Monthly Book Review

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KILL OR GET KILLED

by Rex Applegate

(1976 edition. Published by Paladin Press 7077 Winchester Circle  Boulder, Colorado 80301-3505 USA)

The original wartime edition of the most famous and excellent book on close combat ever written.

The original wartime edition of the most famous and excellent book on close combat ever written.

The latest (1976 reprint) efition of this Classic.

The latest (1976 reprint) edition of this Classic.

WHAT can one say about the greatest single book that has ever been written on the subject of armed and unarmed close combat? Precisely that! In fact, KILL OR GET KILLED remains The Book on the now famous “WWII era methods” of armed and unarmed hand-to-hand combat, alongside which all other books that have been writen on the subject are to be compared and judged  for quality and authenticity!

It is fitting that the first book review on this site be of a title authored by our own greatest mentor in the field. We credit the late Rex Applegate and the late Charles Nelson (“Sarge”) with being the two top and most influential teachers of practical, realistic, and effective close combat doctrine in our life. We are of course grateful too to those from whom we learned ju-jutsu, taekwon-do, varmannie, ch’uan fa (“kenpo-karate”), and assorted other skills and methods. We certainly also bow our head in respectful gratitude to the late Father of Armed and Unarmed Western Combatives — William Ewart Fairbairn — from whose works, and from one who (like Rex Applegate, who had learned at Fairbairn ‘s own hand)  taught us. We learned valuable lessons from many sources. However, the greatest live teacher in our lifetime, and the one who most greatly influenced the devlopment of our own System, American Combato (Jen•Do•Tao), was undoubtedly, far and away, Col. Rex Applegate.

This Classic treats the matter of unarmed combat in less than 70 pages. Exactly as the subject ought to be treated, when the purpose is to get down to the bare bones fundamentals, and to explain the subject so that statistically average men can acquire a working capability with it, before they go off to war and find themselves pitted against lethal enemies in real battle. And this was Applegate’s purpose. Focusing on blows (which, as Applegate stresses, actual experience in combat has proven to be the best way to handle engagements with a dangerous foe) Kill or Get Killed describes a number of techniques, but emphasizes the EDGE-OF-THE-HAND BLOW, the CHINJAB, and the low KNEE KICK. This last being what we refer to as being  a “low side kick to the knee“. Other blows, such as the knee-to-the-testicles, ear boxing, knuckle jabbing, and elbow smashing, etc. are described, with of course that vital emphasis on ATTACKING, which is so sorely neglected (and had even then been neglected) in training for real world encounters. It is notable that the U.S. Army’s official and then current field manual on the subject of “Unarmed Defense For the American Soldier” (FM 21-150) did not accord with Applegate’s doctrine, and in numerous presentations and papers delivered on the subject during the war, Applegate pointed out the inherent folly of that which the Army had “officially” been presenting to the troops via this very Field Manual. Kill or Get Killed was not published by the Army, but was produced  privately, by Stackpole Books, as one of that publisher’s series of excellent works on combat, during WWII.

Eye gouging, biting, and what we found to be the most sensible and realistic instruction ever put into print ever on the subjects of fighting multiple attackers and fighting when on the ground is also described in Kill or Get Killed. Applegate, like every combat-experienced wartime teacher, stressed the need for FOUL METHODS, for  NOT going to the ground voluntarily, and for never expecting to emerge uninjured from any hand-to-hand fight. To this day the majority of “martial arts students and teachers” fail completely to “get” this critical series of points (as, largely, do numerous individuals who decide how members of our armed services ought to be trained, today! See the August 2009 on-line edition of Sword & Pen for evidence of this. Go to www.americancombato.com).

Kill or Get Killed describes the principles and techniques of applying basic throws but emphasizes that blows should always be employed whenever possible instead of such relatively complex and risky methods. The combative version of the shoulder throw (i.e. palm up, executed in a manner that is calculated to kill) is described, as is the cross-buttock (original ju-jutsu)  version of the hip throw. We note that almost every single so-called “self-defense”, “ju-jutsu”, or “combat” system that teaches throwing today, teaches the Kodokan Judo versions of both the shoulder and hip throws (i.e. ippon seoinage and o-goshi, respectively).

Although marvelously practical and complete in its description of “defensive unarmed combat” (speaking from the standpoint of evaluating a short-term emergency program in the subject, which is precisely that which Kill or Get Killed was written to synopsize in print) the book frankly advocates OFFENSE, and this is what everyone looking for the real deal needs to hear! One does not win any battle by being defensive. Period. If that were all that one derived from Kill or Get Killed after studying the tome, his  reading of it  would have been worthwhile!

Some holds are demonstrated in the book, but are quite properly not emphasized. Their weakness (frankly stressed by Applegate)  making even the best of them not suitable against a determined man who is willing  to resist and to escape. If only those optimists who continue teaching lukewarm “defensive tactics” (often aikido based) would really study Kill or Get Killed!

While most famous as The Classic on unarmed combat, Kill or Get Killed has marvelous and valuable chapters on knifework (both defense against knife attack and how to use a knife in combat against an enemy) and on combat handgun technique, as well as close quarters work with a shoulder weapon.  Both the material on knifework and on combat use of the handgun and shoulder weapon are as current, valid, important, correct, and necessary TODAY – in this 21st century – as they were when written (originally as classified documents) during WWII. “Gun buffs” and other weapon aficionados would do well to recognize this, and to toss in the trash most of the recently popularized material on the “new technique” of the pistol, and assorted other stuff on “knife fighting”, etc.Kill or Get Killed contains that which works — not in the competition venue, but in dangerous, unforgiving, chaotic, fast-paced lethal COMBAT.

Although he never made muh of a point about it, we’d like to do so right now, regarding another outstanding and exclusive chapter in Kill or Get Killed;  the chapter on Disarming: In fact, Rex Applegate is the developer of the “disarming” techniques that are described in that chapter in which the edge-of-the-hand blow “chop aside” actions are illustrated against firearms. He also originated the shoulder weapon “disarms”. (Note: We do not believe that “disarming” is a good term for these types of skills, since “taking the enemy’s weapon away” is practically never the goal. Rather, avoiding being shot and then dispatching the gunman is the objective. We had discussed this with Col. Applegate and, in the 1980′s when we did so, he concurred).

We have listened with  great amusement in the past to one or another “martial artist”  criticize not only the “disarming” section of Kill or Get Killed, but also the unarmed combat sections and the knifework for  being “too simple”. To criticize close combat methods because they are”too simple” is like criticizing a scalpel because it is “too sharp”! One can only scratch one’s head, smile, and walk away.

Post-war editions of Kill or Get Killed include increasing amounts of material on crowd and riot control, and related law enforcement and military police matters. Since there is not one single edition of Kill or Get Killed that leaves out the unarmed combat, knife combat,and firearms instrucion — in full — it hardly matter which edition one obtains and studies. They  all impart pure gold.

Because of the personal relationship and close association  that we had for more than 25 years with Rex Applegate, and due to the great affection that we have for the man and for his memory, we may be accused of being biased when we urge his book as being essential in the working library of every professional in our field.  But before dismissing this review as an exaggeration, or our feelings and assessment as going overboard, please consider that there is not a single genuine professional teacher of close combat and real world self-defense in the world who disagrees with us.

Buy the book.

AMERICAN COMBAT JUDO, by Bernard J. Cosneck (Latest reprint available from Paladin Press. Originally published in 1944 by Sentinel Books, NYC.)

This is the original 1944 edition of AMERICAN COMBAT JUDO. It is identical to subsequent editions in all ways, except for the original's inclusion of a technique for gouging out an adversary's eye. Personally, we feel that this makes the original edition THE ONE TO LOOK FOR, but the latest reprint — by Paladin Press — of the later post-WWII edition (without the eye gouge) is well worth acquiring. Cosneck's use of the term "combat judo" is interesting. He is not the only one to use this term, which would seem to be a "catch all" for general types of unarmed combat. The United States Marine Corps used this term synonymously with "jiu-jitsu" or "ju-jitsu". In fact Sgt. Robert Carlin, USMC also authored a rather brief booklet on the subject of "combat judo", too. Carlin's material was not identical with Cosneck's. One of our own teachers, Charles Nelson, was often referred to as a "combat judo" instructor.  There is no one system per se that is in fact "Combat Judo".

This is the original 1944 edition of AMERICAN COMBAT JUDO. It is identical to subsequent editions in all ways, except for the original's inclusion of a technique for gouging out an adversary's eye. Personally, we feel that this makes the original edition THE ONE TO LOOK FOR, but the latest reprint — by Paladin Press — of the later post-WWII edition (without the eye gouge) is well worth acquiring. Cosneck's use of the term "combat judo" is interesting. He is not the only one to use this term, which would seem to be a "catch all" for general types of unarmed combat. The United States Marine Corps used this term synonymously with "jiu-jitsu" or "ju-jitsu". In fact Sgt. Robert Carlin, USMC also authored a rather brief booklet on the subject of "combat judo", too. Carlin's material was not identical with Cosneck's. One of our own teachers, Charles Nelson, was often referred to as a "combat judo" instructor. There is no one system per se that is in fact "Combat Judo".

Bernard (“Barney”) Cosneck was a wrestling champion,  having twice won  “Big Ten” championship contests as a student at the University of Illinois. He collaborated in the design and teaching of an unarmed combat course while serving in the United States Coast Guard. His partner was none other than the great Jack Dempsey. The two men also co-authored a book titled HOW TO FIGHT TOUGH, which Paladin Press has also made available in reprint. We cannot help but note that these two men — each representing an entirely different form of martial sport —  nonetheless were friends and collaborative partners! A huge lesson for some of the myopically one-sided in today’s “martial arts field”. What is more: both men recognized the severe limitations inherent in their own respective disciplines, and consequently looked to the proven “dirty” or “gutter” tactics of commando fighting for the core of their COMBAT teachings! Something, once again, that many of the “our system wins in contests, so we’re the best” crowd might learn something from — IF they’re teachable, that is.

Anyway, this is an excellent book on unarmed combat. Most particularly, the original “wartime” edition, if you can locate a copy, is the one to get. In that first edition Cosneck describes and illustrates how he advocates gouging out an enemy’s eye. His technique, for those who have never seen or who cannot obtain a copy of the original edition, involved driving the index finger into the outside corner of the enemy’s eye, and then driving powerfully inward. While we cannot vouch for this particular technique’s efficiency from personal experience, we are quite willing to accept Cosneck’s assurance that it is a great way to pop someone’s eye out of his head! In our experience and from our own research and training, we always advocate that the thumb(s) be driven into the inside corner(s) of the adversary’s eye(s). Our reason is simple: It is all but impossible for him to escape the gouge by turning away sharply (which would almost always be anyone’s reflexive reaction to a finger driven into his eye, we’d imagine), and by using the thumb (not the index finger) you can practically hold onto your man’s head and effect your attack no matter his response. Now we must hasten to say here that Cosneck definitely emphasizes that the enemy’s head be braced and held securely for this technique, so we cannot argue that — done the Cosneck way — the action would be supremely effective. We are a bit concerned about those combatants whose prowess at holding a man stable might be considerably less than an expert, powerful wrestler’s, like Cosneck.

As is true of ALL genuine close combat masters, Bernard Cosneck builds his method around BLOWS, not holds or throws, despite the fact that he was a wrestler. This is also true of the U.S. Navy’s Wesley Brown and Joe Begala (architects of the Naval Aviation V-5 Program in Hand-to-Hand Combat). These men were both highly accomplished wrestling experts — but when it came to war and to real combat, these grapplers (like O’Neill and Fairbairn) knew what gives! Cosneck’s pet blows are the proven “hack” (his term for the edge-of-the-hand blow) and the “jab” (his term for the middle-finger-one-knuckle strike). He stresses these actions right at the commencement of the book, which is wise. This establishes the critical nature of striking, and Cosneck demonstrates where these two blows are best delivered.

Again, we take minor issue with Cosneck’s advocacy of the knuckle jab. It is an effective blow, but not for everyone. A strong man with heavy bones and powerful hands wil find the blow outstanding; but lesser endowed individuals will not. Personally, we offer this blow only to our own students after they have spent quite a while on hand-axe chops, chinjabs, elbow smashes, fingers-to-the-eyes, hammerfist blows, and a few other (in our personal opinion) easier-for-most-people-to-apply striking techniques. But for anyone whose physiology lends itself to the use of the “jab” as Cosneck teaches it, there will be no problem whatever in following the instruction in this book, precisely!

Illustrated also are such niceties as clapping the ears (unfortunately, Cosneck does not place emphasis upon cupping the hands, as Fairbairn did, but simply shows the open hands smashing into the adversary’s head), stomping on the instep, punching the solar plexus, and kneeing the testicles — all great stuff and, quite properly high on the “must learn” list for any man looking for honest-to-goodness real world hand-to-hand skills.

Since the book is a wartime text it is not surprising that some techniques, such as how to garrotte someone, which are useful to special forces  types, are included in the instruction.

Certain defense actions, such as Cosneck’s recommended actions against a rear body scissors and the Japanese strangle will only work when those types of attack are amateurishly applied. We personally would never employ a rear body scissors without locking on a rear stranglehold, as well. And the Japanese strangle ALWAYS is properly taught as a military skill by jerking the opponent vigorously to the rear, off balance. But we point these things out more for the benefit of those who learn exclusively from books, so that they will know the limitations of some of that which many years of training has taught us, and not to nit-pick and criticize.

Cosneck demonstrates a handgun defense, when threatened from behind, that we would strongly recommend against. It is similar to one of the handgun counters that Applegate refers to in his Classic, and which, interestingly enough, we discussed with the late wartime combatives Grandmaster. The technique involves applying a kind of armlock to the gunman, and then wresting away his firearm. Cosneck goes so far as to apply a throw, and then “covers” the downed attacker with his own weapon. Nice for a demonstration and show — terrible in any actual situation! When we brought the technique up in a discussion with Rex Applegate many years ago, we said that we would never attempt such a technique. Our method is a two-step plan (ie 1. Get out of alignment with the weapon, and 2. Kill the gunman). Applegate agreed heartily. “Yes Brad,” he said, “you’re right. But we taught this and used it as a demonstration of what an expert in ‘disarming’ might be able to accomplish. This gave the trainees confidence.”

Again, we only point out this disagreement with Cosneck’s teachings to assist those who might not have any extensive and formalized background in the “real thing” — so as to help them fully benefit from that which is valuable in the book, while staying away from the few things that are not.

And MOST of American Combat Judo is excellent. We’d say that fully 80% of what Cosneck  describes is valuable and doable, and deserves consideration in a good hand-to-hand combat program.

This is one of those books that belongs in every professional’s library. And it is one that serious students will benefit from reading, too.

The final section of the book is a single page — but a valuable one. It synopsizes “situations” and their responses, as taught in the book. This is a valuable review and practice aid for students and teachers alike, who will use this book as a training text.