Copyright 2006 T. Sheil & A. Sheil  All Rights Reserved

Milihistriot Quarterly

The Journal for Military Miniature Enthusiasts

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. 



A chop


From a World War II era guidebook jujitsu book


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.


Lift and drop on the knee. It is not so much a lift as wheeling the person off his feet.


This same technique. The soldier is not carrying his opponent, but has spun him and is about to drop him.


The "Figure 4" armlock.


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


Bent arm armlock


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


Attacker on right grabs or chokes his opponent. The defender on the left uses a left hand strike to break the choke. Simultaneously, he grabs the attacker's wrist so as to be able to apply a hold.


This 1946 Danish manual depicts the Fairbairn Technique for breaking a 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 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.

Disclaimer: the fighting methods shown here are for illustrative purposes only.  They are not intended as actual instruction in Medieval fighting and should not be used as such.  Close combat training is dangerous.  It can be as dangerous for the user as it is for the target.  If you wish to learn close combat, seek a qualified instructor. One should never attempt close combat without the instruction and supervision of a qualified expert instructor .

Click here to return to the main page