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What is Hand to Hand Combat?

Hand to hand combat is close range fighting between two or more opponents. Close Quarter Combat (CQC) and Close Quarters Battle (CQB) are military terms referring to short-range engagements with weapons, possibly culminating in hand to hand combat.

Hand to hand combatHand to hand combat (HTH, H2H, Hand to Hand) can be armed or unarmed and takes place within the limits of grappling range. Weapons including guns, knives, batons, clubs are commonly used short-range weapons. Objects easily grasped in the immediate environment are potential weapons or ‘weapons of opportunity’ during close combat. Beyond grappling range, projectile weapons are used by combatants thus moving the engagement away from close combat.

Military hand to hand combatMilitary organisations have been at the forefront of refining effective and deadly hand to hand combat training during the last half century. Krav Maga and Russian Systema are examples of close combat systems with military beginnings. MCMAP is the United States Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. The US Army has developed MAC – Modern Army Combatives.

Hand to hand combat trainingThe armed services, police forces, security consultants use hand to hand combat to deal with dangerous ‘close-quarter’ situations – that of being ‘one on one’ with an enemy. These ‘enemies’ may be highly trained operatives with access to the same fighting techniques. They may have fanatical beliefs which predispose them to show relentless aggression despite injury or trauma. Or perhaps they’re just criminally and violently insane.

Civilian hand to hand fighting finds expression in traditional martial arts training, mma training as well as practical self defense methods such as Krav Maga. Hand to hand combat training will make you an effective weapon against those wishing to do you harm.

Hand to hand combat training today is changing.

From powerful self-defense systems, constantly improving mixed martial arts to modern military methods, hand to hand combat training is effective, efficient and practical.

Hand to hand combat is evolving. If you want access to training there are four avenues:

  1. Military/Police/Security training
  2. Combat Sport
  3. Martial arts training
  4. Civilian self-defense

Military hand to hand combat training

Military organizations as well as police units and security forces are where hand to hand combat training reaches its ultimate expression. In these areas, fighting isn’t for show or competition, it’s life or death. Military hand to hand combat training takes close combat to its logical conclusion, the incapacitation or death of the enemy.

Combat Sport

In a sport combat the goal is the defeat of an opponent in the ring. This is cutting-edge fighting arts but there are rules. Many techniques are forbidden as they are too dangerous to use in a sporting contest. Combat sports may take higher levels of fitness training to compete but if you want hand to hand combat fast and furious then this is for you.

Mixed martial arts is a popular, fast growing sport which allows you to get fighting in the ring or octagon with very few rules. Biting, gouging and groin attacks are not allowed however. Traditional martial art styles are tested in competition and techniques that are irrelevant or useless get discarded very quickly. If it doesn’t help you win what good is it is the philosophy at work here.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai are two of the styles that have benefited from the popularity of MMA. These styles seem very effective in competition – Muay Thai for stand-up techniques and Brazilian jiu-jutsu for the ground game.

Martial Arts training

Traditional martial arts may be the most accessible way into the world of close-combat. Martial arts are systems of fighting often combined with a variety of philosophical, cultural and health teachings. The best known are most widely taught styles include Karate, Taekwondo, Judo and Kung-fu but there are many more.

There are weapons based styles such as the Japanese Sword art ‘Kendo’ and styles where the sparring and competition element is emphasised. Martial arts training will give you structured lessons, a steady graded advancement system and codified set of fighting techniques that have a long history.

Self Defense

The best practical self-defense comprises of techniques disseminated from military forces. This is the closest ‘civilians’ can get to military style effectiveness in combat training.

Other self-defense systems have origins in street fighting, an example being the Keysi Fighting Method and can be very useful. Self-defense techniques are devised to aid the personal escape, evasion or defeat of an attacker preferably without injury to yourself.

Fitness training

General physical fitness, strength and conditioning training will naturally go with hand to hand combat training. Look at any of the military combatives or basic armed services programs and you will see an emphasis on daily physical conditioning and strengthening drills.

It is important to develop a proper fitness program to go with whatever technical skill you choose. Aerobic endurance, flexibility, speed, power, strength and muscular endurance all need to be given attention. Improving these areas will maximize your combat training. With every passing week of training you should feel improvement in coordination, fitness, stamina and confidence.

Learning Hand to Hand Combat

There are several options for learning hand to hand combat for self-defense or to increase your knowledge of fighting techniques. Military hand to hand combat training is off-limits to most of us but there are both real-world and home-study opportunities for those wishing to pursue special-forces type combatives.

There are unarmed close-combat training companies who offer specialist courses for civilians such as SCARS. Often a prerequisite for participation is experience in the armed services, policing or security/close protection industry. Exceptions are made for serious candidates who have good reasons.

As with all unarmed combat, strength and conditioning will play a role in your personal effectiveness. Increasing your physical abilities via weight training, aerobic training, strength training and flexibility is essential.

Hand to hand combat classes

Effective hand to hand combat needs real people to work against which is why taking a class is the best learning environment. Working a technique needs a ‘live’ opponent to give challenge, resistance and unpredictability – all combat certainties.

Self-defense classes are excellent for practicing against one, two or more opponents simultaneously. The best taught self-defense methods run this way by helping you to understand your reactions under stress. If your class doesn’t provide this – find another one.

Hand to hand combat online

Even though there will be no personal supervision, the best on-line combat providers offer large amounts of:

  • Professionally shot HD (high-definition) video
  • A large technical syllabus
  • Theoretical knowledge which explains the applications
  • Downloadable manuals and illustration
  • A wide-ranging FAQs
  • The opportunity to ask questions via email and receive feedback.

It is possible to make progress with on-line fighting techniques as video lessons work well. You will need a training partner at some point to perfect the technique application. On-line hand to hand combat training courses are great supplements to ‘live’ class training.

Hand to hand combat DVDs

Similar to on-line hand to hand combat courses, DVDs vary in quality and effectiveness from the abysmal ‘out to make a quick-buck’ to the professional. Initial financial outlay will be anything from $20-150 for a set of DVDs in the style of your choice. You get what you pay for. Always check reviews before you buy, as good customer feedback is the best recommendation.

On the plus side DVDs are cheaper than an on-line monthly subscription to a combat provider. However there will be no guidance on combat training other than what’s on the disc itself. Also, there will be a limited number of techniques to master i.e. what you can fit into an hour or two. As with any video lessons, bringing in a training partner will prove to beneficial and at eventually essential.

Military Hand to Hand combat

Military hand to hand combat training has been developed to extremes of effectiveness using methods that would be unacceptable to the public. When the goal is to neutralize a threat in the shortest time possible, techniques must go beyond socially acceptable norms. Military close combat thus differs from civilian taught combat styles.

The military elite, so called special forces, have their own particular style of hand to hand combat training influenced by traditional martial arts such as jujutsu, judo, karate combined with certain self-defense methods.

The United States military have developed their own combat syllabus:


The first of these is MCMAP which is the “Marine Corps Martial Arts Program”. MCMAP works to instill leadership, close combat techniques and the warrior spirit into the modern Marine. It was partly developed to improve upon the LINE system which proved limited, due to its overt aggressiveness in application, when it came to operations involving peace-keeping.

LINE System

“Linear Infighting Neural-Override Engagement” was taught to the US Marine Corps between 1989-1998 as the forerunner to MCMAP. The LINE close combat techniques focus on dealing ruthlessly with the enemy.


Modern Army Combatives” was developed by Matt Larsen for the US Army.
Combatives is the US Army term for their hand to hand combat system. The innovative MAC system uses drills to teach different hand to hand manoeuvres to soldiers. The drills can be learnt in small, easy to memorize sections and drill partners can add resistance as progress continues. The MAC system stresses concepts of training and combat domination, not just collecting techniques.


The Englishman – William E. Fairburn, who served with the Shanghai Municipal Police in the 1920′s, developed this system of hand to hand fighting which he called ‘Defendu‘ after drawing on his knowledge of Judo, Jujutsu and other Chinese martial arts. Designed to end confrontation quickly with deadly force, he later taught his system to Allied Forces in World War II when it became known as ‘Close-Quarter Combat’.

Krav Maga/Kapap

Krav Maga – Israeli close combat is an efficient and effective self-defense system growing in global popularity. Under the leadership of Imi Lichtenfeld, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) learnt and battle-tested these techniques. They have now been adapted for civilian use.

Kapap (Krav panim el panim), or “face to face combat” is another Israeli system with Haganah para-military roots which is slowly becoming available in the west.


These Russian martial arts include ROSS – “Russian Own System Self-defense”, which combines unarmed combat, survival techniques, street fighting, knife fighting techniques and physical agility.

Systema or the “System” is a subtle self-defense method supposedly used by élite special forces which places emphasis on using physics and leverage to deal with opponents swiftly.

Sambo (Samooborona Bez Oruzhiya) translates as “self-defense without weapons” and is heavily influenced by central Asian wrestling traditions. Sambo practitioners aim to defend themselves whilst avoiding injury from an attacker.


Fighting Techniques

There are an enormous number fighting techniques in the world. Traditional martial arts and hand to hand combat styles incorporate different combinations of fighting techniques within their syllabus. There isn’t one perfect fighting system or method. Becoming the best fighter involves building a foundation in one style then developing your weak areas. This is an overview of the most common unarmed combat techniques.

Ground fighting, grappling and wrestling

How you fight on the floor is your ground game. Grappling is a central part of traditional hand to hand combat, full-contact combat sports and now modern mixed martial arts.

Two opponents fight to achieve a superior position over the other using throws, take downs, clinches, locks, sweeps and pins. Once in a dominant position a fighter will attempt a submission hold to force the opponent to ‘tap out’ or submit due to pain or choking. These are also called chokeholds for that reason. The ‘Anaconda’ is an example of a choke hold.

Wrestling/grappling styles include: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Vale Tudo, Luta Livre, Jujutsu, Judo, Sumo, Tegumi, Catch wrestling, Breton Gouren, Schwingen, Icelandic Glima, Turkish Oil wrestling, Uzbek Kurash, Greco-Roman wrestling, Freestyle wrestling, Pankration, Combat Sambo, African Laamb, Chinese Shuai Jiao, Indian Kushti, Bengali Mukna, Korean Ssireum, Burmese Naban, Khmer Traditional Wrestling, Filipino Dumog, American College Wrestlingand others.

Stand-up fighting

Fighting from an upright position enables a fighter to execute strikes, punches, elbows, kicks, knees with the body and weapon attacks as well as defend against attacks with blocks. Your stand-up game includes defense against take downs and clinches and in mixed martial arts – working with your back against the cage.


Part of the stand-up game, clinch-holding and clinching is grappling with your opponent whilst in an upright position. The object of a clinch is to neutralize many of your opponents short-range attacks. A bear hug is an example of a clinch hold. Your fighting strategy has to change in a clinch hold. Getting your opponent to the floor, through throws, take downs and sweeps is executed from the clinch position. See wrestling styles above.


Martial art and hand to hand combat styles that emphasise attack with fingers, hands, arms and legs are striking arts. Speed, strength and power are needed for effective application of strikes. Striking methods include punches, palm strikes, empty hand techniques, spear hands, knife hands, ridge hands, slaps, cupped hands, hammerfists, knuckle extensions and elbow strikes. Head butts and shoulder butts are also effective striking techniques.

Striking styles include: Boxing, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Shaolin Kung Fu and Kyokushin Karate

Kicking and legwork

Kicking enables you to attack your opponent with powerful foot and leg strikes whilst keeping a short distance away. Kicks can target the head and upper body as well as the lower limbs of your opponent and vulnerable areas like the groin. If you feel more confident with your legs and stances or have height or range, kicking and legwork styles will suit you. Examples of kicks include front kicks, roundhouse kicks, side kicks, back kicks and knee strikes. Knee strikes are particularly useful within the clinch for dead legging an opponent.

Kicking styles include: Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Capeoira, Taekwondo, Hapkido, Sanshou and Savate.

Joint locking, leverages and dislocation.

Joint locking is a technique taught in many martial arts and self-defense methods which results in breaking or removing (dislocating) a joint from its normal position. This results in extreme pain.Putting on a joint-lock involves manipulating (leveraging) a part of the body – arm, wrist, elbow, isolating the nearest joint then taking it to the end of its normal range of movement.

For instance, you have your opponent pinned to the floor. Holding your knee against the back of your opponents shoulder while simultaneously pulling the arm back first to a straight position and then further so the shoulder joint feels the pressure. Exerting more force in this backward direction will tear/break the upper arm bone (Humerus) from the shoulder-blade (Scapula).

The fear of potential pain is often enough to subdue your opponent when first applying the technique. A break or dislocation can leave lasting bone, tendon and ligament damage to the joint and limit mobility. Arm locks involve the elbow or shoulder. Wrist locks involve the area around the wrist. Leg locks involve the hip, knee and ankles. The ‘Nelson’ – quarter, half, three-quarter and full – is a famous example of a lock technique involving the arm and neck.

Joint locking styles include: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Jujutsu, Hapkido, Chin-na and Shuai-Jiao

Compression lock/Muscle Lock/Muscle slicer

During grappling, muscle is forced into bones in a compression lock or in combination with a joint lock. Common compression locks include the Achilles and the calf slicer.

Pressure points

Pressure point, vital point or nerve point techniques are aimed at vulnerable points on the body that are reputed to cause pain and/or immobilization as well as a range of other different physical, mental and spiritual effects. Pressure point techniques can be used offensively in combat or as a way of healing.