Special Operations and MMA

The popularity of mixed martial arts in the civilian world cannot be disputed. Thousands of weekly events and tournaments, hundreds of schools, and millions of fans keep the sport moving closer in fame to the big three: basketball, football, and baseball. Every day, more people are getting involved in the ultimate fi ghting system.

If it really is the ultimate, shouldn’t it be taught to our men and women in uniform? Should the world’s premier fi ghting forces be trained in the world’s premier fi ghting system? In general practice, yes.

Currently, the US military is as much in love with MMA as everyone else in the nation. Sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines alike are fans of the sport. And thanks to some very aggressive marketing and fl exibility on the military’s part, these protectors of our nation are becoming MMA practitioners as well. Most notably in the US Army, which has embraced MMA and made it a part of its culture, allowing its men and women to participate freely in the sport. In fact, they are even training them in it.

Modern Army Combatives (MAC) is a new system of hand-to-hand training now being taught to all members of the US Army. It is a multi-level system that begins with basic grappling, moves on to striking, and eventually to the use of weapons. Essentially, it is MMA 101 for each and every army trooper. Clips of the training progression can be found on YouTube and the US Army website.

In fact, the US Army has begun to host MMA tournaments of their own, a tradition going back to the days when each unit had a wrestling, boxing, and even pingpong champion. Competition breeds excellence and boosts moral. The All-Army Invitational Tournament is a three-round fi ghting contest, consisting of one round of BJJ, one of Pancrase, and one of full-on MMA. IFL star and Army Ranger Tim Kennedy comes from those roots. The troops love it and so do the fans. But what about America’s top warriors, the special ops guys? How does MMA fi t into their training and operations? Sad to say, it doesn’t. The jobs of most special operations units are highly specialized. Unlike in the movies, where a single team of SEALs or Green Berets can accomplish all tasks assigned, most special ops units equip and train their personnel to do specifi c jobs. Whether it is raids and ambushes carried out by Army Rangers, securing a moving vessel at sea as done by the SEALs, or a hostage rescue mission accomplished by CAG (aka Delta Force), special ops guys tend to be specialists rather than jacks-of-all-trades.

Their nonstop training and deployment cycles leave little time for training in hand-to-hand combat beyond the basics needed specifi cally for the job. Commandos are not are poorly trained – quite the contrary – but they spend less time in the fi ght gym than they do in the fi eld, in the sky, and on shooting ranges.

Some special units are being taught BJJ. But how effective is it in combat, wearing fi fty pounds of gear and carrying an M4? A Ranger buddy of mine used it when his unit attempted to subdue a fi fty-year-old Egyptian mercenary fi ghting in Iraq. After a mile-long running gun battle, it came down to a hand-to-hand encounter as they attempted to take the old guy into custody. Imagine the scene: a pissed off old geezer fi ghting for his life with a Ranger on each limb cranking it to their fullest. It jacked the guy up beyond belief, but did not take the fi ght out of him. Why? Because people fi ghting for their lives don’t tap.

In another incident, a prisoner slipped his restraints while in a HumVee. One of the vigilant troopers took his back and choked the guy out. Good stuff. That is, until the truck hit a bump and the combined weight of the terrorist, soldier and all his gear snapped the guy’s neck.

Most units are taught hand-to-hand combat that is specifi c to their needs, as part of their CQB (Close Quarters Battle) training. This tends to consist of a combination of shooting skills and nonlethal techniques ranging from muzzle strikes with their weapons (a SEAL buddy of mine saw an eye popped out of socket with one), to basic control and arrest techniques that are more likely to be seen on Cops than in the UFC. It is not that MMA doesn’t work. It is just that it does not fi t the operational environment in which most of our country’s top soldiers are fi ghting. Terrorists tend to shoot guns, not attempt double leg takedowns.

Additionally, MMA training can be injurious. A recent visit to one of the Midwest’s famous fi ghting camps left an elite member of the Navy’s anti-terror unit with a blown out knee. When it takes $2 million of tax dollars to train a single tier one commando, I don’t want him receiving a career-ending injury rolling with anyone I see on pay-per-view! They can do that when they retire.

The reality is that the war does not happen in the Octagon. The methods, techniques, and skills, though benefi cial to a soldier, are not readily transferable to the modern-day battlefi eld.

As a person who trains individuals from the special operations community, I fi nd it amazing that many of these units train with MMA fi ghters as part of their sanctioned and taxpayer-subsidized training. For conditioning, confi dence, and something to use off-duty against drunken townies, I get it. But for keeping America safe, I think not.

Nevertheless, I understand the attraction. Warriors of all sorts understand one another better than the rest of the world. And those who grace the cage are no less warriors than those who walk the battlefi eld. However, one uses an arm bar on a fellow competitor, while the other issues a double tap to the head of an enemy. Two very different worlds.

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