The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is a combat system developed specifically for use by United States Marines and combines elements of various fighting platforms into a single discipline in which all Marines must undergo training. MCMAP uses a belt system similar to that of traditional martial arts disciplines, with tan standing in for white on the belt spectrum, followed by gray, green, brown, and black. Once a Marine attains a black belt, there are additional levels of qualifications he or she can pursue, referred to as leveled degrees.

Among Marines, there are two different camps regarding “Semper Foo:” Some believe it serves as an excellent introduction into hand-to-hand combat techniques, while others tend to laugh it off, calling the low-level belt techniques useless and even accusing the training of giving young Marines a false sense of security, believing their training to have made them a better unarmed combatant than they actually are.

Full disclosure: I actively pursued MCMAP training throughout my entire time in the Marine Corps, earning my black belt as a corporal and transferring much of the training I received into competition when participating in civilian mixed martial arts tournaments.

The following is my attempt to bridge the gap between those who feel MCMAP is important, and those who disregard the value it offers our warfighters.

Prior to a policy shift in the waning years of my own Marine Corps career, it was not required that any Marine pursue MCMAP beyond the tan (white equivalent) belt all Marines must earn in order to graduate recruit training. An order released in 2010 mandated different belt requirements for different MOS’s—requiring direct combat arms occupational specialties to earn a green belt in the discipline before being considered fully trained.

In what promises to be the most inflammatory statement I’ll make in this article, it’s my experience that those who discount MCMAP for being useless are usually the same Marines who never achieved a higher belt level than tan or gray. Of course, that’s not always the Marine’s fault; occupational specialty, unit operational tempo, the availability of instructors, and any number of other variables could affect a Marine’s chances at chasing higher belts. Still, it’s worth mentioning that my own unit offered no formal MCMAP training beyond mandated annual refreshers. I had to seek out senior instructors and jump through bureaucratic hoops for each belt I earned, and conduct nearly all of the training during my liberty hours. As I’ve written about before, I’ve always chased after new and interesting ways to get punched in the face, so in my mind, MCMAP was a logical thing to dedicate my off time to.

MCMAP’s biggest weakness is also, in my opinion, its biggest strength. The Marine Corps places a larger emphasis on small unit leadership than most of the world’s military branches, and the MCMAP program is no different. You can earn your MCMAP instructor tab as a green belt, and begin training and testing Marines in the techniques of the belts lower than your own immediately thereafter. That means there are tan, gray, and green belt courses being taught all over the Corps by junior-ranking Marines with instructional experience limited to their tab course. Although there’s a strict syllabus, outlining the number of hours that must be spent practicing each technique, discussing moral and ethical tie-ins, and conducting combat conditioning, there’s still a chance that you get an instructor who’s lazy, unmotivated, or just downright not all that good at teaching someone to fight.