The Elite Forces Handbook of Unarmed Combat

By Kyle Rearden

“Tactics lies in and fills the province of fighting…[w]hile fighting is a physical act, its direction is a mental process…[f]orce is a vicious cycle – or rather, a spiral – unless its application is controlled by the most carefully reasoned calculation.”

B. H. Liddell Hart

A broad history of hand-to-hand combat throughout the world showcasing the variety of martial arts traditions is valuable for understanding military combatives. Photos of soldiers training are accompanied by illustrations demonstrating particular methods of defeating enemies. At approximately 180 pages, this book is small enough that you could bring it with you to your next sparring session and use it as a reference manual.

That being said, its drawbacks are plain to see. Unlike Jay McCullough’s The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Army Combat Skills, Tactics, & Techniques, this book is more descriptive than instructive, in that it’s descriptions of specific methods are often in the third-person, instead of instructing you how to perform a maneuver in the second-person. Illustrations of fighters performing said techniques are less realistic than photographs of them actually doing them.

The scope of fighting techniques is broader than McCullough’s Army field manual anthology. Everything from punching, kicking, chokes, headlocks, and throws to grappling is covered; this is not to say anything of the various defenses against weapons, such as clubs, truncheons, knives, bayonets, and even firearms. Training regimes, the psychology of combat, and an overview of human anatomy are also covered.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the chapter on dealing with multiple assailants is rather enlightening. It is said that:

“Facing multiple attackers is as dangerous as it gets in the world of unarmed military combat. Against multiple attackers, the soldier may be forced to improvise, using old techniques in new and different ways. Also, unlike the defence [sic] against one attacker, with multiple attackers he absolutely must stay on his feet. If he makes the mistake of going to ground to finish one attacker, the others will descend on him with murderous rage. If he is knocked to the ground, he gets back up immediately. The key to the soldier’s survival is that he is single-minded in his selection of targets and weapons, concentrating on counter-attacks to the eyes and throat.” [emphasis added]

This means that fighters who single-handedly square-off against a gang enjoy considerably more survivability if they employ sprawl-and-brawl rather than ground-and-pound. Further descriptions include:

“The best way to get two attackers shoulder to shoulder is to visualize them as points on a line and manoeuvre [sic] them accordingly. By keeping both attackers directly in front of him, the soldier protects his back and flanks, making the threat more manageable. Once he’s got them where the wants them, he counter-attacks quickly and decisively. He moves towards the nearest assailant, neutralising [sic] his weapon and crushing his throat. At the same time, he can use this assailant as a shield against the other.”

Needless to say, a certain ruthlessness must be utilized in order to have any chance of coming out of such an encounter relatively unscathed. Further details are given regarding three attackers, a line of attackers, and a circle of attackers; this last one is by far the most deadly due to the risk of being outflanked, but it is still survivable if the circle’s structure is broken immediately by counter-attacking the assailant closest to your left.

Ron Shillingford’s The Elite Forces Handbook of Unarmed Combat is a focused examination of battlefield techniques. There are methods described here that I haven’t found in any Army field manual as of yet, and I uniquely appreciated the chapter on how to train effectively and safely. For those of you who are interested in directly applying self-defensive methods, you could do a lot worse for a starting point.

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