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Closing Strength: In Today’s Urban Combat Settings, Soldiers Rely On Strategy, Training, and Pure, Physical Strength To Come Out On Top In Hand-to-Hand Encounters

Master Sgt. Tony Pryor was in a fight for his life. After wounding two combatants during a room-by-room sweep in Afghanistan, he had a third man creep up from behind him. It turns out this stealthy attacker picked the wrong soldier to surprise. Pryor, a 5’11” 235-pound Green Beret, had two attributes working in his favor: specialty training in hand-to-hand combat and sheer physical prowess.

Struck with an unknown implement, Pryor’s shoulder was dislocated, his collarbone shattered. Still, he managed to grab his attacker by his hair, pulling them both to the floor in a thud. The impact with the floor drove Pryor’s dislocated shoulder home and he was once again free to engage the enemy with both hands. Denied access to his weapon, Pryor was forced to summon upon his combatives training and his God-given, gym-cultivated brawn. Moments later, the fight was over. His attacker lying motionless on the floor, Pryor took a deep breath and rejoined the fight outside.

Had Pryor’s training given him the edge? Or was the al Qaeda fighter simply a victim of Pryor’s raw strength? Matt Larsen, a former Marine sniper and president of Modern Combatives, says it was a bit of both, but that the effect of the latter cannot be marginalized.


Fit vs. Fight

By human standards, Pryor is a beast of a man. It could be argued that his hulking proportions matter little in the exchange of gunfire at 200 yards. But in a tiny room, there’s little debate that strength and power can mean the difference between life and death.

“Because of his physical make-up, Pryor was able to withstand the initial blow,” says Larsen, who keeps a file on most of the close-quarter encounters that occur in combat. “Even if he was much more skillful, he probably would have been killed. Strength and power are absolutely advantages in a fight.”

Larsen, considered the “father of modern combatives,” says that in previous conflicts, Americans were always the more powerful people. “Hand-to-hand tactics fell off the map for a while because we could always count on having corn-fed Americans that could just power through people.” Citing the need for a better balance, Larsen cites an incident early in the war on terror where five highly trained soldiers had to kill an unarmed combatant because he was simply too physically imposing. “They didn’t have proper training, so they did the only thing they could,” he says.

“When it’s all said and done, strength and speed are attributes,” he says. “It helps to be fast, strong and skillful, but it’s much harder to use your skill when you’re not physically strong and agile. It takes a lot more skill to make up for a deficit in strength. When you get a big, strong guy who knows a little bit about fighting, like Pryor, the fight becomes easier.”


Army Strong

So in today’s conflicts, while it pays to be well versed in the broader points of modern warfare, there’s no escaping the fact that a stronger soldier is a safer one. Larsen recommends a battery of functional, if archaic, exercises such as tire flips and sledgehammer swings to provide the closing strength needed to win an up-close-and-personal encounter like the one experienced by Master Sgt. Tony Pryor. Use this gym-modified version to give yourself a personal edge in the fight.

               Exercise                                       Duration

  • Power clean                                     1 minute
  • Sprint                                                1 minute
  • Pull-up                                              1 minute
  • Shadowbox                                       1 minute
  • Dip                                                      1 minute
  • Jump rope                                         1 minute
  • Medicine ball slam                           1 minute
  • Standing low-pulley rope row         1 minute


Perform all exercises as a circuit, resting only as long as it takes to move to the next exercise. Rest 1 minute after the final exercise and repeat for 3-4 circuits total. Choose resistance that allows you to complete reps at a steady pace for the entire minute.

For more on Matt Larsen or Modern Combatives, visit Matt’s book with Gina Cavallaro, Sniper: American Single-Shot Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan, is available now on