Modern Army Combatives Interview

Hey man, my name is Dave Durnil. I am purple belt under Daniel de Lima, Gracie Barra Miami.

Currently I am teaching combative with the US Army. There are several BJJ guys now doing this:

I recently did an interview with the head of the Modern Army Combatives system.

Here is the interview:1) Can you tell us a little about the history of the Army’s Modern Combatives program?

The Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) grew out of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Back in 1995, after realizing that the Army`s old hand-to-hand system was broken, we realized that the key to success was motivating Soldiers to train. Past Army programs had failed at this primarily because they were essentially only a collection of techniques for Soldiers to memorize. The missing component was a way for Soldiers to excel. The most obvious example of this is SOMBO which was created specifically as a competition based system for the Soviet Army. If Soldiers can prove themselves the best in their unit, through competition, they can see a reason for hard training.

Over the course of the last ten years, we have developed a system that draws from various martial arts that uses systematic training, competitions at all levels and scenario based training and are succeeding where every past system has failed.

It should also be noted that MACP is a grass roots program. In other words, it has grown based only on it`s ability to teach Soldiers to fight, and motivate them to train. Soldiers call BS pretty quickly. We have grown from one small unit`s program to the entire Army because Soldiers know it works.

2) How does the program differ from other military hand to hand instruction?

Past programs have all taken essentially the same approach as every self defense class their ever was. Imagine what most such classes consist of. A martial arts instructor with years of experience is asked to teach a group to defend themselves, and given six or eight hours to do it. So what do they do? They pick a set of techniques that they think are simple to learn and remember and that are effective in the situations they think are most likely to happen. The problem is that this approach doesn`t work, and if they are candid even the instructors will admit that they don`t think the graduates of this type of program will have any real fighting ability as a result of the training. What are the odds that a Soldier, or a housewife, will even remember the techniques they were taught a year earlier and be able to apply them effectively when they need them?

Our approach is completely different. In the MAC Program, the techniques are actually only teaching tools. The real lessons are not that obvious. For example, the techniques of the first level are picked, among other reasons, because they illuminate the concept of a hierarchy of dominant position from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Six months or a year after basic training, even if they have forgotten every technique they were taught, just the sense of objective this concept gives them alone will make them a better fighter.

The basic techniques are also each representative of a class of techniques. A Soldier who has trained in the program hasa blue print that more advanced techniques can fit into. If someone knows the rear naked choke can be done from the rear mount, when you show them another choke from the rear mount,they already understand the technique in context.

There is a lot more to it than just these simple points but you can see that MAC is far from a simple collection of easy to learn techniques.

3) How does BJJ fit into the program?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the base art, if you will, of the program. Not only from a technical sense but a tactical sense as well.

What Royce illuminated for all of us in those early UFCs was simply this. If you are engaged in a fight with the average person, their plan to beat you will be to pummel you with their fists until you have received enough damage that you cannot fight back effectively. We refer to this as the universal fight plan. You don`t even have to teach it because everyone already has it. The good news about this is that the universal fight plan takes mutual consent. Both fighters have to agree to stand at striking range and exchange blows for it to work. If one fighter withdrawals their consent by either running off or, as Royce did, by getting within striking range, it no longer works.

The beauty of the basic plan of Jiu-Jitsu; close the distance, achieve a dominant position and finish the fight, is that it is not even dependant on technique. For literally a hundred years the Army has been trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to teach Soldiers Judo type throws or better striking skills. On the other hand if he simply knows this plan, he can tackle an unskilled opponent, like he has done a thousand time playing football as a kid, fights for dominant position, which is so simple a concept that it will not be hard to remember, and then if he has forgotten every choke or joint lock he was ever taught, he can still feed the guy his teath by striking him from dominant position.

Where MAC begins to differ from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is where to grow beyond this basic approach. Simply put, this basic beans and rice approach does not fit every situation that Soldiers find themselves in. More advanced tactics require the requisite skills. Soldiers must have the skills to fit their mission and tactical situation. We use the ground fighting skills from Jiu-Jitsu as a base from which to grow fighters who can operate with whatever skills they require.

As Soldier progress in the system, MAC draws from wrestling, Judo, Boxing, Muay Thai, Kali etc. Combine all of this with a competition system that doesn`t allow you to focus on a subset of sportive techniques, and scenario based training that forces Soldiers to train within their mission parameters and rules of engagement and you soon have something quite different than basic Jiu-Jitsu.

4) Can you talk a little about the Army’s competition rules, and how they differ from sport BJJ?

It`s important to understand the impact the competition rules have on the development of a system. In the 1930s, the leaders of the soviet SOMBO system decided that it was too dangerous to include chokes in their competitions, in a similar way that Judo leaders decided leg locks were too dangerous for theirs. The results are that Judo players do not typically know the first thing about leg attacks and in SOMBO, with no chokes as a reason to take the back, the back mount no longer even exists.

Competitors will inevitably focus their training on victory in competition rather than on fighting. This is the reason why there is no defense to the double leg in Boxing. Takedowns are not part of the competition and Boxers are training to win, not to fight.

You can see this in action with today`s Jiu-Jitsu competitions. There have been many black belt level Jiu-Jitsu “players” who found themselves ill prepared for MMA competitions from focusing too much on the “game” of Jiu- Jitsu.

While Jiu-Jitsu rules were originally designed to favor the competitor who would win a real fight, we think there are several improvements that can be made. For example, there is no doubt that a takedown to side control is better than a takedown to within the guard. There is however no difference in the scoring in current Jiu-Jitsu rules. In Jiu-Jitsu rules you can also avoid the takedown fight all together by jumping to guard. This is simply not the best way to train Soldiers for the battlefield. The MACP rules not only give a higher score for ending a takedown in a better position, but force the fighters to fight for the takedown by scoring based on the result and not just the intent. When scoring the results, there is no difference between jumping to guard or being taken down and catching your opponent in your guard on the way down.

The MACP also does not allow a Soldier to concentrate on sportive grapping. We have a graduated set of rules so that more and more techniques are available as you progress in competition. In A battalion or brigade championship tournament, which is between a 600 to 2000 man unit, the majority of the tournament would use our grappling rules, which are slightly modified Jiu-Jitsu rules, but the finals would be pancrase type fights. At a division or higher level, the finals would be MMA. If you combine this with scenario training in the units, it is easy to see how there is no incentive to train simply for the sport.

5) Who are the stand-out students that the program has produced?

While most of our students spend a significant part of their time in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, we have several who are having good success at various forms of competition back here in the states. Damien Stelly is one of our better fighters. He was world open SOMBO champion a couple of years ago and is a very accomplished MMA fighter. He will probably be in Afghanistan with the third Ranger battalion by the time this comes out, also Keith Bach and Jeremy Brown who are both instructors at the Combatives School and Kevin Jordan, a civilian who works out with us, who will be in the UFC soon. Our focus however will always be on the battlefield. The difference is that to us, Jiu-Jitsu, SOMBO, MMA and all of the various forms of combative competitionsare only a training tool. The real fight happens half way around the world and the looser doesn`t get to fight again.

6) Who are some of the civilian and military instructors that are part of the program?

I guess the first I should mention are that the cadre at the Combatives school train with Jacare` Cavalcante for Jiu-Jitsu and his partner Manu Ntoh for Muay Thai as well as any other source we see value in. The basis of our weapons fighting program, for example, comes from Marc “Crafty Dog” Deny and Dog Brothers Martial Arts.

We also have the enormous task of training the over1,000,000 Soldiers that are spread around the world. One of the ways we do that is by enlisting some of the best instructors we can find. For example at Ft. Campbell, Ky our primary instructor is John Renken, a very accomplished MMA fighter and excellent teacher. At Ft. Stewart, Ga. Our man is Garth Spendiff who is a brown Belt from Relson Gracie. At Ft. Bragg, NC we have Gregg Thompson, a black belt under Royce and also leader of Team R.O.C. These are just a few,and you can find a more complete list on our web site, but you can see the quality of the men we have working for us.

You can also see that we are not jealous over who is who`s teacher or what other organization they may belong to. We are only interested in getting the best possible instruction for our Soldiers. Our organization is interested in setting standards so that a Soldier can count on quality instruction wherever he may be and on pointing the training in the right direction, so that Soldier are not led down some of the primrose paths that lead away from realistic Combatives training.

7) What do you see as the future for the Combatives program?

Imagine twenty years from now, when everyone who has served in the Army has been taught basic fighting skills and been exposed to realistic training. By then, Combative skill will be a common thing in every town in America. It will be so common that people will take it for granted. By then their will be a realistic martial arts school on every corner the way there is currently TaeKwonDo or cardio Kickboxing. Competitions will be cheap, plentiful and professionally run. It will be everywhere from the schools to the Olympics.

That is the future, you can count on it.

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About the author

Dave Durnil