Military Self-Defence Techniques

The Army call it ‘close quarter battle’ (CQB). To others, it is unarmed combat, self-defence or a useful distillation of the various martial arts. Whatever you choose to call it, this article offers a range of techniques that the unarmed civilian can use to counter every form of attack. Self-defence is a basic skill which is part of the training of all elite soldiers. It inspires confidence but requires continual practice. You can never become complacent about your level of skill. The techniques explained here must be practised until they become instinctive. The speed, skill and grace when a particular technique is executed is totally dependent on practice and constant repetition. There are no magic ‘death-locks’ or two-finger strikes that can easily incapacitate an aggressor. There is, however, a wide range of excellent self-defence techniques which anyone can learn. The secret is training and more training.

The best form of self-defence is to remain inoffensive and ‘invisible’, while maintaining the bearing and body language which communicate to a would-be attacker that you are no easy target. Many tense situations can be resolved by just walking away. It takes courage – and confidence – to walk away. You cannot fight all the violent idiots in the world, turn your life into a battle-zone and still expect to enjoy a good quality of life. That said, there will always be a situation which proves to be an exception to the rule, a situation where you are faced with physical violence and from which there is no chance of escape or retreat.

Action and the Law

A famous Japanese karate master once sat down and composed a list of rules for his students. They began with the words: ‘There is no first blow in karate’. Today, in most civilised countries of the world, this maxim has been codified into law. Unarmed combat and the martial arts are viewed as weapons capable of deadly force. Unarmed combat should only be used as a last resort. Force must be met with ‘reasonable force’. The law permits a reasonable response to prevent an attacker from continuing to inflict harm. If you strike the first blow, it can be interpreted as assault with a deadly weapon. You will be required to prove that, had you not acted in self-defence, you were faced with serious injury or worse.

If you ever find yourself in a situation which meets the above criteria, do not threaten your attacker. Explode into action. The resulting encounter should be as fast and furious as it is effective. Many of the techniques in unarmed combat and the martial arts are simple blocks which enable you to counter or deflect the attacker’s first strikes. You must be confident that you can do this. This confidence can only come from constant, repetitive training in the self-defence techniques.

Target Areas of the Human Body

These are the areas of the body that we are going to attack; they are called primary targets. Shortly, we will learn how to defend them. Our primary targets are those areas which combatants in boxing or the sporting martial arts are prohibited from striking. A solid strike to these areas should cause immediate incapacitation and immense pain.

Eyes: The eyes are an easy target. From our point of view, they are soft fluid-filled bags of tissue, trapped in narrow funnels of bone. No power is needed to attack the eyes, just a flicked finger will achieve our aims. When the eyes are attacked, the person instinctively looks away and this leaves him open to a range of other strikes. The eyes are very sensitive. A small piece of grit causes great discomfort and may even affect balance. Just a soft blow to the eyes will leave an attacker defenceless and gives you the opportunity to escape from further confrontation.

Nose: Applying any force to the area between the base of the nose and the upper lip can result in severe pain. It can be used as a means of effecting a swift release.

Throat and Neck: The throat and neck are areas where the windpipe, large blood vessels and networks of nerve cells run close to the surface of the body. Consequently, they are very vulnerable to attack. Sharp strikes to the neck and throat areas can disable or kill.

Solar Plexus: The solar plexus is a large soft target which can be attacked using all sorts of strikes. It is important to have strong stomach muscles to protect against blows.

Groin: The groin and genitalia are very sensitive areas in either sex. Attacks to the groin area will disable an attacker. Powerful strikes or kicks to the testicles can kill.

Knee: The knee joint is very delicate and easily crushed or broken by downward thrusting kicks.

There are many other sensitive areas on the human body, but these make smaller, more difficult targets.

On Guard Position

To fight effectively, we must have a stance that enables us to use our maximum speed and power, while providing a good defence against attack. Stand square to the target and slide your favoured foot forward no more than 46 cm (18 in) with the knees slightly bent. Bring up the arms in front of the chest with the elbows tucked in and fingers extended. The leading hand, corresponding to the leading foot, should be held slightly higher than the other.


Never move out of the guarding position. When moving forward, the front leg leads and the rear leg follows. Movement is smooth and graceful with the feet sliding in a straight line. When moving backwards, the rear leg leads and the front leg follows. The legs are never more than 46 cm (18 in) apart.


You will need to train with a partner to learn the various techniques. One attacks as the other defends. Always use ‘touch contact’, with the striking

Target Areas of the Body

There are five main vulnerable areas of the body to be targeted in self-defence:

Eyes. These are highly sensitive; the merest blow will incapacitate an attacker.

Nose. Apply force between the base of the nose and upper lip.

Throat and neck. Extremely vulnerable to attack.

Solar plexus (stomach area). A large, soft target.

Groin. The groin and genitalia are very sensitive areas in either sex.

Knee. The knee joint is quite delicate and can easily be crushed or broken.

On Guard Position

Stand square to the target.

Slide your favoured foot forward 46 cm (18 in) or less, knees slightly bent.

Place arms in front of the upper chest, elbows tucked in and fingers extending. The leading hand, the same side as the leading leg, should be slightly higher than the other hand.

Never move out of this position in self-defence combat. When moving forward, lead with the front leg and let the rear leg follow. In moving backward, lead with the rear leg and follow with the front. Keep the legs the same distance apart throughout. hand or foot just brushing or stopping short of its target. Keep moving and remember to keep your arms up; use the leading hand/arm to block attacks to the head and neck. The rear hand/arm protects the lower half of the body. Keep the chin down to protect the throat. The leading knee bends inwards to protect against a kick or strike to the groin. The centre of gravity is both low and on the centre-line of the body. Weight should be equally distributed on both legs. Stay light and move on the balls of your feet. Parry straight punches and move inside wide, sweeping (’round-house’) punches. Do not try to duck or lean back from a punch; if you get the timing wrong you could take the full force of the blow.


Practice with your sparring partner trying to touch your forehead with a straight-arm technique. If he attacks with his left hand, use your right arm to block or deflect the blow. If he attacks with his right hand, use your left hand/arm to block the technique. The difference between deflecting and blocking is simple. A block uses brute force to counter the blow. A good block can break your attacker’s wrist or arm. In contrast, a punch is deflected by using the attacker’s own momentum to sweep the attacking arm further in the direction in which it is travelling. A round-house punch, for example, would be deflected back across the attacker’s body, throwing him off balance and exposing his back and the attacking side of his body.

There are other ways of dealing with curving round-house techniques. Have your sparring partner throw a round-house punch. As the attack develops, step forward and to the side, to place yourself inside your opponent’s technique. Alternatively, you can either move away from the technique or use your forearm to block his arm.

The guarding position will soon become second nature. Most right-handers will lead with the left leg and hand, keeping the right hand and leg coiled back to launch powerful strikes. Remember, while you are still novices, your techniques should be slow. The attacker should strive not for speed but for technical perfection while giving his or her opponent the opportunity to practice good technical blocks.

Finger Strike

From the guard position, practice shooting the leading hand with two fingers spaced to attack your opponent’s eyes. Speed, not power, is important in this technique. It is a very fast technique that is very difficult to counter. Relax the body. Tightly knotted muscles make for slow, unco-ordinated movements. Shift the weight to the leading foot and lunge forward. Go for both eyes, keeping all the fingers open. Do not make the classical two-finger strike since this will alert the attacker. Because it is hard to counter simple strikes like this one, you can start to see the importance of keeping strangers out of your personal space.

Edged Palm

The side of the open hand is a good weapon and ideal for attacking the neck and the groin area. If grabbed from behind, a swinging, back-handed strike with the edge of the palm to the attacker’s groin will force anyone to let go and reconsider their intentions.

Palm Strike

If you were asked to punch a brick wall as hard as possible, you would be foolish if you did not hold back and execute a very controlled punch. But if you were asked to strike the same wall with your open palm, you could probably deliver the technique with a lot more energy and power. We start all of our attacks with our hands open. This communicates a lack of obvious aggression. Hands left open and held high to guard your own body gives the thug a false sense of security. This false security will ensure your attacker leaves him or herself open for a fast counter-attack. The palm strike is formed by opening the fingers and flexing the wrist so that the hand is at 90 degrees to the wrist. The strike is delivered to the attacker’s chin using the power of the arms and shoulders combined with a fast twist of the hips.

The twisting motion starts from the waist and the strike is unleashed at the last moment when it has the full weight of the body behind it. Do not draw the palm back before you start to move into the strike since this will telegraph your intentions to your attacker. Practice this technique with your sparring partner but remember to only use touch contact. This control is the hallmark of the accomplished empty-handed fighter. In addition, you should be working with a pad or bag to develop speed and power. Ask your sparring partner to hold the training bag at shoulder level.

The base of the bag now provides you with a target at head height. Strike this with five repetitions of fast, hard strikes. The rear hand will always deliver the hardest technique since it can be executed with a hip twist. Start in the guard position. As you shuffle quickly into the attack, flex the attacking shoulder and hips behind you, keeping the weight on the rear leg. The shoulders and hips then uncoil as the hand moves forward to deliver a powerful strike with the palm.

Practice with both the leading and the rear hands. Do five fast repetitions with both techniques. Less power is developed with a leading hand strike but it has the advantages of speed and surprise.

REMEMBER: Drop back in to your guard position between strikes. Close the distance to the training bag as quickly as possible with both hands held high and open. Speak to your ‘attacker’ in a pleading voice, ‘No, please don’t run away.’

Elbow Strike

This strike, with all the body’s energy and power focused onto the small surface area of the elbow, can be devastating. The elbow strike is fast and powerful; it combines both force and the element of surprise. Face your opponent with arms held high and hands open in a pleading attitude. Keeping your hand high, quickly move the elbow of the leading arm towards the side of your attacker’s jaw.

Twist the shoulders and hips to deliver the strike with maximum force. Stepping into the target delivers even more force. Practice this technique with your partner holding the training bag. Train with the leading arm first, since it delivers more power with this technique. Step into the bag, roll the hips and shoulders and snap out the strike. Your sparring partner will certainly be able to tell you about the power of this technique. Delivered correctly, it should knock him backwards. Do five repetitions with both arms.

The Head Butt

An aggressive move, not recommended for self-defence. To avoid becoming the victim of a head butt, the guard position will ensure you stay at arm’s length.

Knee Strike

A knee strike delivered to your attacker’s groin will disable him. From the guard position, keep the hands high and open. Shift the weight to the front leg and sink down, before driving the rear knee into the groin area. You can then grab your attacker and deliver another fast strike with the front knee. Other targets for this strike include the solar plexus and the outside of the thigh. Thigh strikes will collapse your attacker’s leg. Deliver a short, sharp strike to the outside of his thigh and move away. Once again, the rear knee has the advantage of hip-twist to deliver a more powerful strike.


Do not deliver a front kick with the ball of the foot. This is easy for the attacker to spot and block. Rather, turn to one side and coil the leg before striking with the side of the foot. The kick should be delivered with hip-twist and the target areas for this kick are the shins, knees, thighs or solar plexus.

Combination Strikes

Now that we have learnt some basic techniques, we have to learn to string them together. The individual techniques are like words in a language; combinations teach you to speak in simple sentences. As always, we start from the guard position with the left leg forward (for right-handed people). Lefthanders should lead with their right leg. Strike with a straight left finger strike to your ‘attacker’s eyes’. The first technique serves as a ‘ranging shot’

Blocking a Blow

The blocking movement is a sure-fire way of countering any straight arm or round-house (swinging) punch with basic brute force. 1 If your assailant or sparring partner attacks with his or her left hand, use your right arm to block or counter the blow. 1 Alternatively, if he or she attacks with the right hand, use your left arm to block the blow.


To deliver a really powerful strike:

Turn to one side and coil the leg.

Make your strike with the leg fully extended.

Make contact with your opponent’s body with the side of the foot while twisting the hips.

Aim for the shins, knees, thighs or solar plexus. and starts to close the distance between you and your assailant. Always aim for the eyes because, even if you miss, it will serve to distract your opponent. Because you have started from a stance with the left leg and shoulder forward, a right palm strike is ready to fly.

Rotate the hips and drive your palm into your assailant’s chin. This action should rotate your own body to the left, automatically ‘cocking’ any left-handed technique. Unwind from the hips and drive your left elbow into your attacker’s chin or nose. For good measure, snap up your right knee to the groin area to finish the combination. Practice getting these four strikes into a rhythm. Each strike coils the body, ‘cocking’ the action on the next strike. The movements should flow one into the other without conscious thought. Use your legs to alter the distance between you and your target. Your leg techniques should be the most powerful. Always ‘strike through’ the target, aiming for a spot below or behind the target area and thereby generating the maximum power. I guarantee that this combination will disable the biggest of attackers, even when used by a woman of slight build. The secret is practice to perfect the techniques.

Military Style Training

The Army believes in the five-second fight. A fight lasting longer than five seconds promises to have no winners. To fight effectively for five seconds takes months of training. Learn all the techniques and train with a partner. Take it easy and practise your techniques slowly at first. Think carefully about your stance and timing. Alternate the roles of attacker and defender with your sparring partner and get into the habit of constructively criticising each other’s techniques. Constant repetitions are the answer to building speed. Perform five repetitions of techniques and combinations of techniques as quickly as possible.

Remember that balance and the quick transfer of body weight from one leg to the other are the secrets of speed.


Correct breathing is very important in self-defence and the martial arts. The following exercise will help you develop the right breathing rhythm. Stand relaxed, with feet one shoulder width apart, hands on hips and leaning forward very slightly. Raise your chest and focus on a point 2.5 cm (1 in) above your navel. Breathe in through your nose to the count of ‘five’. Hold your breath for the count of ‘five’. Expel the air forcibly through your mouth to the count of ‘five’. This tidal breathing has been shown to help overcome anxiety and focus the mind. Finish any training period with this simple breathing exercise.

Breathing is also very important when delivering a strike. Just as the blow lands on the target, violently expel the air in your lungs. At the same time, tighten your stomach muscles to help protect the solar plexus in the event of a counter-strike to that area.

Special Exercises

For hand speed and strength, stand with the right or left hand open in front of you. To the count of ten, open and close the hand as quickly as possible. On ‘ten’, make as tight a fist as possible and again hold for the count of ten. Build up to 100 repetitions of this exercise. Your hands and arms will soon start to ache but you will develop speed and power. After the exercise, relax the hands and arms and shake them around to loosen them up.

The best work-out for any martial art is circuit training interspersed with weight-lifting. This also helps build up power and speed.

CQB One 1Warm up 2Stretching exercises 3Fitness Programme Three . In between sets of the fitness programme, introduce three lines of shuttle runs with each line approximately 15 m (49 ft) apart. Sprint to the end of the first line and deliver ten finger strikes. Sprint to the second line and perform ten palm strikes. Sprint to the end of the third line and execute ten elbow strikes. Sprint to the end of the first line and deliver ten knee strikes.

Use a three-minute recovery period to do some deep breathing. Do three sets of these exercises.


Use this exercise regime for endurance and co-ordination. Skip for three minutes. Punch the speed-ball for three minutes. Work with the training bag for three minutes.

Skipping is an excellent exercise and requires co-ordination. Persevere with this exercise since it is well worth the effort. Use a heavy rope and stay on the balls of your feet. As you become practised, speed up, occasionally doing a double beat and a crossover.

The speed-ball takes a long time to really master. Apart from stamina, it requires timing and good hand-eye co-ordination. Start by lightly punching the bag, hitting it on the second or third rebound with alternate hands. Only practice makes perfect.

Three minutes of solid punching will release all your pent-up frustrations. Get your sparring partner to hold the bag while you strike it. Practise your combinations. Lead with a straight left and then cross with a right hook. Move around the bag for the full three minutes. Do three sets of exercises with three minute’s recovery time in between each set. You will have to build up to these exercises but this is the standard that makes champions and keeps the military Regiment above the rest.

It is good to work-out with another sparring partner for these exercises. It will allow you to practise with someone of quite different strengths and weaknesses from those with whom you have become familiar. Choose a partner who is taller, heavier and more experienced.

Yoga and Flexibility

A yoga course is probably one of the best ways of working towards total flexibility. By holding some of these seemingly impossible postures, the muscles actually relax and ligaments are stretched. Like everything else in life, yoga requires a lot of hard work, but once increased flexibility has been gained, it is easily maintained.

The many and various positions help to relieve the stiffness and pain acquired through more vigorous forms of exercise. Yoga also helps to soothe the mind and relieve stress and tension.


Discipline in the military is self-discipline. No one tells you to shave, wash your clothes or to get a haircut. This is simply expected of you. You have to think for yourself. Self-discipline is the hardest form of discipline and it appears to be beyond the reach of many people. They need someone constantly to organise them and tell them what they must and must not do. Always strive to improve your weaknesses and inadequacies. Self-discipline is the first step to achieving this. With self-discipline comes the ability to control your techniques and your temper.

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