In his youth, Imri “Imi” Lichtenfeld (1910 – 1998) was a successful boxer, wrestler, gymnast and all-around athlete. He had inherited his physical prowess from his father, Samuel, a former circus acrobat who was a chief inspector of the Bratislava (Slovakia) police force and the owner of the Hercules Gymnasium, where Imri trained.

As much as Lichtenfeld enjoyed his competitive athletics, he was forced to face the brutal realization that fighting skills honed in an arena provide one with little protection when involved in a real fight. This fact was driven home by the increasing anti-Semitic violence of the 1930s in Slovakia. Riots broke out, and Lichtenfeld found himself leading a self-defense squad made up of young athletes. It was both a humbling and motivating experience.

As the Nazi conquest of Europe progressed, Lichtenfeld headed for British Mandate Palestine, which he had visited once before for the 1935 Maccabia Games. The Aliyah Bet riverboat (the Pentcho) on which he traveled was shipwrecked on the Greek Dodecanese Islands. Instead of going to Palestine, Lichtenfeld fought in North Africa with the Free Czech Legion and only reached Palestine in 1944.

Throughout these years, Lichtenfeld had been developing his unique self-defense martial arts known as Krav Maga (literally “fight contact”). In Palestine, he immediately began training elite units in the Hagana and Palmach. In 1948, after the creation of the state of Israel, Lichtenfeld was named Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga. For 20 years he taught the young soldiers of Israel. When he retired in 1964, he developed a civilian version of Krav Maga.

While Krav Maga is considered a martial art, it is taught on different levels – more and less dangerous. One can easily kill with Krav Maga, but that is against the nature of the art. Lichtenfeld’s primary goal was extreme self defense, to allow one who is attacked to disable his assailant as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Imri Lichtenfeld passed away on January 9, 1998.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.