Imi, like his father, excelled in athletics including gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing, winning many boxing and wrestling championships.
When fascist/anti-Semitic groups began to emerge in Bratislava in the 1930s, Lichtenfeld became leader of a group of Jewish youths who prevented these fascists from entering the Jewish quarter. As a result he was involved in many violent incidents and began to develop his unique fighting and self defense system, which would later come to be called Krav Maga (ancient Hebrew for "contact combat").
In 1940 Lichtenfeld left for Palestine on a ship called the Pentcho. The ship's adventure-filled voyage took two years. On the way Lichtenfeld was involved in numerous adventures including saving overboard passengers, surviving an ear infection, which almost killed him, and joining up with the Czechoslovakian army, where they fought alongside the British throughout the Middle East.>
He arrived in Palestine in 1942 and began teaching his fighting system to members of the Jewish underground, the Haganah and Palmach. He focused on the areas he specialized in: physical fitness, swimming, wrestling, use of the knife, and defenses against knife attacks. In 1948 when the State of Israel was born, he became Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) School of Combat Fitness.
Lichtenfeld remained with the IDF for twenty years, where he continued to refine his methods of self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. The fundamental tenets of Krav Maga are:
After he left the IDF, Lichtenfeld began adapting Krava Maga for training civilians as well as law enforcement and military.
What follows is a definition of Krav Maga taken directly from the website for Israeli Krav Maga, israelikrav.com:
In developing the self-defense system, survival in any situation was foremost in Imi's mind. Accordingly, krav maga relies on a person's natural instincts and reflexes for self-defense. Awareness and mental conditioning are integral to krav maga training. Krav maga's philosophy is never to do more than necessary, but to react with speed, economy of motion, and the appropriate measure of force. Speed is paramount and one is taught to strike instinctively at the human body's vulnerable parts. Krav maga is dynamic and constantly evolves as situations require. The system is battle-tested and street-proven.
Most important, Krav Maga emphasizes that there are no rules on the street. If a situation is dire, the defender must do whatever is necessary to overcome the threat. This may include multiple strikes to the groin, throat, and kidneys, a finger planted into an eye, shouting into an attacker's ear, or a head butt or a bite to the neck. Because of this philosophy, krav maga is not suited for tournaments and must be practiced under controlled conditions. A student appreciates the simplicity and universal application of krav maga immediately. Krav maga uses the concept of retzef, Hebrew for "continuous motion" to complete a defense.
Krav maga uses the same building blocks from the simplest defenses to the most advanced techniques including empty-handed defenses and disarms against bladed weapons, firearms, hand grenades, and even rocks. Krav maga is world-renowned for its disarming techniques against assailants posing a threat with handguns, rifles, knives and edged weapons, sticks and even rocks. The system also incorporates subduing techniques that can de-escalate or escalate a situation quickly such as the proper way to grab, and - if necessary - break an attacker's finger to gain control.
Imi designed krav maga for people of all shapes, sizes, and physical abilities regardless of age. While krav maga was designed to teach soldiers to become proficient in hand-to-hand combat tactics in a short time, the same is true of krav maga's civilian adaptation. Krav maga is well received within law enforcement and military circles. Numerous law enforcement agencies and military branches all over the world train their men and women in krav maga.