From Street Fights to Self-Defense Mastery: The Evolution of Krav Maga

In 1910, the seeds of Krav Maga’s principles were planted in the mind of its founder, Imi Lichtenfeld. Born in Hungary but raised in Bratislava, Imi was a natural athlete, excelling in gymnastics, boxing, and wrestling. However, his greatest influence was his father, Samuel, a police officer and self-defense instructor.

Samuel, a former circus acrobat and wrestler, spent three decades as Chief Detective Inspector in the police department. He became renowned for his impressive arrest record, especially when dealing with dangerous criminals. Beyond his law enforcement duties, Samuel also taught self-defense techniques to local policemen at his gym, known as “Hercules.”

Key to Samuel’s teachings was the emphasis on proper moral conduct when dealing with the public and suspected criminals, a value that would later be integral to Krav Maga’s philosophy.

As the 1930s unfolded, Europe became a dangerous place for Jews due to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Imi found himself protecting his family and neighbors in Bratislava from local fascist thugs in numerous street fights. These experiences sharpened his awareness of the essential differences between sport and street fighting, sowing the seeds for the principles of Krav Maga.

In 1940, after several years of travel, Imi arrived in Palestine, which later became Israel. He joined the Haganah, a paramilitary organization of the Jewish community, and fought for the establishment of the independent state of Israel. During this time, he began teaching basic self-defense techniques to soldiers, marking a pivotal moment in Krav Maga’s history.

The year 1948 witnessed the formation of the State of Israel, and Imi Lichtenfeld assumed the role of Chief Instructor for the military school for Physical Training and Krav Maga. The Israeli government tasked him with developing an effective system of self-defense and combat, which later became the Krav Maga system. The Haganah was eventually integrated into the Israeli Defense Force.

In the 1950s, Krav Maga’s evolution continued as it was refined on the battlefields of the Middle East. Imi, who had served in the army for 20 years, developed and honed his unique system of self-defense and hand-to-hand combat, training instructors and soldiers from elite units of the Israeli Defense Force. Given Israel’s constant state of war with neighboring countries, the techniques and tactics were not merely theoretical; they were tested on the battlefield.

In 1964, following his retirement from military service, Imi devoted his time to adapting Krav Maga to everyday life. The system was adjusted to provide solutions for ordinary men, women, and children who might face aggressive encounters. Imi’s qualified students, personally chosen and trained by him, spread the system rapidly within the civilian population, accredited by the Israeli Ministry of Education as Krav Maga instructors.

Fast forward to 1978 when Imi and several of his students created the Krav Maga Association, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting the teaching of Krav Maga not only in Israel but also throughout the world.

In 1981, the first International Instructor’s Course for Krav Maga was held at Wingate Institute for Physical Education, sponsored by philanthropist S. Daniel Abraham. Imi personally supervised the course, which was a grueling six-week, 8+ hours a day training regimen. Among the select few who passed was Darren Levine, chosen for his martial arts and boxing background and involvement in the physical education program at the Heschel Day School near Los Angeles, California.

By 1982, Darren Levine began teaching Krav Maga at Heschel Day School as an elective class, eventually incorporating it into the school’s physical education program due to its popularity.

1983 saw the formation of the Krav Maga Association of America at Imi’s request, with prominent members of the Los Angeles Jewish community, including Darren Levine, playing a pivotal role. The association’s goals included promoting Krav Maga’s history in the United States and fostering good relations between the United States and Israel.

In 1984, a significant milestone was reached as Darren Levine received his first-degree black belt in Krav Maga. At the belt ceremony, Imi Lichtenfeld passed on his own black belt to Darren, signifying the recognition of his expertise. Darren also received his full Instructor’s Certification from Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sport as well as the Krav Maga Association of Israel.

1987 marked the beginning of Darren Levine and his top students teaching Krav Maga to law enforcement agencies in the United States, adapting the system to suit the needs of U.S. law enforcement and military personnel. The Illinois State Police became the first agency to adopt Krav Maga into its force training curriculum in the same year, with Imi himself flying in from Israel to attend Darren’s course.

In 1996, the Krav Maga National Training Center, later known as KMW Training Centers™ • West LA, was established in West Los Angeles. It became the world’s first training facility dedicated to Krav Maga, offering a full schedule of self-defense, fighting, and fitness classes to civilians, law enforcement, and military units.

1997 marked the pinnacle of Darren Levine’s journey as he received a Founder’s Diploma from Imi Lichtenfeld for Special Excellence in Krav Maga. Imi awarded this diploma to only two individuals in the world: Darren Levine and Eyal Yanilov, the Director of the International Krav Maga Federation. These diplomas were a testament to Imi’s vision for the future leaders of Krav Maga.


Tragically, in 1998, Krav Maga founder Imi Lichtenfeld passed away at the age of 88. His funeral was attended by many high-ranking members of the Israeli military, and his legacy lived on. Krav Maga, founded on moral and human values, continued to flourish, emphasizing personal integrity, non-violence, good citizenship, and humble conduct.

In 1999, Krav Maga Worldwide Enterprises was formed, led by Darren Levine and other organizing members of Krav Maga. This organization aimed to expand and promote Krav Maga in the United States and around the world. Their vision included establishing Krav Maga training centers in major cities across the U.S., with the goal of spreading what they considered the finest self-defense and fighting system in the world.

As Krav Maga continued to evolve year by year, its origins in the streets of Bratislava and its growth on the battlefields of the Middle East remained integral to its history, with a legacy that continues to impact lives globally.

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At Krav Maga Training Center our focus is on teaching proper technique since it is the foundation to self defense and personal work out for fitness. When it comes to working out and self defense, Krav Maga Training Center offers fighting, training, and recovery where students grow from all the hard work compounded throughout the week.

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