BOOK REVIEW: Imi Lichtenfeld: The Grandmaster of Krav Maga by Gaetano Lo Presti

Imi Lichtenfeld - The Grand Master of Krav MagaImi Lichtenfeld – The Grand Master of Krav Maga by Gaetano Lo Presti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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I bought this book because it’s the only English language biography of Imi Lichtenfeld (a.k.a. Imrich Sde-Or) that I could find, and by all accounts the man led a fascinating life. Lichtenfeld is most famous for founding the Israeli martial art known as Krav Maga. For those unfamiliar, Krav Maga is a self-defense system that prides itself on using as much of the human body’s natural instinct as possible in defense. It eschews the fancy and unrealistic techniques widely found in martial arts in favor of simple and direct tactics. However, it’s not the founding of Krav Maga that makes Lichtenfeld’s life so intriguing. (Believe me, there are plenty of founders of martial arts whose lives would less than engrossing reads.) Lichtenfeld was also a Holocaust survivor / resistance fighter, a circus performer, and a skilled athlete.

The good news for biographers is that there is still plenty of room for a bestselling biography of this man. There are two major problems with this book. I should point out that both problems result from the fact that this book is written by an apparently dedicated student of Krav Maga, and not by a professional writer, a biographer, or a master of creative nonfiction. I suspect the author did as good a job as he could, given that a proper primary source-based biography would take over a person’s life, is an art and science that must be learned, and—unfortunately—a lot of sources are now deceased / destroyed.

Anyway, back to the problems: First, it’s a translation that seems to have been done without the help of a translator or editor with native English competency. In fact, some of it reads like it was put through Babel Fish or Google Translate. As far as I know, the original Italian edition maybe a brilliantly written, if brief, biographical outline of Lictenfeld’s life. Second, the book is an outline of Lichtenfeld’s life, and it doesn’t offer enough detail to give the reader the visceral reading experience that learning about this man’s life should have been. There’s no in-depth research of the dramatic events in which Lichtenfeld was involved. Contrary to popular advice on writing, the author tells–not shows.

The book is actually a short biographical sketch of Lichtenfeld, followed by what might be considered a “biography” of Krav Maga, and that is followed by bio-blurbs of some of the more well-regarded students of Lichtenfeld.

On the positive side, the book is a cheap and quick read. It will give one some insight into Lichtenfeld, but—I fear—will leave many readers with a craving to know more. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who wants a biography of Lichtenfeld, but, if you’re looking for a biographical sketch or are interested in the lives of prominent martial artists, it will probably serve your purpose.

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