Krav Maga, Submission Wrestling, and the history of MMA.

There is a distinct difference between what Krav Maga is, currently, and what Krav Maga was intended to be. Krav Maga was designed to be, and intended to be, an eclectic mixed martial arts system. Like Wing Chun, it proposed to take what worked and cast aside what didn’t, from various martial arts. Although many people know the system of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which came into existence and prominence in the 1990’s, however mixed martial arts fighting dates back much earlier.

Before Mixed Martial Arts became popular, there was a strong history of combining fighting sports for a superior method of fighting. Krav Maga was one of these systems. Dating back to the Greeks who practiced wrestling in many forms, including lucta volutatoria (submission wrestling, which continued the match after the fall) and pankration (a combination of submission wrestling and striking).

A progenitor of this style of Mixed Martial Arts was Catch-as-Catch-Can (Catch Wrestling). Born in Lancashire, England, it was an eclectic system of folk style wrestling which included take downs, throws, pins, and brutal submissions. The winner being declared when his opponent had been pinned twice or shouted “Uncle” due to a painful submission hold.

One form of this wrestling, Cumberland and Westmorland style, was brought to the colonial United States. Early American practitioners of this style included George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The latter was renowned for his wrestling ability.

These forms of folk style submission wrestling were mixed with boxing to form an “All In” style of fighting. Although looked down upon in many circles, this style was widely practiced. It made its public debut in carnival wrestling shows, but can be traced back to matched fights in military camps during the U.S. Civil War.

Modern amateur wrestling which focuses on pins and points is derived from this style of submission wrestling. The submissions eschewed to avoid injury and make it more “sporting”. However, wrestlers who came up in the early to mid 20th Century would have been well versed in the “Catch” submission style.

The founder of Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld (later Imi Sde Or), was one such fighter. Born in Bratislava, he was a gymnast, wrestling champion, and boxer. The son of a police detective, wrestler, and law enforcement combatives instructor, Imi was no doubt an accomplished ‘Catch man’ (submission wrestler). He would have excelled in the “All In” style due to his familiarity with stand up striking (boxing), as well as submission grappling (wrestling).

He honed his skills using these techniques in daily confrontations with fascist gangs encroaching on the Jewish quarter of Bratislava. Daily harassment of Jews brought Imi and his gym mates into the street to employ their skills in the most real of environments.

Imi moved to Israel before the founding of the state, to escape Nazi persecution and founded the combatives program in the Haganah which became the Israel Defense Forces. His later students lacked his skills in both striking and grappling, and the form of Krav Maga seen today in many gyms reflects the deterioration of these critical skills.

Krav Maga is, in its intent and mission, a mixed martial arts system designed to provide the student the best and often most brutal solution to a violent conflict, as well as the tools to avoid and deescalate violent conflict. At Krav Maga Academy San Diego, we seek to teach Krav Maga in this fashion; a well rounded mixed martial arts system focused on realistic self defense and personal development. A system containing all the elements of a well rounded fighter, striking, grappling, clinching, dealing with weapons and multiple attackers, and a robust psychology to deal with the rigors of violence.

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