Army Combatives: What Every Soldier Should Know

It is imperative that each and every soldier is not only efficient with weapons, but they also need to be an effective warrior without a weapon. Army combatives is the process of close quarters combat. I mentioned that this up close combat is without weapons, but in retrospect, I am mistaken. A soldier’s hands, feet and even his/her brain is a weapon. If an enemy is attacking a soldier from a close distance, there is no way to fire an M-16 at them. That soldier needs to know how to fight and subdue, or even kill that enemy with his/her bare hands.

In today’s post, we are going to explain what every soldier should know about Army combatives.


Army Combatives has been used in war since early in time. When it comes to the United States Army, combatives were taught during World War II and the developers of the system used then were to British men by the names of William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes. The 2 had also developed the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife.

The system taught was called Defendu, which was a mix of jujutsu and boxing. This art was taught primarily to special forces. After World War II was over, combatives was also put on a shelf. When the Vietnam War occurred, it was discovered that soldiers needed more training in hand-to-hand combat, but it didn’t happen immediately. As more and more urban warfare came into play, the need to train for combatives was focused on.

In 2001, SFC Matt Larsen established the U.S. Army Combatives School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Matt was a former Marine who was stationed in Japan and trained with some of the best martial arts masters. When he was discharged from the Marines, Matt enlisted in the United States Army. As Matt trained soldiers in the art of combatives, his Army fame spread. In 2002, the training manual that Matt had written was published by the Army as Field Manual 3-25.150 and is still in use.

Matt has taught that there is no “perfect” technique for any given combative situation. The key is consistent training so the soldier’s mind and body will react quick and sure in a combative situation.

There are 4 different courses taught at the Army Combatives School. It has been deemed that each and every soldier in service with the United States Army will complete at the very least, Course 1.

Soldiers who have completed Courses 3 & 4 are certified to teach and certify the lower Courses. A level 3 graduate can teach and certify level 1, and level 4 graduates can teach and certify levels 1 & 2.

What Is Covered In Combative Courses

The Army makes sure that soldiers are highly adept at combatives. The main reasons that soldiers are taught combatives are to educate soldiers in how to protect themselves in situations that do not involve firearms, to provide non-lethal maneuvers for use on battlefields and to instill warrior instincts so soldiers show the necessary response without wavering.

There are 3 options a soldier must decide when in a combative encounter, They are:

  1. Disengage from non-weapon battle to regain a position to utilize a projectile weapon.

  2. Get a position of control and use a secondary weapon.

  3. Close and gain control…Finish the fight!

U.S. Army Combatives School covers a wide range of areas. They consist of:


The intro covers the definition and purposes of combatives. It also shows basic principles and safety.


This area covers all the areas of coverage for proper training in combatives.

Basic Ground Fighting Techniques

This covers all the areas of ground fighting from mounts, guards, headlocks and more.

Advanced Ground Fighting Techniques

This covers a more advanced version of the prior area. It goes further into proper attack methods.

Take-downs and Throws

This delves into good take-down techniques from different positions, and how to throw an enemy from multiple positions.


Simply put, this covers punching and kicking.

Secondary Weapons

This covers knives, bayonets, poles, sticks and even your shovel. Almost anything can be used as a weapon.

Standing Defense

This teaches defense from many different forms of attack.

Group Techniques

In this area, the soldier learns the different options and techniques when up against more than 1 enemy.


One of the best ways for soldiers to become great at combative techniques through competitions. There are 4 different levels of competition that is used for training purposes.

  1. Basic competition. This is for the squad or platoon level, and for trainees. Grappling is at knee level in this competition, with no leg locks allowed.

  2. Standard competition. This competition starts at a standing position and utilizes a scoring system similar to college wrestling. This is for company level competitions and prelim bouts before tournaments.

  3. Intermediate competition. This is used in finals tournaments at battalion and brigade levels. It is 1 ten minute round with strikes to the body and head allowed. All head strikes must be with an open hand.

  4. Advanced competition. This is essentially the same rules as a mixed martial arts tournament.

Training Trainers

The Army Combatives School knows that it is imperative that they teach soldiers to train other soldiers. 4 different courses are taught for Train the Trainers.

  1. Level 1. This is a 1 week course of 40 hours. This is to train trainers to teach basic combatives. Every platoon should have a level 1 trainer.

  2. Level 2. This is a 2 week course of 80 hours. It is advanced from the basic, and every company should have at least 1 level 2 trainer.

  3. Level 3. This is 160 hours over a 4 week period. It covers everything in levels 1 & 2 and integrates them into a unit training system. Every battalion should have 1 level 3 trainer.

  4. Level 4. This is also a 160 hour course in 4 weeks. This creates Master trainers, and there should be 1 in every brigade.

Final Thoughts

Combatives is an integral part of the Army. At any given time a soldier could find themselves in a situation where combatives is the only option. They can be used in multiple circumstances and I commend the Army and Matt Larsen for realizing that every soldier should be trained in basic combatives.

We would like to hear your opinions and comments. Do you feel the Army’s combative system is enough? What are your experiences? Have you had to use combatives in any situations while serving in the Army.

Please provide your comments, stories or questions below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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