History of Krav Maga

Imrich (“Imi”) Sde-Or, founder of Krav-Maga, was born in 1910 in Budapest, which at the time was one of the centres of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He grew up in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, in a home where sports, law, and Central European education were equally respected.

Samuel Lichtenfeld, Imi’s father, was undoubtedly quite a unique figure. At age 13 he 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. With his father’s encouragement, Imi became active in a wide range of sports. He first excelled in swimming, and subsequently in gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing.

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.

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. Thus, between 1936 and 1940 Imi took part in countless violent encounters.

In 1940, having become a thorn in the side of the anti-Semitic inclined local authorities as a result of his activities, Imi left his home, family, and friends and boarded the last immigrant ship that succeeded in escaping the Nazis’ clutches. The vessel was an old riverboat named Pentcho, that had been converted to carry hundreds of refugees from Central Europe to the land of Israel (then called Palestine). The gripping story of the Pentcho and its passengers is told in detail in the book Odyssey by John Birman (published by Simon & Shuster, New York, 1984). Imi’s private odyssey aboard that ship and afterwards, which was filled with thrilling episodes, took about two years.

In 1944 Imi began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defences against knife attacks. During this period, Imi trained several elite units of the Hagana and Palmach (striking force of the Hagana and forerunner of the special units of the IDF), including the Pal-Yam, as well as groups of police officers.

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-defence and hand-to-hand combat.

After he finished his active duty, Imi began adapting and modifying Krav-Maga to civilian needs. The method was formulated to suit everyone – man and woman, 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 centres, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Natanya. Even during his last years, Imi continues to personally supervise the training of those who have 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 and unique personality.

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

When the teaching of Krav Maga started to spread beyond the borders of Israel, arose a need to establish an international organisation. This happened mostly because the initial Krav Maga association at the time was divided and not functioning efficiently due to dissension amongst the higher graded instructors. Imi formed a new international federation with the support of his most loyal students and respected instructors.

Once the IKMF was finally formed, all expert and master diplomas, grades and levels as well as a new curriculum were authorised and approved by Imi. That included subsequent changes to the new IKMF curriculum in 1997.

Since 1996 the IKMF has expanded globally and is now the largest and most appreciated Krav Maga institution worldwide.

The IKMF has branched out and is successfully active locally, in Israel as well as in Australia, North America, South – east Asia, the Far East, most EU countries, and ex-communist countries (such as Poland, Russia and Hungary). The general structure of IKMF organisations in each country are relatively similar: a country/regional director responsible for the growth of Krav Maga in his/her country, and a team of highly qualified instructors to facilitate.

The IKMF trains and educates all types of trainees, with or without Krav Maga (or other martial art) background, such as civilian students, military personnel, security and protection staff, law-enforcement officers and instructors. 

Avi Moyal was born in 1966 and has been learning Krav Maga since childhood. In 1985 he received his “Expert degree” and joined the IDF Marines, completed his Officers training with excellence, and served as a Platoon Commander in a Terror Demolition Unit.

He acquired many combat hours and experience while commanding subordinates on special operations in Lebanon. He served as a Reserves PC in a special operations unit. Avi Moyal graduated his BA and a trainer’s course. He also graduated the senior trainer’s course in the Wingate Institute with excellence. He ran instructors courses in the Wingate institute for many years, and today he is one of the four leading Krav Maga authorities in the world (Expert level 6). Amongst his instructors were Imi Lichtenfeld (RIP), Eli Avigzar (RIP) and Eyal Yanilov.

He instructs women, children and adults in the Israeli private, commercial and governmental sectors. He also instructs armies and security organizations world wide. These days, he has published a booklet about Krav Maga for grade school pupils, which is one of his areas of expertise. It is distributed across Israel, and it will soon be translated and published abroad. He is also the part of the IKMF Global Instructors team.

Special Projects

  • In 1993 Avi served with a group of security personnel – that were assigned as the pop star Michael Jackson’s personal bodyguards in his visit to Israel.
  • In 1994 he founded a VIP Protection unit for a private body in Brazil.
  • In 1995 he was assigned by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office to train its workers in Krav Maga.
  • In 1996, after numerous homicides and attempted hijacking and robbery of taxi drivers in Israel, Avi Moyal was at the head of a project that instructed taxi drivers in self-defense and active “skid-car” handling. After the course, the numbers of attacks have depleted drastically.
  • In 1998, was an era of attacks by the infamous rapist – Beni Sella. Amongst his victims were tens of young Tel-Aviv women. Prior to his apprehension, Tel-Aviv City-Hall recruited Avi Moyal to lead a project that will train the Tel-Aviv women in self-defense. The course was highly successful, and it taught hundreds of women to defend themselves from sexual assault using everyday items. In the end of that year, Beni Sella was caught, prosecuted and incarcerated. During his work with Tel-Aviv City-Hall, after a few cases of violence, he ran a self-defense course for the city’s parking inspectors.
  • Nowadays Avi and his wife have three children, and he is the owner of Contact, which runs seminars, workshops and courses for the private and public sectors. Today, Avi spreads the Krav Maga system to the Far-East, Europe and America, as well as different armies across Europe. He also continues teaching his many pupils in Israel.