Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Kinesiology and Sport Studies

Major Professor

Craig A. Wrisberg

Committee Members

Howard R. Pollio, Jeffrey T. Fairbrother, Shawn L. Spurgeon, Joe Whitney


Hand-to-hand combat is one of the more psychologically challenging performance environments for those in the military (Grossman, 1995). Even with the technological advances of modern warfare military leaders still believe hand-to-hand combat is an important and relevant challenge for service members (Blanton, 2007; Clark, 2009; Collins, 2007; Wojdakowski, 2007; Wood & Micaelson, 2000). Despite its importance, the hand-to-hand combat experience has, to date, attracted very little research attention. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore military service members’ experiences of hand-to-hand combat. To accomplish this objective, phenomenological interviews were conducted with 17 male military service members. Each participant was asked to respond to the following open-ended statement: “Please describe your experience of hand-to-hand combat with an enemy combatant during combat operations.” Follow-up questions were asked only to obtain additional details and further clarification of the participant’s comments. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were analyzed qualitatively, revealing a total of 584 meaning units. The data were then grouped into sub-themes and major themes that depicted the participants’ experiences. A final thematic structure revealed four major, figural dimensions that illustrated these service members’ experiences of hand-to-hand combat: enemy threat, fall to your training, fast, and close. These major figural themes emerged against the contextual background of the major theme: everyday combat operations. The results were somewhat consistent with previous literature, mainly information presented in hand-to-hand combat training manuals, but several findings represented extensions of existing knowledge. The most significant aspects of these service members’ experiences were: (a) the perceived novelty of hand-to-hand combat relative to “normal” combat operations, (b) the perception of opponents as instrumental objects, which temporarily suspended the sense of the opponents’ humanity, (c) the perceived speed of a hand-to-hand combat event, and (d) a perceived spectrum of intensity (mild to extreme) of encounters with respect to the emotion of fear and the physiological sensations of high arousal. The results suggest several practical training implications for military service personnel, hand-to-hand combat instructors, and performance psychology consultants.

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