The history of Krav Maga is as exciting as the system itself.  Its history is closely linked to the development of the state of Israel, and the need for the Israeli military to protect its country, which is in one of the world’s most hostile areas.

Krav Maga was founded by a man named Imi Sde-Or. In 1942, Imi’s extensive self-defense skills garnered the attention of Isaac Sadeh, the commanding officer of the Haganah, who recruited him shortly thereafter.

Two years later, Imi began to teach Kapap (hand-to-hand combat) and physical exercise to the most elite special forces units of the Haganah, Palmach and Palyam. During this period, firearms were outlawed and in very scarce supply. They were hidden away from the British and only used for special missions. The scarcity of firearms greatly influenced the development of Krav Maga. Unarmed combat was absolutely essential for the success of the military.

In 1948, when the State of 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 in the IDF for about 20 years, during which time he developed and refined his unique method for self-defense and hand-to-hand combat. It was his job to see that the troops of the IDF, including the special forces units, were expertly skilled in hand-to-hand combat. During this time, Imi further refined his face-to-face fighting techniques (now known as Krav Maga).

Upon retiring from the IDF in the early 60s, Imi began adapting the style for civilian use. He established two schools, one in Netanya and one in Tel Aviv.

His mission in the following years was to design the system to confront everyday attacks and street confrontations. Imi and his senior students set about designing Krav Maga as a complete system.

The core of Krav Maga has always been simplicity and effectiveness, and Imi was always looking for the easy solution to most problems.

Many changes were made to the system both technically and visually, but in all the changes, Imi never forgot the base of the system– simplicity, effectiveness and realism.

One interesting result of this was Krav Maga’s use of belts. In the early system, Imi did not use belts in training, because it was a military system. But seeking recognition from his fellow martial artists, he designed a belt system based on the Judo system of white-yellow-orange-green-blue-brown-black. The system was divided into grades, making it easier to organize. He also started training in gis (white judo training suits).

In the 90s, however, Imi decided that belts should no longer be a part of the system and that the use of belts did not have any realistic or practical meaning in the system. The system of grades was kept, but the belts were taken out and replaced with a system of Practitioner/Graduate/Expert levels. The training suits have changed as well, and now consist of black pants and t-shirts. Some countries still use the belts in the curriculum, but not in training.

Imi and his senior instructors formed the first Krav Maga Association in 1978, and in 1992, Imi expressed a desire to form an international federation to help spread his system to the world. In 1995, his dream came true, and the International Krav Maga Federation was formed in Netanya, Imi’s home city.

To the present day, Krav Maga has grown greatly with associations and affiliations in Israel, the United States, France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Great Britain, Brazil, Thailand and throughout the world. It is used on a day-to-day basis by the IDF, including the special forces units, the Israeli police and security branches, and by many other elite units in North America, South America, Europe, and around the world. The style has also become, as Imi sought to make it, a major source of civilian self-defense instruction.

On January 8, 1998, Imi passed away at the age of 88.