Gráscar Lámh
Hand To Hand Fighting Overview

In our offering of the 'traditional' Irish/Celtic hand to hand fighting I can only offer it in the spirit in which it was taught to me. Some of it came from traditional Irish boxing, wrestling and kicking styles. Some, undoubtedly, came from my instructor’s experiences and service in the Second World War. Some is from even older Celtic warrior arts that so many today would contend to have been lost or forgotten.

They are not. They also are not offered on every street corner. They are taught within families and to trusted close associates. Usually only after less dangerous hand to hand teaching or stick work and the development of strong relationships of trust.

The "tongue in cheek" language of the Irish combative systems, designed originally to conceal the true meanings from the uninitiated, still works for that purpose today and is perfectly suited to law enforcement environments. ('A Hug'- Off balance him, 'Shake hands'- Disarm, 'Farewell'- Disengage, etc.)

My instruction did not include much history nor very clear differentiation between what came from where, rather, we followed a format whereby I was shown what I was to do. Then it was explained to me. Then I worked at it until I could do it. Then the principle or principles were explained to me and I was then expected to explore variations that maintained these sound principles. When I could do this we moved on.

We follow these same traditions today. Further, while we do have a rather lengthy hand to hand combative syllabus, or curriculum, we can also break down a student's progression into simple, general, steps. After the “dirty dozen” they are:


Beginners in hand to hand combatives work on their stance, balance and movement/footwork. Their focus is on a full range of percussives (striking techniques) including striking with open (preferred) and closed hands (which we really try to avoid); arm strikes with elbows, upper and lower arms and shoulders; kicking and leg strikes using knees, upper and lower legs (some of these I've not seen elsewhere); as well as learning the liberal applications of head butts and wall and ground stuns.


Intermediate hand to hand students focus on using their striking abilities as distractions and to gain entry for the whole realm of sweeps, take-downs and throws. Obviously, for safety's sake these students must also work on their break-falls and rolls.

That said, all grounding techniques are further broken down into 'soft' and 'hard' categories. 'Soft' groundings are control oriented or used when the opponent lacks the skills to withstand this class of groundings (making the use of harsher applications unnecessary).

'Hard' groundings are destruction oriented. The so called "street throws" from which break-falls are difficult or impossible. They are fight finishers in and of themselves. They are usually reserved for use on serious, skilled or much larger opponents or for multiple attacker scenarios.

Some of these techniques are reserved for later learning by advanced students or hand to hand combative system instructors. These are designed to kill or permanently harm the opponent. It is inappropriate to teach lethal/permanent harm techniques too soon or even to all students (some students should never be taught these techniques).


Having developed the survival skills for fighting, senior hand to hand combative students are now expected to develop their compassion, maturing both their fighting skills and themselves. When you are confident that you can defeat your opponent then, morally, ethically and legally, it becomes incumbent upon you to exercise control and show mercy.

Students now focus on subject controls, locks, pins, come-a-longs and non-harmful finishes. They also take their skills to the ground and work on ground fighting (as well as fighting from seated and compromised environment positions).

Advanced Level Students/Assistant Instructors:

With so much now learned, the next focus in hand to hand combative systems is on 'the flow'. The acid test in any real fight is the ability to move from one tactic to another instantly and seamlessly; to develop an instinctual 'feel' for what is happening and your appropriate response selection.

The flow is the development of the practical ability to instantly recognize and take advantage of your windows of opportunity to shut down an altercation quickly and, preferably, harmlessly. The axiom here is 'end it fast'. Prolonged fights result in unnecessary and accumulated injuries.

We now work on neck restraints, further stunning and nervous system shut downs (not to be confused with pressure point tactics of today). Ground fighting also moves to a new level as the intent now is to end the confrontation fast and get back on our feet before a third party seeks to take advantage of the opportunity to join the assault.

We also now work on taking on the line (a line of attackers who just keep attacking. As fast as we can deal with one the next, fresh, attacker is on us). Competency in dealing with multiple attackers is then developed.

Please remember that this system of hand to hand fighting was developed for real combat. We can and do teach the proper response selection under today’s laws and use of force continuum. Still, violence is a savage and ugly thing. Often so is surviving a violent encounter. What we do was not designed to be ‘pretty’ or ‘camera friendly’.

We are aware of these ‘requirements’ for today’s professionals who must use force. As a student gains both skill and confidence they will be able to do a great deal without drawing attention to themselves or their application of force in a subject control scenario.

Against a skilled opponent, or one on drugs or simply invested in their criminal intent; survival is paramount and the discreet execution of techniques goes out the proverbial window! Stress inoculation in training now becomes critical. The will to overcome and the instinctual release of the energies needed to ensure your own or someone else’s safety will result in an application of force that is designed to shock and shut down your opponent(s). It may well do the same to observers/witnesses.

Thus, we will also constantly challenge our students to articulate, concisely, clearly and accurately what they did and why, and why another option was not employed. These are skills that were not addressed when I was apprenticing to this trade yet they are absolutely essential in today’s world of constant litigation.

As a final note; I was taught that these are living, breathing and constantly evolving skills. In light of this I have exercised my instructor’s license to remove outdated tactics and alter others to meet today’s needs and our ever changing environment. My instructors could never have foreseen the development of widespread martial arts training but I have no doubt they would have changed to stay ahead of it.

Weapons are on the street now that had not been invented only a few years ago, let alone a generation or more ago. I grew up believing that you can’t complain about getting what you asked for (and acting out was asking to get smacked down). We expected ‘fair play’ and those who took unfair advantage could expect observers to step in and square things up. Today multiple attackers are the new norm and, if you should hurt one of them while defending yourself you can expect them to attempt to sue you!

These new realities and others necessitate that we change and evolve to meet our current needs and not get stuck practicing outdated techniques or styles. Each person needs to determine the true reason they wish to study fighting arts. If it’s for recreation or the ‘art’ great, but do recognize the limits of attempting to use those skills in a street altercation.

We train for the street and for the professional applications of force at all levels, from annoyance to lethal! So, if you’re looking for practical applications of hand to hand fighting skills, please continue with us and welcome.

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