The All-Army Combatives Finals are set to begin.
I am not in the military. The last time a member of my family had any military service was back in World War II when my Grampa was a Major in the US Army Air Corps which would become known as the Air Force. However, this past weekend at Fort Hood, I got to experience something that only servicemen and women get to see in the All-Army tournament. The tournament is a three day affair which starts with the first day being grappling, the second day being Pancrase rules, and the final day being full MMA.
For a bit of background on the All-Army Combatives, the program was created back in the 1996 by a man named Matt Larsen. Until this point, the Army had focused on boxing and wrestling, but there was no training beyond those two disciplines. The program has caught on since then and has become a part of the training across the Army. With the success of the Combatives, a tournament was created in 2005 to have representatives from bases across the country compete. It is the tournament that Tim Kennedy won back in 2006 and by all accounts has grown each year since then.
I contacted the folks at Ranger Up to see if they could get me into this event as their guest and they were happy to help out. Entering the gym at Fort Hood, I was impressed at the the sheer size of the tournament. There were over 400 competitors and a massive matted area for the grappling portion of the tournament. A lot has been stated about the UFC's relationship with Ranger Up lately, but it is through Ranger Up that the UFC donated brand new Zebra mats as well as the trophies for the winners. The second thing I noticed was that across the eight weight classes, there weren't separate divisions for the female competitors. They would be grappling and potentially fighting against their male counterparts. I asked Matt Larsen about this and his response was that in war there aren't Female divisions and that everyone fights everyone. It makes sense when you think about it that way. Some of the females were extremely talented and I saw quite a few defeat the male soldiers.
The grappling ran from 0800 to 1900 on Thursday. The event was essentially Gi with the combatants wearing their full uniform including jacket. Before arriving at Fort Hood, my expectation was that it would be extremely basic grappling much like you'd see at the white and blue belt classes of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy. Instead, I was treated to some extremely high level submission fighting. I use the word fighting because that's what it looked like and that is without any hyperbole. I have participated in and spectated at Grappling tournaments, Muay Thai fights, and have seen MMA live. There is absolutely nothing that compares to what I saw at Fort Hood on Thursday. It should be expected with a room filled with soldiers who have absolutely no fear having served tours over in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, but it still came as a complete surprise to see the aggression in the grappling matches.
There were some highlights such as seeing competitors put their opponent out with some nifty chokes such as the Baseball choke. And there were some injuries such as a dislocated knee after a soto-gama in the lightweight division. However, the absolute most memorable moment was watching one of the female competitors run a grappling clinic on her male opponent and hearing his teammates make excuses for his performance based on the fact that she was an attractive woman. I say this is a highlight because it's absolutely insane to think any of these soldiers took it easy in their matches. The first day was capped off between a Ranger Up sponsored fighter grappling against a BJJ Brown Belt and PanAm champ. The bouts are set for six minutes. This particular bout lasted for 17 minutes before the PanAm champ got the takedown and the win.
I unfortunately missed the second day but was ready for the Finals on Saturday. The flier said it commenced at 1pm but it didn't actually start until 4pm. All fights took place in a cage and were under the standard Amateur MMA rules (no knees or kicks to the head, shin guards). It was an extremely long day with 16 fights and an intermission. I don't want to get too detailed but there were some extremely fun fights. In between the Consolation finals and the Tournament finals, there was a ceremony where three soldiers were awarded the first Combatives black belts. A belting system adds legitimacy to an art form and there was internal debate whether the Army should adopt one. The ceremony saw Matt Larsen award Tim Kennedy, Damian Stelly, and Andrew Chapelle the first black belts, signifying their total competency of the art as well as representing the Warrior Ethos of the US Army. More on this later today.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience. Fort Hood were the overall winners which according to the rules means that they will host the tournament again in 2012. Everyone that I spoke with was willing to explain the competition rules to me (grappling had different scoring than BJJ or Grapplers Quest). Finally, I got to see the relationship between the Military and Ranger Up. Nick from Ranger Up was constantly talking to soldiers about potentially sponsoring them or just talking about their experiences in the military. It was easy to understand why the RU guys are such supporters of the military and why the soldiers wear their clothing with pride. It is a mutual relationship based on a shared military background and respect which is rare in this industry.