Infantry: August 2, 2001

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Keeping it Up Close and Personal- The U.S. Marine Corps has long prided itself on its ability to get close to the enemy and kill them by any means available. Marine recruits are taught how to use rifles, bayonets, grenades and, if all that failed, their hands and feet. While everyone else, including some marines, believe the future of warfare is standing back and letting smart bombs and robots do the killing, the marines still pay attention to up close and personal forms of mayhem.

The marines have long emphasized hand to hand combat training, but without much success. Combat veterans know that there will be rare situations when you will be brawling with the enemy, hand to hand (or with the aid of knife, shovel or rifle butt.) But for the marines, the main reason for pushing hand to hand fighting is that it helps to instill a fighting spirit. This, as the marines know from their own history, makes a difference no matter what weapons are being used. 

Now there is a third reason to stress close combat; peacekeeping. Hand to hand combat is generally less fatal than shooting someone or blowing them up with grenades or artillery. Peacekeeping operations stress controlling hostile civilians without killing a lot of them. While the marines have taken the lead in developing "non-lethal weapons," there will still be situations where marines will have to face hostile people with only physical force available as a weapon. If marines have superior hand to hand fighting techniques, they could more easily establish a physical and psychological advantage and defuse an explosive situation. 

All past efforts at providing hand to hand combat training failed to one degree or another. Reviewing these past efforts, it was obvious that just teaching Oriental martial arts was not suitable for the reality of the battlefield, or peacekeeping. So the marines went back to the drawing board and developed new techniques based more on real situations. The new martial arts program (called The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) combines your basic, habitual brawling moves with martial arts techniques. Choosing moves and exercises from the many different schools of martial arts, the new program aims to produce a more effective street fighting marine. To this end, the new program is designed to be a regular part of a marines career. This will include colored belts (riggers belts that can be worn with the work uniform) to indicate the degree of proficiency achieved, and regular competitions. This last item is expected to be key, if it can be pulled off. Marines love competition, and the martial arts program combines the marine mission of fighting and the stimulation of competition. 

Like everything else the marines do, they are doing this on the cheap. The navy keeps them on a short leash when it comes to money, so new projects get done inexpensively or not at all. In this case, the small marine staff of martial arts instructors developed the program and trained the first batch of trainers, who began training others last year. The program is being launched across the entire marine corps this year at a cost of $1.3 million. After that, the program will cost some $250,000 a year to keep going. Like other martial arts, skill levels are indicated by the color of a belt (going from in tan, through gray, green, brown and then several levels of black) that worn with the uniform. It will take at least 27.5 hours of instruction and supervised training to achieve the initial tan belt. Getting to the first level of black belt will takes 247.5 hours of training. It will take three or four years of dedicated work to reach black belt, and not every career officer or NCO is expected to get that far. Indeed, combat NCOs are only expected to reach brown belt status and non-combat NCOs green. Getting to the highest level, sixth degree black belt, will require 10-15 years of work (based on the usual rates of progress in other martial arts programs.) 

The big unknown is whether the skills acquired will actually work in combat. Once you can refer to the skills as "proven in combat," it's much easier to get, and keep, everyone's attention. But before someone gets a chance to use this stuff on a battlefield, there will probably be a peacekeeping situation where some martial arts trained marines disassemble an angry mob with their bare hands. That kind of confirmation could keep the new martial arts program going forever. Until then, there will be reports from taverns and bars regarding how much more effective, or not, marines are when they brawl with the locals, or members of other armed forces (domestic and foreign.) While these incidents don't show up in the official reports, word spreads quickly among marines. So it won't be long before the marines know, at least unofficially, if the new fighting techniques really work.

 


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