Marine Corps Martial Arts Program

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The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is a combat system developed by the United States Marine Corps to combine existing and new hand-to-hand and close quarters combat (CQC) techniques with morale and team-building functions and instruction in what the Marine Corps calls the “Warrior Ethos”.[1] The program, which began in 2001, trains Marines (and U.S. Navy personnel attached to Marine Units) in unarmed combat, edged weapons, weapons of opportunity, and rifle and bayonet techniques. It also stresses mental and character development, including the responsible use of force, leadership, and teamwork. The MCMAP has several nicknames, including semper fu (a play on the Marine Corps motto semper fi and kung fu), MCSlap, and new bushido. In speech, the acronym is often pronounced “mick-map.”

The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) was officially created by MCO 1550.54 as a “revolutionary step in the development of martial arts skills for Marines and replaces all other close-combat related systems preceding its introduction.”[2] MCMAP comes from an evolution dating back to the creation of the Marine Corps, beginning with the martial abilities of Marine boarding parties, who often had to rely on bayonet and cutlass techniques.

During World War I these bayonet techniques were supplemented with unarmed combat techniques, which often proved useful in trench warfare. Between World Wars I and World War II, Colonel Anthony J. Biddle began the creation of standardized bayonet and close combat techniques based on boxing, wrestling, and fencing. Also during this period, Captains W. M. Greene and Samuel B. Griffith learned martial arts techniques from Chinese American Marines and brought this knowledge to other Marines throughout the Marine Corps.

In 1956, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hayward (captain of the judo team at MCRD) made Gunnery Sergeant Bill Miller the new Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Hand-To-Hand Combat. Miller was ordered to develop a new curriculum that a 110- or a 210-pound Marine could use to quickly kill the enemy. Miller created the program from various martial arts styles such as Okinawan karate, judo, and jujutsu. Every Marine recruit that went through MCRD was instructed in Miller’s Combat Curriculum. This also included Special Forces from all branches of the military and civilian entities. Later in 2001, retired Gunnery Sergeant Bill Miller was awarded the Black Belt Emeritus “for pioneering Martial Arts in the United States Marine Corps.”

Eventually these different techniques evolved into the LINE System in the early 1980s. Later, the system was found to be lacking in flexibility and techniques for use in situations that did not require lethal force, such as peacekeeping operations. The Marine Corps began searching for a more effective system. The result was the Marine Corps Close Combat training Program implemented in 1997–1999. MCMAP, which was finally implemented as part of a Commandant of the Marine Corps initiative in summer 2000. General Jones assigned Lieutenant Colonel George Bristol and Master Gunnery Sergeant Cardo Urso, with almost 70 years of martial arts experience between them, to establish the MCMAP curriculum to be taught at the Martial Arts Center of Excellence (MACE).

The program uses an advancement system of colored belts similar to that of most martial arts. The different levels of belts are:

There are an additional 5 degrees of black belt, with several of the same common prerequisites, including recommendation of reporting senior, appropriate level of PME completed, must be a current MAIT. Black belt 2nd degree to 6th degree signify that the holder is an authority in the Marine Corps Martial arts Program. In addition to the above prerequisite, each belt also has its own rank requirements.

Because the belts are worn with the Marine’s Utility Uniform, the complete range of belt colors such as red, yellow or purple are excluded as a practical consideration. Once a Marine obtains his gray belt, he can attend additional training to become a martial arts instructor (secondary MOS 0916, formerly 8551). MCMAP instructors can train other Marines up to their current belt level, and certify Marines at one level below their current belt level. A green belt instructor can therefore certify others for tan and gray belts, a brown belt instructor can certify tan, gray, and green. The instructor status is signified by one vertical tan stripe on the MCMAP belt. A Marine must have attended at least the Martial arts Instructor (MAI) course to advance beyond first degree black belt. The only one who can train a Marine to be an instructor are black belt Martial arts Instructor-Trainers (MAIT). An MAIT’s status is signified by a vertical red stripe on the MCMAP belt and a secondary MOS of 0917 (formerly 8552). To become an MAIT, a Marine must have already completed a local MAI course. The Marine then attends the MAIT course at the Martial arts Center of Excellence in Quantico, Virginia.

MCMAP techniques can be taught to other services and to foreign military members, and belts awarded to those who complete the course. [3] [4]

“MCMAP is a synergy of mental, character, and physical disciplines with application across the full spectrum of violence.”[5] The disciplines are the foundation of the MCMAP system, as it serves a dual purpose. MCMAP was implemented to increase the combat efficiency, as well as to increase the confidence and leadership abilities of Marines. As stated above, the three disciplines of MCMAP are mental, character, and physical. Marines are required to develop the mind, body and spirit simultaneously and equally. Safety is also of importance, so equipment such as mouthguards and pads are used in conjunction with techniques such as half-speed practice and break-falls to prevent injury.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps has recently determined that the disciplines studied in MCMAP are integral to the function of Marines, and had ordered that all Marines will attain a tan belt qualification by the end of 2007. Additionally, all infantry Marines are required to attain a green belt qualification, and other combat arms must qualify for a gray belt by the end of 2008. [6]

Warrior Studies focus on individuals that have shown exemplary service on the battlefield, as well as discussion and analysis of combat citations. Martial Culture Studies focus on societies that produce warriors either primarily or exclusively. Some of the martial cultures that are studied are the Marine Raiders, Spartans, Zulu and Apache. By studying these cultures, Marines learn fundamental tactics and methods of the past and reconnect themselves with the warrior ethos of the Marine Corps. Combative Behavior studies interpersonal violence, as well as Rules of Engagement and the Force Continuum (which dictates when and how much force can be used in response to the mission, up to and including lethal force). For some belts, Professional Military Education (PME) courses are prerequisites. The development of this discipline also stresses situational awareness, tactical and strategic decision-making, and Operational Risk Management (ORM).