Overview of Close Combat


1. Purpose of Close Combat

Close combat is the physical confrontation between two or more opponents. It involves armed and unarmed and lethal and nonlethal fighting techniques that range from enforced compliance to deadly force. The purpose of close combat is to execute armed and unarmed techniques to produce both lethal and nonlethal results. Unarmed techniques include hand-to-hand combat and defense against hand-held weapons. Armed techniques include techniques applied with a rifle, bayonet, knife, baton, or any weapon of opportunity.

2. Continuum of Force

Marines will find themselves in both combative and noncombative situations. The threat level in these situations can rise and fall several times based on the actions of both Marines and the people involved. The escalation of force stops when

one person complies with the demands imposed by another person. This range of actions is known as a continuum of force. Continuum of force is the concept that there is a wide range of possible actions, ranging from voice commands to application of deadly force, that may be used to gain and maintain control of a potentially dangerous situation (MCO 5500.6_, Arming of Security and Law Enforcement [LE] Personnel and the Use of Force). Continuum of force consists of five levels that correspond to the behavior of the people involved and the actions Marines use to handle the situation (see the table below). Close combat techniques are executed in levels three, four, and five.

Level One: Compliant (Cooperative)

The subject complies with verbal commands. Close combat techniques do not apply.

Level Two: Resistant (Passive)

The subject resists verbal commands but complies immediately to any contact controls. Close combat techniques do not apply.

Continuum of Force
Level Description Actions
1 Compliant (Cooperative) Verbal commands
2 Resistant (Passive) Contact controls
3 Resistant (Active) Compliance techniques
4 Assaultive (Bodily Harm) Defensive tactics
5 Assaultive (Serious Bodily Harm/ Death) Deadly force
Note: Shading indicates levels in which Marines use close combat techniques.

Level Three: Resistant (Active)

The subject initially demonstrates physical resistance. Marines use compliance techniques to control the situation. Level three incorporates close combat techniques to physically force a subject to comply. Techniques include—

  • Come-along holds.
  • Soft-handed stunning blows.
  • Pain compliance through joint manipulation and the use of pressure points.
Level Four: Assaultive (Bodily Harm)

The subject may physically attack Marines, but he does not use a weapon. Marines use defensive tactics to neutralize the threat. Defensive tactics include the following close combat techniques:

  • Blocks.
  • Strikes.
  • Kicks.
  • Enhanced pain compliance procedures.
  • Nightstick blocks and blows.
Level Five: Assaultive (Serious Bodily Harm/Death)

The subject usually has a weapon and will either kill or seriously injure someone if he is not stopped immediately and brought under control. Typically, to control the subject, Marines apply deadly force through the use of a firearm, but they may also use armed and unarmed close combat techniques.

3. Marine Corps Tactical Concepts

Close combat techniques support the following key Marine Corps tactical concepts. The concepts are not standalone ideas but are to be combined to achieve an effect that is greater than their separate sum.

Achieving a Decision

Achieving a decision is important in close combat. An indecisive fight wastes energy and possibly Marines' lives. Whether the intent is to control an opponent through restraint or defend themselves in war, Marines must have a clear purpose before engaging in close combat and act decisively once engaged.

Gaining an Advantage

A basic principle of martial arts is to use the opponent's strength and momentum against him to gain more leverage than one's own muscles alone can generate, thereby gaining an advantage. In close combat, Marines must exploit every advantage over an opponent to ensure a successful outcome. This can include employing various weapons and close combat techniques that will present a dilemma to an opponent. Achieving surprise can also greatly increase leverage. Marines try to achieve surprise through deception, stealth, and ambiguity.


Marines use speed to gain the initiative and advantage over the enemy. In close combat, the speed and violence of the attack against an opponent provides Marines with a distinct advantage. Marines must know and understand the basics of close combat so they can act instinctively with speed to execute close combat techniques.


Close combat can be characterized by friction, uncertainty, disorder, and rapid change. Each situation is a unique combination of shifting factorsthat cannot be controlled with precision or certainty. For example, a crowd control mission maycall for Marines to employ various techniquesranging from nonlethal restraint to more forcefulapplications. Marines who adapt quickly willhave a significant advantage.

Exploiting Success

Typically, an enemy will not normally surrender simply because he was placed at a disadvantage. Marines cannot be satisfied with gaining an advantage in a close combat situation. They must exploit any advantage aggressively and ruthlessly until an opportunity arises to completely dominate the opponent. Marines must exploit success by using every advantage that can be gained.