How Effective Is Army Combatives for Real Life Combat?     



Also read: Teaching Soldiers to Die and The Myth of Grappling
An Ongoing Conversation between a U.S. Army Infantry
Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) and GM Perkins, Lt Col Ridenhour and Others

As you all know, Guided Chaos teaches hand-to-hand and groundfighting principles in its books, classes and videos that advise against grappling with the enemy. This is based on World War II training and documentation, police forensic homicide research as well as the extensive personal experience of GM Perkins and colleagues in the military and law enforcement. It is our position that the majority of modern military hand-to-hand training exposes our soldiers to more danger than methods proven in World War II and Vietnam.

U.S. Army Infantry NCO:
"Modern Army Combatives, just like any other system, teaches you tools.... the way you apply those tools can be effective or ineffective, depending on your experience and on the given situation. Blaming the system and judging it ineffective is unfair and a little ignorant... no offense. We teach you what a spoon and a fork is... it's up to you to use the fork and the spoon... or the knife (pun intended) properly and in the right situation if you want to succeed."

Matt Kovsky:
"Thanks, that's a great response. However, a spoon and fork are of no use if what you need is a hammer and a wrench. It is the opinion of many officers in the Army and Marines that they're being taught the wrong tools, tools that were never taught in World War II and are now being used to increase enlistment while being politically correct."

U.S. Army Infantry NCO:
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I can only offer mine based on my experience as a noncommissioned officer in the US ARMY Infantry with multiple combat tours and a level 4 tactical combatives instructor. I am the man in the front lines. I am proud to say that I have more first hand combat experience than some officers that lead by power point. I have used h2h combat in real life. Not something to brag about, just my job. Maybe these officers just need a little more mat time ;) thank you!"

Matt Kovsky:
"I'd like your opinion of this article:"
[by Brad Steiner, President International Combat Martial Arts Federation].
Some excerpts below regarding the training that was developed for our soldiers
in World War II who were preparing to fight the Japanese in the jungles of the Pacific:

Every single one of those incomparable masters [Fairbairn, Applegate, Biddle, Brown, Begala, O'Neill, and Kawaishi] of practical, all-in fighting and close combat was PRIMARILY A GRAPPLER/GROUNDFIGHTER in his own  fundamental and experiential orientation; yet, when pressed to develop methods  for actual combat, EACH ONE DISCARDED GROUNDGRAPPLING and  taught a repertoire of vicious, direct skills BASED UPON BLOWS of the hands  feet, elbows, head, knees, and fingers! Every single one.

More interesting:

Rex Applegate, whose system of close combat does, according to the views of many (including this writer) surpass all of the other close combat and hand-to- hand methods, is the  result of NO grappling/groundfighting background at all! He learned the British commando methods, the Fairbairn system, and had been a brawler. He also disdained groundfighting as sport, and knew that such was nonsense when preparing for serious hand-to-hand battle. Without the background in grappling/groundwork to “overcome” when considering how to handle actual hand-to-hand engagements, Applegate absorbed the cream of what Fairbairn taught, and threw in some of his own rough-and-tumble fighting savvy to produce a most formidable method for no-nonsense combat.


THE primary reason why the groundgrappling myth took root in the United States is because the venue in which groundgrappling tends to predominate — ie competition — is both extraordinarily popular and commonly misunderstood by its devotees to be virtually synonymous with combat. Thus, when groundgrapplers appear to win almost every single time they enter into “open competition” (vis a vis the UFC, and/or similar events) with those using other methods of fighting, the assumption is among the ignorant that therefore groundgrappling is the sine qua non of hand-to-hand combat.

But it’s a serious myth and misconception. First of all, all fights do not “inevitably end up on the ground” as the proponents of groundgrappling-as-hand-to-hand-combat insist. What is frequently true is that many contests between grapplers and hitters end up on the ground, because sporting contests favor grappling and groundwork finishing actions. It is possible to use a much greater quantity of techniques that the grappling arts teach, in a sporting context, than it is possible to use percussionary techniques outside predicaments of lethal battle. Remember: Despite the claim that UFC and similar events have “no rules”, the truth is that not only are there numerous rules, but those rules forbid precisely those striking and related  techniques that close combat and self-defense demand be  reflexively employed in actual battle. The reader can verify this easily by simply checking and finding out for himself what the rules of these so- called “no rules” events compel their entrants to abide by. Just to mention a few examples:

• No eye gouging
• No ear-ripping
• No biting
• No seizing or kicking the testicles
• No hair pulling
• No thumb tearing at the mouth or nostril
[No neck breaking, twisting, snapping --editor]

There is more, but that should be sufficient to prove to any honest person that contests — in which there are (and must be) rules — bear no relation to combat, where rules simply do not apply.

Soldiers and marines may be instructed today (Heaven help them!) in the popular groundgrappling methods, but that which they will need to confront on the field of battle will not be best dealt with by resorting to such skills, should they ever need to face the moment of truth. Remember that we already know (it is not a matter of “opinion” or of “conjecture”) that which happens in military hand-to- hand combat engagements. The entire matter has been documented, studied, analyzed, wrung out thoroughly, and appropriate methods THAT ULTIMATELY PROVED THEMSELVES TO BE CORRECT IN ACTUAL WARFARE when put to the test, have been developed. They are most emphatically not the methods we observe winning in the various challenge events today.


First of all, blows are simpler than holds and throws. They therefore may be applied more speedily. Whenever endeavoring to apply any form of hold or throw, one leaves oneself open to attack. This is not true when applying good combat blows. In fact, when one correctly employs the blows of unarmed combat, the process of applying them offers a built-in degree of tactical “defense” for the applicant.

The argument that expert karate practitioners are often defeated when confronting grapplers in the challenge events is irrelevant. First, because the karate expert is generally “expert” in sporting-competitive moves. He uses punches (much like a boxer), and he uses the utterly useless and completely impractical high and fancy kicks of contest karate or kick boxing. Second, because those blows which are appropriate to and effective in hand-to-hand combat are forbidden in the “all out contests”. No finger attacks to the eyes. No biting. No kicking the testicles or stomping the knees. No blows to the carotid artery or throat area. Etcetera. No chinjabs. No gouges. Very limited elbow usage. And so on. Grapplers tend to prevail in contests because contests barely limit the grapplers at all in regard to what in their repertoires they may utilize against their opponents. On the other hand, the “hitters” are completely hamstrung.

Second, blows are superior in combat because — upon impact — they at least distract the recipient. Holding or seizing, on the other hand, alerts the individual and often triggers a vicious retaliatory response (forbidden in the contests). When a person is struck hard with virtually any of the proven blows of unarmed combat his conscious focus is, for at least a second or two, often longer, disoriented. The blows of unarmed combat are whipped into an adversary without warning — not from a “fighting” stance, or after an agreed upon preparatory “setting oneself to fight”, by squaring off. When unarmed combat blows land well to the right targets, there is usually little problem thereafter with dispatching the enemy at one’s leisure.



Forgetting for a moment entirely about the groundgrapplers, we wish to point out that even much of the more practical ju-jutsu doctrine that is widely taught islittle more than suicidal insofar as weapon countering is concerned. All too often so-called “disarming” is taught with the absurd assumption that one will not encounter immediate and fierce resistance from the armed adversary’s other hand, or/and from his feet and legs, from his elbows, and from possible head butting! It is instead assumed that the defender need only evade or block the attacker’s initial action, and then apply some form of wrist or armlock, perhaps coupled with a throw. No thought is given to the attacker being a MURDERER — a person who is after the defender’s life! He will not stand still and wait while the defender deftly maneuvers him into a pain compliance hold, or some elaborate throw. First, grappling with an armed enemy is a mistake. Second, going to the ground with him while grappling for a submission hold amounts to sheer lunacy. Anyone who believes that this sort of thing can realistically be done in an actual situation of armed attack, has rocks in his head

Competition of any kind does not address what to do in an armed attack (ie and that is — avoid the initial danger posed by the weapon, and then KILL the weapon-bearing enemy). Grappling is to be avoided. Smashing intothe armed aggressor’s throat, testicles, eyes, knees, or bridge of nose, and then pounding him relentlessly and savagely until he is unconscious and incapable of movement MIGHT enable you to defend yourself successfully against him. Going for a pin or a submission hold will only get you killed.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: this is just a small portion of Steiner's article and we strongly recommend reading the entire discourse.] 

U.S. Army Infantry NCO:
"This article makes very good and valid points. Striking is necessary in a real fight. I agree 100% with what it said about competition grappling. A person that trains merely for sport, may not have the skills to survive in a life or death situation, unless this aspect is also trained. Combat Mindset is also mentioned... agree 100%, I train it and live it. Its how I pay my bills.

They also make a very good point in the use of weapons. Their presence must be expected in a real life, and we need to account for them when we train.

I will tell you that I disagree 100% when you say that training and grappling on the mats has no relevance to fighting armed assailants. I doubt anyone trains to fight armed guys with real guns, real bullets and knives. We use rubber guns, shock knives and well…. mats. We don't want to hurt the guys. No need to show how "tough" we are by getting slammed on the concrete all afternoon.

Having said this..... Teaching soldiers to ground fight first has the following advantages: ( I will talk a lot about army combatives, but I feel that since it came under fire in this discussion, the air needs to be cleared. Thank you and I am open for questions) It is understood, even by BJJ and army combatives practitioners, that ground fighting alone is sometimes not enough. This is why we also include a lot of stand up work in our program. Sadly, since most people only make it to level 1 or maybe 2 (specifically most officers who learn level 1 in OCS and then never train anymore or go to the higher level courses), this remains an obscure fact. Even within the army, the popular myth is that we only encourage going to the ground. Techniques are easier to apply and do not require as much training as stand-up fighting. Remember we don't have a lot of time to train in H2H, we have many other warrior tasks to work on (i.e. marksmanship and first aid). And thats' only at the individual soldier level.

On top of that, we have unit training, mission specific stuff, etc. This is why traditional forms of martial arts do not work for us. They require a lot more training than we are able to accomplish. But it's not because we think nothing but grappling works :) As a matter of fact, the core fighting strategy of MACP teaches the soldier to utilize 3 options: create space, maintain space and, if all else fails, close with the enemy and finish the fight. The first option is always the best one since we can go back to projectile range and simply shoot the bastard.

Option two involves use of secondary weapon, whether it's a hand gun or a
knife (yes! we do use knives). In option three, the enemy is too close for
anything else and we achieve the clinch... whether we go to the ground
from there, or use standing clinch fighting, knee strikes, etc. depends on
the situation. Grappling can be trained at nearly 100% intensity with less
risk of injury than striking. This allows for more sparring experience for
the guys. In today's society, some kids have simply never been in a
fight and this is an excellent and safe way to get them used to it and then
move on to more complex forms of fighting.

Another thing that people fail to realize is that even though in training we roll, control and apply submissions.... in every dominant position there is the potential for a strike... whether to finish the fight or simply to be used as a disrupting technique to finish the enemy some other way. Just because we don't smash each other's faces when we are on the mount, doesn't meant we couldn't do it if we needed to. We don't train to tap people out in the cage... we train to close with and defeat the enemy in close combat.

In conclusion... I do agree with the article in many ways and the stuff that you guys show on the video is good but perhaps a little biased to show the ineffectiveness of grappling. Only a very inexperienced fighter would try to shoot in to an opponent armed with a knife like you show in the video. This reaction is not realistic and biased to portray grappling as a
non-effective form of fighting. The guy kicking the knife assailant looked
ok. I personally would choose a different reaction but his reaction is
acceptable. As I said... what you are showing is great stuff but I don't
think you should talk ill about other systems in order to sell it. If your
system can't stand on its own without badmouthing what other people are
doing, it may not be as good as you think. Please don't take this the
wrong way. I mean no disrespect. It's simply constructive criticism from
one professional to another.

I really have a problem with people talking trash about Modern Army Combatives based on what Colonel so and so and whatever other guy said. I have seen high ranking officers who hated the program and that believed it was useless become the biggest supporters and really push it in their units after they have experienced it. I urge those interested and that are in or close to someone in the army to do the same.

If you are still not convinced, no problem. But just because it works for
you, it doesn't mean it doesn't work for others. Especially if you lack the
combat experience. Fighting at the gym or against a drunken thug at a
parking lot is very different from fighting for your life in Iraq and
Afghanistan. I guarantee you that all the people involved in the creation
and divulgation of our program have a great deal of experience. About 1000
bigger than my own."

John Perkins
"My thinking is this...I am sorry that you have such a limited view of Real Combat...While I salute you and thank you for your service, I cannot in good conscience stand by and not tell the truth from my perspective.

First off, I am only speaking here of hand to hand life and death fighting. Although I was not in the military, many of my relatives served and have seen serious action both in WWII and Vietnam and they did deal with some horrible situations and some still bear the permanent wounds to prove it. My experience is from the streets as an active police officer during a time of great turmoil in our country where members of groups, mostly political, and of a terrorist nature were involved.

Now we have gangs which have no respect for law and have often proven to be extremely violent to my police officer students and the police in general. Here is where more hand to hand situations occur than in the battlefields of today. Police officers don't have the advantage of carrying machine guns and various other far more powerful weapons. Thankfully they don't need them but this is the point: A law enforcement officer has far more potential to be involved hand to hand with both armed and unarmed criminals who would take their life in a second given the chance...Yes I know that my students who are active or have been active military members (including Army Rangers, Seals, Marines, Air Force Spec Ops etc.) have had occasion to use Close Combatives but the number of cases is less than what average big city cops are exposed to on a daily basis.

Don't get me wrong--these men and some women have seen real action and have done great and brave service for our country and have been courageous under fire and have killed the enemy on many occasions. The main point here is that they did not get involved with grappling BJJ style when the chips were down. They mostly found that the basic hand to hand of WWII vintage worked well and that grappling would probably get them killed in many cases.

I am not trying to tout "My way of fighting" over others...Reality is a harsh teacher...Imagine fighting hand to hand with an enemy combatant while wearing all the battle gear that most soldiers wear today...Wearing a flak vest, plus approximately 75 pounds of gear including rifle, and any other weapons and ammo makes grappling untenable as a method of self defense in the battlefield. For the police, even the gun belt and radio and other gear make grappling difficult against serious attackers.

It has been demonstrated by female police officers that the BJJ-trained instructors of a large western State could not be controlled or tapped out when they applied uncooperative kicking and other techniques. These same female officers were able to get to their sidearms under forceful attack by these same, far larger male instructors and pull the trigger on their attackers in the vast majority of cases. It only took 4 hours of Guided Chaos ground fighting training for them to prevail. The instructors were not going easy because they had a big stake in winning to show BJJ to be effective but they failed. This alone should make a case for at least adding more realistic fighting to the military training instead of the sportive methodology of MMA and BJJ alone.

Yes I know, some striking techniques are taught but all of the military men I have worked with who have received the military training have shown that most of it was too weak and watered down to be effective. It takes very little time to train folks to fight using WWII style tactics and today's improvements make it even more effective.

The argument that grappling is easier to teach is false. Also if the enemy is larger, armed and has friends, the MMA/BJJ models don't work. I read your message concerning further training that the Army teaches but have not found anyone who can demonstrate these advanced techniques who have served. Perhaps only a select few get this "extra good training"... Also I would like to see a BJJ technique that actually works against a knife wielding serious attacker. I would gladly show this to as many folks as I could but after over a decade of BJJ/MMA there seems to be no such workable technique. I would love to see this and be able to tout this as coming from our military training, simply for the fact that I am proud of our country and it's military members and would love to be able to point to something workable for keeping our service and police members safer.
Thank you, John Perkins

LtCol Ridenhour
"This reminds me of a story where two guys in the Midwest attacked three Marines. Some reports say the guy had a blade or disarmed the Marines, others say the guys were unarmed and eventually, now get this, robbed all three (you read that right) all three Marines.  As the story goes they did try to disarm the guy until one of them got cut on the arm. They were lucky they weren’t murderers.

There was another situation where a LtCol was shot in the chest down in Florida over a gold necklace he was trying to sell to some dirt bags via Craig’s list.  After they met with him they snatched the chain and the good LtCol gave chase and one of the guys turned on him firing several rounds hitting him in the chest and the rest is history.

What did they all have in common? They were all trained in MCMAP. The LtCol was lucky to survive."

Ari Kandel GC 4th degree
"Thank you for your service.

Crux of the matter:

We know what the modern Army and Marine combatives courses are about. Some of our students and instructors have been involved in each, hands on. We have worked with masters of the techniques and tactics you teach. Some have become our students.

You have no idea what we do (beyond a few demonstration videos), nor what our collective experience is. How many desperate, outnumbered, underarmed biting-range engagements have your instructors been in that resulted in KIAs and severe casualties? That's the kind of experience we consider relevant, and have tons of access to. It has happened to cops and their associates’ way more often than it's happened to American soldiers since WWII--in which, incidentally, basic WWII-style non-grappling combative methods (created, notably, by master grapplers who understood the difference) became the most proven effective in history.

If the 20th century is too ancient for you, we've had students and instructors taking lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, amassing many experiences and reports of close combat, and actually receiving many requests from newly blooded soldiers for REAL combat training, as many were discovering that what the Army or Marines taught them was not combat applicable!

If you think your grappling training is anywhere close to full life or death intensity and realism, well, good luck with that, and may you never face adversaries in close quarters hellbent on taking your life, without the aid of your best weapons and buddies.

We're not out to bash anyone, nor to promote ourselves at the expense of anyone else. You're mistaking truth for marketing spin. Our goal is to help save good lives.

You are welcome to train with us whenever the opportunity may present itself. We anticipate that you, like many of your contemporaries, will have an eye-opening and paradigm-shifting experience. All the talking/writing is worth the paper it's written on compared to hands on experience.

Whatever your preferred training methods, we're most certainly on the same side of the fights that matter most. Keep up your sacred work, keeping Americans safe and free."
Want to weigh in? Add your comments on our Forum or Facebook pages