Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Mar 2002

Judo and Unarmed Combat

By N.P. Livingstone-Learmonth

From Budokwai Quarterly Bulletin, 4:3 (October 1948), 12-13. Copyright © The Budokwai, 1948, 2002. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

Ed. Note: Shortly before this article was first published, the Royal Marines replaced their WWII-era Unarmed Combat training with conventional Budokwai judo, and this article partially explains the reasoning. For additional details of WWII-era Unarmed Combat training, see James Dunning’s book It Had to Be Tough (reviewed by EJMAS at Had To Be), William L. Cassidy’s article, "The Art of Silent Killing, WWII British Commando Style," Soldier of Fortune, July 1979, and James Sass’s discussion board at

Although I feel that I am not nearly as well qualified as your other contributors to draw comparisons between Judo and Unarmed Combat, it might interest your other readers if some such comparisons were drawn. So despite my lack of the necessary qualification, I will attempt to do so, relying on the good nature and tolerance of the experts not to confound me at every turn.

During the war years, Unarmed Combat, or Close Combat, as it is now styled, became a familiar and definite part of the routine physical training curriculum in most of the Service training programmes. Not only were the Commandos and other specialist branches trained in it, but also the ordinary rank and file of the offensive arms. The Home Guard itself, not to be left out of the picture, came in for their fair share, being trained by such experts as Dr. [Moishe] Feldenkrais, of the "Jiu-jitsu Club de France." The Army itself had the good fortune to receive the expert guidance of Captain W.E. Fairbairn (now Lt.-Col.) a Kodokan nidansha [2-dan].

Thus it was natural that Unarmed Combat became modified from the rather crude wrestling methods incorporated in the earlier training classes to a weapon second only in deadliness to firearms in the hands of the trained soldier. I myself, during my brief but interesting period in H.M. Army, received Unarmed Combat training, and in my turn trained others in the art. This training was very interesting to me, since for many years I had been also a keen but extremely unskilful Judoka.

Thus it occurred to me that it would be interesting to compare these two systems, and to note how nowadays Unarmed Combat has included in its selection of methods so many of Judo’s most effective waza [techniques].

Judo’s rationale is so completely different from that of Unarmed Combat that it is almost impossible to compare the two as arts. A like example is the bludgeon and the foil. But however crude it may appear to the Judoka, however much it offends Mr. [Gunji] Koizumi’s maximum efficiency for minimum effort, one must allow that Unarmed Combat achieved its object, which is to train an ordinary man, of ordinary intelligence and powers, to overcome an opponent, armed or unarmed, as quickly and easily as possible.

I remember writing to a celebrated Yudansha [black belt] who published a book on Unarmed Combat, pointing out the crudeness of the methods as compared to Judo, and I, very properly, received the crushing and unanswerable reply which I have mentioned above.

As to the actual waza [techniques], I have actually seen or have demonstrated the following in my lectures on Unarmed Combat. They are the most usual Judo waza employed in Close Combat:

NAGEWAZA [throwing techniques]

NEWAZA [hand techniques]

Also a large number of self-defence tricks.

As can be seen from the above lists, a very large number of Judo waza are indeed incorporated in Unarmed Combat. Indeed, many self-styled combat "experts" have had the presumption to teach their own special system of Atewaza or Atemi. I remember once hearing a physical training expert explaining and demonstrating his application of Tegatana-ate, and I was severely rebuked when I remarked on the danger of showing unreceptive and uncontrolled recruits such dangerous tricks.

In this lies the danger of Unarmed Combat, that dangerous tricks are taught to pupils who are not properly receptive to it, nor properly trained for it. I remember how both Dr. M. Feldenkrais, whom I met several years ago at the Society for Visiting Scientists, and Mr. E.J. Harrison stressed the danger of imparting these waza to all and sundry. Dangerous tricks are excellent when applied to the enemy, dangerous and most highly unsuitable when applied by the young fellow showing off to his friends at home. This danger does not arise in Judo, thanks to the unremitting care and vigilance of the Judo teacher.

Thus, it can be clearly seen that Unarmed Combat, as an offensive weapon, owes more to Judo than to any other mode of self-defence. They might also be called brothers – Judo the elder, maturer, more skilful, more complete in itself – Close Combat, the younger, strong, vigorous, dangerous, cruder, and yet owing all its strength, all its skill, and all its efficiency to the guidance and care of the other.

Judo is par excellence, an art of peace, Close Combat, a weapon of war.

JNC Mar 2002