By Master Sgt. Ray Bowden
Anyone passing by Camp Lemonnier’s athletic field at dusk April 19 would have no doubt heard the enthusiastic cries of “Hoorah!” and “Kill Kill!” coming from the 26 joint service members sparring under the field’s bright lights.
An observer may have even considered calling the military police as surely camp leadership wouldn’t condone such a savage brawl, but upon closer inspection one would see that this was no ordinary melee. These service members – virtually all Marines – were participating in the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP), a course designed to teach Marines hand-to-hand, close-quarters combat.
“MCMAP is a combination of different disciplines of martial arts brought together to create one fighting style, and combines the core basics of boxing, Judo and Ju Jitsu,” U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Brenton Sangster, MCMAP instructor, said.
All U.S. Marines graduate Marine Corps Basic Training with a fundamental level of MCMAP skills, and this training is available to them throughout their career. “Every Marine is taught to be a warrior,” Sangster said. “Not only do Marines need to be exceptionally qualified with a rifle, but also in hand-to-hand combat.”
Similar to civilian martial arts courses, MCMAP students are awarded colored belts which indicate skill level. MCMAP instructors give tan, grey, green, brown and black belts, respectively. Sangster said each MCMAP course is tailored to the skill level of the students. “Our goal as instructors is to level each individual to the highest level that they wish to achieve,” Sangster said. “Depending on the level of belt being trained at the time, the class can consist of basic hand-to-hand tactics from upper and lower body strikes, as well as ground grappling and submission fighting.”
MCMAP instructors also seek to instill mental and physical discipline in their students and according to one MCMAP student, completing the course is easier said than done. “The course is difficult, but it builds your endurance and gives you confidence,” U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Rosa Luna, MCMAP student, said. “It helps you gain a better understanding about how your troops and fellow NCOs really feel about the Marine Corps Values of courage and commitment.”
While specifically designed for Marines, the course is open to other Camp Lemonnier servicemembers. “If other service members want to better themselves, I feel obligated to help them succeed,” U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Robert Roach, MCMAP instructor, said. “War has no preference on what service a member belongs to, and the techniques used in a MCMAP class could keep them alive.”
Sangster said Camp Lemonnier MCMAP instructors are eager and willing to train their joint-service counterparts. “It’s motivating to see other service members take an interest in our training – we welcome them with open arms and treat them fairly. They receive no special treatment,” Sangster said.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Chris Wathor is one of those other service members and said his roommate, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matt Matthews, inspired him to sign up for the course. “He told me about the program and his own aspirations to earn a higher belt,” Wathor said. “I was there originally for some good physical training and to learn new skills, but as I went through the course I felt like I needed to be there to help motivate the other students.”
Becoming a MCMAP instructor is not for the faint of heart, Sangster said, explaining that the course material gives instructors a chance to improve their own martial arts techniques and teaches them how to instruct and learn from other Marines.
“Once selected, Marines go through a rigorous three-week training period that tests their physical and mental abilities,” he said. “During this process, Marines are taught by certified instructor trainers who have all attained black belts, which represent the highest level of martial arts skill, to sharpen their technique and attend classes on Marine Corps warrior ethos, nutrition, and course instructor training.”
Sangster graduated from the MCMAP Instructor Course in 2010. “I’ve been involved with martial arts since 2003,” he said. “Martial arts has not only improved my skills as a fighter, but has also taught me a great deal of discipline. As long as I am in the Marine Corps, I will continue to be an instructor to improve my skills and pass on the knowledge I have to future generations of war fighters.”
Sanger said he was motivated by his father, a retired Marine, to improve his martial arts skills. “My father went through the old Marine Corps martial arts program known as LINE – Linear Infighting Neural-Override Engagement training, and has always been an inspiration to me,” he said. “I began training in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu in high school, as well as Thai kick boxing and continue to train to this day.”
Students enrolled in Sangster’s recent MCMAP course met to train three hours a night, six days week, beginning April 6. All 26 joint service members successfully completed the course and were awarded green belts by Sangster in a graduation ceremony held April 20 at the athletic field.
However, these students had one more challenge to master before graduating: a correlating event, or confidence course, that demonstrated their newly learned martial arts and physical prowess. This course included boxing, grappling; heaving a 400 pound tire back and forth; lifting 30 pound ammo cans, pushups; and other calisthenics and tests of strength. Each portion of the course lasted one minute with students running to each station between exercises. This correlating event took approximately one hour for the students to complete, and by the end, all were drenched in sweat and gasping.
“There’s nothing better than when I ask my sweaty, bloody, bruised, and tired students if they’ve had a good training experience, and they respond with a loud ‘Hoorah!”’ Sangster said.