Gleanings From The 2014 Hand-to-Hand Study

[This is an archived post from Mad Science Defense, currently on indefinite hiatus, and may not reflect the usual tone and content of Author J.R. White and/or the Storyteller at Large Blog. If you have arrived here via links from a website elsewhere in the tactical and combatives training community, we wish you the best in your skill development journey.]


A study came out recently about instances of Hand-to-Hand Combat in the military that I think we can all benefit from taking a look at. Written by Peter R. Jensen of the United States Military Academy, it reinforces several things about hand-to-hand fighting and training that we already suspected, and offers a great deal of validation to how the best instructors are approaching combatives training in both the military and civilian contexts.

For the purposes of this study, hand-to-hand combat was defined as: “an engagement between two or more persons in an empty-handed struggle or with hand-held weapons such as knives, sticks, or projectile weapons that cannot be fired.”

This study is based on military personnel at war, and therefore we should be cautious when applying it to civilian self-defense, but there are several points I think we can safely apply to the defense minded citizen. I’ve added my thoughts on those points in bold below, along with the passage from the study that reinforces that view. A link to the entire study is at the end of the article, and you should definitely read the whole thing, especially if you are a member of the Armed Forces or a combatives instructor.

Here we go:

Hand-to-Hand fighting is a common scenario, and often involves weapons.

“216 out of 1,226 Soldiers (19.0%) reported using hand-to-hand combat skills in at least one encounter. The Soldiers’ descriptions indicated that hand-to-hand combat occurred in a variety of tactical situations and that the most common skills employed were grappling techniques (72.6%), followed by the use of weapons (e.g., rifle butt strikes; 21.9%); with striking as the least reported skill (i.e., punching and kicking; 5.5%). These results further reinforce that hand-to-hand combat remains a relevant demand and the US Army should continue such training with an emphasis on grappling skills practiced across a variety of performance settings.”

Having hand-to-hand skills gives you the ability to use different levels of force as needed, instead of defaulting to lethal force.

“The primary focus of combatives training is to develop fighting ability and skills that Soldiers need in an operational environment (US Army, 2009). Combatives is an important component of a Soldier’s ability to employ different levels of force as the intensity and demands of the operational environment change. Additionally, combatives training develops the aggression and confidence necessary for Soldiers to close with an enemy and “seize the initiative to dominate, disable, or kill”

Grappling, either on the ground or in the clinch, is inherent to hand-to-hand fighting in the real world.

“First, grappling was an ever-present aspect of a hand-to-hand combat encounter. Although striking and weapons use were not absent from hand-to-hand combat encounters, Soldiers reported that grappling with an opponent was an integral aspect of any encounter.”

If you are carrying a weapon openly, or if your concealed weapon becomes exposed, you will be forced to fight for control of the weapon in the event of contact distance attack.

“The second lesson incorporated from the PAIs was that Soldiers in OEF and OIF reported that their hand-to-hand combat encounters revolved around a contest over the Soldier’s weapon (e.g., rifle). It appears that a Soldier’s opponent regularly attempted to wrest control of the Soldier’s weapon during hand-to-hand combat encounters.”

Any training for self-defense must establish fundamental skills and be geared toward the threats most likely to occur in your lifestyle.

“Finally, the fighting skills needed for success in a hand-to-hand combat encounter required development through a deliberate process that included: (a) initially establishing basic fighting skills followed by, (b) expanding such skills within a training setting that reflected the demands and context of the operational environment.”

You need skills that can be instantly and reactively adapted to account for the unpredictable nature of hand-to-hand combat. Also, you need to practice these skills against resistant opponents so you can learn to “read and speak the language” of the fight.

“A recent study (Jensen & Wrisberg, 2014) interviewing 17 Soldiers about their experiences of fighting in hand-to-hand combat suggests hand-to-hand combat occurs in a swift and unexpected manner. The results of this study reveal that hand-to-hand combat takes place in an open skill environment (Wrisberg, 2007) characterized as dynamic and unpredictable, which requires Soldiers to develop skills that can continuously and rapidly adapt to the ever-changing demands of the performance setting…  …Training in such open environments necessitates skill development that teaches Soldiers to recognize key performance cues and adapt their skills to the quickly changing demands of the environment, many times influenced by a willful opponent.”

Fighting for your life while in physical contact with a determined threat is extremely stressful.

“Furthermore, these authors found that although hand-to-hand combat was one of the least frequently reported combat stressors, it was one of the seven (out of 30 possible combat stressors) most psychologically stressful combat experiences reported by Soldiers.”

There is more that can be learned from the study (and I encourage you to view it in its entirety at the link below) but the above points are those that can be applied to the civilian population.

Until Next Time!

Justin White

Center for Enhanced Performance

Hand-to-Hand Combat and the Use of Combatives Skills: An Analysis of United

States Army Post-Combat Surveys from 2004-2008

Author: Peter R. Jensen

United States Military Academy, November 2014

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