Hand to Hand Combat: What You Need to Learn to Save Your Life

Hand to Hand Combat

There aren’t only decent people out there, and someday you too can be attacked by an armed thug who’ll kill you for a few dollars. If this situation arises, do you want to freeze and die, or do you want to learn how to protect yourself? Hand to hand combat is centered on survival in a violent situation, when people need to focus and employ their knowledge and skills to beat down an enemy.

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As such, there are numerous examples of reality martial arts that are even taught in military training systems, like the Israeli Krav Maga and the Russian Systema. The thing is that every training program is very specific, and it takes into account our fight or flight instincts, but in this article we’ll tell you all the basics about how to fight and what moves you can use more successfully.

Overcoming fear in combat

When we’re in danger, we either tend to run or we confront our enemy head on, which produces numerous changes in our body, starting with the release of adrenaline. Our heart starts pumping blood even faster, our pulse accelerates and our breathing quickens. So we’re not calm and centered anymore, but we’re anxious or even frightened, which is perfectly normal.

Besides, if we get injured in a fight we may not see, hear or move as swiftly as before, and reality martial arts take all these changes into account.

Overcoming fear in combat

The best thing to do is overcoming your fear not just by learning the proper moves, but creating a new mindset oriented towards surviving. If you’re attacked on the street by someone holding a gun, the truth is that chances aren’t in your favor, and that you’re in a life and death situation where you don’t even have time to think. That’s why you should learn how to act quickly, instinctively and proficiently.

Nevertheless, the purpose of your surviving is to get rid of your enemy even if that doesn’t mean winning. Sometimes it’s better to immobilize him and run, than return for a second round.

What are the best techniques?

There are many moves used in hand to hand fights, and it’s good to be familiar with all of them in case you may need to use them. However, we’ve made a list of the most effective and yet simple ones that actually work and that everyone can learn.

#1. Eye gouge

One of the best hand to hand combat moves is the eye gouge. The purpose of this one is quite gruesome, since you should blind your adversary by crushing his eyes or by trying to scoop them out all together.

Eye gouge

You’ve probably seen it in movies before, and it works like this: you push the eye sockets of your opponent with two of your fingers that you slide under the eyeballs. This is for crushing the eyes inside his skull.

You can also use your thumbs for this move, but this time you should target the inner corners of your enemy’s eyes. This is for when you try to push the eyes out of their occipital cavities.

#2. Elbow strike

There are many types of elbow strikes that ruff up your opponent pretty hard, such as:

  • The low-to-high strike – With this move, you aim to hit the other person beneath the chin. You can do a lot of damage here, like breaking his jaw or even his neck if your hit is forceful enough.
  • The horizontal strike – This move is meant to hit some soft spot on your enemy’s body, may that be on his body or on his face. If you hit the body, you can give him a paralyzing pain when you aim for his stomach, his liver (on the right side of the abdomen) or his spleen (on the left). If you hit the face, you can leave your opponent unconscious altogether.
  • The base of the skull strike –Hitting your enemy at the back of his head – where the part of his brain called the cerebellum is – can totally immobilize him or even render him unconscious.

#3. The long knee

You can use your knees for hitting your enemy’s soft parts of his body (like his abdomen for instance) or even his head. But this particular technique is used when you have little space available. It works like this: you try to pull your opponent closer to you by keeping your hands on the back of his neck, while you thrust your knee in his abdomen or in his groin.

Knee combat practice

The key of this move is to push with your hips. The last thing you want is to injure your knee; that bony tissue may be hard, but it’s also very easily hurt.

#4. Up knee

This technique is similar to the one above, but instead of thrusting your knee in his abdomen, you’re this time aiming for his head or chest. If you hit the head hard enough, you may leave the other guy unconscious, and if you strike the chest he may loose his breath and won’t be able to move for a few seconds.

You can apply this technique especially if your enemy is bending over for some reason, if he has bad posture, or if you’re trying to use The Long Knee and he tries to get away.

#5. Throat punch

Of all the painful blows, this one can mortally wound your enemy since with the right strike you’ll be able to crush his trachea. That means he won’t be able to breathe, some bone fragments may get stuck in his neck, and he’ll be unconscious in a matter of minutes.

Throat punch

The key is to aim for his Adam’s apple with an uppercut, a hook or even a jab – whatever you can manage under those stressful conditions.

#6. Stomping

This technique is very useful if your enemy has fallen down and you want to make sure he stays there by using a couple of specific strikes:

  • The downward stomp – This is a standard stomp, and you’re basically hitting the man’s abdomen or groin if you want him to become immobilized, in very much pain or even at risk of internal hemorrhage. However, some people prefer to aim for the knee instead, because breaking it means you’re sure that the enemy won’t be able to stand up and fight.
  • The ax stomp – This time you won’t be going straight down to strike your enemy, but you’ll actually be using a backward swing for this. The point is that you’ll put all of your strength in your heel which will do all the hitting in his abdomen or even on his face.

Imagine what this can do if you’re wearing boots or even high heels: you’ll literally crush your enemy’s cranium. If you want to put more force in this move, try bending the knee of the leg you have behind you and then hitting, because that will give your strike more momentum.

#7. The nutcracker choke

This move is perfect if your enemy wears a shirt with a collar and if he’s already on the ground. This will allow you to grab his collar by the sides of his neck, lift his head up, and use a pivoting motion of your pinky fingers to orient the knuckles of your index fingers on both sides of his Adam’s apple. At this point, you’ll be able to crush his Adam’s apple without many problems, and painfully stop your enemy’s breathing.

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If your target isn’t wearing a shirt with a collar, you may find it more difficult for you to do this move, because you’ll have more work to do to keep him still.

#8. The fish hook

This is one of the most basic hand to hand combat moves, and it works well if for some reason the enemy has their back on you. You simply insert your index fingers through the corners of his mouth inside his cheeks and pull.

The fish hook

This technique helps you inflict a decent amount of pain and control his head. Not to mention that you also have the surprise element going for you, which will make him panic for a couple of moment, enough for you to act.

However, be careful that you keep your fingers inside his cheeks or otherwise he might be able to bite them off.

#9. Takedowns

The technique of takedowns is really useful for putting your enemy on the ground and giving you an escape chance or a chance to hit him harder an keeping him there. The strikes associated with this move are:

  • The leg takedown – By taking either one or both of his legs and pulling them up, while at the same time pushing the rest of his body in the opposite direction with your upper body, your enemy will fall down.
  • The leg sweep – This time you’re not using your arms, but your leg. The point is that you’ll surprise the enemy when he tries to grab you by grabbing him back, and then pushing him with your foot behind his foot. This will make him trip and fall down.

#10. Disarms

Another thing you have to learn is how to disarm your enemy, since most of them may have a gun or a knife. The purpose of this technique is to get on equal terms with your opponent, after which you can apply one of the above moves to get away.

Disarms on the street

Disarming someone with a gun – So, the first thing here is to never be in front of a bullet, by going either left or right. Pretend that you’re surrendering and raise your arms up, then slide to one side and grab the hand with which he’s holding the gun. Then, you’re going to put pressure on his hand with your forearm and push the gun out of his hands. The best thing now would be to actually grab the gun yourself.

Disarming someone with a knife – This can be done by parrying him as he strikes with your hand inside his forearm, after you’ve previously ducked out of his way. You should hit him hard in his forearm or even squeeze his wrist so that he can drop the knife. Again, a good idea is that you grab his knife and literally have the upper hand.

Why should you learn these moves?

Maybe you live in a dangerous neighborhood or have to park your car in a place where there aren’t lights or people, maybe you finish your work shift in the middle of the night or have been attacked before. There are many reasons why you should consider learning these moves, but we think the most important are the following:


It’s very good to be prepared for every situation that might arise. We don’t live in a very safe world and everything can happen. What if you encounter someone who tries to rob you on a dark alley after you leave home from work? Or what if there’s no one around to help you?

The Genovese case

The Genovese case is one of the most famous cases when these hand to hand combat moves might have helped a young lady who was attacked several times in front of her parent’s building by the same person, before being killed. And the neighbors saw it all, but nobody thought to call the police. But even if they had called the authorities, they might not have gotten there on time, and that’s not a risk you should be willing to take.

Martial arts don’t work as well on the street

You may be thinking that martial arts can help you more in a dangerous situation, but the truth is that they can’t deal with the reality of street fights. They help you learn complicated techniques and if you manage to become a pro, then you can be confident in your fighting skills.

Martial arts on the street

Otherwise, you may have even less of a chance on the street because instead of immobilizing your enemy quickly, you’ll lose time thinking about what you should do. The moves we’ve listed above are fast, intuitive and can work regardless of your physical strength.

Besides, martial arts assume that the opponent isn’t fighting dirty and doesn’t have weapons, which isn’t the case with thugs. See our article on the best martial arts for street fighting that may help you in dire situations.

They teach you about a person’s weak spots

Even if your enemy is very muscular and fit, he has the same weak spots on his body like the rest of us: his abdomen, his groin, his neck and his head. Targeting these areas with your fists, elbows and knees can inflict a serious amount of pain, and render him unconscious, giving you enough time to run or wait for the police to get there.

Person’s weak spots

Either way, even if you’re smaller or weigh less than your assailant, you can still hit him pretty hard, and you have the surprise element working in your favor as well.

What else should you know?

If you have been attacked before or if you have to pass through dangerous spots at night, and you’re considering training in hand to hand combat as a valid solution to your problems, there may be other things that should help you. Check out our piece on how to street fight to help you with more options.

Learn everything you can

Street fighting is a topic people write about often, there are tons of articles you can find online about this, as well as books and free Youtube videos as well. So get all the research done to see what techniques are more appropriate for your particular situation and for your specific mindset.

It’s easy to learn how to apply the eye gouging technique or the windpipe crushing one, but some people can’t do that when push comes to shove. That’s why it’s better to learn stuff you can actually do.

Strength train

This is a great way to improve your muscle mass and be sure that if you hit someone, you’re doing it forcefully.

Strength train

Besides this, strength training can actually improve your reflexes and flexibility so that you won’t trip over your enemy when you’re actually trying to kick him down.

Cardio train

Run, swim or do jumping jacks in your apartment – it all works just fine to get your heart pumping and gain more resistance. What happens if you need to outrun your enemy and you’re quickly out of breath? Plus, being in a street fight can also leave you out of breath quickly if your fitness level isn’t very high.

Learn how to punch

Get yourself a heavy bag, of at least 50 pounds and exercise all your uppercuts, hooks, jabs, knees, leg kicks, ducks, etc.

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There are a lot of free YouTube videos for this if you don’t have access to a gym, but the best thing is that a heavy bag teaches you what to expect in real fighting situations. The reason is that you’ll see what proper weight transfer means, and how to keep your stance and posture with the help of your core muscles.

Learn how to punch

That being said, all this information is for your own protection and for prevention, but remember that sometimes it’s better to avoid fighting altogether, especially if you’re not ready to do everything it takes to survive.

See our piece on the secrets and benefits of Tai Chi to give you more information on the ancient art of fighting.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If the information in this post has been helpful, please consider purchasing through one of the links in this article. Thank you.

About the author

David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.


  • I don’t really know which is the “best” martial art to practice. When I was growing up there was only Karate and Judo, but now there seem to be a plethora of martial arts each with its own style and school. But I think it depends on the person, and skills, abilities and talents. One just has to find the right fit to their natural talents.
    Unfortunately, in a street fight, one wrong move will end the fight. The assailant doesn’t wait for you to get yourself together, so the “best” thing to do is try to finish the fight as quickly as possible.I think that awareness is very important in these situations, that’s why I meditate daily to cultivate that inner calmness that may help even a little in the unfortunate incident of having to defend myself or a loved one.

    • While self-care and self-defense are important, you need meditation so as to increase your awareness, calm, and focus.

  • The defense skills are really helpful in today’s world when crime and anti-social behaviors are rising. I really appreciate such a well-written detailed article. They are easy to learn and helpful in time of need. On another note, I would really love to apply eye gouge on someone. Just kidding! Great article, though.

  • The amount of damage depends on how close you are to the person. I found palm strike to be very useful when dealing with burglars. I have tried throat hits too but, I won’t use it anymore because it can kill easily someone. By the way this is an interesting article. Even women can learn from this.

    • A palm strike is an effective technique that you can always execute after a slap hand, but you can also try the elbow strike.

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