I briefly described this in my previous post about the Army Combatives tournament but this ceremony deserves a separate post. The current ranking system within the Army Combatives program ranges from Level 1 to Level 4 as a way to gauge competency in all facets of hand to hand combat. Midway through the event, in between the Consolation finals and the Championship fights, Matt Larsen, the creator of the Combatives program, brought James "Damian" Stelly, Andrew Chapelle, and Tim Kennedy into the cage to promote them as the first three black belts in the system.
Back in 1995, Matt Larsen was a squad leader in the 2nd Ranger Battalion and General Stan McCrystal was a Lt. Colonel in charge of the battalion. He said he wanted there to be combatives training and so Matt started doing combatives training. They were doing the old Army stuff which sure enough, wasn't very realistic and we all soon told him that it was a waste of time. Matt was already training modern systems, so he started training his guys and was having success and then that just sort of grew from his squad. All of his guys could beat up the rest of the platoon so they started training everyone else and pretty soon it was the whole army after several years. From '95 till about 2002 is when it became the doctrine. They were having tournaments all along but it finally got big enough to have an Army championship in 2005, so this year is the seventh one in a row. The real deal is that the war, since it was in cities mostly, demanded a lot more hand to hand combat. If you go into a room with somebody that is 8x8, it's not a marksmanship contest in there. Things don't work out just right in hand to hand combat. It's why it spread and it became a tool to instill the Warrior Ethos.
The belt system is unofficial. They have an organization called the National Association of Military Combatives, which is a group of leaders and trainers who are responsible for creating and advancing this system. The belts aren't just a recognition of skills in the Combatives program but overall proficiency with all skills from tactical command and gun skills to the hand to hand combat and success in Combatives tournaments. The main theme is that dedication to the system and fellow soldiers is the quickest way to advancing in rank. The belts recognize soldiers who encapsulate the Warrior Ethos, a phrase that civilians don't actually understand completely. As it was explained to me, the Warrior Ethos is the willingness to engage the enemy. It is a soldier's ability to enter a building without fear and put themselves in danger to complete their task.
Tim Kennedy is the embodiment of the Warrior Ethos. His tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom saw him in combat situations where his cool head helped save the lives of his fellow squad mates. The recognition of the Combatives Black Belt isn't just to show that he has the skills in hand to hand combat, but to recognize his perseverance in the harshest of situations and continued support of the United States Army. Tim has competed in and won the Combatives tournament three times As Matt Larsen told me, the belt is for the men that you want with you when you "go down range". It may not have the distinction of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, but it carries the same weight for the belt holder. It was an enormous honor for Tim to be one of the first to be awared this belt and it shows that the Army Combatives program is looking for people in the combat sports world to recognize it as a legitimate system of combat.