Marine Cpl. Jacob Rangel hid behind a tree, waiting to attack a combatives opponent jogging up a wooded trail. As another Marine passed by, the two fought until a “killing blow” was called.
Rangel then picked up his wooden weapon, fixed his helmet and went back into hiding as he waited for the next Marine.
“You don’t see training like this anywhere else,” said Rangel, an instructor with the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course.
The course, which began July 18 and ends Friday, trains Marines to teach the techniques and practices of the weapon-based martial arts program.
Instructor Marine Capt. Robert Monday, who led the course, said the program blends combat disciplines.
After completing the course, Marines will be given a green belt-level instructor certification and can take their new skills back to their units to teach fellow Marines.
Instructor trainees are selected by their commanders to endure the rigorous training.
“It’s a great honor to be selected to try and attempt to do it,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Clayton Hill, a trainee. “It’s an even greater honor for your commander to say, ‘Yes, you’re the type of Marine we want watching over our younger Marines.’ ”
In addition to the physical aspect of the program, trainees also learn to be “ethical warriors,” Monday said. To train Marines in the core values of honor, courage and commitment, instructors focus on three disciplines: character, mental and physical.
Marines study leadership, ethics and the actions of past Marines as a way of building upon character and mental discipline during the course.
“We train these guys to know when to do things and when not to — always do the right thing at all times,” Monday said.
Hill said it is not the physical aspect that makes a Marine, but rather the character and mental toughness.
“We don’t just train someone to fight, we want them to know how to fight, why to fight, what are the reasons to fight,” Hill said. “We also need them to use judgment to know when not to fight, when to stop.”
Since the Marine trainees will ultimately teach martial arts skills to their units, classes also focus on instruction. Participants work on presentation skills, in addition to mastery of the martial arts techniques.
“MAI [martial arts instructor] is not just a tab on your belt or a badge,” Monday said. “When they leave here, it’s a huge responsibility. You have to take all that knowledge, all those lessons you learned and apply them and use then in training Marines.”
As for the program’s physical discipline, Marines participate in grueling drills and exercises throughout the three weeks. Each day, the service members work out in full gear, then spar.
Last week, the Marines performed numerous drills at the Marine Obstacle Course on Zimborski Avenue. During the first exercise, they jogged through a wooden trail attacking stacks of tires with live bayonets.
After the exercise, Marines ran through the obstacle course — with a few extra obstacles thrown in. After climbing a wall, instructors were waiting with pads for quick elbow and knee attacks. At the end of the course there were more instructors waiting to initiate ground fighting.
“It’s real-life training,” Monday said. “They really get that feel of a real, dynamic, aggressive opponent — not a target or a bag.”
Because the program also focuses on working as a unit, trainees help each other get through the drills and exercises, Monday said. This principle is stressed with physical activities such as carrying a weighted dummy through the obstacle course as a group.
Another unit-based drill was the combat cohesion exercise at Gaffney Fitness Center. During Friday’s drill, participants were split into two groups. One Marine from the group would gear up and fight an instructor in the corner of the Combative Room, while the rest of the group went through a series of exercises. It wasn’t until the Marines completed an exercise that the fighter could let his guard down. This exercise continued until all Marines fought an instructor.
“They make it as intense as possible, but as safe as possible,” Hill said, “so the Marine that you are, on the other side, is not only uniquely skilled but now has a greater understand of his limitations and how far he can push himself.”
When asked about the course’s intensity, Marine Sgt. Dwayne Smith just smiled and laughed.
“You get home and your body hurts,” he said. “The next day your body hurts and you wonder how you’re going to survive the next day.”
Hill, who limped his way through part of the course, said most Marines are miserable throughout the program but know it is worth it in the end.
“Anybody who’s every been in combat can tell you it doesn’t matter what you train for or what you plan for, it’s going to throw something different at you,” he said. “This course gives you the stamina and the mental flexibility to know that whatever happens, you can meet those challenges with a clear head, face them head on and do whatever needs to be done to accomplish your mission.”
By Brandon Bieltz, Headquarters Marine Corps