The late ’70s and ’80s was a time of expansion and experimentation as U.S. SOF units digested the lessons of Vietnam and reveled in the Reagan presidency, which meant increased funding for all of the U.S. military, and especially special operations. But, still, hand-to-hand training lagged. It was around this time that “combatives” became the common term used to refer to military martial arts, gradually replacing “hand-to-hand.”

According to Special Forces veteran Greg Hoisington, “We had a few hours of instruction in ‘Combat Judo’ during Phase I when I attended SFTG in the early 1970s. It was fairly basic, mostly throws and take-downs. I think it was mainly to spark our interest in the martial arts after we graduated.” And so the trend continued.

Big John Delavan, an SF veteran, said it seemed to him that “all combatives training Army-wide stopped in either the late 60s or very early 70s. This is not to say individual unit training or special unit training. But from what I could ascertain it included general combatives training for all soldiers in general with the decision to justify and employ combatives training left to the (unit) commander.” Civilian martial arts in the U.S. in the late 1960s through the 1980s was in a major state of flux as martial arts popularity in the U.S. exploded with a large influx of styles and systems. The tendency of American martial artists to mix styles into hybrid systems was also mixing the pot. Masters back in the originating countries, Japan and Korea foremost, tried vigorously to exert some degree of control over those crazy, disloyal Americans and keep them in line and in the fold. But, still, the blending and hybrids continued.

Mike Echanis spent a lot of time on Ft. Bragg teaching his Hwarang Do system to Special Forces troops of 5th and 7th Groups. Echanis remains today a controversial figure, with many supporters and critics, some claiming that he was an outstanding martial artist and instructor and some claiming he was a snake oil salesman. For certain is that Mike’s Hwarang Do system was a hybrid system composed of techniques from numerous styles that he had picked up. Such is the way with all systems: adaptation and evolution. Also for certain is that Mike was talented and charismatic, but also a bit eccentric, and he loved the attention and the spotlight. Echanis was killed in Nicaragua in 1978, at age 27, under mysterious circumstances, while he was working as a military contractor.

Said one SF veteran who trained with Echanis, “His system had lots of cool training, but was too much a personality cult.” This is always a risk with martial arts, but should not be a factor in any military hand-to-hand or combatives program. But, this was not unique. Snake oil ninjas ran amok in America at this time, during the U.S. martial arts upheaval and reformation.

The 1980s and 1990s were also a time of stabilization, reformation, and continued innovation as the snake oilers dissipated and martial artists began to sort through the chaos. Many schools and systems began to focus more on meditation and philosophy in the course of their training. The logic was that students needed to know not just how to fight but when. Such sentiments have always been a part of traditional martial arts, but have historically only been exposed to upper-level students and masters, not white and yellow belts. But such was the culture of the day.

The Trojan Warrior Project was conducted in 1985 by 10th special Forces Group. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, one of the three primary civilian instructors, described his experience of the project in his book, In Search of the Warrior Spirit. The Aikido and meditation instructors sought to turn a test group of green berets into modern-day samurai. Strozzi-Heckler’s wrote in his book, “The point of the Trojan Warrior Project is to increase (their) potential as soldiers and as individuals.” The instructors sought to teach the students how to be better human beings, by being more self-aware, topics, many felt, and feel, is better suited for churches and temples, not for military training or combatives programs.

The outcome of the program was mixed. About a third said it changed their lives. Another third thought it was a total waste of time. The remaining third were ambivalent. 10th Group and the SF community nicknamed the project The Jedi Warrior Project, due to the focus on meditation and mind control.