Often, Bruce Lee (1940-1973) is credited with being the founder of Mixed Martial Arts.
As far as the West and the traditional East is concerned, this is true. Lee became famous in the early 70s because of his movie career. This allowed the world to see Lee’s new style of Jeet Kune Do or the “Way of the Intercepting Fist”. Lee is considered the founder of MMA because he was perceived to be the first person to take pieces of various styles and create his own catered to his style of fighting.
Historians often say that history is written by the victors and, as far as the world is concerned, Lee is the founder of MMA. However, as a Krav Maga practitioner I know this is not entirely true. Often in human history, for whatever reason, something is developed simultaneously at two different locations under different circumstances, yet the end result is the same. As a Krav Maga practitioner I know that Imi Lichtenfeld (1910-1998) actually came before Lee and developed Krav Maga as a system which took pieces of various martial arts to create a simplified self defense system.
While Lee started learning Kung Fu under the legendary Yip Man, a Wing Chung Master, Lichtenfeld started as a boxer and a wrestler, and yet they both came up with systems that were looking to simplify martial arts/self defense and strip down all of the useless techniques. There is, of course, one major difference. Lee developed his style for himself out of passion and sport, and Lichtenfeld developed it out of war and necessity. One (Lee’s) is a beautiful style designed with directness, no form and speed in mind, though I suspect was really developed for a person who has trained many years and who had developed a great amount of speed. The other (Lichtenfeld’s) was designed to work for anyone of any size under any circumstance. It is quite possible that Lee would have continued to simplify his system had his life not been cut short, but we will never know. Krav Maga under Lichtenfeld, however, was allowed to develop under his watchful eye into a simplified version of the original. I can only imagine what might have happened had the two met each other to discuss techniques.
For both, their original dream was the same and their ends, although decades apart, have one glaring similarity. Upon their deaths, there was a mad scramble to assume power as the next in line. While I am unfamiliar about the squabbles in the Jeet Kune Do world, I often hear people discuss how close in lineage their instructor was to Lee. I have heard things like, “Oh, my instructor is three people removed from Lee.” Or, “That style is not Jeet Kune Do but mine is true to the original.” This should sound familiar to all the Krav Maga people out there as now in 2014, 16 years after Licthenfeld’s death, there are at least 10 major Krav Maga organizations, not to mention the numerous independent schools that choose to stay out of the politics.
Personally, I have trained with individuals who can trace their lineage back to both Lee and Lictenfeld, and I have trained with individuals who have learned both Jeet Kune Do and Krav Maga who cannot trace their lineage directly back to the creators. The question is, should the ability to directly trace training lineage to the original creators matter. Personally, I do not think it should. My reasoning is simple. First, NOBODY ever questions the lineage of either Lee or Lichtenfeld because they were innovators. They created systems not seen by anyone else before. Their lineage did not matter, for they themselves were the reason they were famous, not because of under whom they trained. Second, how long after an originator’s death does one need to wait until a system is diluted or completely changed from what it was meant to be.
Take Tae Kwon Do or Judo for example. I am sure the original creators would be rolling over in their graves if they saw how diluted and sports-like their systems had become. For the most part these systems follow the lineage of the original founder, and yet they are nothing at all what they are suppose to be, but rather watered down systems designed for points and not the original simplified self defense systems that they were. It is quite possible that this has, or can happen, to both JKD and KM, but does this mean change of the systems is bad? Again, I do not think so. I think that change, so long as it follows the principles of remaining simple, easy-to-use and effective for real world application, is good. If, however, change of a system turns it into something for points or display, then the creators most likely would be kicking themselves in the head for not being more clear about how they wanted their systems to develop.
I have heard that the reason that Hiam Gideon was named the head of the IKMA after Licthenfeld’s death was because he was also an innovator. He adapted Lichtenfeld’s moves to further simplify them so that they were more likely to succeed. This is not something I can confirm as there are many rumours regarding the question of lineage after Licthenfeld’s death. However, if it is true then for sure it makes sense, for it is my understanding that Krav Maga, or Jeet Kune Do for that matter, were meant to be evolving styles to utilize any and all techniques that existed in the world, regardless of origin. Of course, IKMA now refers to its system as the Gideon system while IKMF, now under Avi Moyel, and KMG under Eyal Yanilov, still call their systems the IMI system. What does this mean? I am not really sure, but it certainly brings into the question of the evolution of the system. There are, of course, Krav Maga organizations headed by individuals who learned their Krav Maga from the Army, or a friend, or whatever, and though they do not follow the original lineage, certainly follow the Krav Maga mentality of keeping it simple, efficient and easy-to-use.
There are certain moves, such as the Krav Maga 360 defense, to which you will see in almost all the Krav Maga organizations. In fact, moves such as this have been spread into other self defense systems whether they realize it or not, such as modern Cimande. Other moves, however, such as how to deal with the front choke, vary from organization to organization. Is this good or is this bad? Well, the answer should be obvious by now. It depends. Krav Maga is meant to be an evolving system, but what direction that evolution takes is still up in the air. Some systems focus more on aggression, some more on technique. Some are very casual and some are very traditional. Some use belt systems and some use patch systems.
No matter what your lineage however, one thing needs to remain the same. The moves need to work and they need to work fast. I have noticed that some organizations use only one variation of a move and I have found that the variation works great for some, but not all. An organization that chooses to keep a move simply because that’s the way the Master did it seems to be missing the point of the original creation of the system, whether KM or JKD. Some moves work great for big people but not small people. Some moves work great for fast people but not slow people. This is part of the reason that aggression is so important in Krav Maga. However, this does not mean you should forget your technique. Our philosophy at Urban Tactics Krav Maga is that at the White Belt and Yellow Belt levels, we teach our students the fundamentals and a few of the various options. We then encourage them to use the move that works best for their body type and fitness level, and choose it as their main reaction under said circumstances. This does not mean, however, that they should forget the other options as you never know what may happen.
Personally I have found myself saying that Krav Maga is a system that assumes you are going to screw up and that even if that happens, you will survive. Another thing I have come to realize, after observing some of my friends whose Krav Maga training comes exclusively from the Army, is that when you remove the option to kill your attacker, your technique becomes far more important than your aggression, as a level of control is required in the civilian or police world.
I think by now you should have figured out what my thoughts are on lineage. It depends on who your instructor is and how good they are at teaching you the fundamentals, regardless of lineage. At the end of the day, at least with Krav Maga if you go home and sleep safely every night then your instructor has done their job. Criticizing an organization just because of lineage is ridiculous, especially if what they teach follows the original principles and, most importantly, works. At Urban Tactics Krav Maga we train with individuals from all organizations in the Krav Maga world, and we encourage our students not only to do the same but also to train in other styles. You can never know too much as we are always learning. Evolution is a part of humanity, and fighting over who came first or who has the closest tie to the original founder of a system seems rather petty to me. At the end of the day, any instructor should not put their loyalty into their organization but should put their loyalty into their students. Getting caught up in the politics of lineage in the Martial Arts I am sure would drive any founder nuts. To me it really doesn’t matter that Lee is seen as the founder of MMA over Lichtenfeld because they both have wonderful legacies and gave the world two great systems and ways of thinking.
So, The Chicken or the Egg? Which Came first? Really, it does not matter, because in the end we are all here, we are all alive and we are all safe.