V-5 U.S. NAVY Manual Hand-to-Hand Combat
Published originally in 1943. Available today from Paladin Press in a softcover reprint of the original edition.
WE first acquired a copy of this book in the 1950′s, and we still have it, along with another original wartime edition (published earlier), which we acquired from a bookfinder in the 1980′s. We regard these books as supremely valuable and important contributions to the literature of close combat and realistic, practical personal defense.
Wesley Brown and Joe Begala were the men who developed the hand-to-hand combat course that was taught at the U.S. Naval Institute to Navy Aviators during WWII. Both men were accomplished experts in wrestling, and Wesley Brown had also done some cursory studies in ju-jutsu and savate. Hand-to-Hand Combat is a rather complete exposition of a good deal of excellent technical material that is, for the most part, fully reliable in real world encounters — whether in wartime or on the streets of an urban city, in peacetime. Although not without some flaws, we’d rate this tome as one of the essential references for serious students of personal combat, and for all teachers who focus upon practicality and realism in the martial arts that they present to their students.
The book’s section on FUNDAMENTALS is in our opinion the most valuable part of the book. Emphasis is given here to a presentation of many gouges, blows, jabs, and other damaging actions that are forthright, practical, and easily adaptable to an infinite number of emergencies. Necklocks are explained, as are a few simple holds and throws — these last two being perhaps less than the very best actions for close combat. However, there is no great complexity in the holds and throws taught, and it is possible that with lots of practice a fit and serious trainee could apply them against a dangerous foe. In other words, this is not Kodokan judo or any of the flashy ju-jutsu one is so often presented with in “self-defense” books. The techniques are all quite practical — with some being somewhat less practical than others.
Being primarily wrestlers, Wesley Brown and Joe Begala (the two men who created and taught the WWII program to Naval personnel, and who put together the Manual) let their wrestling orientation influence a bit too much of their program’s contents. For example, their advocacy of wrestling’s arm drag and switch techniques against frontal attack is, in our opinion, questionable. Perhaps a skilled wrestler could pull this off in a hand-to-hand encounter, but we seriously doubt that anyone whose exposure to these techniques was limited to their being taught in a brief close combat course could ever make them work against a fierce military adversary, or a seasoned street assailant.
There is also a too great an emphasis in those sections of the Manual subsequent to the fundamentals section on reactive or defensive combatives. That is, the reader finds description after description of (albeit for the most part effective) self-defense responses to attacks. This neglects the all-important OFFENSIVE methods — and we therefore cannot equate the fundamental premise of this work, or the manner in which it is presented, as equivalent to that which one finds in the works of Applegate, Fairbairn (especially in GET TOUGH!), and Styers. Doubtless, graduates of the program for which this book served as a text were fierce and formidable hand-to-hand fighters, and we know that Brown and Begala did stree attack; however, we would like to see this philosophy reflected much more powerfully in the physical skills that the Manual describes.
We like the section in this Manual on knife use. It does not present a method of knifework equal in merit to that described in Kill or Get Killed, but it offers a refreshing emphasis on attacking and killing with the knife (as opposed to the ridiculous dueling, which, unfortunately, has even crept into the training today of CIA personnel at Camp Peary, and that constitutes the farce of “knife fighting” instruction so often taught in seminars and classes in the martial arts).
Oddly, the mistake that the authors of Hand-to-Hand Combat avoid when teaching knife skills, they make when describing stick techniques. For some odd reason, the Manual contains stick vs. stick work which, while infinitely more practical and realistic than the popularly taught stick work of, for example arnis, still reflects little of what practical stick combat ought to entail (i.e. attacking and maiming or killing, with the stick — period).
Some of the weapon “disarms” (poor but common choice of words when discussing counterattacking a knife, stick, or gun wielding foe) are good, and some are not. The knife defenses are less than the best. We would not recommend them. The handgun and shoulder weapon counters are mixed in value. We would suggest not using anything like the “takeaway” described versus a pistol threat, or the counters to a man’s reaching for a shoulder-holstered sidearm using an armlock. This type of threat calls for a killing blow to the throat, or a kick to the testicles, followed up with a lethal attack — not the application of an armlock(!) as depicted in the Manual.
Offensive methods of liquidating an enemy is a good section of the book. We would never suggest that the full nelson with forward trip be taught, however, for such a purpose. Maybe a genuine wrestling master could employ such a technique in wartime by coming up behind an enemy and applying it; but no short-term pupil of a combat course could do so, if that was all the wrestling experience he possessed. Also, it takes physical superiority to make the full nelson effective under any conditions — and realistic training demands that what is taught be doable against an enemy who is stronger and larger than oneself. Additionally, the full nelson can be countered instantly and effectively by doing the most simple of actions: locking one’s elbows to one’s side upon feeling the attack commence. Better to use a knife in the back, and then slit the throat, or apply a neckbreak from behind and forget about wrestling with the guy!
Hand-to-Hand Combat is a lengthy work with a lot of good, valuable material. We do not on any account wish to leave the reader with the idea that this book is so-so. It is excellent.
On balance, despite the few flaws in its presentation, we must rate this wartime classic “8” on a scale of 1 to 10. You are missing some real gold if you neglect a serious study of what Hand-to-Hand Combat contains.