Fondly referred to as Imi Lichtenfeld or Imi Sde-Or, he was born on May 26, 1910 in Budapest to a Hungarian Jewish family. Son of a Chief Inspector in the Bratislava police force, he trained at the Hercules Gymnasium, which was owned by his father, who taught self-defence. With his father’s encouragement, Imi engaged in a wide range of sports, such as swimming, boxing, wrestling and gymnastics, excelling in wrestling both as contestant an as trainer, winning several awards in these fields.
Need For Krav Maga
When anti-Semitic riots threatened the Jewish population of Bratislava in the 1930s, Imi Lichtenfeld, together with other Jewish boxers and wrestlers, helped defend his Jewish neighbourhood against racist gangs. He soon realised that sport had very little in common with street fights and combat. Thats when he began creating a system of techniques for practical self-defence in life-threatening situations.
In 1940, Imi Lichtenfeld boarded the last ship from Slovakia to Palestine to get away from the clutches of rising Nazism. He reached Palestine in 1942 after serving with distinction in the British supervised Free Czechoslovak Legion in North Africa. In 1944 he began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defenses against knife attacks. Units trained by Imi Lichtenfeld went on to evolve into the special units of the Israel Defence Force (IDF).
After the establishment State of Israel in 1948 and the formation of the IDF he became the ‘Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga’ at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. Imi Lichtenfeld 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.
In 1964, Imi Lichtenfeld retired from the Israeli military, thereafter adapting and modifying Krav Maga to suit civilian needs. The method was formulated to suit everyone – man, woman and child who might need it to save their life or survive an attack while sustaining minimal harm, regardless of the cause of the attack. To disseminate his method, Imi Lichtenfeld established two training centres at Tel Aviv and Natanya. He trained teams of krav maga instructors, who were accredited by him and the Israeli Ministry of Education. He also created the Israeli Krav Maga Association in 1978.
Imi Lichtenfeld, the iconic teacher and fighter passed away on January 09, 1998, leaving behind a legacy that has grown tremendously and steadily.