Whenever I am asked about what things a poolee or prospective Marine can do in order to be better prepared for the fleet, my go-to answer is fight training. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, grappling, ground-fighting, whatever you want to call it, it needs to happen in order to participate in the constant quest to see who the Alpha is. Are you a PT stud? That’s great, how’s your ground game? Don’t get me wrong, I humped like it was nobody’s business and was known to pick up extra weapons along the 20+ mile humps in the hills of Camp Pendleton. But that didn’t sort things out when one of my senior Marines hit me to make a point. Some joint manipulation and the threat of being thrown off a cliff however – did.

I enlisted with a certain high-mindedness that disputes would be settled based upon right and wrong, and individual character. That’s true to a certain extent, but the infantry community deals in violence. Every skill that we value plays a part in your ability to bring physical violence to bear upon an enemy. With that in mind, why wouldn’t issues get sorted out hand-to-hand?

From time to time these things happened in an ‘unregulated’ environment. Wall-to-wall counseling, a walk away from the unit, or spontaneous martial arts training, they all happened and no problems were had provided no one got hurt too bad; (nowadays that might end a career). This is the Marine Corps after all. About 10 years ago there was a Correctional Custody Unit that Marines could be sent to in place of the brig. What did they do there? The manual labor of making big rocks into little rocks. It was considered a less harsh punishment that wasn’t as much of a black mark on someone’s record as a trip to the brig. That’s part of how Marines do business. In the mid 2000s it wasn’t uncommon for a Marine to screw up and have to dig a hole to China, or fill hundreds of sandbags as a punishment. Things may have changed in the kinder gentler Marine Corps, but MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts) still exists.

Ideally, if scores are to be settled, it happens in the MCMAP pit. MCMAP, MCNinja, or whop-bop-chop, isn’t a bad thing in theory. But a lot of it is predicated upon the idea that it’s being taught to 18-year-0lds who probably shouldn’t be able to break someone’s bones at will, potential for barfights and all. As such, it’s boiled down a bit and has become somewhat of a check in the box. When a unit goes to the MCMAP pit, (a designated soft surface where you won’t get body-slammed and land on a rock), it comes down to ground-fighting. People are generally paired by size, and individual matches proceed.

That lanky, skinny kid who’s sort of quiet. He destroyed me… routinely. Don’t think senior Marines didn’t take notice, because he was made a team leader quickly. They also didn’t mess with him as much. It may have been fear, or it may have been respect. That’s what he earned from me. I’d like to think I earned some of it back when I finally started training at a school out in town and could give him more of a fight.

That was the big difference between those who were skilled on the ground, and those who tried to keep up. The skilled guys all took the initiative, found an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) gym or a Jiu-jitsu school, and trained on their own time.

It isn’t all about having a say, or being seen as effective by your fellow Marines either. The skills you learn on the mat translate to the pace of battle, decisive moments, priorities of work, and violence of action. But you learn them at an instinctual level, because failing to know them ends in you getting your ass handed to you.

Another serious benefit is the ability to police your own and let them know when they are slacking, regardless of rank. Have a senior Marine who won’t give you a fair shake and just makes your life hell? Call him out in the MCMAP pit. Have a junior Marine who talks back? Call him out in the MCMAP pit. Have a lieutenant who you caught with pillows in his pack on the last hump? Call him out in the MCMAP pit. Have a sergeant who disappeared prior to PT because he was still drunk? Call him out in the MCMAP pit. All matches go to tap out or pass out, and nothing will change a group’s mind about a junior Marine who weighs 120 lbs on a heavy day like watching him destroy a 200 lb lieutenant. Yeah, that happened. His call-sign was Longrifle, but that’s a story for another time.