The 9 dirtiest (and most effective) hand-to-hand combat moves

When the military needs to get down and dirty with the enemy, it usually means a few things have gone wrong. It’s best for the U.S. if fights are conducted at long range where more assets can be brought in to assist.

Still, the enemy gets a vote and if they want to fight hand-to-hand, America is willing to oblige. Using the major “weapons of the body” as well as grappling techniques, troops jockey for position and then strike any soft spots they can find, hurting, crippling, or killing the enemy.

Marine Corps weapons of the body

Illustration: US Marine Corps

Here are 8 ways the ground pounders can make sure they come out on top.

1. Eye gouge

US Marine corps combatives program eye gouge

Illustration: US Marine Corps

A perennial favorite, the eye gouge is exactly what it sounds like. Either two fingers are thrust into the eyes sockets or two thumbs. Fingers are aimed to slide in under the eyeballs while thumbs should be aimed for the inner corners of the eye, near the nose. Either way, the goal is to scoop the eyes out or crush them inside the occipital cavity.

For obvious reasons, the military services require that this be practiced against a dummy or a sparring pad rather than a human.

2. Elbow strikes to the back of the neck

Any elbow strike can do some damage. There’s the low-to-high that strikes an enemy beneath the chin, the horizontal that smashes into a soft spot of the body or face, and then there’s striking an enemy in the base of the skull with an elbow strike.

It requires that the target is doubled over to work well, so this is a great way to finish the fight after a Long Knee or a solid strike to the stomach or groin.

3. The Long Knee

US Army combatives long knee

Illustration: US Army

When a fighter wants to knee the enemy but there’s a little too much space to come up directly, they use the long knee and move forward with their strike. It works even better when they can get a hold of the target and pull them towards the knee. Aim for the soft parts of the abdomen or the groin to really do some damage.

4. Up Knee

US Army combatives up knee

Illustration: US Army

If the target tries to move away, feel free to pull harder on their head and transition to the Up Knee, using the knee strike to hit an opponent right in the face. This can also work if the target has bad posture or is leaned over for another reason.

5. Throat punch

Marine corps punching practice

Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ammon W. Carter

The throat punch isn’t just a common internet joke. The Marine Corps lists the throat as a good target for lead hand punches, rear hand punches, and uppercuts. A good punch to the throat can crush the windpipe and even a more modest hit is going to hurt and throw the opponent off balance.

Go straight for the Adam’s apple and remember to follow through.

6. Stomps to the groin or knees

It’s all in the headline. If the enemy falls to the ground, a downward stomp can make sure they stay there. Stomping the groin will cause extreme pain and possibly nausea while a solid hit to the knee can disable the joint and make it impossible to stand.

7. Ax stomp to the wherever

Marine Corps combatives ax stomp

Photo: US Marine Corps Pfc. Monroe F. Seigle

While the standard stomp is straight down, the ax stomp is a backward swing. This allows the power of the strike to be concentrated in the heel. To add more power, slightly bend the knee of the non-striking leg to gain more downward momentum.

An ax stomp to the face while wearing new boots can easily split skin open and crush underlying bone. Not exactly a sparring technique, but it can finish a real fight.

8. Nutcracker choke

US Army combatives nutcracker choke

Illustration: US Army

This colorfully-named choke involves grabbing the sides or rear of an opponent’s collar before pulling the hands into the center and crushing the Adam’s apple with the knuckles of the index finger. The tightened collar keeps the opponent from squirming away while the knuckles cut off the target’s airflow.

9. Fish Hook

Fish hooking is simple. When a target is facing away, reach around and slip fingers into the cheeks and pull hard. This allows the attacker to control their opponents head to a degree, can incite panic in the enemy, and hurts. The attacker should be careful to avoid the enemy’s teeth since this can backfire quickly.

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