Zombie Hand-to-Hand Combat: A Defensive Primer

When it comes to surviving an attack of flesh-hungry corpses, we’ve heard this simple instruction over and over again: Fire one into the skull. Blast them in the brain. Shoot them in the head. Unfortunately, the reality of such a feat is far different from what we see on film. Let’s ignore the fact that a head shot on a moving, albeit slow, target is not an easy one to make, and address the detail that, depending on which statistic you read, anywhere from 34-48% of US citizens own a firearm. That leaves more than 50% of us SOL when the dead rise. The rest of the world, with its stricter gun ownership restrictions, would fare even worse.

Even if you are packing heat when the inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs, there is nearly a 100% chance you will have to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps your weapon jams. Perhaps you have run out of ammunition. Perhaps the sound of a discharged firearm will draw more walking corpses to your position. For those times when the only path to safety lies in the knowledge of your mind and the strength in your body, the information below will prove most useful.

There are many ways to engage your undead opponent in hand-to-hand combat: long range, medium range, close quarters combat, and unarmed. Of all these types, unarmed zombie combat is the most harrowing. Whether due to poor planning, unfortunate circumstance, or just plain bad luck, you may at some point find yourself inches from a rotting corpse with nothing to defend yourself but your bare hands. Not to be pessimistic, but statistics show that the odds are not in your favor. Regardless of your background, fighting skill, or prior combat experience, in an unarmed engagement against a zombie, the living dead have the upper hand.

To survive a zombie confrontation completely unarmed, study the following recommendations closely:

Secure the Weapon
The first rule of conventional disarming tactics is to control the weapon itself. Once you negate the weapon’s advantage, your opponent becomes much less of a threat. This is no different when engaging the undead. In this case, the primary weapon you must control is the zombie’s bite. If you are able to effectively keep a ghoul’s mouth from snapping at you, you provide yourself valuable time to deliver your own lethal blow.

Avoid Hair Pulling
Because of the proximity to your attacker, you may be tempted to grab a handful of the ghoul’s locks in order to keep its biting jaws away from you. This is not recommended for two simple reasons. First, the reaction derived from this tactic is primarily due to the pain elicited by such an action. Because the living dead feel no pain, the value of this technique is limited. Second is the fact that a rotting corpse, walking or not, has begun to decay. Therefore, the epidermal components surrounding the hair and scalp are in an unstable state. Many who have attempted this maneuver have ended up with a fistful of dying follicles and decomposing scalp.

Combat Breathing
It is a natural reaction to panic when seized by a walking corpse. If you are unable to control this reaction and instead allow it to escalate, death is almost certain. Law enforcement and military professionals calm themselves during threatening situations by employing a method called tactical breathing, otherwise known as combat breathing. The method itself is simple—inhale through the nose for a count of three seconds, hold the breath for an equal amount of time, and finally exhale the same count. By controlling your breathing, you are able to soothe the mind, calm your muscles, and decrease your heart rate to a less frenzied tempo even when facing off with a rotting cadaver.

The Outside Sweep and Stomp (OSS)
Although it’s recommended that any tactic you employ in unarmed zombie combat is driven by your need to escape, there may be times where this is not possible, such as in an elevator, a narrow corridor, or a room with blocked exits. With no armaments available and no room to escape, you will have to neutralize your opponent using your own body as your weapon. This can be done, provided you attain mastery in specific techniques, one of which is the OSS:

Technique: Exploit the living dead’s liabilities to your advantage. The liabilities we are focusing on in this technique are the zombie’s poor balance, coordination, and lack of ability to defend against a simple leg sweep:

  1. Mitigate the zombie’s bite attack by securing its neck
  2. Hook one of your legs behind the ghoul’s opposite leg
  3. Aggressively sweep your leg against the zombie’s calf while simultaneously pushing against its neck, forcing its weight backward
  4. Once the ghoul is on the ground, move towards to its head and stomp on its skull with your heel. It is recommended that you wear appropriate footwear in anticipation of this very action

Those of you with previous martial arts experience may recognize this maneuver as a variation of a classic technique—the osoto-gari. You may also be tempted to try other techniques learned in self-defense classes against an undead adversary. No disrespect is intended to any specific style of martial art, but this is not recommended. Unlike a human being, a zombie will never surrender or “tap out,” and will let you snap every bone in its body, all the while attempting to bite you as you do so. Kicks and punches may actually do more harm than good should you lacerate the skin of your fists against the infected flesh of your opponent. For advanced training, study a specific zombie combat art to gain knowledge in techniques that have been tested to work specifically against the walking dead.

Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to escape a zombie encounter with your life intact without the aid of a firearm. The sharper your skills and the faster you act, the greater your chance of survival.

Roger Ma is an author and the founder of the Zombie Combat Club. This article was adapted from his book, The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead, published by Berkley Books in April 2010. To learn more about the book and the Club, visit http://www.zombiecombatclub.com


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