As we close out the month of May, we celebrate Memorial Day – an important holiday that honors those brave men and women who have served our country and also show appreciation for those who continue to protect us, at home and abroad. You may be surprised to learn there are many connections between the US military and martial arts to help service members be prepared not only physically but mentally.
The military is a profession that requires a lot of people to work together on a common goal. It also requires individuals to be able to work independently, think critically and solve problems. Martial arts is an art form that teaches discipline, focus, self-defense and teamwork. These two professions and specialties share many similarities in the way they are structured, and the required skillsets.
Martial arts skills are not just for self-defense. They have been used in the military for centuries and even today, are still being taught to soldiers. Being proficient in hand-to-hand combat can save soldiers’ lives. There are several forms of martial arts that are commonly used in military training.
Marine Corps Martial Arts Program
The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, or MCMAP, was designed to train US Marines. It was created in 1956 by Gunnery Sergeant Bill Miller, who was put in charge of the Marines’ hand-to-hand combat training. It combines elements of:
- Okinawan karate
- Tae Kwon Do
MCMAP trains soldiers in the mental, character and physical traits needed to defend themselves. It uses a belt system similar to the one used in civilian martial arts training. However, it also teaches basic knife, bayonet, and firearms techniques, as well as how to find and use weapons of opportunity.
How successful has this program been? In 2017, the UFC sent five of its best fighters to take on US Marines in hand-to-hand combat. The UFC fighters lost badly.
The US Army has a similar program called the US Army’s Combatives Program.
Tae Kwon Do
Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art that was originally developed in the 1940s and 1950s. Its creators were men who had studied a variety of martial arts and taught them in schools called kwans. In 1952, after witnessing a martial arts demonstration, South Korean President Syngman Rhee called for the creation of a unified Korean style of martial arts.
The original name of this discipline was Tae Soo Do, which combines three words:
- Tae – to stomp or trample
- Soo – hand
- Do – way or discipline
Eventually the word kwon, which means fist, replaced soo in the name, and Tae Kwon Do became the official name. As a discipline, Tae Kwon Do emphasizes speed and agility, training fighters to use head-height kicks and spinning techniques to defeat their opponents.
Jiu-Jitsu has its origins in the Muromachi period in Japan, which ran from 1336 to 1573. It came from a style of fighting that prioritized using an opponent’s weight and momentum against them instead of striking them.
The name Jiu-Jitsu did not attach itself to the discipline until the 18th century. Loosely translated, it means “the gentle art” because of its focus on leveraging an opponent’s actions instead of actively striking out against them.
A common variation taught in the military is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a technique that focuses on ground fighting. The idea behind Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that a smaller opponent can overwhelm a larger one by taking the fight to the ground and using chokeholds and joint locks to win the fight.
Martial Arts is for Everyone
Martial arts training is used to help service members defend themselves when traditional weapons alone might not be enough. The success of MCMAP is proof that learning the martial arts can save lives. The US military has always been about training its members to be able to perform tasks in any given environment or situation.
Martial arts can be a great way for children, teens and adults to learn self-defense skills, too. The benefits of martial arts are many and vary from person to person. It offers a great workout, can be a way to release stress, build self-esteem and much more. Those who study martial arts are often:
- More confident
- Better at problem solving
- More disciplined and focused
- Have a higher appreciation for being physically active – building strength, flexibility and agility
Martial arts training teaches self-control and rewards students who apply themselves and work hard. This helps them develop important life skills that will serve them well into adulthood and be a benefit in all aspects of their daily life.