Hand-to-hand combat

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Pankratiasts portrayed on a Roman relief. 2nd or 3rd Century A.D. Xfrese.jpg
Pankratiasts portrayed on a Roman relief. 2nd or 3rd Century A.D.

Hand-to-hand combat (sometimes abbreviated as HTH or H2H) is a physical confrontation between two or more persons at very short range (grappling distance, or within the physical reach of a handheld weapon) that does not involve the use of ranged weapons. [1] While the phrase "hand-to-hand" appears to refer to unarmed combat, the term is generic and may include use of melee weapons such as knives, sticks, batons, spears, or improvised weapons such as entrenching tools. [1] While the term hand-to-hand combat originally referred principally to engagements by combatants on the battlefield, it can also refer to any personal physical engagement by two or more people, including law enforcement officers, civilians, and criminals. [1]


Combat within close quarters (to a range just beyond grappling distance) is commonly termed close combat or close-quarters combat. It may include lethal and non-lethal weapons and methods depending upon the restrictions imposed by civilian law, military rules of engagement, or ethical codes. Close combat using firearms or other distance weapons by military combatants at the tactical level is modernly referred to as close quarter battle. The United States Army uses the term combatives to describe various military fighting systems used in hand-to-hand combat training, systems which may incorporate eclectic techniques from several different martial arts and combat sports.


{{See also|History of physical training and fitness]] Hand-to-hand combat is the most ancient form of fighting known. A majority of cultures have their own particular histories related to close combat, and their own methods of practice. The pankration, which was practiced in Ancient Greece and Rome, is an example of a form which involved nearly all strikes and holds, with biting and gouging being the only exceptions (although allowed in Sparta). [2] Many modern varieties of martial arts, such as boxing and wrestling, were also practiced historically. Other historical forms of close combat include the gladiator spectacles of ancient Rome and medieval tournament events such as jousting.

Military organizations have always taught some sort of unarmed combat for conditioning and as a supplement to armed combat. Soldiers in China were trained in unarmed combat as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1022 BCE to 256 BCE).

Despite major technological changes such as the use of gunpowder, the machine gun in the Russo-Japanese War and the trench warfare of World War I, hand-to-hand fighting methods such as bayonet remained common in modern military training, though the importance of formal training declined after 1918. By 1944 some German rifles were being produced without bayonet lugs.

Modern hand-to-hand combat techniques

The centre of the International Settlement of Shanghai, 1928. Shanghai 1928 Bund Cenotaph.jpeg
The centre of the International Settlement of Shanghai, 1928.

Close Quarters Combat (CQC), or World War II combatives, was largely codified by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes. Also known for their eponymous Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, Fairbairn and Sykes had worked in the Shanghai Municipal Police of the International Settlement (1854–1943) of Shanghai in the 1920s, widely acknowledged as the most dangerous port city in the world due to a heavy opium trade run by organized crime (the Chinese Triads). CQC was derived from a mixture of judo, jujutsu, boxing, wrestling and street fighting.

After the May Thirtieth Movement riots, which resulted in a police massacre, Fairbairn was charged with developing an auxiliary squad for riot control and aggressive policing. After absorbing the most appropriate elements from a variety of martial-arts experts, from China, Japan and elsewhere, he condensed these arts into a practical combat system he called Defendu. He and his police team went on to field-test these skills on the streets of Shanghai; Fairbairn himself used his combat system effectively in over 2000 documented encounters, including over 600 lethal-force engagements. [3] The aim of his combat system was simply to be as brutally effective as possible. It was also a system that, unlike traditional Eastern martial-arts that required years of intensive training, could be digested by recruits relatively quickly. The method incorporated training in point shooting and gun combat techniques, as well as the effective use of more ad hoc weapons such as chairs or table legs.

During the Second World War, Fairbairn was brought back to Britain, and, after demonstrating the effectiveness of his techniques, was recruited to train the British commandos in his combat method. During this period, he expanded his 'Shanghai Method' into the 'Silent Killing Close Quarters Combat method' for military application. This became standard combat training for all British Special Operations personnel. He also designed the pioneering Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, which was adopted for use by British and American Special Forces. In 1942, he published a textbook for close quarters combat training called Get Tough. [3] [4]

U.S. Army officers Rex Applegate and Anthony Biddle were taught Fairbairn's methods at a training facility in Scotland, and adopted the program for the training of OSS operatives at a newly opened camp near Lake Ontario in Canada. Applegate published his work in 1943, called Kill or Get Killed. [5] During the war, training was provided to British Commandos, the Devil's Brigade, OSS, U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders.

Other combat systems designed for military combat were introduced elsewhere, including European Unifight, Soviet/Russian Sambo, Army hand-to-hand fight, Chinese military Sanshou/Sanda, Israeli Kapap and Krav Maga. The prevalence and style of hand-to-hand combat training often changes based on perceived need. Elite units such as special forces and commando units tend to place higher emphasis on hand-to-hand combat training.

Although hand-to-hand fighting was accorded less importance in major militaries after World War II, insurgency conflicts such as the Vietnam War, low intensity conflict and urban warfare have prompted many armies to pay more attention to this form of combat. When such fighting includes firearms designed for close-in fighting, it is often referred to as Close Quarters Battle (CQB) at the platoon or squad level, or Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) at higher tactical levels.

Modern usage

The chokehold demonstrated in hand-to-hand combat training. ArmyMilCombativesChokehold.jpg
The chokehold demonstrated in hand-to-hand combat training.
Iran Army Hand-to-Hand Combat Badge Iran Military Hand to Hand Combat.svg
Iran Army Hand-to-Hand Combat Badge

A 2014 study found that, amongst US soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2008, 19% reported the use of hand-to-hand techniques in at least one encounter, in a variety of circumstances and contexts (such as close combat, prisoner handling, crowd control and security checkpoints), supporting prior research that indicated that, despite advances in technology, hand-to-hand combat remained a persistent aspect of modern warfare. [6]

Hand-to-hand combat is the principal form of combat during skirmishes between Indian Army and Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers along the disputed Himalayan border between India and the People's Republic of China. While Chinese and Indian soldiers carry firearms, due to decades of tradition designed to reduce the possibility of an escalation, agreements disallow usage of firearms along this border. [7] In the 2020 China–India skirmishes, hand-to-hand combat involving stones, batons, iron rods, and other makeshift weapons resulted in the deaths of over 50 soldiers on both sides over six hours of fighting. [8] [9]

Military systems

See also

Related Research Articles

Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practiced for a number of reasons such as self-defense; military and law enforcement applications; competition; physical, mental, and spiritual development; entertainment; and the preservation of a nation's intangible cultural heritage.

Rex Applegate was an American military officer who worked for the Office of Strategic Services, where he trained Allied special forces personnel in close-quarters combat during World War II. He held the rank of colonel.

William Ewart Fairbairn was a British Royal Marine and police officer. He developed hand-to-hand combat methods for the Shanghai Police during the interwar period, as well as for the allied special forces during World War II. He created his own fighting system known as Defendu. Notably, this included innovative pistol shooting techniques and the development of the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife.

A smatchet is a short, heavy fighting knife/sword 16.5 inches (42 cm) in overall length. It was designed by William E. Fairbairn during World War II.

World War II combatives are close quarters combat techniques, including hand-to-hand, advanced firearm point shooting methods, and weapons techniques that were taught to allied special forces in World War II by such famous instructors as Rex Applegate and William Ewart Fairbairn.

Close-quarters combat (CQC) or close-quarters battle (CQB) is a tactical concept that involves a physical confrontation between several combatants at very short range. It can take place between military units, police/corrections officers and criminals, and in other similar scenarios. In warfare, it usually consists of small units or teams engaging the enemy with personal weapons within a distance up to 100 metres (110 yd), from proximity hand-to-hand combat to close-quarter target negotiation with firearms. In the typical close combat scenario, the attackers try a very fast, violent takeover of a vehicle or structure controlled by the defenders, who usually have no easy way to withdraw. Because enemies, hostages/civilians, and fellow operators can be closely intermingled, close-quarters combat demands a rapid assault and a precise application of lethal force. The operators need great proficiency with their weapons, and the ability to make split-second decisions in order to minimize accidental casualties.


Gatka is the name of an Indian martial art associated with the Sikhs of the Punjab who practice an early variant of the martial art. It is a style of stick-fighting, with wooden sticks intended to simulate swords. The Punjabi name gatka properly refers to the wooden stick used. The word originates as a diminutive of Sanskrit gada "mace".

Close Quarters Combat System is a modern martial art developed by William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes prior to World War II. It is a hand-to-hand combat system based on practical experience mixed with Jujutsu and boxing that was developed to train the Shanghai Municipal Police, and was later taught in expanded form to Office of Strategic Services and Special Operations Executive members during World War II.

Point shooting

Point shooting, also known as target- or threat-focused shooting, intuitive shooting or instinctive shooting, is a practical shooting method where the shooter points a ranged weapon at a target without relying on the use of sights to aim, where the emphasis is more on fast draw and trying to score some hits first rather than for accuracy. In close quarters combat where life-threatening situations often arise suddenly allowing little time for precise aiming, it is difficult to apply proper marksmanship techniques without risking oneself to be hit and killed, which is why point shooting advocates a less sighting-oriented style of shooting prioritizing on achieving a tactical advantage through fire superiority and suppression.

Combat pistol shooting is a modern martial art that focuses on the use of the handgun as a defensive weapon for self defense, or for military and police use. Like most martial arts, combat pistol shooting is practiced both for defense and for sport.


Combatives is the term for hand-to-hand combat training and techniques within the United States military.

Combat knife

A combat knife is a fighting knife designed solely for military use and primarily intended for hand-to-hand or close combat fighting.

Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife Type of Dagger

The Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife is a double-edged fighting knife resembling a dagger or poignard with a foil grip developed by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai based on ideas which the two men had before World War II while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police in China.

Eric Anthony Sykes, born Eric Anthony Schwabe in Barton-upon-Irwell, Eccles, Greater Manchester, England, was a soldier and firearms expert. He is most famous for his work with William E. Fairbairn in the development of the eponymous Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife and modern British Close Quarters Battle (CQB) martial arts during World War II. Originally working for an import/export company selling weapons in East Asia, he claimed he volunteered for and served in the British Army as a sharpshooter on the Western Front during World War I. Returning to China in 1917, he joined the volunteer branch of the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) Specials with the rank of Inspector in 1926.

Knife fight

A knife fight is a violent physical confrontation between two or more combatants in which one or more participants is armed with a knife. A knife fight is defined by the presence of a knife as a weapon and the violent intent of the combatants to kill or incapacitate each other; the participants may be completely untrained, self-taught, or trained in one or more formal or informal systems of knife fighting. Knife fights may involve the use of any type of knife, though certain knives, termed fighting knives, are purposely designed for such confrontations – the dagger being just one example.

V-42 stiletto World War II dagger issued to American and Canadian soldiers

The V-42 stiletto was a stiletto and fighting knife issued during World War II to the First Special Service Force, a joint American/Canadian commando unit.

Matt Larsen

Matt Larsen is a former United States Marine, United States Army Ranger and Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame combatives instructor. He is known as "The Father of Modern Combatives", credited with the creation of the United States Army's modern combatives doctrine and the establishment of the U.S. Army Combatives School. Larsen is also a Evolutionary Psychologist specializing in Combat Psychology, and is currently the Director of Combatives at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Close combat

Close combat means a violent physical confrontation between two or more opponents at short range.


A buttstroke or butt-stroking is the act of striking someone with the buttstock of a rifle, shotgun, or similar long gun. It is a common case of the use of a firearm as a blunt weapon. Buttstroke is among the major offensive techniques with the rifle and bayonet in close-at-hand combat and is the recommended method of close combat if the rifleman has no bayonet or sidearm available.

Fighting knife

A fighting knife is a knife with a blade designed to most effectively inflict a lethal injury in a physical confrontation between two or more individuals at very short range. The combat knife and the trench knife are examples of military fighting knives.


  1. 1 2 3 Hunsicker, A., Advanced Skills in Executive Protection, Boca Raton FL: Universal Publishers, ISBN   1-59942-849-0, ISBN   978-1-59942-849-9, p. 51
  2. Gardiner, E. Norman (1910). Greek Athletic Sports and Festivals. London: MacMillan. p. 438.
  3. 1 2 Chambers, John W.; Fairbairn, W. E. OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II , Washington, D.C., U.S. National Park Service (2008), p. 191 (PDF), Archived from the original on April 13, 2014
  4. Fairbairn, W. E. Get Tough! Paladin Press, 1 December 1996. ISBN   978-0-87364-002-2 Retrieved October 12, 2014
  5. Kevin Brett. "History of Modern Reality Self-Defense and Close-Quarter Combat Systems". www.aikiproductions.com. Archived from the original on October 15, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  6. Jensen, Peter R. Hand-to-Hand Combat and the Use of Combatives Skills: An Analysis of United States Army Post Combat Surveys from 2004-2008. MILITARY ACADEMY WEST POINT NY CENTER FOR ENHANCED PERFORMANCE, 2014.
  7. Tripathi, Ashutosh, ed. (18 June 2020). "'All border troops carry arms': Jaishankar responds to Rahul Gandhi on Ladakh standoff". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  8. Safi, Michael; Ellis-Petersen, Hannah; Davidson, Helen (17 June 2020). "Soldiers fell to their deaths as India and China's troops fought with rocks". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  9. Service, Tribune News. "China declines to react to VK Singh's remark that 40 PLA soldiers killed in Galwan Valley clash". The Tribune. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  10. Michelle Tan (May 1, 2008). "Combatives Program wrestles toward permanency". Army Times. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  11. Michelle Tan and Erik Holmes (January 28, 2008). "Combatives training inspires Air Force Service to start program like Army's". Air Force Times. Retrieved October 12, 2014.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)

Further reading