The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program has been the basic hand-to-hand combat system employed by the United States Marine Corps since 2002, and as I’ve written about in the past, it tends to get dragged through the mud by young guys with limited experience and a lot of bravado. In order to complete recruit training, you need to show competency in the program’s Tan Belt syllabus (comparable to other martial arts’ white belt) and depending on your occupational specialty, many Marines stop seeking continued training in the discipline except when mandated by their command.

You’ll often hear young Marines (or older ones that have managed to avoid getting hit in the face throughout their careers) say things like “MCMAP doesn’t work,” only to find that they never made it past their tan or follow on grey belts and have limited experience in any other discipline. That’s a lot like a guy spending two weeks training in Brazilian jiujitsu and then walking away dismissing the entire discipline because it hasn’t made him Royce Gracie yet. Doing it doesn’t really say much about the martial art, but it does say a lot about how naive you were as  you approached the mats. Learning to fight takes time, discipline, and effort – things that come from within, rather than things that can be mandated through a syllabus.

There are certainly elements of the MCMAP syllabus I learned along the way to my black belt that I didn’t feel worked particularly well for me, but just like my training in other martial arts disciplines, I approached MCMAP with the mindset that I would find what worked, adopt it into my repertoire, and strive to better understand why other techniques didn’t seem as effective, in hopes that the broader understanding would make me a more capable fighter. Learning to defend yourself with your hands, like learning to drive or shoot, means repetition, analysis, adjustment, and trying again. If you approach the process expecting to become Randy Couture in a matter of weeks, the problem isn’t the program … it’s you.

And nothing better represents the distinction between the pseudo-tough guys that “already know how to fight” and students eager to become more proficient fighters than the time-honored rear hand punch.

Every striking coach I’ve worked with, every Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor, hell, even most sparring partners I’ve trained with, start work at the rear hand punch. It’s supposed to be the simplest fighting mechanism a human being has at his or her disposal — all you have to do it ball up your first and throw at your opponent’s face, and you’ve got the technique down, right?


A rear hand punch, just like most powerful strikes, shouldn’t derive much of its force from your arm at all. In fact, if you’re hoping to end a fight with a knock out (something that’s far more difficult than movies and TV would have you believe in most cases) the force behind your punch should actually be coming from your waist. No, that doesn’t mean you should throw a long, telegraphed haymaker like we’ve all seen in dramatic fight scenes on the big screen – but it does mean you should spend some time working on the proper execution of a rear hand punch before demanding that a program move on to more exotic forms of violence.

If you can’t (or won’t) throw a proper rear hand punch, I don’t see any point in teaching you more until you can (or will). Learning is a mindset, not an outcome.