By: Malcolm Harris
Lethal Unarmed Combat
Secrets of Self-Defense
By Dr. Malcolm Harris
(Drake Publishers, 1973, 152 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
It could be argued that the West was won over to Asian martial arts with the release of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon in 1973. Certainly there were prior media displays of the martial arts in American film and television: the Mr. Moto movie series, Bad Day at Black Rock, and the Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series, just to name a few. And the also was a nascent martial arts literature in English, most exemplified by the many books of the enterprising Bruce Tegner and the redoubtable Robert W. Smith, both of whom had been producing martial arts books and manuals since about 1960. But all these were simply flares in the darkness until Enter the Dragon sparked the forest fire of interest in the martial arts that burns to this very day.
But we cannot discount the progenitors who led us to that point, and one was Dr. Malcolm Harris, whose first book on the martial arts, Unarmed Close Combat: A Manual of Self-Defense, appeared in England the year before Enter the Dragon hit the screens. A year later, the American edition was published under the title, Lethal Unarmed Combat: Secrets of Self-Defense. And in 1974, Harris published Effective Unarmed Combat, which may or may not be the same book under yet another title. I don’t have all three books to compare, so I can’t say for certain.
Nor can I say much about Harris aside from the existence of these three books and several other books that he wrote on medicine and other matters. But even those are suspect since there are at least two other authors named Malcolm Harris who obviously are not the Malcolm Harris who was the martial arts author. One of the medical books is on pharmaceutical microbiology, if that helps any.
But we can define Harris by his martial arts book(s). He was, for some time, chief instructor in unarmed combat for the Birmingham, England, police department. The techniques he taught were primarily a combination of judo and karate, but he does mention Western boxing and jujitsu as having some influence. Geared for training police in effective means to deal with and subdue unruly suspects, the system outlined in this book includes some of the most effective techniques culled from several martial arts systems available to Harris at the time. He writes in the introduction:
Over a period of about thirty years I have made a detailed study of all the known methods of unarmed combat. Out of a vast mass of information acquired by research and experience, sifted scientifically and tested practically, the quintessence is presented as the basis of this book. I resolved to teach only the techniques which survived this systematic screening. I ruthlessly rejected much out of the vast armory of traditional throws, hold and blows which failed to pass tests for efficiency in actual combat. Many of the traditional holds and throws are frankly ineffectual in combat because they ignore any differences in size and weight between defender and adversary, and some work only when practiced in slow motion on your wife or girl friend. Techniques have to work properly if you are a policeman who meets a villain in a leather jacket, carrying a knife, up a back alley at night.
The beauty of his system, Harris states, is that, “We found that we could train a pupil with aptitude to pass our own combined practical and theoretical examination in unarmed combat in twenty-six periods of three hours, but that continual practice was necessary to maintain and improve the standard.” This, he contrasts, with the time and effort to become a Dan in karate or judo, for example, which can take years.
The instructional material opens with a chapter titled, “Man’s Basic Weapons.” These are the hands and feet. For the hands, he discusses various styles of hand strikes: chops, heel of the palm, fingertip thrusts, clenched fist, hammer fist, middle-knuckle fist (also known as Dragon’s Head fist), and cupped hands. He also goes into thumb presses to the eyes, the two-fingered wrench, and bent elbow strikes. For the feet, he advocates low kicks, including the sideways kick, the straight kick, the downward shin scrape, the foot stomp, and the knee to the groin. Each is described in one or two paragraphs that delineate method and targets, and about half are accompanied by excellent line-drawings.
“Prisoner Handling and Control” is the next chapter, and it contains a number of locks and holds: attacking armlock; two wrist locks, the second of which is the painful come-along; neck holds; and wrist twists, both to the inside and outside. As with the first chapter, each technique is well described, including problems that might occur, and many are illustrated.
The following chapter is on judo throws. After a short intro to the art, Harris devotes a couple of pages to methods of breaking the balance of one’s opponent. Then twelve throws are described, organized into several categories: leg throws, hip throws, shoulder throws, and sacrifice throws. The chapter ends with a section on standard breakfalls, which one would definitely have to learn if practicing judo.
The next chapter is “Immobilization Holds.” Nine are described, all taking place on the ground, most using a combination of arms and legs to apply the hold, though a few, notably the Quarter, Half, Three-quarters, and Full Nelsons, mostly use the arms.
Strangleholds are the subject of the following chapter. Harris begins with an examination of the anatomy of the neck before going into more details on various strangleholds. These are categorized into respiratory strangleholds and reflex strangulation, with several examples of each accompanied by a good level of detail and illustrations.
Chapter six is “Combat Tactics.” Here, Harris discusses fighting stances, countering punches, finishing the fight, a couple of combat throws, ground fighting, and facing multiple opponents. Today’s MMA exponent favors grappling, but Harris’s advice on going to the ground is, “Don’t do it.” He is more in favor of finishing off an opponent who has fallen with blows, arm breaks, and so forth, rather than holds. He does acknowledge, however, that it is sometimes necessary to grapple, and his advice here is to first damage the opponent with strikes and so forth before attempting a hold.
The chapter after this deals with various adverse situations, such as bearhugs, waist holds, Chancery holds (where you are bent over and your opponent has your neck wrapped in the crook of his elbow), other neck holds and strangleholds, pushes and pulls, head-butts, and kicks. Defenses agains armed attacks—knife and handgun—comes next, with as much space devoted to tactics as to technique. And finally, since this book describes a system for law enforcement, its last chapter takes in truncheon techniques.
It is perhaps worthwhile to repeat Harris’s brief conclusion in full:
The highest principle of combat is not to seek a fight. On becoming really competent in the martial arts, confidence and personality develop to such an extent that one does not feel the need to prove oneself in physical conflict. The loser usually starts the fight.
Lethal Armed Combat is well written, the techniques are described concisely, and the many illustrations are excellent. There is nothing about the book that can’t be found elsewhere, but it’s useful to see a compendium of excellent techniques in one place. And despite the title, it should be noted that the techniques in the book are mostly meant to subdue and restrain an opponent, not cause permanent bodily harm or death. It seems to me that much of the material is valid only for judoka and karateka, as opposed, say, to kung fu practitioners. But some of it also is very interesting and can apply to most martial arts. Considering the age of this book, it was probably one of the better ones to appear at the time, and its material remains relevant to day.
As a final note, this book, which is hardbound, is out of print. Copies are available from various online booksellers, going anywhere from $50 to $100. However, free PDFs of it can be found on several websites.