Medieval Unarmed Combat

Examples of the fighting style, with parallels to modern techniques
At first glance, the unarmed combat shown in old Medieval "fight books" is comical. It looks like an awkward attempt at grappling. That is because of the stylized art used by Medieval illustrators. A closer look reveals a strong fighting system designed to put an adversary on the ground quickly. Some of these techniques are brutally efficient. Many are familiar to students of another combative art: Jujitsu. The Medieval methods are identical to many Jujitsu techniques with one difference. Medieval technique is utterly ruthless. To help you understand the nuance of Medieval fighting, I have placed them alongside identical techniques from modern military combative systems. I will be preparing a printed resource in the future that gives an in-depth look at Medieval and Renaissance techniques from various sources.

From a World War II era guidebook jujitsu book

A chop

Using a palm or claw to the face to break a bear hug

Palm heel defense from a World War II German manual.

Applying an arm bar

Arm bar defense from the 1971 Army manual.

This same technique. The soldier is not carrying his opponent, but has spun him and is about to drop him. Lift and drop on the knee. It is not so much a lift as wheeling the person off his feet.

The "Figure 4" armlock.

A well-known Jujitsu technique, here is a variant of the armlock from an Army manual.

The same armlock is shown in a 1943 Army manual. Here it is used to counter a downward knife attack. Bent arm armlock

Attacker on right grabs or chokes his opponent. The defender on This 1946 Danish manual depicts the Fairbairn Technique for breaking a the left uses a left hand strike to break the choke. Simultaneously, choke. It is identical to the Medieval trick. He chops at the inside of the attacker's elbow and knees him. The next move would be to grip attacker's he grabs the attacker's wrist so as to be able to apply a hold.

wrist and apply an arm bar.

The "flying mare" is an overshoulder throw.

Here is the same technique in a 1942 Canadian manual. This throw is a common trick of 20th Century hand-to-hand combat.

Medieval Disarming Techniques
Medieval fighters learned to fight with a variety of weapons. Wrestling included techniques to be used alone, or in conjunction with weapons. There were also last-resort techniques by which an unarmed man might protect himself from an armed adversary. The Medieval fighters were pragmatic. They knew that an armed man had a distinct advantage over an unarmed one, no matter how well trained. However, they also know that having something to use against an opponent was better than having nothing. The techniques shown here are very old. In a weird twist, similar methods were found in Jujitsu and made their way into military unarmed combat. It is as if we have come full circle, discovering that the best of modern unarmed combat turns out to be our old Medieval wrestling. While it is nice to look at these techniques, I would NOT advise trying them. Those so inclined should seek the instruction of a qualified teacher. These methods are the same as well-known Jujitsu and wrestling techniques.

The defender falls back, kicking and then levering his opponent onto the ground.

Here is the same maneuver in an Army manual. It is a popular Judo trick.

The same technique from a 1953 Army manual. Bent armlock takedown.

Armlock takedown. Similar technique from 1943 Army manual. The armlock is called an arm bar.

Life and drop onto the knee. Here the defender lifts the enemy's knee with the right hand and pushes with the left. He wheels the opponent over Similar technique. The soldier lifted the knee, and pushed his rather than lifts him. opponent's face to wheel him. Again, he did not lift him, but wheeled him over.

Knee jerk and trip. The man on the left pulls his opponent's knees, forcing him to fall onto his back.

The same technique used in an old Swedish Army manual from the 1950s.

The defender on the right blocks an upward thrust with a cross-arm block. This manual was written in the early to mid-15th Century In this World War II German manual, the soldier defends with the same technique.

Knight on the right uses a cross-arm defense against a downward thrust.

The same defense in the German manual. This manual was written about 500 years after the preceding Medieval text.

The same technique as it appeared in a Canadian manual, circa 1941 Two fighters in a Medieval version of a clinch. Note the block used by the man on the left

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