FORT BENNING, Ga. — Soldiers mixed it up with martial arts, grappling and tactics experts from around the country during a two-day Combatives Symposium.
The session, held Jan. 19-20, was designed to cultivate ideas from various disciplines to build on a growing program aimed at improving hand-to-hand combat skills on the battlefield, said U.S. Army Combatives School director Matt Larsen. About 50 Army leaders and civilians took part.
He said combatives instructors attended conferences for several years, but this marked the first time the school brought together such a “broad net” of civilian experts.
The VIPs included Ron Donvito, creator of the LINE (Linear Infighting Neural Override Engagement) close-quarters combat system, who was chief trainer of the Marine Corps’ hand-to-hand combat program for eight years and then spent another eight as the chief trainer for the U.S. John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School; longtime Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson, who’s won three NCAA national team titles and produced eight individual national champions; Rorion Gracie, founder of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and owner of Gracie Academy in Torrance, Calif., and his son, Rener.
Some different concepts could be incorporated into the combatives program, but it’s more important to tailor any new techniques around Army requirements, Larsen said.
“The purpose here is to begin the process of laying out, vetting and propagating ideas for the combatives program. The experts are doing this because they’re patriots and they want to help the Army,” he said. “Young Soldiers are all fired up about combatives, martial arts, weapons ... (but) we have to keep it focused on what the force needs.”
In between discussions, participants engaged in a variety of martial arts and grappling moves, and they practiced maintaining control of weapons and disarming “enemy” combatants.
Rener Gracie said Gracie Academy has collaborated with the Army before and wanted to share the latest variations. Practitioners don’t have to be athletic as the ground techniques can work for anyone, he said.
Relying solely on a gun to take down a potential enemy is a “hollow confidence,” Gracie said.
“What happens if the enemy runs at you and you can’t get to your weapon?” he asked. “We’re giving Soldiers the confidence to engage. That’s the difference maker. It’s priceless to have the confidence to overcome the enemy without any weapons (and) defeat an enemy with hand-to-hand combat.”
CSM Earl Rice, command sergeant major of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, was among several Army leaders at the symposium. He said combatives techniques are vital to a Soldier’s survival in combat and ensure mission success.
“We know the size of the rooms in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bad guys are going to be on you quickly. How are you going to defend yourself?” Rice said. “It builds on that Soldier’s confidence and lets them know they can take care of themselves.
“This is really, really going to make our program what it needs to be. Having this talented group of folks come together — having this team willing to share their ideas — that’s pretty awesome.”
Other military branches were represented at the symposium, too.
Dave Durnil attended from the Air Force Academy, where he’s the area coordinator for combatives. Cadets in ROTC, Officer Training School and the academy go through a combatives portion.
“We’re in a joint operational environment. Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are prosecuting the war together and facing the same challenges,” Durnil said. “The Army combatives program is a great template, and the Air Force can learn from a lot of its success. A lot of Airmen are in nontraditional roles now.
“We can tailor a program for the different communities within the Air Force and adjust it for our specific needs.”
The Army Combatives School, meanwhile, is dedicated to shaping lesson plans into a package troops can’t do without on deployment, Larsen said.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about saving Soldiers’ lives on the battlefield,” he said.