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Tracing the Roots of Krav Maga: From Fairbairn's Defendu to Modern Self-Defense

Updated: Mar 30

Krav Maga stands out as a effective and widely practiced methods for personal protection around the world. But what many may not know is that Krav Maga's origins can be traced back to Fairbairn's Defendu, a pioneering system developed by William Fairbairn in the early 20th century.


Fairbairn, a renowned figure in the realm of martial arts and self-defense, was a British police officer and military instructor who honed his skills through real-life experiences. His training regimen encompassed a diverse array of disciplines, including boxing, savate, jiu-jitsu, judo, wrestling, and more. Through his encounters on the streets and his work with various military and intelligence agencies, Fairbairn developed Defendu as a practical and efficient system for close combat and self-defense.

Tracing the Roots of Krav Maga: From Fairbairn's Defendu to Modern Self-Defense
Tracing the Roots of Krav Maga: From Fairbairn's Defendu to Modern Self-Defense

Who Was William Fairbairn

William Fairbairn was a British police officer and a notable figure in the development of close combat techniques during the early to mid-20th century. He served in various capacities, including with the Shanghai Municipal Police in China, where he gained significant experience in hand-to-hand combat and self-defense.


William Ewart Fairbairn's survived over 600 non-training street fights during his tenure as a police officer in Shanghai has become a legendary aspect of his story. According to accounts, he purportedly bore scars from knife wounds that covered him from face to ankle, evidence of the life-or-death battles he faced with criminals in the streets of Shanghai.


Fairbairn developed a system of close combat known as Defendu, which emphasized practical techniques for real-life situations, drawing from his experiences in law enforcement and military operations. His training methods influenced various military and law enforcement organizations, including the British SAS, the CIA, and the Marine Raiders. Its effectiveness in real-world scenarios and its emphasis on simplicity, speed, and decisiveness made it a preferred method for those operating in high-risk environments.


Colonel Rex Applegate, a distinguished figure in the realm of martial arts and combat training, emerged as a protege of William Ewart Fairbairn, renowned for his contributions to self-defense systems. Applegate's expertise and teachings extended to various domains, including military and law enforcement, where his methods found widespread application. Notably, some of Applegate's students crossed paths with Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga.


Fast forward to the present day, and Defendu's influence can be seen in the development of Krav Maga. Krav Maga, which translates to "contact combat" in Hebrew, Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian-Israeli martial artist. Lichtenfeld, drawing upon his experiences in street fights and as a boxer and wrestler, adapted and expanded upon the principles of Defendu to create Krav Maga.



Krav Maga retains many of the core concepts and techniques of Defendu, focusing on practical, instinctive movements that can be quickly deployed in dangerous situations. Like Defendu, Krav Maga prioritizes simplicity and efficiency, emphasizing strikes to vulnerable targets, grappling, and defensive tactics against armed assailants.


In essence, Krav Maga can be viewed as a extension of Fairbairn's Defendu, adapted to meet the challenges of contemporary self-defense needs. Its effectiveness has been proven time and again in real-life encounters, making it a popular choice for military personnel, law enforcement officers, and civilians alike.


As we recognize the lineage of Krav Maga and its indebtedness to Fairbairn's Defendu, we gain a deeper appreciation for the principles and techniques that underpin this dynamic and practical self-defense system. Whether facing everyday threats or more extreme situations, the legacy of Defendu lives on in the form of Krav Maga, empowering individuals to protect themselves and others with confidence and skill.


Conflict Resolution Strategies and Self Defense Resources

The Center for Violence Prevention and Self Defense (CVPSD) is a non profit 501(C)(3) with a mission to stop violence by educating at-risk people and empower them with the skills needed to protect themselves by providing online and live training. 


Through workshops and seminars we educate participants about violence prevention and guide them on assessing risk factors while establishing boundaries in relationships. Additionally practical self defense classes equip people with hands on skills and effective strategies to prevent and intervene in cases of assault. CVPSD reaches individuals and communities through partnerships with schools and other nonprofits, community groups, as well as classes for the public.



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