Israeli Martial Arts

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Since it’s founding in Biblical times the state of Israel has had to fight to keep the lands they believe were granted them by God, because while ownership might have been clear to them, their neighbors have disputed that claim for centuries. To keep what they held most dear the Israelites formed a small, but tough and aggressive army first under Moses and would continue under future Kings, but this would all end after the Roman invasion of the holy land. The state of Israel would not come into being again until after World War II and hostilities started again almost immediately, so Israel began developing its warrior culture again.

In the wake of World War II thousands of refugees poured into what was than British controlled Palestine both legally and illegally with hopes of making a new life. There was no government yet, but even before the war the Jewish community was already organizing paramilitary organization known as the Haganah. Among the refugees to arrive were partisans from throughout Europe, and veteran guerrilla fighters who took on the Nazis in the ghettos of Warsaw Poland. Though there were veteran police officers and soldiers available if the refugees were to survive everyone was going to have to learn how to fight.

Given the task of developing a new Israeli martial art for the Palmach the Haganah’s strike force fell to Gershon Kopler an experienced judo and jujutsu instructor. The self defense system he devised would be called Kapap, and it would build up soldier’s strength and endurance and teach them practical weapons fighting and took techniques from both boxing and jujutsu. Yehuda Marcus would take over the training and under other instructors like Moshe Finkel and Masishel Horovitz the physical fitness of the program would expand and stick fighting would be added.

As Israel became an independent nation its various underground fighting forces became the Israel Defense Force, and with a new army came a new method of hand to hand combat called Krav Maga which is still used by the Israeli military today. The man who would help lead this change was Imi Lichtenfeld a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who was a boxer, wrestler, and the son of the toughest cop in Bratislava. Though he was skilled at combat sports Lichtenfeld learned quickly that in a street fight rules don’t apply, so he began adapting his techniques to deal with Nazis. When he got of the boat in Palestine he almost immediately began training with the Jewish underground and joined the fight.

In 1948 when Israel became an independent country Lichtenfeld became the Chief Instructor at the Israel Defense Forces School of Combat Fitness, a post he would hold for 20 years, and that is where he began to refine what he had learned practicing Kapap. Because Lichtenfeld was a veteran street fighter and soldier he knew that a fighter had to sixteen the advantage and never stop fighting, so he strived to keep training as close to real combat as possible.

By continuing to learn from their experiences the Israelis have fostered a warrior culture and a solid military supported martial arts program. Today Krav Maga is practiced around the world and is even used by the United States military and some police agencies. Kapap is no longer part of military training, but it does have civilian supporters who still practice the fighting style. The training is sound because it goes on the fundamental principal of doing whatever works in a bad situation, and when your in a fight for your life or your nation you don’t have time to debate what is effective.