The Principles of Hand to Hand Combat

The Principles of Hand to Hand Combat

My name is Arnold. I’m a hard, sick man. Sick both mentally and physically. I have broken many men and women in my life. I bent them, crushed them, exposed their weaknesses. At my peak I was lieutenant-general, but I got court-marshalled. Twice. The second time, when I got demoted to sergeant-major, I decided to quit, to retire.

Why did they court-marshal me? Because I broke too many men under my command. They couldn’t take the complaints, the inquests, the media hysteria. I drove men like slaves. I suffered no fools. I was rigid. I was hard and merciless. I forced them to do things they couldn’t do. I forced them to torture and maim.  I forced them to kill. I cared only about outcomes. I couldn’t give a shit about rules in an organization that was only slightly more obsessed with rules than with results.

I did my own share of killing too. I liked killing. I liked seeing the silhouette of a man through the sights of my gun. I liked the sound of bullets piercing flesh. Sometimes they died quietly, sometimes they screamed. I liked it most when they screamed. I did my tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Killing was my profession for forty years, since the day I turned twenty. I can kill with my hands, I can kill with a knife, I can kill with a gun. But most of all, I can pull the mental trigger. I can make the decision to kill. I have ordered others to kill. I have bent them to my will and made them kill. I have the power to make them kill against their own will and better judgment. I make weak men kill, I make strong men kill, I make women kill. I can make gay men kill. I use my rank. I order. I persuade. I use innuendo, logic and reason. I work them up and play on their emotions. I don’t care, I make them kill.

But I’m done now. I retired with a broken body. My limbs are stiff and old from too many days on the parade ground. I limp around this town like a disabled. Too many wounds from battle. But I don’t care. I live, I breathe, I eat, I sleep. I’m a soldier. When I die, I die.

I remember a time when I was different. I remember a time when I was softer. I remember a time I loved a dog. It was a good dog, clever. God, I liked that dog. I fed it, I gave it water, I played with it. It was in the early days, when we still pretended to be a family. I remember the day my dog chose to shit in our living room. It was my fault. I closed the door behind it when I left for school. My old man was livid. He forced that axe into my hands. I pleaded with him, I cried, but he wouldn’t listen. He made me kill that dog that I loved.

When I took the dog to the back yard, it was happy. It must have thought I wanted to play. I struck it with the axe. I hoped killing it would be quick, but it wasn’t. It took so many blows. It wouldn’t die. It tried to lick my hand. I cried as I killed it. That was the last time I cried.

Not long after that, my father walked out on us. It was the last time I saw that asshole. Then after a while, my mother’s new boyfriend wanted me out of the house. The most communication I ever had with my sister was being the brunt of her sarcastic remarks. But for all that I was still as soft as butter. What made me hard was killing men. The killing I did and the way I loved it. I found that in myself. I’m a killer. I’m a hater. If I have to be honest, sometimes I imagined those screaming men were my father.

I saw the two of them coming down Dumont avenue. I was on my way to the Brownsville community pharmacy to get some pills for my knee. They must have been in their early twenties. Two fuckers. I knew they were trouble. I could see it in the way they walked. Swaggering. Like two big shots. Tall, muscular, baggy jeans hanging low, bling around their necks. I could see them reading me. Marking me. He’s old, he’s fucked. He’s limping around. The way they looked. I could see them reading me all wrong. Idiots.

I should’ve crossed the street, I know. Maybe I was looking for it. I wasn’t going to care how it hurt. I knew they were younger, stronger, faster. But, I guess I wanted it. Look, I’m really numb inside. I don’t care to die, but I sure as hell care how I die. That’s all, man.

I live in a flat. I’ve got nobody. No family, no friends, no pet canary. I’m retired, on pension. But once I was a fighting man, a soldier. People respected me, feared me. I was lieutenant-general. I saw active service many, many times in my life.

I killed many men, but let me tell you about this one time. It was chaos, in the battle of Baghdad. I got separated from my men by our own fucking artillery fire. One shell exploded so close to me it half tore my shirt off. It threw me up in the air. I landed in one of those big storm water pipes. I thought I was dead. Both my eardrums must have burst because there was blood coming out of my ears. I was dazed. I tried to get up but I had no balance. My knees buckled and I fell down again, and then he was on me.

He was big but he was unarmed. God knows why. Maybe the shell separated him from his rifle. He had this pitch-black beard and smoke-stinking breath. I remember him sitting on top of me and punching me. I just went into reflex mode. Reptilian survival. Lower brain function. I got my hands up covering my head, absorbing the blows against my shoulders. Then I thought, Jesus, thank God this fucker doesn’t know how to punch.  When the moment came, I just bucked. I found animal strength and I just pushed my hips up in the air and sort of twisted. He didn’t see it coming. He flew through the air, landed behind me.

He was a little slow getting up. So, I took out my tactical combat knife and dived into him. It was easy. I had my knife in my right hand in like an overhand hammer grip. He was fighting for his life. He grabbed my right arm with both his hands. He stopped the tip of that knife just as it pierced his cammo. I put my shoulders into it, all my weight. Look, let me admit to you, there was no technique in that moment, just brute strength against strength. I smelled that stinking breath.  I felt the blood squirting out my ears and I knew I was gonna kill him.

Back then I was a beast. I bench pressed four sets of eight with 400 pounds. I did squats with almost all the weights in our camp. Back then I was a fucking human monster. This dude was strong but I had my weight on top of him. When that blade went into him and he screamed, it was like sex. The best sex I ever had. He was screaming like a woman having an orgasm. It was so raw. I loved it.

When he was dead, I just flipped off him and I passed out. Fell asleep. They found me there later. Next to him with my knife sticking out of his chest. Next thing they gave me a medal, promoted me up the pecking order to major.

Anyway, I saw these two muggers giving each other a pre-determined signal. It was a nod of the head. I saw all the little signs clearly. Like reading an open book. They started walking differently. Less swaggering, more efficient, faster. Eyeballing me, marking me. I knew the one on the right, the one with all the bling on his fingers and around his neck was going to make the move. He was the leader, walking slightly ahead. I saw him half grin. I recognized the excitement in him. Relishing the anticipation of physical confrontation.

In spite of having faced this so many times, in spite of not caring, a tiny part of me still feared. Not so much the fear of getting hurt, but more the fear of letting myself down. Letting my big ego down. Reacting too slow because I’m old now and fucked. But fortunately, the anger was there too. Anger. Thank God for hot smoldering anger. Not pissy uncontrolled hysterical type rookie anger.  No, the right sort of anger. The dose must be balanced, just warm enough, smoldering. And I still had that. I know that kind of anger is not in every man. The realization reassured me.  I knew I would be alright. I was going to get something out of this for my ego.

Anger is something you need in a fight. It’s the thing that balance the fear you feel.  For me the balance of anger and fear in a fight is courage. For others it might be something different, patriotism or love for their country or their family or whatever, but that’s how it is for me. That is how I define courage. The right balance between fear and anger.

I waited for it. I knew I wouldn’t flinch or get caught by surprise. I knew I might be slow, or even too late, but I would just react. So, I saw him turn his right shoulder, and I knew it would be a left hook. He was setting it up, winding it up to throw it with all his weight. I knew he would expect me to drop like a sack of potatoes. Like just about any normal human being. But I was ready for him. I know all about that punch. I knocked out some men with it and I know how to defend it. So, I tucked my chin into my chest and rounded my shoulders a little. I planted both my feet firmly in the ground in that last split second. My knee is fucked when I move it, but when I plant it, it plants hard. I stood like a rock. As he threw his left arm at me, I lifted my right shoulder up tucking my chin deep into it. His left bounced off my shoulder and over my head. My shoulders are still hard like rock. When I fuck the girls from the street corner, they’re always surprised when they feel how hard my arms and shoulders are. He was off balance, his head close to me. So, I lifted my right elbow into a full-on rhino elbow strike. It crushed into the bridge of his nose sending him back. I think he was almost knocked out. He almost fell.

God, my ego liked that look on his face. Him throwing that mighty punch and ending with blood pouring from a broken nose, all dizzy. And this old geezer, just grinning at him. There is something sickening when you realize you’re in a fight with someone better then you. I saw him doubting himself with that one move. I think he almost wanted to run but his ego wouldn’t let him. And the other one was cheering him on. Can you believe it. Instead of helping. He should have helped his mate, ganged up on me. But he was cheering him on. Like a spectator at a Golden Gloves tournament. Stupid. So, Bling must have thought let me just try again. I can’t look like an idiot in front of this one. After all, this is just a limping old man. Maybe he just got lucky with that first punch.

But now he was a little more careful. He was squaring off with me. Lifting his hands up like a boxer. But he was no boxer. He was making these ridiculous dancing movements. So, I waited for it. Sen no sen is what the Nips call it. It’s a Karate thing. You wait. You act in that split second just after they start moving.

This time he came in with a right. It was a slower, wider punch. Almost tentative. It was easy to block with my left arm and trap tightly in my armpit. I lifted my good knee into his groin. I felt something crush under my knee and he wailed. He was like a fucking baby. I stepped out with his right arm still trapped under my left armpit and smeared him into the lamp post. He was done. Finished for the day and the rest of the week as well. But I stepped back and gave him my best kick in the head, just for good measure. Unfortunately, that got some blood and snot on my shoe.

So, I looked at the other one. I think it’s the first time in his life he saw Bling lose a fight. He was calculating his options. He looked around. There were some people watching us. I think he felt he had to do something. So, he said:

“I’ve got a knife.”

And I said to him:

“Are you a killer?”

He said:

“Maybe, you wanna find out?”

And I said to him:

“Are you a soldier?”

And he said:

“Fuck no, what’s it to you old man?”

So, I said to him:

“If you’re neither of those things, don’t take out that knife. Cause I’m both of them. I’ll take that knife from you and I’ll carve you up like a turkey.”

He lost his nerve. He did the chicken run.

So, I started walking again, to Brownsville community pharmacy, to get some pills for my knee.


About the Author

Andreas Engelbrecht is a Krav-Maga instructor in Pretoria South-Africa. He has background experience in other marital arts including differnet styles of karate, AMOK knife skills, boxing, defensive shooting and Chin Na. South-Africa has a notably high rate of violent crime. Andreas is an emergency physician with more than twenty years of experience in the management of trauma and medical emergencies. He has travelled extensively to all six inhabitalble continents and he has written academic publications for journals such as the African Journal of Emergency Medicine. His short stories have been published in local South-African journals and he has written and contributed to a number of non-fictional books on both medical and non-medical topics. He is a keen hunter and has participated in archaeological excavations on iron age sites in Southern-Africa. Andreas is an Advanced Trauma Life Support instructor and has developed and continues to presents courses that deals with the management snake bites and poisonous plants, ECG interpreation and airway management. 

Photo, "Neighborhood," by kelly on Flickr. No changes made to photo.