Gleanings From The 2014 Hand-to-Hand Study


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


  1. Chuck March March 13, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    This is something the MACP has been pressing for years. Its hard to quantify all of thever ositive effects that MACP training has on an individual Soldier. Its easy to say Soldiers get injured way to much because of the program . You can back that up with numbers. However, if you look at the number of Soldiers who get injured playing basketball or any other organized sport, those numbers would far exceed the number of Soldier’s injured in MACP training. I have nothing against organized sports but do they hold as much value as MACP training when we are speaking about the context of combat. You can not put a price on developing characteristics Needed to be a good Soldier,” Willingness to close the distance with the enemy”. Sound simple but if you do not have confidence in your abilities, you will second guess yourself when the time comes to act. The MACP program instills that confidence that in turn, fosters the Warrior spirt we all need to be effective on the battlefield. No price can be put on turning out confident Soldier, thst have a fight plan. That Soldier in the face of adversity will not hesitate and will act bravely. One Soldier can make or break a mission. There is no other program out there in the Army that will build strength of character like the MACP. I was Proud to be a MACP instructor for 4 years in the Army . The most fulfilling mission I ever was a part of.
    SFC Charles March


  2. Paul March 29, 2020 at 7:49 pm #

    The study shows it does not happens often. First it says “(19.0%) reported using hand-to-hand combat skills in at least one encounter.” That means 81 percent didn’t. Not even once. And of course the 19% used H2H just once (or more) in all their tours of duty, well that means it does not happen very often.

    How often did they use their primary weapon (rifle, pistol, MG?) I would like to see that as part of the study to balance out how much training time should be spent on H2H .vs. their primary weapon.


  3. Justin White April 13, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    That is the least intelligent thing I have heard in relation to this study. Our enemies will not magically become less brutal if we put women in combat roles. Our enemies do not care about the female perspective, in our culture or in their own. Our enemies get a vote in how brutal warfare is, and no amount of misguided left-wing impulse to blame our own actions for everything is going to change that. Not everything is about us, or you, for that matter. The enemy gets a say.



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