When asked to name Israeli exports that most effectively market Israel to non-Israelis (and generally non-Jews), many Israel-supporters rush to name Waze, or SodaStream, or drip irrigation, etc. However, one export commonly goes unmentioned even though it is highly addictive. This Israeli product is empowering, it creates a sense of family, it provides a massive release of endorphins, and it teaches a potentially life-saving skill set – it’s Krav Maga.
When it comes to many Israeli exports, the consumers would need someone to inform them about the product’s connection to Israel, not so with Krav Maga. The self-defense system oozes Israel in symbols, history, philosophy and (oftentimes) the human connection between the instructor and the students. To illustrate Krav Maga’s impressive effectiveness in marketing Israel, let’s examine two examples from Brazil where the art has gained particular popularity.
Our first protagonist is Kobi Lichtenstein. Grandmaster Kobi Lichtenstein is the founder of Federação Sul Americana de Krav Maga (FSAKM) and is one of the most decorated Krav Maga practitioners in the world as an 8th Dan Red Belt with more than five decades in the art. Kobi boasts an impressive pedigree including early exposure and training under Krav Maga’s creator Imi Lichtenfeld.
Kobi was born in Israel and frequently highlights his lineage and direct connection to the founder. He talks often and glowingly about Imi the man and Imi’s vision for Krav Maga. Being so connected to the origins of the art allows Kobi to market the authenticity of his product, including the philosophy, the methods, and the techniques. He makes sure to connect everything that he teaches to Imi’s original intent. In fact, each FSAKM school is adorned with a photo of Imi and a flag on each side – the flag of the host country and the flag of Israel.
Kobi builds an even stronger connection between his students and Israel by taking groups to Israel and giving their training a near mystical feel by affirming the students’ warrior status atop the Masada. While in Israel, Kobi’s students are able to see the true Israel and not the one often presented to them via the slanted Brazilian news. The students learn about the history of the State of Israel and gain a deeper appreciation of the country’s successes and challenges.
Having arrived in Brazil in 1990, Kobi was the first to introduce Krav Maga to South America. Over the years, he has produced several generations of masters of the art, who in turn opened their own schools under the FSAKM umbrella. As of today, FSAKM has over 150 schools that exist all over Brazil and the expansion has crossed over into other countries. Notably, one of Kobi’s star pupils, Professor Lucien Terroir (2nd degree Black Belt), has brought FSAKM to the heart of Buenos Aires.
Kobi takes great advantage of traditional media opportunities. In a country where personal safety is a primary issue, martial arts and self-defense systems are a very popular topic. For this reason, Kobi has been a guest on popular TV shows and has given countless interviews. He has authored four books and received numerous civilian awards. In 2010, Kobi hosted a massive celebration of Imi’s centennial birthday in Rio de Janeiro. The celebration featured participants from numerous countries, including some of the most reputable masters from Israel and the United States including Grandmaster Haim Gidon (Israel) and Grandmaster Rhon Mizrachi (Krav Maga Federation in New York – Krav Maga Haim Zut). The event was attended by an audience of over 2000 people and included what was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest Self-Defense class in history. In effect, Kobi has brought Krav Maga to tens of thousands of people in Latin America, even the ones not trained directly by him. Such has been Kobi’s impact in Brazil, that January 18th, the anniversary of Kobi’s arrival in Brazil, is recognized as the National Day of Krav Maga.
Obviously, Kobi’s students build a significant connection to Israel because of their teacher and Kobi’s own passion for teaching the truth about Israel. But what if the Krav Maga instructor is not Israeli? This brings us to Mestre Wesley Gimenez, the founder of Krav Maga Caveira (“skull” in Portuguese). Young, athletic and charismatic, Mestre Wesley offers his own version of self-defense. While his school is called Escola Krav Maga Caveira, what Wesley teaches is a synthesis of what he found as the most effective techniques from various systems including Krav Maga, Karatê, Muay Thai, wresting, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Hapkido, etc. As much as Krav Maga itself is an aggregation of techniques from different disciplines, Wesley lends his own interpretation.
With well over twenty years of training in martial arts, Wesley shows off a diverse and polished skill set. Krav Maga is not Wesley’s native art form, however it is a system that he has embraced and has incorporated into his overall repertoire. Wesley has traveled abroad to advance his training, including to Israel. While Kobi highlights his lineage and the authenticity of his form of the art, Wesley markets the flexibility of his curriculum.
As Wesley’s school is branded around Krav Maga, Wesley has implemented various markers to signal his product’s connection to Israel. As such, the walls of Wesley’s school feature several national flags with the flags of Brazil and Israel in the middle. Furthermore, the two flags are printed on the sleeves of the school’s uniform t-shirts and “Krav Maga” is spelled out in Hebrew. And lastly, the customary greeting among the “Caveiras” is “Shalom.”
Wesley’s school has also expanded far beyond its original location and has gyms in various regions throughout Brazil. However, that is only a part of the story. Through ingenuity and dedication, Wesley has built the second most popular Krav Maga channel on YouTube (the videos are in Portuguese) with 1.4 million subscribers and recently received an award for his online success. This online presence has been particularly important due to the environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic. How does Wesley achieve such online success? By going to the heart of why Brazilians (and others) would want to learn Krav Maga. He creates regular 5-10-minute videos of real-life events and carefully breaks down each situation into details. And with each video, Wesley’s viewers are greeted with a friendly, “Shalom, Caveiras.”
FSAKM and EKMC stories are very different, as are their approaches; however, they both effectively market Israel through the art of Krav Maga. Given the explicit connection of Krav Maga to its birthplace, the self-defense system may be one of the most effective Israeli exports for promoting Israel itself. So, if you want to expose a friend to Israel, invite them to take a Krav Maga class, and then discuss the experience over a glass of Israeli wine.