History Of the Modern Army Combatives Program

History Of the Modern Army Combatives Program


Hand-to-Hand Combat

This is a deadly or non-deadly physical encounter between two or more persons at grappling distance without the use of weapons (U.S. Army Combatives, 2012). It refers mainly to military engagements in battle but it alternately applies to un-armed physical fight between two or more persons, such as police officers and civilians. It is called close combat when engaged beyond grappling distance and close quarter battle when firearms or other distance weapons used by military participants are involved. Combatives are military martial art combat systems applied to hand-to-hand combat training (U.S. Army Combatives).


Hand-to-hand combat is the most ancient form of confrontation in human history (U.S. Army Combatives, 2012). Each culture had its own form or method, such as boxing, wrestling, and gladiator tournaments, and jousting, in ancient Rome and the Middle Ages. Chinese soldiers trained in this type of encounter as early as during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty from 1022 — 256 BC. It remained part of military training despite technological advancements, such as the gunpowder, the machine gun during the Russian-Japanese War, and the trench warfare of World War I. William Ewart Fairbarn and Eric Anthony Sykes were the first to codify American combatives. They helped teach police officers and the marines a quick and simple but effective hand-to-hand combat for melee situations. Fairbairn called it the Defendu system. He eventually revised this into a method of “quick kill” hand-to-hand combat training, which he called “gutter fighting.”

Rex Applegate, a U.S. military close combat instructor, later adopted and expanded it for teaching to U.S. military and paramilitary forces. The British Commandoes, the Devil’s Brigade, OSS, U.S. Army Rangers, and Marine Raiders provided similar training. Applegate discussed the new training in his book, “Kill or Get Killed (U.S. Army Combatives).”

Body: The History of Modern Army Combatives Program

An order to re-energize martial arts training in 1995 revealed the need for a more effective program (National Guard, 2011; Blanton, 2008; Curtez, 2012). In response, Commander formed a committee to develop a replacement. He put SSG Matt Larsen to head the committee. In reviewing successful programs all over the world, this committee found that countries with indigenous national combative programs were more successful. Among these are Korea with Tae Kwon Do, Japan with Judo and Thailand with Muay Thai. Russia was not in the list because of its untrained population but its SOMBO system had great promise, as it was tailor-made for the Military. The committee took interest in this Russian system because of its Judo and Greco-Roman Wrestling foundation. It saw the SOMBO as similar to wresting and easier to learn, more flexible to size and strength, and with a component that allowed further training. On the whole, the committee decided that the new system they were looking for would be based on grappling (National Guard, Blanton, Curtez).

After a long search and review of different systems, the committee decided to send their men to train at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance, California (National Guard, 2012; Blanton, 2008; Curtez, 2012). In time, it found the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu taught in this Academy as meeting almost every aspect requirement of a military combatives program long sought by them. It was easy to learn, competitive and proven effective in hand-to-hand encounters. It detailed the techniques to be taught and in the proper order. It would first teach the basics of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ground fighting. Then it would proceed to throws and takedowns of judo and wrestling. This would be followed by the strikes of Boxing and Muay Thai. All these initial steps could combine with a training phase on marksmanship and weapons towards a totally integrated system of close quarters combat. The committee saw that one could pass smoothly between ranges of combat, with or without weapons, and individually or as a group (National Guard, Blanton, Curtez).

The initial group of Rangers trained under this new system spread the skill throughout the Army (National Guard, 2012; Blanton, 2008; Curtez, 2012). Col. Michael Ferriter, who was among those who learned it, was also commanding officer of the 3rd Ranger Battalion at that time. When he later took command of the 11th infantry regiment, he successfully incorporated the new system into the POIs of Officer Candidate School, the Infantry Officer Basic Course, and the Infantry Captains Career Course. Together with SFC Matt Larsen, he laid the foundation of the Army’s Train the Trainer’s Program. It continued to spread and grow. In January 2002, it became the official doctrine with the publication of the new field manual FM3-24, 150 (National Guard, Blanton, Curtez).

Conclusion: the Present Official Doctrine

The program also established the U.S. Army Combatives School at Fr. Benning in Georgia (National Guard, 2012; Blanton, 2008; Curtez, 2012). The U.S. Air Force formally adopted Modern Army Combatives as its hand-to-combat system in early 2008. Every Marine now keeps a record book, which inputs his training. A particular color in a colored belt system indicates the skill level, similar to that used by many Asian martial arts. In the order, these colors are tan, gray, green, brown and black (National Guard, Blanton, Curtez). #


Blanton, J.F. (2008). Hand-to-hand combatives in the U.S. Army. U.S. Army Command

and General Staff College. Retrieved on July 12, 2012 from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA511484

Curtez, R. (2012). The history of the modern army combatives program. Army Combatives: Army Combatives Program. Retrieved on July 12, 2012 from http://www.armycombatives.org/the-history-of-the-modern-army-combatives-program

National Guard (2011). The history of modern army combatives. National Guard

Bureau. Retrieved on July 12, 2012 from http://www.ng.mil/R1/rti/Combativestraining/History-MACP.pdf

US Army Combatives (2012). About hand-to-hand combat. USArmyCombative.com.

Retrieved on July 15, 2012 from http://www.usarmycombatives.com/about-hand-to-hand-combat

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