Imi Sde-Or (formerly, Imrich Lichtenfeld) was born in 1910 to a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest. He grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia where his father, Samuel Lichtenfeld was a Chief Inspector in the Bratislava Police Force.
As a former circus acrobat, Samuel Lichtenfeld owned a gymnasium where many activities were taught, including self-defense. Due to the influences of his father, Imi became a very successful boxer, wrestler and gymnast, competing at both national and international level
KRAV MAGA IS BORN
In the mid 1930’s, anti-Semitic riots threatened the Jewish population of Bratislava. Imi became the uncrowned leader of about 100 Jewish young men, boxers and wrestlers. Together they defended the Jewish neighborhood against racist and fascist gangs. Through these real world experiences Imi quickly understood that sport had little in common with real combat and even began teaching his fellow defenders.
The home he grew up in, his father’s activities and teachings, the fighting sports, the real violent street conflicts, and his natural talent enabled Imi to later develop a system of techniques for practical self-defense in life threatening situations.
Imi developed his fundamental self-defense principle: ‘use natural movements and reactions for defense, combined with an immediate and decisive counterattack.
1940 and BEYOND
In 1940, Lichtenfeld fled the Nazi occupation of his homeland, heading for Palestine, then under the British mandate, on the illegal immigration river boat name Pentcho, which shipwrecked on the Greek Dodecanese Islands.
He eventually reached Palestine after serving with distinction in the British supervised Free Czech Legion in North Africa and Imi was quickly welcomed into Israel’s pre-state Hagana military organization after it’s leaders immediately recognized Lichtenfeld’s fighting ability and ingenuity.
MILITARY KRAV MAGA
In 1944 Imi began training fighters in his areas of expertise: physical fitness, swimming, use of the knife, and defenses against knife attacks. During this period, Imi trained several elite units of the Hagana and Palmach (striking force of the Hagana and forerunner of the special units of the IDF), including the Pal-yam, as well as groups of police officers. In 1948, when Israel was founded and the IDF was formed, Imi became Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness. He served for a total of 20 years, during which time he developed and refined his unique method for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat.
In 1964, after retiring from the army, Imi began adapting Krav Maga to meet the self-defense needs of civilians and opened two training centers in the cities of Tel-Aviv and Netanya. His methods were formulated to suit everyone – man and woman, boy or girl, who might need it to save his or her life or survive an attack while sustaining minimal harm
A WARRIOR AND A GENTLEMAN
Imi passed away in 1998 aged 88, until his final days Imi continued to develop Krav Maga techniques, concepts and instructional methods with the assistance of his closest student, Eyal Yanilov. Imi always took great care to promote his universal principles of respect for others, avoidance of undue or unjustified use of force, modesty, peace-loving conduct, and strict adherence to fair play.
A more detailed life story of Imi is described in the books written by him and Eyal Yanilov
These principles are still promoted to this day by Eyal Yanilov and Krav Maga Global