Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Aug 2000

FM 21-150, Unarmed Defense for the American Soldier, June 30, 1942, Section I, General

Editor's notes by Joseph R. Svinth. Text provided by Mike Belzer. Copyright © EJMAS 2000.

Basic Field Manual

Unarmed Defense for the American Soldier

War Department,

Washington, June 30, 1942.

FM 21-150, Unarmed Defense for the American Soldier, is published for the information and guidance of all concerned.



Chief of Staff

  1. General
  2. Basic principles.
  3. Wrist escapes.
  4. Escapes from body holds.
  5. Defenses against choke holds.
  6. Defenses against kicks.
  7. Taking prisoners.
  8. Defenses against knife and sword.
  9. Defenses against blows with club, and technique of club.
  10. Defenses against pistol.
  11. Defenses against rifle.
  12. Defenses against wrestling holds
  13. Defenses against grips on garments or hair.
  14. Defenses against fist attacks.
  15. Incapacitating an opponent.
Section I


1. SCOPE. -- This manual describes a method of self-protection available to the American soldier, if through any circumstance he is unarmed or unable to use his weapons.

2. PURPOSE OF TRAINING. -- The object of this training is to develop the soldier in the art of unarmed self-defense, and to improve his skill in the use of his basic weapons, through speeded reflexes. Confidence in his own ability unarmed, like confidence in his weapons, makes a man a better soldier.

3. NECESSITY FOR TRAINING IN UNARMED DEFENSE. -- The average soldier, if trained only in the use of his weapons, loses his effectiveness if these weapons are lost or fail to function. However, particularly in hand-to-hand fighting, if a soldier should be deprived of his weapon or have it destroyed, he is at the mercy of the enemy. This appears to apply mainly to the Infantry, and probably the greatest value of American unarmed defense will be to that arm. Nevertheless, in these days of fluid warfare, troops in rear echelons, artillery, and antitank units might find themselves in hand-to-hand combat with no defensive weapons except sidearms and bare hands.

Click for East Coast Martial Art Supply

4. TRAINING PROGRAM. -- The training of the soldier in unarmed defense requires no special equipment or uniform. Clothing will depend upon the season of the year and the state of the weather. Work outdoors is preferable since a greater number of men can be trained simultaneously. Thirty minutes' instruction or practice each day will make a man adept in a very short period of time. If no additional time is available, this part of the training can be integrated into the physical training program. It is desirable, in order to obtain the maximum results, that the instruction follow closely the steps outlined in this manual. However, it is realized that all units will not have the time to go through the entire book. For units with a limited time allotment for this subject, it is recommended that the following be taught:

a. Section II. -- Principles of unarmed defense.

b. Section III.

    1. One escape from underarm front body hold.
    2. One escape from front overarm body hold.
    3. One escape from rear underarm body hold
c. Section V.
    1. One escape from two-handed front choke.
    2. One escape from two-handed rear choke. One escape from one-arm rear strangle.
    3. One defense for downward stroke of knife.
d. Section VIII.
    1. One defense for upward stroke of knife.
    2. One defense for downward sword cut.
    3. One defense for sword lunge.
e. Section IX.
    1. One defense for downward blow of club.
    2. One defense for side blow of club.
    3. One defense for reverse stroke of club.
f. Section X.
    1. One defense for pistol in front, right or left hand.
    2. One defense for pistol in back, right or left hand.
g. Section XI. -- Complete section.

For military police units with limited time, it is recommended that in addition to the above, sections VI, VIII, IX, X, XII, and XIV be practiced in their entirety.

5. BACKGROUND OF UNARMED DEFENSE. -- The original name of the method described in this manual has been lost in antiquity, but the art was developed by Chinese monks approximately in the twelfth century. The monastic rules forbade the monks to use weapons, but as they were constantly attacked by nomads and robber bands, they had to devise a weaponless defense, utilizing only the skill of their bodies and the quickness of their brains. Through long experiment, trial and error, and loss of life they developed a means of defense that has remained basically unchanged through centuries. Late in the twelfth century, the Japanese became aware of this art and, characteristically, they copied it and claimed it as their own. They named this art "Jiu Jitsu," and established a genealogy for it which they claimed extended back to their mythological age. The Jiu means "gentle" and Jitsu means "art" or "practice." Therefore Jiu Jitsu is "the gentle art." The systems taught were multitudinous and varied until the year 1882 when Professor Jigoro Kano, a man who had studied all the better systems, established the Kodokan, "a school for studying the way" and called his system "Judo." This name means "the way, or principle." This school, with its roots n Tokyo, sent out branches throughout the civilized world. One branch, founded in 1921, had its headquarters in New York. It was called "The New York Dojo," and while catering mainly to Japanese, admitted Occidentals who were interested. [EN1] However, progress of the Occidentals was slow, due to the fact that their instruction was mainly in competitive work. The holds were ineffective because the correct principles were not taught. Very little of the defensive or protective tactics was taught. Since this was the type of Judo in which the average American was interested, he soon dropped out of the school. A group of young Americans, disgusted with this procedure, set out to develop a system of self-defense suited to the American temperament and needs. They called their organization "The American Judo Club" and dedicated themselves to removing Oriental terminology from the new system. [EN2] They produced as good a system as the Japanese and far outstripped it in the effectiveness of method. With a knowledge of American unarmed defense the American soldier will be equipped to meet the Judo men in the game which they have chosen to claim as their own. [EN3]


a. Regulation physical training formations may be used for practice (see FM 21-20.) From the extended formation of four columns have the first and second columns face each other and the third and the fourth columns face each other. Each man will then have a partner with whom to practice. Special note should be taken that the even-numbered men do not uncover. The above formation applies to a unit the size of a platoon or larger. Any unit smaller than a platoon should be formed in a column of twos and then have the columns face each other. It is recommended that when working throwing tricks, twice the normal distance be taken. [E.g., two arms distance between men rather than one.]

b. The instructor will explain the attack and demonstrate the proper defense on a competent assistant, executing the movement rapidly to show its effectiveness. The defense is then executed again, as near slow motion as possible with an accompanying explanation. The attacking squads and the opposing defending squads are then designated, possibly using the letter "a" for attackers and letter "b" for defenders. At a given signal the attackers move to the attack and the defenders attempt to work the proper defense while the assistant instructors make corrections. Emphasis should be placed on precision first. Speed can be developed later. [Italics added.] Most of the defenses are equally effective on either side. When two defending squads have mastered the defense, the situation is reversed and the defending squads become attackers. Progress to a new trick is made only when the students have demonstrated a working knowledge of the previous one. No more than three tricks should be taught in any 30-minute period, as confusion would result. Encourage the men to practice in their spare time, emphasizing that proficiency in unarmed defense is predicated on repetition until a movement becomes almost instinctive. It is not difficult to arouse the interest of the men in this subject, since the desire to excel physically is a characteristic of the average American. [EN4] Since even the smallest can be shown that his lack of size is no handicap, there will be no difficulty arising from indifference. The main problem will be to keep enthusiasts from trying more tricks than they can possibly assimilate. [Italics added.] Another point that should be emphasized is the desirability of eliminating the stigma of the so-called "foul tactic" which is usually ascribed to unarmed defense. It might be well to point out that an individual who attacks with a club, knife, gun, or any other weapon is not subscribing to any recognized rules of combat. In hand-to-hand combat, there are no referees, no judges, and no timekeeper. You are on your own. No measure of defense is too extreme when your life is in danger. The defenses in this manual might be the means of saving your life or the life of a comrade.

Editor's Notes.

EN1. Tsunejiro Tomita, who had been Kano's first training partner in 1882, and a younger judoka named Maeda operated a judo club at 1947 Broadway in 1905. "It is part of the system of judo to smile while we are at practice," Tomita told a reporter for the New York World in April 1905. Around 1908 Maeda left New York to become a professional wrestler (Gracie jujitsu is the result of his teachings in Brazil), and Tomita returned to Japan in October 1910. In December 1912, while returning to Japan from the Olympics, Kano gave a demonstration of judo for New York sportswriters. Kano gave another demonstration in New York in December 1920, and the New York Times said that his partner was Ryoichi Taguchi. Taguchi spent most of the next decade in New York, so probably it was his dojo that was meant as being established in 1921. Men who trained there during the early 1930s included the professional wrestlers Taro Miyake and Oki Shikina. Kano revisited New York in July 1936 and 1938; in 1936, his training partner was T. Shozo Kuwashima and the New York Jiu-Jitsu Club located at 114 W. 48th Street. Of the 1936 demonstration, Seattle's Japanese-American Courier reported that "among the judoists were not a few Japanese and American women who have taken up the art."

EN2.  What was meant was actually Henry Okazaki's American Jujitsu, or what is today known as Danzan Ryu jujutsu. A Hawaiian system influenced by Kodokan judo, Kito-ryu jujutsu, boxing, sumo, and even lua, students who contributed to the production of FM 21-150, June 1942, probably included Sig Kufferath. For more about Danzan Ryu jujutsu, see George Arrington's Danzan Ryu site

EN3. This sentiment was not universally shared, and in January 1943 John E. Tynan published an article about the US Army boxer Warren J. Clear defeating a judo man in a match held in 1924. So it wasn't until a Chicago judoka named Masato Tamura beat a professional wrestler in a private match in 1943 that the US military really began taking judo seriously. For details, see "Yank Meets Jap in Fight to Finish," Readers Digest, 42 (January 1943), 18-23, Joseph R. Svinth, "Amateur Boxing in Pre-World War II Japan: The Military Connection,", and "Judo Battles Wrestling: Masato Tamura and Karl Pojello," Furyu, The Budo Journal, 3:2 (Summer/Autumn 1999), 30-36, 72.

EN4. Professor John D. Fair argues that during the 1930s and 1940s, the desire to excel physically was especially strong in second-generation ("hyphenated") Americans. See, for example, Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999).

JNC Aug 2000