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Krav-Maga History and Founder

How It All Began


Imi Sde-Or (formerly Imrich Lichtenfeld) was born in 1910 in Budapest to a Jewish family. He grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia where his father, Shmuel Lichtenfeld, held the Bratislava's Chief Inspector's position.

As a former circus acrobat, Samuel Lichtenfeld owned a gymnasium where self-defense was taught amongst other activities. Due to Imi's father's influence, Imi became a very successful boxer, wrestler and gymnast and competed nationally and internationally.


In the midst of the 1930's, anti-semitic riots threatened the Bratislava's Jewish population. Imi became the uncrowned leader of about 100 young men - boxers and wrestlers. Together they defended their Jewish people against racist and fascist gangs. Soon after Imi developed his own technique of self-defense and began teaching his fellow defenders.


The home he grew up in, his father's activities and teachings, the fighting and sports, the real violent street conflicts and his natural talent are are what enabled Imi to later develop a system of techniques for practical self-defense in life threatening situations. His fundamental principle was: use natural movements and reactions for defense, combined with an immediate and decisive counterattack.


Imi Lichtenfeld's Krav-Maga Biography


In 1940 Imi fled his homeland from the Nazi occupation heading for British mandated Palestine on the illegal immigration river boat Pentcho which shipwrecked on the Greek Islands. Eventually he reached Palestine, and that after serving with distinction in the British supervised Free Czech Legion in North Africa.

The Haganah's leaders, seeing his fighting abilities and ingenuity, welcomed him into Israel's pre-state Haganah Military organization.

In 1944, Imi and other Palmach and Haganah Kapap instructors trained fighters in areas of expertise: physical fitness, hand-to-hand combat ,the Elite Units (like the Haganah striking force and the IDF forerunner Special Units) including the Pal-Yam and Police Officers.


In 1948, when Israel got her independence, the IDF was formed, Imi and other Kapap instructors formed the physical fitness and Krav-Maga instruction programs at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. Imi served 20 years in the IDF service and during that time developed and refined the unique method for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat.

After retiring from the army, Imi began adapting Krav-Maga to meet civilian's self-defense needs and opened his center in Netanya. His methods were designed to suit men, women and children under life threatening situations while sustaining minimal harm.


Imi passed away in 1998 at the age of 88. Untill his final days, Imi continued to develop Krav-Maga techniques, concepts and methods. These principles are still practiced and promoted these days by Izhac and the International Krav Maga Association.


Development of the Kapap/Krav-Maga


The Kapap system was developed in the late 1930s within the Jewish Aliyah camps, by the Palmach and Haganah, as part of their training prior arriving to the British mandatory Palestine. It was primarily considered a practical skillset that was acquired during their training.


In the late 1950’s the term Kapap was used interchangeably with the term Krav-Maga as elements of the syllabus evolved. By the time the 1960’s came, the term was used only within certain units who needed more than basic training in Krav-Maga. Special units required skillsets that suited their function. Non-military police special units like Yamam and Yasam require more than striking and neutralization in their skillsets. It should also be noted that not all Special Forces fall under the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Kapap, Krav-Maga, Lehima, Lotar (IDF school of Anti-Terror) and Haganah Atzmit have evolved in units such as these.

Kapap's Main Contributers


  • Gershon Kopler: judo and jujutsu instructor who organized and established the self-defense concept as part of the Kapap training in the Palmach and Haganah.

  • Yehuda Marcus: Palmach's physical training judo and jujitsu chief instructor, who replaced Gershon Kopler.

  • Moshe Finkel: Palmach's fitness training officer, integrated the different typologies of the art into the training regime.

  • Yitzhak Sade: Palmach's commander who adopted the Kapap training into the regiment.

  • Maishel Horovitz: Palmach's official Kapap instructor, was in charge of the development of the short stick fight tactics at the Palmach and made it famous to the term Kapap. Horovitz’s method became one of the main components of hand-to-hand combat training for all Haganah. Horovitz had made a major contribution to the development of Kapap.