KRAV MAGA BEGINS HERE
WELCOME TO KRAV MAGA FOUNDERS
Designed in Bratislava
Made in Israel
Join a Story of Friends, Protectors, and Community!
Welcome to Krav Maga Founders, a platform dedicated to the protectors "shomrim" founding values: friendship, community, and self-reliance.
Krav Maga was pioneered by Imi Lichtenfeld and his friends, who protected the Jewish community from antisemitic attacks, in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. Later adapted and developed for the Israel Defense Forces, the self-defense system has now spread around the world. It ensures that people can protect themselves and community members can defend each other.
Krav Maga Founders offers information about the early days of the development of this martial art. We provide historical photos, historical narratives, and details about the life of Imi Lichtenfeld and his friends as they fought to protect Jews during the rise of Nazism.
A portion of the proceeds generated by our sales of Krav Maga t-shirts, hoodies, apparel, artwork, collectibles, books and other items benefits the Slovak National Museum - Museum of Jewish Culture.
The mission of Krav Maga Founders is to promote and celebrate the multi-cultural partnership of our Slovak, Israeli, and American heritage. We want to share our values of inclusion and equality, and combat hate, discrimination, and threats against minority communities across the globe.
In 1928, Jews were attacked by fascist students in the city of Bratislava. As fascism grew in the1930s, those attacks against Jews in Czechoslovakia became more frequent. Imi Lichtenfeld, an athlete and the son of a police officer, trained with two friends to develop a system that could protect their community and combat what we would now call hate crimes. These three young, courageous, Jewish, Slovak men joined together to protect themselves, their values, and the people around them.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The origins of Krav Maga can be traceable to one person. Imi Lichtenfeld, now a beloved global icon, pioneered a self-defense system which he expanded on with his friends, brothers David and Zalman Unreich. After moving to what was then Palestine and later joining the Israeli Defense Forces, Lichtenfeld refined his techniques, designing a self-defense system that has shaped the world.
Each of these three Slovak heroes contributed to the story of Krav Maga, and played an important role in protecting communities and co-founding a new and vital art of self-defense.
These are their stories, along with a photo gallery of historic photos and written evidence of influential figures who played key roles in the creation of the discipline known as Krav Maga.
Imi Lichtenfeld (later known as Imi Sde-Or) was born in 1910 in Budapest in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents moved to Pressburg, today's Bratislava, where his father, a former circus acrobat, rose to become a chief inspector on the local police force. He also owned a gym, where Imi and other young locals trained.
Imi Lichtenfeld was a natural athlete. He was a successful swimmer and gymnast, and competed nationally and internationally in both boxing and wresting.
As Bratislava’s small Jewish community found itself increasing threatened by antisemitic attacks, Imi and his two friends, brothers David and Zalman Unreich, defended the Jewish community against racist gangs. The attacks, however, grew more frequent and developed into large-scale riots. In the 1940s, Imi emigrated to British-controlled Palestine, today’s Israel.
Imi was quickly recruited by the Haganah, the Jewish community’s militia which would become the Israel Defense Force, the IDF. The Haganah recognized the value of Imi’s unique self-defense techniques and fighting talents. He began training the Israeli fighters, becoming the IDF Chief Instructor for physical fitness, and the founder of Krav Maga.
During his service in the IDF, Imi Lichtenfeld developed and refined his hand-to-hand combat techniques. After leaving the military, he adapted Krav Maga for civilian self-defense, enabling schools and training facilities to begin teaching Krav Maga to everyone.
David Unreich (later known as the world champion wrestler Ben Shalom) was born in 1907 in Bratislava. Like his best-friend, teammate, and co-community protector Imi Lichtenfeld, David was an award-winning athlete and also a prized religious student at the infamous Pressburg Yeshiva seminary.
He was most famous, though, for his wrestling skills. Described as “the wrestling champion who challenged Hitler,” David Unreich successfully fought pro-Nazi opponents in the international wrestling ring, traveling the world from Europe to the Middle East, and even fighting in the United States at the Madison Square Gardens arena. Asked why he left his home, he answered “because I have not found an equal partner in Slovakia.”
As his wrestling fame grew in the 1930s, David Unreich also became an outspoken advocate against racism and inequality. He eventually emigrated to the United States, unable to return to his home country.
Zalman (Sidney) Unreich On was born in in Bratislava in 1912. Like his older brother David and his best-friend Imi, Zalman was a versatile athlete, excelling at gymnastics, swimming, professional boxing, and wrestling. He founded a youth Zionist movement, and won gold in wrestling in the second International Maccabi games in 1935.
Raised in a religious household, Zalman’s father wanted him to become a Rabbi. But the young Zalman had other plans, most of which involved using his wrestling skills to defend the Jewish people in Bratislava, Israel, and Europe. His work started on the streets of Bratislava and continued in Israel where he moved in 1933. He joined the Haganah, recruited his friend, Imi Lichtenfeld, became a master trainer, and negotiated the Czechoslovakian arms deal that helped the State of Israel defend itself in its early years.
After independence, Zalman became a diplomat and a spy. He helped European war refugees and victims of anti-Jewish “show-trials” in the Communist East to cross the Iron Curtain. Risking his life on a daily basis, he was a consummate professional who left little traces of his work.
In more tranquil times Zalman might have managed to construct a single career in the military, or he could have been a professional athlete, trainer, referee, or a pundit or manager. But he didn’t live in such times and Israel's leadership needed his talents elsewhere. As much as he enjoyed wrestling, he knew he had to subdue his passion and put his talents to work for the benefit of others.
The parents of Imi Lichtenfeld and David and Zalman Unreich— Channa and Samuel Lichtenfeld and Regina Rochel Grünhut and Shulem Yonah Unreich — died in the Shoah at the hands of the Nazis.
We dedicate this project to their memory and to the inspiration that they generated in the hearts of their three sons to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. In perpetual memory of all Slovak families and loved ones who died in the Shoah.
Thank you to the Slovak National Museum - Museum of Jewish Culture and especially M.A. Michal Vanek, PhD., Director of SNM-Museum of Jewish Culture. Last but not least, tremendous gratitude to Martin Mozer, a Slovakian journalist and Holocaust historian for all his contributions.
(The Men of "Integrity and Honor")
The Story Behind the Krav Maga Founders’ Logo
The Lion Shield
The Krav Maga Founders' lion or lioness shield includes design elements inspired by both Jewish and Czech/ Slovak history.
The concept of a lion shield dates back to the 1200s and symbolizes the Bohemia monarchy of Great Moravia, the historical region now known as the Czech lands in Europe. Like the three Bratislavan Jewish warriors (Imi Lichtenfeld and David and Zalman Unreich, the lions serve as a reminder of the Czech warriors who fought for Friedrich, King of Bohemia — "lions" protecting their home country.
A lion is a national and cultural symbol of the Jewish people. In the Torah, we read that Jacob gave the symbol to the tribe of Judah or more recently we learn about Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus) with a lion shield.