Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Dec 2000

Military: Close Quarter Battle

By Neil Hawkins

Copyright EJMAS © 2000. All rights reserved.

Close Quarter Battle (CQB) is a subject that engenders as many opinions as there are people who teach it, and the last thing I want to do is confuse you with my own brand of what technique works best. But what I do intend is to give you a better understanding of what CQB is, and then give you a few hints on how to find a good instructor.

CQB can be defined loosely as "fighting at ranges close enough to render the traditional military weapons ineffective". In general, this means anything from a few yards to a few inches. It is normally thought of as ‘hand to hand’ fighting but that is not correct because it also encompasses knives, sticks, bayonets and the variety of specialised personal weapons such as chemical sprays, stun guns, etc. In some circumstances CQB also can mean the use of firearms during hostage rescue or dynamic entry team scenarios, but as a rule this form of CQB is taught separately.


From Mercurialis, Arte Gymnastica

Methods of close-in fighting have been around for as long as armed conflict. The Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Japanese all used them throughout their histories, and at least in myth and stage play they have played a part in shaping today’s nations. After all, stories of individual valour go a long way toward defining our concept of the modern warrior.

Although police forces started experimenting with CQB training after World War I, the CQB methods taught to militaries owe more to World War II and the Cold War. World War II instructors included W.E. Fairbairn and E.A. Sykes in Britain, Rex Applegate in America, and sambo teachers in Russia; Cold War instruction included the judo training organised by the US Air Force and the taekwondo practiced by the South Koreans. All these methods of instruction remain in use in some areas today.


Police hold securely got. Elbow is held firmly by left hand and bent wrist with right. Be sure to keep the wrist bent to the fullest extent towards the elbow and to make prisoner stand erect and move off smartly; bend hand down towards back, keeping the wrist in the same position. From Leopold McLaglan, Police Jiu-Jitsu (London: Police Review Publishing, 1922)

However, in this age of technological advancement, military forces are not always given the CQB training they require or deserve. There are many reasons, but some include the perception that close infantry clashes are a thing of the past. Senior staff tend to lack experience in CQB and so don’t give specific direction or guidance to those responsible for training, or view it as an expensive, time consuming and physically dangerous activity.

Suitably experienced instructors are hard to find, and as a result there are many people who teach it without any experience or qualification. Furthermore, even within CQB there are different requirements for different applications. Special Forces units such as the SAS, Delta, and the Navy SEALS need (but do not always get) high-level training, as they are regularly placed into situations that involve close contact with the enemy and may be required to use lethal force in covert scenarios. Other military units, such as the Infantry or Marines also require CQB skills, but these are generally defensive in nature as the likelihood that they will use the skills is diminished. Military and civilian law enforcement personnel require a different set of skills, as they must act both offensively and defensively but ideally do not use lethal force. For law enforcement, control is better than domination. After all, law enforcement's primary role is to uphold the law and the use of non-lethal force is important in keeping the trust of those the law enforcers are supposed to be protecting.

Left Sidestep

Left sidestep outside parry. From Strategic Air Command Manual 125-2, Air Police Control and Restraint Techniques, September 1958.

Unfortunately the basic training given to most personnel regardless of occupation cannot come close to giving the skills required. After all, CQB skills are perishable and not everyone comes with a background of physical conflict. And this is unfortunate because studies have shown that well-trained police officers have fewer confrontational situations and fatal incidents than their untrained counterparts.

Anyway, there is a very real need for CQB training. Typically interested individual members obtain this training outside normal channels. This leads to more confusion over what skills are required and who is able to teach them. The people who approve budgets and training are rarely those that have to use the skills and a look at the advertisements offered in martial arts magazines or on the Internet shows that literally hundreds of people claim to offer training in aspects of CQB. Providers range from people whose skills and backgrounds belong in the realms of fiction, through to ex-members of various organisations including Special Forces, general military, law enforcement, and even espionage.

The popularity of the martial arts has added to the confusion. Most people see martial arts as being a combat oriented pastime, when in reality many of them are designed for competition or self-improvement and so have had the true combat bred out of them. Even modern arts designed for self defence are of little use when put into a combat situation, where your opponent is wearing body armour, load bearing equipment and the like. Traditional grappling arts are more effective, as they were often designed for use in armour, but still have drawbacks in that training revolves around individual fighting whereas CQB often will involve groups of two or more on either side.


Korean instructor in taekwondo watches Vietnamese practice after class. From Stanley Robert Larson and James Lawton Collins, Jr., Allied Participation in Vietnam (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 1985).

Training programs need to take a comprehensive approach to combative skills training. Defensive tactics should be trained together with weapon retention. If taught, shooting skills should accompany defensive tactics, and need to be based on the type of shooting most often seen in the scenarios deemed most likely.

As well as teaching physical skills, training courses also need to cover individual psychology, group dynamics, and the law. The reason is that the mind is simultaneously the combatant's strongest weapon and biggest liability. The trauma of close personal violence can have lasting and debilitating impact on survivors. And the "reasonable and prudent person" postulated by the law is always watching all actions taken.

Positive mental attitude must be emphasised, too. Fear and excitement are chemically identical emotions; unfamiliarity is what causes the stress. Part of this is simply teaching trainees that humans exhibit a number of natural aggressive behaviours. When harnessed correctly, these can assist greatly in the control of a confrontational situation; the adrenaline rush experienced during combat can allow you to perform feats of endurance that ordinarily would seem impossible. Your senses become heightened, you see and hear better, your body reacts quicker. Startle response causes you move away from danger instinctively, much more quickly than conscious thought. Physical anticipation causes the muscles to hold tension so that they can act more quickly when needed. Perception of time can be altered, whilst involved in a situation time can appear to slow down, but in the lead up or afterwards it can seem to fly. If improperly used, however, these natural behaviours become counterproductive, and at times such as this, it becomes necessary to step back, breathe, centre, and reassess the situation. After all, it doesn't matter how fast you run if you're headed in the wrong direction.

FM 21-150

Knee Strike to Face. The defender controls his opponent by grabbing behind his head with both hands and forcefully pushing his head down. At the same time the defender brings his knee up and smashes the opponent in the face. When properly executed, the knee strike to the face is a devastating technique that can cause serious injury to the opponent. From U.S. Army Field Manual 21-150, Combatives, September 30, 1992.

However, a number of common behaviours exhibited during confrontational situations can put people at risk. The most significant of these is the "defensive" or "reactive" mindset; this places the combatant in a vulnerable position, forcing them to wait until something happens. Another is "tunnel vision". Tunnel vision, which means you focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others, can actually escalate the situation, as you react to things that, if viewed as part of the big picture, would seem trivial.

The instructor is the most important part of a good CQB training program, and unsurprisingly there are a number of things to look for when selecting one. For example, one may need multiple instructors rather than just one. After all, there are many skills being taught, and finding one individual expert in all of them is unlikely. Furthermore, instructional staff should understand and base training on the factors inherent in combat situations, and not just street self-defence. This requires an understanding of the full range of skills required.

Note that competent instructors rarely advertise this type of training. Why? Because the content includes techniques that should not be taught to the general public owing to their lethal nature. As a result, the only way to find qualified instruction is through a period of research followed by a process of trial and error.

Neither individuals nor agencies should commit to a drawn-out period of training until they feel confident that the skills being acquired are practical. They must, however, agree to allocate the necessary time and resources. Time is always a major factor in choosing training, and paying large sums for accelerated or prolonged training courses does not always give the best results. There needs to be a balance between how long the course takes, how much it costs, and its content. In most circumstances you need a wide variety of skills in a short period of time, but enough time must be allocated to learn the techniques correctly.

Miss Kim

A scene of ring-style training of Miss Kim. Korea, late 1950s. Courtesy Joseph R. Svinth.

It is vital that organisations and individuals undertaking such programs know what they want. Training targeted at police or security organisations may not be suitable for the military, conversely, techniques used in hostage rescue or anti-terrorism are of little use to the police officer on the beat. Choose an instructor that can offer suitable training for your profession, usually one that has experience in that area and so understands the stresses and dangers of your particular job. A good instructor will move the training out of the classroom or training hall, and put it into realistic environments and scenarios.

Finally, remember the ‘self’ in self-defence: an instructor’s stories and experience are interesting but won’t help you unless they are used to reinforce the lessons you are being taught. To quote Sun Tzu, "Invincibility depends on one’s self; the enemy’s vulnerability on him." Some instructors cover their inadequacies with stories and boasts; those with real experience rarely talk about it. Another common hiding place is behind large numbers of techniques: there are literally thousands of ways of countering any attack, but there are just a few that work in nearly all situations. By constantly introducing new techniques and variations the instructor keeps the student too busy to question the substance of the course.

There are a number of general principles that should be covered in any CQB course:

In combat, mind and body count. Every member of the team must know both his and his teammates' weaknesses and strengths, and leaders must evaluate each situation based on that self-awareness. And, while there are some courses that have the student feeling nine feet tall and bulletproof by the end, the result is graduates with unrealistic expectations, people who, when confronted with real combat, fail miserably. As the saying goes "If you fight with a knife, expect to get cut."

Belgian Takedown

Belgian Takedown. In the Belgian takedown technique, the unsuspecting sentry is knocked to the ground and kicked in the groin, inducing shock. The soldier can then kill the sentry by any proper means… Killing a sentry is completely different than killing an enemy soldier while engaged in a firefight. It is a cold and calculated attack on a specific target. After observing a sentry for hours, watching him eat or look at his wife's photo, an attachment is made between the stalker and the sentry. Nonetheless, the stalker must accomplish his task efficiently and brutally. At such close quarters the soldier literally feels the sentry fight for his life. The sights, sounds, and smells of this act are imprinted in the soldier's mind; it is an intensely personal experience. A soldier who has removed a sentry should be observed for signs of unusual behavior [e.g., suicidal tendencies] for four to seven days after the act. From U.S. Army Field Manual 21-150, Combatives, September 30, 1992.

During training and operations, ongoing evaluation is very important. You never stop learning; the content of the course should be re-visited periodically, to ensure that it has been remembered. After any confrontation performance must be evaluated. There are a number of reasons for this; firstly it can reduce any chance of mental problems later, by forcing the participant to understand their actions and any consequences. Secondly, the debriefing highlights any errors in the response, so training can be scheduled to correct strategies. Lastly, documenting experiences can benefit others who have not faced the situation yet.

In short, there’s a lot more to CQB than learning how to kick someone in the crotch, then punch him in the nose. The skills themselves are not difficult to learn provided you find the right instructor. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles and teachers, but once you find one that suits you and the job you do, stick with it or him. Remember, though, that for CQB purposes a high profile instructor is not necessarily the best instructor. Spend some time researching different styles, watch some classes, discuss your needs with the teacher and beware of instructors that exaggerate their skills and experience to entice you in. There ARE good instructors out there and members of most organisations, either military or law enforcement, will know who they are. You just have to ask the right people.

Take care with your choice; your money is on the line now, but later it may be your life.

About the Author

Neil Hawkins is a former member of the Australian Army and has worked extensively in the security industry. He currently teaches martial arts, self-defence and CQB in Queensland, Australia.

JNC Dec 2000