This is not a review of the entirety of Kill or Get Killed. Of sixteen chapters, I only read six. There is a perfectly good reason for that, as I will explain shortly.
Kill or Get Killed is the textbook complied by Colonel Rex Applegate, one of the grandfathers of the modern combatives systems developed by the British and Americans during the Second World War. This review focuses on the version published by Paladin Press, which originally was released in 1976.
I had heard of Applegate vaguely for years, mostly in conjunction with my father’s stories about the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife (of which I own at least one replica), and the men who developed it. More recently, there has been a movement to revive and re-popularize some of the World War II Combative methods as viable forms of self-defense training, and it is in that context that I chose to read this book.
The book is broken into sixteen chapters, as follows:
1. Introduction to Unarmed Combat
2. Offensive Unarmed Combat
3. Defensive Unarmed Combat
4. Knife Attack and Defense
5. Combat Use of the Hand Gun
6. Combat Firing With Shoulder Weapons
8. Prisoner Handling and Control
9. Raid and Room Combat
10. Training Techniques and Combat Ranges
11. Elementary Fieldcraft
12. Police Baton and Miscellaneous Weapons and Techniques
13. Chemical Munitions for Control of Mobs and Individuals
14. Civil Domestic Disturbances and Their Control
15. Communist Tactics and Strategy in Directing Mob Violence
16. The Professional Riot Control Unit
Of those, I only read 1-4, 7, and 12. I suppose that if I owned and carried a firearm, I might have read the chapters that deal with the use of, and training with, firearms. But frankly, I’m totally unqualified to evaluate those chapters, so I didn’t bother. I also skipped the chapters that I deemed completely irrelevant to self-defense for the average person; I have no need to learn how to use chemical munitions, nor am I concerned about how to create a professional riot control unit. Police or military trainers might find those chapters useful. I really don’t know.
For the average person concerned with self-defense, the first three chapters of the book are unquestionably the most valuable. Applegate presents a small curriculum of strikes, gouges, chokes, and throws, along with instruction about how to apply these tools against what he perceives as common types of attacks. The small toolbox appeals to my recent thoughts on minimalism, and while I might make some different choices in my selection, Applegate does give the reader enough material to practice without overwhelming them. Perhaps my only quibble is that he ignores any sort of ground-fighting, except to say that fighting on the ground is a bad idea, which is the sort of useless truth in line with saying “don’t get stabbed”.
Despite the books occasional statement to the contrary, however, this book really is aimed at the military and law enforcement. While there are a number of techniques that are appropriate for civilian self-defense, some of the techniques have no particular application outside of the military or law enforcement (I have not needed to remove a sentry any time in recent memory). Even the defenses against attacks that a civilian might face are extremely vicious; used imprudently they’d likely land the average citizen in court, if not in jail. Of course, that’s a weakness inherent in a lot of military combatives systems when they are transferred over to the civilian environment. Of course, there are scenarios where these kinds of techniques are appropriate, but the book doesn’t address the distinction.
The knife attack and defense material is interesting; the attack material I was curious about mostly academically. I don’t carry a knife either, but I like knives, and find their use interesting. The knife and firearm defense material certainly has some potential application for a civilian…some of it does not line up with the material that I’ve learned from Tony Blauer, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth exploring.
The baton stuff was just a lark. Again, I like weapons. I guess you could train this stuff if you carry a stick, or are involved in a stick-based system (like one of the many Filipino Martial Arts), but ultimately, it’s probably not a priority for the average person.
So is this a good book? Actually, yes, I think it is. It does a very nice job of clearly laying out a program for instructing soldiers and police in close quarters combat techniques. The writing is straightforward, and accompanied by reasonably clear diagrams and photographs. Applegate outlines his rationale for each of his choices, and I think many of his choices are sound.
That said, given the size and cost of the book, I don’t think it is a very good purchase for the average person looking to protect themselves. The military emphasis leaves too many holes that require patching, and used injudiciously, this material could land the reader in jail for a very long time. Experienced practitioners or instructors will probably get more out of the book, as they’ll be able to pick and choose the portions that are appropriate to their needs or the needs of their students. Finally, those with an interest in military history, WWII history, or martial history should definitely give this a read. It’s an incredibly influential textbook, and deserves to be examined on those merits alone.