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What is Krav Maga?

Warped History

 

 

Not to take anything from the man widely accredited with "inventing" Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld, the history of Israeli Martial Arts has become gradually warped over time, and to look at many organization websites, one would think that they all started in the 1950’s and were the invention of just one man.

 

 

You may be surprised to find out that so far there is no evidence for the existence of a department of Krav Maga in the IDF as late as 1956 and perhaps 1958. This is not to say that there was no Krav Maga but there was no department yet. Another discovery which may intrigue is that there were Jujutsu teachers in Israel as early as 1920 and people teaching some form of stick fighting or cane fencing as early as 1890.

SPECIFIC SKILLS & THEIR KEY FIGURES

 

Gershon Kopler was head instructor of Jujutsu from 1935 to 1942 when he was killed in action on a sabotage mission on behalf of the British forces.

 

Maishel Hurwitz took over for a couple of months following Kopler's death, until Yehuda Markus was brought in to take Koplers former place as chief Jujutsu instructor. He held this position until he was killed by a stray bullet in 1947, while at a training facility.

 

Meir Rabinovitz "Batz" seems to be the main source of Knife techniques, which he acquired in the British Army. This material was modified and expanded on by many people. Maishel Hurwitz was the developer of the short stick fighting method and the lead instructor of the short stick and walking stick methods.

stickfighting kapap krav maga haganah krav maga Imi Krav Maga

KAPAP as a term shows up for the first time in 1940, and until then hand-to-hand combat was referred to as “Defense-Sport”. The change in terminology from a defensive outlook to a combative one is evidenced by the transition to the use of KAPAP – "krav panim el panim" – translation = face to face combat, which means hand to hand combat. This can be understood in light of the Arab uprising which had a transformative effect on the Hagana as an underground military force, pushing it to become more of an army than a civil defense militia.

 

An acronym for the hand-to-hand skills taught in the Hagana and its related units and youth movements; it included, long and short stick, knife, boxing Jujutsu, stone throwing and bayonet. The curriculum was formulated over time.

Its important to understand that one of the main ways of disseminating knowledge and skill in hand-to-hand combat was through training many instructors to do the work in house in every unit. So yes there were lead instructors who taught at courses but there were many instructors working in the units of Pal-mach and Hagana. Since the Pal-mach was a standing force, the closest to an enlisted army the Hagana could manage at the time, it was only natural that instructors and members tested the material they were being taught. The first generation of instructors and members did this intensively with the KAPAP material. This attitude of testing things and not teaching them verbatim as they were handed down continued on in the units. Instructors would not teach techniques they did not test and prove that they worked for them. The Pal-mach pushed these skills further as part of the training of its units, and they spent more time at it than any other unit / force in the Hagana.

 

When the IDF was formed and the Pal-mach was assimilated into it, this included many of the Pal-mach hand-to-hand combat instructors. A service for physical training was formed and headed by Moshe Pinkel Zohar, who had been until then the chief physical training instructor for the Pal-mach. As part of the service, a training school was formed and commanded by Mayron Avramson and initially there were 8 instructors inducted into service at the school. At the school courses for sports instructors were conducted on a regular basis and included a lot of hand-to-hand combat training. This was called KAPAP, and was the same material taught in the Pal-mach by the same instructors, only now as part of the IDF.

Early on a new term shows up on official documents: “Krav Maga” – translation = contact fight, or in other words hand-to-hand combat. Both KAPAP and Krav Maga were in use as terms referring to the same material for the better part of the 1950's. Naturally over time as a natural process changes and adjustments are made to the overall curriculum and specific techniques, however at no point is there a replacement of one with the other or a major transformation and revision of the material. In essence KAPAP and Krav Maga for all intents and purposes are one and the same in the 1950's.

One of the 8 instructors was Imi Lichtenfeld; a well respected and talented KAPAP instructor from the Pal-mach and a good personal friend of Moshe Pinkel Zohar who brought him to the Pal-mach and then the IDF. Imi stayed on while others left and were replaced, and he became the lead instructor and authority on KAPAP training in the IDF. By the very late 1950's the term KAPAP had fallen out of use and was almost totally replaced by the term Krav Maga. This is not a major event in the news; no one is offended or bothered by this, and no one feels hurt or cheated out of their place in history. It is not an event but rather a slow gradual process that no one cares about, and it simply is what it is.

 

By the mid 50's Imi is recognized in the army as the lead authority on hand-to-hand combat and is respected and looked up to. Krav Maga is the common term for what is taught by him, but under no circumstance was it his "invention". In the early 1960's Imi retired and opened a civilian Krav Maga school, and on that very day what he taught was Krav Maga by name, but no different than KAPAP. It is true that as a result of his instructing hand-to-hand combat in the Pal-mach and then the IDF for 20 years, he left a mark on the techniques and curriculum. This is undeniable and there is no need to deny this. There are terms and concepts that can be related to Imi such as the 360 degree defense which seems to have been formulated in the late 1950's and documented by 1960. Taking military Krav Maga and changing it for the civilian arena started a new stage in the life of Krav Maga and the eradication of the memory of KAPAP as it was practiced by the military.

Krav Maga IDF

Historical Research courtesy of Noah Gross, author, historian and good friend to true research has kindly answered some of the questions relating to the roles of the Pal-mach, Hagana and Pal-yam during WWII, and has also gone into great detail as to how historical KAPAP slowly became what is now known across the world as Krav Maga.