From 2010 Fort Benning Combatives Tournament. Photo by Clint West at NationalGuard.com
The Army Combatives Program is the close combat program taken by all members of the U.S. Army. It starts out with simple grappling positions but gets as advanced as integration of strikes, grappling, submissions and weapon systems available to soldiers. While hand-to-hand combat is not a deciding factor in many modern battles that are fought with firearms, the Army firmly believes that hand-to-hand training not only saves lives it also instills an aggression and confidence in soldiers that is invaluable.
Competitions are offered as a way for soldiers to sharpen their skills and pass hours. Combative Championships take place over three days. The first day is grappling, the second combatants meet under pancrase rules where striking is allowed on the feet but not on the ground. The final day they face each other in amateur MMA matches. Those who are able to advance to the later rounds of the tournament are afforded special privileges when they return to their units.
Bloody Elbow Coverage of Military Martial Arts Programs
All-Army Combatives Tournament Through the Eyes of a Civilian | History of Combatives Program
The matches at Fort Hood weren't terribly different from regional grappling and MMA matches held all over the country. What the soldiers lacked in skill they more than make up with enthusiasm and effort. One difference is that there are no white belt division or an athletic commission to make sure a rookie isn't overmatched in his first fight. Weight-classes are observed for basic safety and competitive reasons, but a teenager fresh out of basic could face a veteran solider with many years of combative training.
The reasoning being that soldiers don't get to pick or choose their enemy and could be faced with an expert hand-to-hand fighter on their first combat mission, so soldiers must be prepared to face combatants that could be more skilled than themselves. There are no age division for that same reason. Also there are no gender divisions; female competitors must face men. The once allowance made is that women are allowed up to a 10 lb weight advantage. Women vs men matches are a fairly common occurrence at these tournaments.
David S. Cloud of the L.A. Times covered this event putting a particular MMA match between a man and women in the foreground of the on-going debate on the role of women in combat units. He described a fight between a female solider Walker faced a male solider named Langarica:
As the fighters pranced and paraded before the first round, Walker noticed Langarica's smirk
"I was mad because he was smiling, like, 'Oh, she's going to be easy,' " she said later. When the horn blared, she charged out of her corner and unleashed a flurry of jabs that sent him backpedaling. She slammed him to the mat and straddled him, clamping on a chokehold. Langarica thrashed and kicked, finally escaping.The crowd roared for more.
"Come on, Sgt. Walker!" yelled an Army colonel dressed in fatigues. "You can do it!"
In the second round, Langarica regained the momentum. He started landing blows that made Walker wince. Her energy flagged. She leaned against the cage and finally dropped to the mat. She was carried out on a stretcher, her eyes rolled back in her head...
Langarica was magnanimous in victory. He hadn't beaten a woman, he said.
"It was a warrior."
While the majority of the time the woman lose their matches it is not unheard of for women to defeat, even dominate, male soldiers. It is not something we will ever see in the sporting side of MMA. The idea of sport is to create even playing fields to determine who is the best and most skillful fighter. For the Army, the Combatives Program is about survival and important lessons can be learned in defeat. Even as the debate about women in combat rages on, they will always have a place in Combatives.
The Army posted the videos of the event and here is the fight described by Cloud:
(February 2012 Combatives 2nd half via forthood)