Whew. I’ve been trying to get a post in but I haven’t been able to scrounge up the motivation. Even now, I’m feeling super flat, but I’m going to power something out. I have been keeping a journal of what we’re doing each day.
The Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) is controversial for a number of reasons. The biggest issue is that it’s badly taught throughout most of the Army. It’s really still in its infancy, and there aren’t a lot of good instructors to go around. Secondly, there’s the question of whether spending valuable training time on hand-to-hand combat is worth doing in the first place.
Then, there’s a host of minor quibbles with the program itself, which are common to debates over martial arts in general: Why the emphasis on groundfighting? Why do we teach this or that in the first level of instruction? People ask why we’re teaching wrasslin’ when someone in a war zone is probably just going to shoot you? (Duh – We’re in an asymmetric war in civilian-dense war zones. Soldiers need to be able to respond with non-lethal force in all situations)
My overall impression of the course so far: It’s a very practical crash course in self defense techniques. The schoolhouse maintains a high standard of instruction and expects a lot out of the students. If MACP was run this way Army-wide, people would understand the philosophy behind it, and it would get a lot more respect.
So here I am at the end of week 1. What have I seen so far?
The Combatives schoolhouse is located in a nondescript brick building on the main part of Ft Benning, a stone’s throw where Airborne students practice parachuting from large cranes. The facility itself is very nice. The main area is padded with those 1×2 meter Zebra mats – enough space for four regulation competitions to be held at one time, with curtains that can divide the space into four separate spaces. There’s also a full weight room and a heavy bag room. The instructors wear ACU bottoms and black MACP Instructor t-shirts. Students wear full ACU uniforms with everything stripped off or, when we’re boxing, PT shorts and tan shirts with our names written in sharpie on the front and back.
The first week of the level three course is mostly a crash course in western boxing. We’ve learned footwork, punches and combinations. We moved very quickly from drilling single punches, to doing combinations, to high-intensity combination work on heavy bags and pads. Throughout it all, the instructors have been very good about fixing errors in our technique.
On Friday, we actually did some live sparring. Aside from having horrible technique, I did very well with this – I’ve definitely had more harrowing sessions with the gloves on.
We’ve also been reviewing all the material from levels 1 and 2. On Friday we took a test on running competitions and ran mock tournaments with students acting as referees.
The course is very physical. So far it’s been nothing outside my comfort zone, but we’re told it gets more intense in the second week, when we move into kickboxing. The third week is going to integrate takedowns, and the fourth week is going to involve “tactical” training, whatever that means. Somewhere in there we’re going to learn police-style control and detainment techniques.
Not on Brazilian Time
The atmosphere between students, and between the students and instructors is very laid back. There are lower enlisted, like me, along with Drill Sergeants, Special Forces platoon Sergeants, Captains, and even one Major in the class, but we refer to each other by last name only in class. It’s pretty surreal for me to be here, where I went to Basic Training, wrestling and boxing with Drill Sergeants. And one of my favorite guys here is Captain Murph, a Judo brown belt who calls me “dude.”
It’s definitely a military school, though. When I showed up a couple of minutes late the second day of school, I was bawled out by the cadre’s platoon sergeant and sharply reminded that, in the Army, on time is 15 minutes early. We’re not on Brazilian time here. The brisk pace of instruction is typical of Army instruction, as is the way we’re expected to do everything with a lot of hooah enthusiasm. We’re all expected to help clean up before and after class as well.
There are a lot of characters in the class, and stories and subplots I’ll have to get to later. I promised myself I’d write something this weekend, and now it’s past my bedtime on Sunday.