Close Quarter Combat


Grapplers will say 98% of all real fights go to the ground, so take them there. Stand up fighters say all fights start standing up, keep them there. Reality says street fights take place at any or all ranges so you’d better be prepared to fight anywhere. This being said there is one particular range that is most conducive to ending a fight quickly: Close quarters. Most fights take place in the space of a phone booth. Unlike sportive fighting, we will not have the luxuries of knowing our opponent, referees, consent, room for dancing around, etc. Usually our fight will begin within arms reach with some kind of verbal escalation. When things do go physical we will be dealing with an emotionally disturbed person who has absolute harmful intent and does not care what martial art you’ve studied. He will be a flailing, yelling, whirlwind of aggression.

Keeping this kind of attacker in mind it would be difficult, at best, to try to finish this encounter in punching range. Many thugs can take a good punch or kick, and shrug it off with a smile. Add an adrenalin dump or drugs, and he probably won’t even feel any hits, or he will just get more enraged.

On the other side of the coin, should I decide to take him to the ground, I run into another set of problems. He may produce a weapon (a recent survey reported 70% of all street confrontations involve a weapon). It is difficult to hold a mount while your opponent is using your bladder to repeatedly sheath and unsheathe his pocketknife. He may just decide to hang on to you while his buddies take turns doing their best impression of Michael Flatly “lord of the dance” on your head.

This article is not meant to belittle other arts. There are times and situations which may dictate taking someone to the ground (law enforcement, drunken friend/relative) and there are times when I might be able to keep someone at bay with punches and kicks until the fight can be broken up. However, this is only prolonging the inevitable and when your life is on the line you will want to utilize the tools and tactics that can end the fight quickly. This essay is meant to illustrate the main goals and strategies of close quarter combat and to describe the main tools utilized at this range.

The goal in close quarter combat (CQC) is to overwhelm your opponent using the most barbaric vicious natural tools on your body to attack the most vulnerable targets on your opponent. Lets take a look at some of these tools and their primary targets:

Elbows—face, head, throat

Knees—thighs, groin, stomach, ribs, head/face

Head butt—face

Hands—eyes (raking, gouging), throat (hacking) fish hooking

Bite—face, neck, ears


Because we are hitting with a bony prominence, any target will do. However, there are certain areas that are more effective to strike than others. When throwing an elbow we want to keep control of the neck with the opposite hand. This allows us to keep the attacker from moving away and provides us with an anchor to generate maximum power. We do not want to throw forearms but, rather, use the last two inches of the elbow like a blade. While the elbow can deliver significant concussive force, it can also be use to open cuts on the attackers face. The resulting blood flow can interfere with vision, providing us with a window for escape.


Head butts: are to be delivered using the whole body to propel the crown of the head into the opponents face. Too often, thanks to Hollywood, people attempt to use their forehead to head butt only to have the bad guy try to duck. This results in a dangerous (not to mention embarrassing) self-head-butt. Another mistake people make is attempting to head butt using only the neck muscles. This telegraphs the move and does not provide the force needed to do significant damage. To deliver the most effective headbutt possible, we need to use our whole body. The legs, torso, and arms must all work together synergistically in order to transfer maximum force.


Knees are to be targeted at the low line on a standing opponent. Anywhere between the knees and the groin is a good target. Like the elbow we only want to use the point of the knee (picture a circle approximately two inches in diameter). The knee should be delivered straight into the opponent as opposed to lifting with the hip flexors. This technique is sometimes referred to as a punching knee. The pelvis should also be thrust forward. This mechanic allows for more penetration and allows us to put our bodyweight behind it.

When attacking the eyes it’s important to understand that our goal is not to shove our fingers into their cerebral cortex. We are merely trying to continually harass this person’s vision. People do not get expansive when their eyes are touched. Anyone, I don’t care who they are, will contract and cover if only for a moment. This affords us the openings to finish the deal. The eyes can be attacked using rakes, finger jabs, slaps, or thumb strips.


Probably the most vicious, primal, damaging tool in our arsenal, biting someone is a two-pronged attack. First of all, we are causing immense pain by biting the most sensitive areas (ear, nose, lip, cheek, neck). Second, this type of attack is psychologically upsetting. Besides vanity (no one wants their face cut) this person has to deal with attacks normally associated with wild animals. I know some of you reading this are frothing at the mouth and shaking your head thinking “what about blood borne pathogens? What about AIDS? You can’t tell people to bite their attacker!” Reality check: this article is addressing self-preservation. Of course you would not do this unless you felt your life or body were threatened. In a life or death situation, you must do everything to protect yourself. Imagine you are defending your child, mother, or sister. Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect them? As far as blood borne pathogens go, I would personally rather contract a disease while protecting a loved one than have them injured or worse because I didn’t do everything in my power to save them

Close quarter combat proficiency could be called the great equalizer. While there is no denying the fact that size and strength do play a significant role in any hand-to-hand encounter, the knowledge of close quarter combat can give a smaller, weaker opponent an edge.

One of the most important points to remember is that proximity negates skill. Most street fighters and thugs are headhunters looking to land the big haymaker. Most martial artists train in kicking range, punching range, grappling range, or some combination of the three. The range of close quarters is inside the typical striking range. By controlling the neck and staying inside of those ranges we can successfully nullify our opponents attacks while launching our own offense. This is not an easy thing to do. We have to remember that our opponent will try to return to his range of comfort. He will be pushing, squeezing, and swinging like mad. We must realistically train in a progression against this kind of energy until we can maintain this distance against a fully resistant opponent.

Another kind of opponent to prepare for is the grappler. The jiu itsu player, wrestler, sambo practitioner, judoka, and brawler all understand the concept of proximity negates skill. They will try to force the fight to the ground and are very good at it. We must understand base and how to defend against the takedown. More importantly, we must deliver a kind of pressure these people are not used to dealing with. Pressure in the form of an unrelenting wave of close quarter “foul” tactics.

More important than developing any physical attribute are the psychological and emotional attributes involved in a real confrontation. This is the range where most fights are won and lost. Sadly, however, this is where many styles and systems are lacking. Its not enough to practice ‘techniques’, we have to develop a mindset that will allow us to utilize our physical skills. Most martial arts training is performed in a sterile environment. All moves are performed cleanly and crisply. A street fight is nothing if not ugly and chaotic and our training must replicate this as closely as possible. In reality we will experience an adrenaline release that will dull our finesse like dragging a knife across cement. In close quarter combat we need to tap into our will to survive. We need to unleash our tools with ferocity and focused intent. This does not mean blindly hurling ourselves into our attacker. It means closing the distance safely and decisively ending the confrontation. We need not one move or a set combination of moves, but rather, a set of tools that can be employed rapidly and randomly in an unending fluid combination. By training this with proper protective equipment against a partner who offers real resistance, you will be on your way to becoming a force to be reckoned with in close quarter combat.

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