Training the Troops MMA

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by FIGHT! contributor Nick Palmisciano

I watched with more than a little amusement as 260 pounds of Marine flew through time and space and slammed hard into the mats. All training ceased momentarily and everyone in the gym looked up. The young Marine, a former all-state football player used to knocking over anything that got in his way, lay on the ground breathless, his brain still trying to work out how the 135-pound Damacio Page had handled him so easily. Once it became clear that he was alive, everyone resumed training.

At any other fantasy camp, Damacio’s full throttle takedown would have bought him a quiet reprimand by his peers. After all, he is a professional, and the patrons were there to learn. Instead, Lex McMahon, organizer of the first ever Train the Troops MMA event, leaned over the fallen Marine and grunted, “That’s what happens when you don’t listen! Now get up Devil Dog!”

Six weeks prior to the event, McMahon, a former Marine and the son of Marine and Late Night co-host Ed McMahon, approached Ranger Up with the idea of bringing in professional fighters to help the troops improve their hand-to-hand skills. Ranger Up jumped at the chance and began organizing a group of pro-military fighters and sponsors to put the event together on a short notice.

To some, the inclusion of MMA in combat training seems frivolous, perhaps even “Hollywood” in nature, but the critics fail to realize is that in today’s conflicts, more than in any previous wars, fighting is done door-to-door. The ability to fend off a close attack where rifles and even pistols are not an option can mean the difference between life and death.

A group of fighters including Jorge Rivera, Matt Lindland, Gray Maynard, Damacio Page, Tim Credeur, John Walsh, and Tim Kennedy traveled 1500 miles over three days to train troops at Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. The instructors worked at one of four stations: striking, takedowns, ground fighting, and combat. Incredibly, every one of the instructors, without any prompting, modified their techniques so that the troops would be able to employ them in combat gear.

Station 1: Striking, AKA The Boston Beatdown. The striking station was taught by former cavalry soldier Jorge Rivera and his striking coach Matt Phinney. The pair, sounding like extras from Good Will Hunting, showcased a much more offense-centric striking posture than one would see in MMA, as each technique was painstakingly modified for the additional protection provided by the Marine body armor and helmet.
Station 2: Takedowns, AKA Ouch. Matt Lindland, Gray Maynard, Damacio Page taught takedowns, or take-ups depending on the trajectory. Lindland, an Olympic Silver Medalist and MMA icon, took the time to learn military terminology as he told the Marines to pummel for under hooks in order to protect their “kit” from the enemy as they completed a foot sweep and landed in side control.

Station 3: Ground Fighting, AKA The Cajun and the Panda. BJJ black belts Tim Credeur and Tim Burrill jived so well that they were giddy halfway through the first session, running humorous color commentary throughout. “I’d teach these guys every day if I could,” burst Credeur after the first session, “They’re in shape, they’re motivated, and they listen! This is awesome!” Then his face turned deadly serious and he motioned to Burrill, “But I’m only doing it if I get to keep the Panda.” With that Burrill calmly crawled onto the ground, did a somersault and landed seated with his legs crossed as he gnawed on imaginary bamboo. He reminded everyone within earshot that he was a marsupial and had a pouch. Marines leaving the insanity of the Cajun and the Panda were so fired up that other fighters asked McMahon to calm them down after they left because they were “too exuberant” in the later stations.

Station 4: Combat, AKA John and Tim scaring the crap out of the Media. John Walsh, veteran MMA fighter, seven-time combat veteran and Force Recon Marine, and Tim Kennedy, Strikeforce Middleweight, Special Forces Weapons Sergeant and Sniper taught the class that brought the whole event home for everyone in the room. The two men showed the Marines how to modify the MMA techniques they had learned to generate enough distance to kill the enemy; not earn a submission, not attain a knock out, but kill those that would do them harm. The piece de resistance was when the two taught the sentry takedown, a technique that consists of grabbing a man from behind by the chin and driving a long knife through the soft tissue behind his clavicle and vigorously sawing the weapon from side to side as the man is yanked backwards to the ground. They finished the technique with a slash across the enemy’s midsection. One member of the media had to look away as she almost threw up. She later asked the two if these techniques were real or just for show. Both men smiled. “These guys are our brothers.” Kennedy stated, “This is for them. We’re here in the hopes that something we teach them saves their lives some day. We’re not here to impress anyone.” Walsh simply added, “There’s a reason why I don’t get nervous anymore when I step into the cage. I’ve been to real war.” With that, they returned to their class.

Unfortunately she wasn’t there a day later, when Tom Amenta of Ranger Up had to step into the combat class in Tim Kennedy’s stead. He was in the midst of teaching a technique allowing someone to get back to their feet after being tackled to their back, when one Marine asked, “Why not use guard there to work for a submission?”

Nonplussed, Amenta looked at him and answered, “The first time I deployed to Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment I was knocked down by a Talibani. Let me tell you this, when you have fifty pounds of equipment and another ten pounds of ammo, plus your weapons, you’re not going to be hitting any gogoplatas from the rubber guard. I was ready to pull triggers, but I wasn’t ready for that. We want you to be ready.”
And hopefully, with a little help from some amazing fighters and trainers, next time around, they will be.

Nick Palmisciano is the owner of Ranger Up. Ranger Up plans to host the next Train the Troops MMA event on the east coast after the holidays. Learn more and check out more pictures from the first event at Train the Troops MMA.

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