A recent study was conducted that analysed hundreds of hand-to-hand combat encounters in the US Army, and it found that the vast majority of them used grappling techniques commonly found in sports like BJJ, Judo, and wrestling. While this might not sound like groundbreaking news for people who are already involved in one or more of the grappling arts, it is the first time that a study has been conducted to confirm what many people have long suspected.
The study was conducted by analyzing 30 Post-Combat Surveys that were administered to various US Army soldiers from 2004 up to 2008. These surveys were conducted after the soldiers returned from either Iraq or Afghanistan and they covered a total of 1,226 soldiers. Out of those, 216 (19%) reported that they had to use hand-to-hand combat skills in at least one of the encounters that they had. The study relied on the US Army soldiers recounting those experiences and then categorising the skills that they used as either grappling, striking, or the use of weapons (rifle butt strikes etc.).
They found that grappling was overwhelmingly the most common of those categories, as it was used in 72.6% of all hand-to-hand combat encounters. This was followed by the use of weapons, which accounted for 21.9% of all encounters, and surprisingly striking turned out to be the least common just 5.5% of the time. The US Army soldiers also reported the specific grappling techniques that they used as well, although it’s worth noting that the study relies solely on their own description and not that of a third-party who may have more knowledge and be able to differentiate from similar but distinctly different techniques.
According to the soldiers, the most common grappling technique used was ‘Takedown (non-specific)’, which accounted for 21.9% of the interactions that used grappling. There was also categories for ‘Leg/Foot Sweep’ which accounted for 5.5%, ‘Throw (non-specific)’ which accounted for 3.4% and ‘Takedown, Knee’ which accounted for 1.4%. Coming in at a close second in the table of most common techniques was surprisingly ‘Armbar’, which was used in 17.8% of the hand-to-hand encounters that used grappling.
While armbar itself isn’t very specific, unfortunately there are other categories that could include a wide range of different techniques as well. ‘Submission (non-specific)’ accounted for 17.1%, ‘Choke’ accounted for 15.1%, and ‘Holds/Locks (non-specific)’ accounted for 9.6%. The two remaining categories were unusually specific compared to the rest, with ‘Mount’ and ‘Wristlock’ each accounting for exactly 4.1%. What this does show us is that upper-body submissions are clearly the most-preferred option when submissions are required, and takedowns or throws are incredibly important when it comes to those situations.
This falls in line with a lot of the common wisdom that is espoused, and it shows that there is some sense behind it. It also shows that men like Jocko Willink were right all along, and grappling is an absolutely vital skill for soldiers in combat. He’s nowhere near alone in this train of thought either, it’s actually pretty common. In fact, Royce Gracie’s son Kheydon actually enlisted in the US Army and his grappling skills will no doubt be incredibly useful to him.
The full study that shows that most of the hand-to-hand combat situations in the US Army involve grappling can be found here.