Krav MagáHebrew is a Hebrew phrase meaning 'contact combat.' In other words, it is a form of Close Quarters Combat.
The story of Krav Maga dates back to 1930s Bratislava and one Imi Lichtenfeld (also known as Imi Sde-or). Imi's father ran a gym, and young Imi was interested in a number of athletic disciplines including boxing and wrestling.
Imi was also Jewish, which proved to be somewhat problematic when Those Wacky Nazis occupied, as traditionally Nazis and Jews tend not to get on. In order to protect the Jewish community from anti-semitic assaults, Imi utilised his knowledge of fighting disciplines to come up with a simplified but effective form of self-defence that could be adopted by the Jewish population. In order to be effective, the techniques had to be simple, easy to learn and usable by as wide a range of people as possible.
Imi's activities made him even more unpopular with the Nazis and so he had to leave the country. After a while he managed to find himself in what was then British Mandated Palestine. There he became involved with the Haganah, one of the main Jewish La Résistance groups, whose main raison d'etre was giving the British a hard time. The British administration restricted Jewish access to weaponry and so Imi adapted his fighting style to incorporate such weapons as were available (sticks, knives, improvised weapons, etc) for use against better armed opponents.
In 1948 the British waved goodbye, the Haganah became the Israeli Defense Force, and Imi was tasked with designing Krav Maga training that could be used by all members of the IDF. As, at that time, women served in the IDF, even in combat roles, the fact that IMI's system could be used by as wide a variety of people as possible proved useful.
A key philosophy of Krav Maga is "Adopt what is useful, abandon what is not" (which may sound familiar to Jeet Kun Do practitioners) and so KM evolved and is still the official self defence system of the IDF (and other Israeli security/police organisations) today. Krav Maga has since been adopted by military and security forces around the world and has a strong civilian base as well. This may be as much to do with its popularity amongst celebrities; especially those in Action Girl roles, where it is promoted as a fitness and body shaping exercise as much as a combative system.
Krav Maga adopts the philosophy of most military combative systems (such as those taught by WE Fairbairn or Rex Applegate during WW2), in advocating a simple easy-to-learn system that can be applied in life-or-death scenarios. To that end it emphasizes gross motor movement that can be applied under high stress. It focuses on simple strikes (heel of hand, elbows, knees, headbutts etc.) against vulnerable targets (throat, neck, eyes, joints), and has a bit of a reputation for Groin Attacks. It also focuses on unarmed defence against a variety of weapons including edged weapons, firearms and micro explosives (seriously!), as well as the use of such weapons.
Training operates on the basis that one should always train from a disadvantage. Krav Maga training usually involves a highly demanding workout session until a person is both physically and mentally exhausted. It is at that stage that the techniques are taught; the theory being that training under such conditions means that a person will be able to act instinctively when under threat without having to consciously think about how to fight.
Krav Maga is famed for the brutality of its approach to combat. This is seen in the use of 'rétzef'Hebrew (lit. sequence, continuum) which is the application of a non-stop flurry of strikes until the attacker(s) are completely neutralised. It is common in Krav Maga training for practitioners to be made to defend themselves against multiple attackers with no Mook Chivalry allowed.
Krav Maga is a combat system which relies on a no-rules 'dirty fighting' approach. With its emphasis on combat pragmatism it does not lend itself to sporting applications: the objective is quite explicitly to hurt the opponent as much as possible, and that is difficult to tone down or simulate. That said, one or two organisations do run competitions in specific areas: At least one European-based organisation runs annual knife fighting tournaments.
In the media expect any Badass Israeli to be proficient in Krav.