Imi Licthenfeld is widely known as the founder of Krav Maga. If you search “Krav Maga” on the internet, you will likely see Imi’s name pop up all over the place, cited as the “founder of Krav Maga.”
But is he? Is he really?
This is a topic that sometimes arises among Krav Maga enthusiasts. While majority of Krav Maga organizations say this is true, there are several who challenge this because they have other lineage in Israel, or outright deny this for whatever reason.
Why is there a dispute?
Usually, it comes from those with a background in Krav Panim al Panim (KAPAP), which is Hebrew for “face-to-face combat,” or a religious background with a deep sense of history in the land of Israel. They trace their roots back to pre-1940 Israel, when various Jewish groups have already been practicing forms of hand-to-hand combat. KAPAP traces its roots specifically to the Palmach, a wing of the Haganah. In 1948, when Israel was declared an independent nation by the United Nations, the Haganah became the Israeli Defence Force.
There wouldn’t be a dispute if…
…we simply change the statement to “Imi Lichtenfed is the founder of Modern Krav Maga.” The KAPAP became the official hand-to-hand combat system in Palestinian organizations. Imi did not move to the mandate of Palestine until later. Essentially, it is a political conflict. Regardless, during the country’s early years, Imi was named the head of the IDF physical fitness and hand-to-hand combat programs. It is likely that he took what he already knew and combined it with moves, ideas and/or techniques from early KAPAP.
Imi is the one who made modern Krav Maga big
Ultimately, Krav Maga is what it is today because of Imi’s efforts. During the 1960s-70s, he is the one who opened up the self-defense system to the Israeli public. In the 1980s, he further expanded Krav Maga into the international world. While he is certainly not the one who made up hand-to-hand combat, or the first to practice it in the land of Israel, he can certainly be credited with making modern Krav Maga and KAPAP into what they are today. Without him, it is likely that Krav Maga would be very different. To those who continue to dispute this fact, it’s time for you to let it go so that we can work together to build the art of self-defense in the world.
Side note: There are various Krav Maga organizations all over the world, which each employ a slightly different technical style and mentality towards self-defense. To the untrained eye, watching videos of each different style would look the same for the most part.