I've encountered who studies Krav, their story of the system always begins with Imi. It's basically the same tale: Imi was a boxer, wrestler, and gymnast who learned self defense techniques from his father, a policeman, in 1920s Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia. In the 1930s, Imi helped defend other Jewish people during the anti-Semitic violence. In the 1940s he migrated to Israel, where he invented Krav Maga and taught the Israeli Defense Force. He later brought the system to the civilian world, from where it has now flourished across the globe.
It turns out that this is only part of the story. I found an amazing paper by Dr Guy Mor titled "The Case for the Recognition of Krav-Maga as Part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Israel," published in 2018 in the Open Journal of Social Sciences.
The entire paper is worth reading, but the following excerpts are noteworthy to me:
"A key development was the “Balfour Declaration” of November 2nd 1917, which stated that the British government favored the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine . This statement led to increased Jewish immigration to Palestine  but also to an increase in hostile resistance by the indigenous Arab population.
In response, Jewish organizations initiated forms of combat training relying mainly on known martial disciplines, such as Ju-Jitsu and boxing, combined with some practical experience and knowledge acquired by Jewish immigrants during training in their countries of origin . Unfortunately, these techniques failed to save lives in real combat situations .
In 1920, following another wave of Arab attacks against Jewish residents, the Hagana (a Jewish paramilitary organization) was established based on the infrastructure of Hashomer . The Hagana sought to develop an unarmed combat discipline that would provide effective defense against Arab attacks, and looked to experts such as Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais and others to provide advice on un-armed combat.
Feldenkrais (1904-1984), who had experience of Ju-Jitsu and other hand-to-hand combat systems, sought to create a practical and more effective solution based on his own research and incorporating the principle of “unconscious reaction” (also known as “reflexive reaction”)...
This insight led Feldenkrais to establish an improved fighting and training regimen whose fundamental principles were later adopted by both Kapap (an abbreviation of Krav Panim el Panim meaning “face-to-face combat”) and Krav-Maga. The Hagana command considered his ideas sufficiently promising to justify the award of a three-year grant allowing Feldenkrais to train Hagana members .
Between 1936 and 1939...under the British mandate, open training in combat disciplines was restricted, so Jewish immigrants adapted known hand-to-hand combat tactics to create a unique combat discipline, which could be represented as a “defensive sport” (Sport Magen). This discipline, which incorporated techniques from Ju-Jitsu, boxing and wrestling, as well as some of Feldenkrais’s ideas, was promoted first by Gersho Kofler as a sport under the sports organization Hapoel .
During the same period, a British intelligence officer (Charles Orde Wingate) stationed in Palestine decided to support the Zionist cause by forming small, armed assault units of British-led Jewish commandos to counter hostile Arab actions ...
During these protests, British policemen used batons to beat Jewish demonstrators, causing significant demoralization within the Jewish community and the dissolution of several youth platoons . This, in turn, encouraged Hagana members to conduct “combat experiments” to find a practical means of countering the threat of the British batons. The outcome was the introduction of a short-stick fighting method, which became an integral part of the general face-to-face combat training regimen of the time .
The conceptual transformation from a defensive to an offensive approach, along with the introduction of the short-stick weapon, was associated with a change in the labeling of the combat system; what was previously known as Sport Magen became Kapap ...
For the first decade following the declaration of Israeli independence in 1948 and the establishment of the IDF, the army’s hand-to-hand combat training relied heavily on Kapap, and used instructors and training materials from the Hagana . It is true that from 1948 until the late 1950s, several different terms appeared in IDF documents, but these were used interchangeably. Thus Kapap, Sport Magen and Krav-Maga  were all seen as variants of a common hand-to hand system.
Eventually, towards the end of the period, the term Krav-Maga became the accepted term for the IDF’s hand-to-hand-combat method, displacing the term Kapap altogether . The most recent phase in the evolution of Krav-Maga was the development of a non-military form, often credited to Imi Lichtenfeld, a prominent hand-to-hand combat instructor and Kapap and Krav-Maga specialist within the Hagana and IDF .
From around 1964, Lichtenfeld was active in promoting Krav-Maga as a civilian discipline, introducing new techniques and adopting the judo belt sys-tem. In August 1971, the first civilian Krav-Maga instructor’s course was held in Lichtenfeld’s training club in Netanya ."
This has been a lengthy excerpt, and the emphasis is mine. However, it's clear that Krav Maga had a rich history before Imi emigrated to Israel, and that many other pioneers had a hand in its development.
Also, despite the statements I've seen online about Krav Maga being a "pure" or "built from the ground up" system, it's clear that it's rooted in other martial arts. It's always been a silly argument to me. The first Krav practitioners taught by Imi wore gis and adopted the judo belt system, after all.
If you've made it this far, and you're an academic, perhaps you could help me acquire a copy of what be an even more interesting paper -- History and Singularity of Krav-Maga, also by Dr Mor? Thank you!
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