Marine Corps Martial Arts Program

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”.

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 program has several nicknames, including “semper fu”, MCSlap, and “new bushido”.

The mission of the United States Marine Corps in combat is to close with, and destroy the enemy, by fire and maneuver, and assault by fire and close combat. A Marine has always been feared by his aggressiveness and his lack of fear to everything around him, no matter the environment, the enemy, or the task.

Staff Sgt. Jeff J. Vandentop, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward)'s 31-year-old company gunnery sergeant and chief martial arts instructor of the recent martial arts instructor course, performs a sweeping hip throw on Sgt. Sarina A. Young, a 25-year-old filed mess clerk and black-belt Marine Corps martial arts instructor. Vandentop recently headed a class of 95 servicemembers who volunteered to become Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructors aboard Camp Fallujah, Iraq.

All of this is instilled into a Marine the first day he or she steps foot on Parris Island or San Diego for Recruit Training, where they are introduced to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) along with other Marine Corps military subjects that will prepare them for future combat.

The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program has gone through many changes through the years. The Marine Corps was born during the battles that created this country upon the experiences of the first Marines. The Marines Corps has developed a martial arts program unrivaled in the world today. This legacy includes not only our fighting also the character and soul of what makes us unique as Marines.

Beginning with the Continental Marines who were renowned as sharpshooters in the rigging of Naval Ships, to their skills as boarding and landing parties where the rifle, sword, and bayonets were the tools of their trade. Marines have continued to develop and hone their skills through the years. Prior to and during World War I, the skill of the bayonet was supplemented with the first training in unarmed techniques to meet the challenges of trench Warfare. Marines such as Drexel Biddle developed and taught bayonet and close combat techniques based upon fencing, boxing and wrestling.

During the inter-war years, Major Biddle and others such as Lieutenants Yeaton, Moore, and Taxis, Captains W.M. Greene and Samuel B. Griffith all trained Marines and worked on developing effective programs for their units. Many of these men were influenced by their experiences while stationed with China Marines in Shanghai. This influence included the techniques of Fairbairn and Sykes.

During these early years the leadership and core values training that are our hallmark today developed in concert with the martial skills. Guided by leaders, the Marine Corps developed a spirit that we know today as Honor, Courage, and, Commitment.

This Training continued to evolve up to World War II. Those who had taught the inter-war years were joined by Marines such as Captain Stephen Stavers and Corporal John J. Styers. As World War II burst upon the Corps, individuals and units were developing specialized training based upon the experiences of Marines from the inter-war years, this included exposure by Marines that were stationed overseas, who had the opportunity to study far eastern martial arts systems such as judo, karate, and jujitsu.

Sergeant Ian M. Janos, 20, of Smithton, Pa., demonstrates a throwing technique on Pfc. Michael Wallace Jr., 20, of Whitney, Texas, Sept. 24 at Camp Fuji, Japan. The training is part of the Marines Corps' martial arts training program which prepares conditions Leathernecks for close quarters, hand-to-hand combat. Janos and Wallace were among 130 Marines from Battery A, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, participating in the training. The Marines spend at least five hours per week practicing the martial arts techniques. "When all your rounds are gone, it's close combat that will keep you alive," Janos said.

Additionally, the techniques of Major Dermot O’Neill and Lieutenant Colonel Rex Applegate were introduced to Marine units and all of these were employed by Marines during the Island Hopping Campaigns. Additionally, the rapid expansion of the Marine Corps saw a refinement to our character and leadership programs.

After the Vietnam War the Marine Corps saw a need to make changes and develop a new martial arts system. 1980 the Marine Corps developed the LINE System (Linear Infighting Neurological Overriding Engagement). The Line System, developed MSgt Donvito was a response to a perceived need for a standardized close combat system, was an important step in the evolution of a Marine Corps specific martial art. The concept of the LINE system was that when attacked the defender would destroy the enemy’s attack by manipulating joints, breaking joints, and damaging nerves. The pain that was inflicted on the enemy would cause his Central Nervous System to go into break down, disrupting all continuous thought process.

The LINE and its descendants continue to grow and develop over the past 20 years. In 1996, a review of the LINE system was conducted on how effective it was from lessons learned and due to the mission of the Marine Corps constantly changing from high tempo combat operations to Missions Other Than War (MOTW), and peace keeping missions, there was need for a new system that would adapt to different situations.

A Marine would not defuse a potential conflict in peacetime the same way that he would in a hostile combat environment. General Jones the Commandant of the Marine Corps at that time, gave specific orders on his vision of a Martial Art Combat Program, as well as other programs outside the Marine Corps that would best fit the needs of the Corps. General Jones wanted a martial art program that could be use in any environment, terrain, or situation.

His vision was also was that he wanted something that would keep the Marine natural competitive nature fueled. His vision was to have Marines qualify for different belt rankings from Tan, Grey, Green, Brown, and Black. General Jones chose 10 subject matter experts from numerous martial arts disciplines to develop the Marine Corps Close Combat Program currently used by the Marine Corps. From this testing and evaluation is the result of the martial art program currently used by the Marine Corps today.

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.”

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 sword techniques. During World War I these bayonet techniques were supplemented with unarmed combat techniques, which often proved useful in trench warfare.

After World War I and before World War II, Major 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. These different techniques eventually 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 the CMC’s initiative of the summer of 2000. General Jones assigned LtCol George Bristol and MGySgt 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).

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

  • Tan belt, the lowest color belt and conducted during entry level training, signifies the basic understanding of the mental, physical, and character disciplines. It is the minimum requirement of all Marines with a training time of 27.5 hours and has no prerequisites. Recruits receive these belts after completion of the Crucible in Recruit training.
  • Gray belt is the second belt attained after 46 hours of training. It signifies an intermediate understanding of the basic disciplines. The prerequisites for this belt are as follows: The Marine must complete Fundamentals of Marine Corps Leadership MCI, and most instructors will require a report be completed on The Marine Raiders.
  • Green belt is the third belt, requiring 54.9 hours of training. This belt signifies understanding of the intermediate fundamentals of the different disciplines. This is the first belt level in which one can be a MAI (Martial Arts Instructor) and can teach tan through green techniques with the power to award the appropriate belt. The prerequisites for this belt include a recommendation from reporting senior, rank of LCpl or higher.
  • Brown Belt is the fourth belt level requiring 64.9 hours of training. It introduces Marines to the advanced fundamentals of each discipline. In addition, as with green belts, they may be certified as MAIs and teach tan through green techniques. Prerequisites for this belt include recommendation of reporting senior, rank of Cpl or higher (able to waiver to LCpl), and appropriate PMEs completed for rank (Such as Corporal’s Course).
  • Black belt 1st degree is the highest belt color and requires 71.5 hours of training. It signifies knowledge of the advanced fundamentals of the different disciplines. A 1st degree black belt may teach fundamentals from tan to brown belt, and a MAI may award the appropriate belt. In addition, they can also be a MAIT (Martial arts Instructor Trainer) which authorizes them to teach tan through black belt 1st degree and award the appropriate belt. Prerequisites include recommendation of reporting senior, rank of Sgt or above, and appropriate level of PME completed (Such as Sergeant’s Course.)

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.

  • Black belt 2nd degree requires the rank of Sgt or above.
  • Black belt 3rd degree requires the rank of SSgt or above.
  • Black belt 4th degree requires the rank of GySgt for enlisted and Major for officers or above.
  • Black belt 5th degree requires the rank of MSgt/1stSgt for enlisted and Major for officer and above.
  • Black belt 6th degree requires the rank of MGySgt/SgtMaj for enlisted and LtCol or higher.

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, etc. 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.

Disciplines: MCMAP is a synergy of mental, character, and physical disciplines with application across the full spectrum of violence. 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.

Mental: 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).

Character: Development of this discipline involves discussion on Marine Corps core values, ethics, and good citizenship. An instructor can fail a marine if he or she feels that the student does not adequately possess honor, courage, and commitment. Some belts also require the approval of the commanding officer before awarded. The force continuum is discussed, allowing a Marine to responsibly use the minimum amount of force necessary, including lethal force. Leadership qualities are also stressed.

Physical: In MCMAP, only a third of the training involves techniques and physical development. The physical discipline includes the training of fighting techniques, strength, and endurance. This discipline also includes sustainment of skills and techniques already taught, in order to improve skill as well as develop weak-side proficiency. Ground fighting, grappling, pugil bouts, bayonet dummies, and other techniques are used to familiarize Marines with the application of the techniques used. In addition, physical strength and endurance are tested and improved with various techniques that often require teamwork or competition, such as calisthenics, running with full gear, log carries, and boxing matches. Techniques can also be practiced in water or in low-light conditions to simulate combat stress.

Techniques: The techniques used by MCMAP vary in degrees of lethality, allowing the user to select the most appropriate (usually the least) amount of force. For example, a Marine facing a nonviolent but noncompliant subject can use an unarmed restraint to force compliance with minimal damage and pain. A more aggressive subject could be met with a choke, hold, or a strike. Lethal force can be used on a subject as a last resort. The majority of techniques can be defensive or offensive in use, with or without a weapon; allowing Marines flexibility in combat and operations other than war (such as civil control or humanitarian missions, as well as self-defense).

Tan Belt: The tan belt syllabus focuses on the development of the basics of armed and unarmed combat. Students start with the Basic Warrior Stance and break-falls are taught for safety, then move to:

  • basic punches, uppercuts, and hooks
  • basic upper-body strikes, including the eye gouge, hammer fists, and elbow strikes
  • basic lower-body strikes, including kicks, knee strikes, and stomps
  • bayonet techniques
  • basic chokes and throws
  • counters to strikes, chokes, and holds
  • basic unarmed restraints and armed manipulations
  • basic knife techniques
  • basic weapons of opportunity

Students must prove proficiency with 80% of 50 techniques to pass and earn their belt. The tan belt syllabus is part of The Basic School and recruit training curriculum.

Gray Belt: The gray belt syllabus expands on the basic techniques with:

  • intermediate bayonet techniques
  • intermediate upper-body strikes including knife-hands (karate chops) and elbow strikes
  • intermediate lower-body strikes including kicks, knee strikes, and stomps
  • intermediate chokes and throws
  • counters to strikes, chokes, and holds
  • intermediate unarmed restraints and armed manipulations
  • intermediate knife techniques
  • basic ground fighting
  • basic nonlethal baton techniques
  • intermediate weapons on opportunity

Green Belt: The Green belt technique shifts focus from defensive to offensive techniques with:

  • intermediate bayonet techniques
  • muscle gouging
  • intermediate chokes and throws
  • counters to strikes
  • intermediate unarmed manipulation
  • intermediate ground fighting
  • intermediate nonlethal baton techniques
  • advanced weapons of opportunity

Brown Belt:

  • advanced bayonet techniques
  • advanced ground fighting and chokes
  • advanced throws
  • unarmed vs. hand held weapons
  • firearm retention
  • firearm disarmament
  • advanced knife techniques
  • advanced nonlethal baton techniques

Black Belt 1st Degree:

  • advanced bayonet techniques
  • advanced chokes, holds, and throws
  • advanced ground fighting
  • basic counter firearm techniques
  • advanced upper-body strikes, including strikes and smashes
  • advanced knife techniques
  • pressure points
  • improvised weapons

Black Belt 2nd Degree:

  • rifle vs. rifle
  • short weapon vs. rifle
  • unarmed vs. rifle

The environmental factors of terrain and weather are complex and unforgiving of errors. Fear robs an individual of their strength, while the other stresses of combat cloud the ability to think and act. The battlefield is the ultimate fighting championships. An event more physically demanding, that requires more strength or endurance and will test the human character past limits that no Olympic or professional athlete will ever endure. A contest where there can be no second place finishers. That is the harsh reality of combat.

A key element of the Martial Arts program is combative conditioning. Combat conditioning that goes a level beyond our current physical fitness program. It combines the physical fitness dividends of combative arts training with those of traditional physical fitness, water survival training, and rough terrain skills training. It is designed to mitigate the human factors experienced during combat that have a physically debilitating effect on the human body, allow a Marine to fight in any terrain and under any climatic condition, and face the rigors of the dispersed battlefield encountered in modern combat.

Unlike physical fitness, combat fitness develops and strengthens the whole Marine. While many of the exercises and drills appear to simply make a Marine stronger and faster, they are designed in a way that also test the individuals ability to think and fight while fatigued. By this process we develop mental toughness and the ability of each Marine to think while under stress thus mitigating the human factors associated with combat.

Additionally, it places the individual in a situation that test their character and resolve. When tired and required to accomplishing a difficult task, one that may be challenging or hazardous, the individual will be faced with the moral decision to quit or go on thus testing his core values. This concept sets combat conditioning apart from PT and will provide commanders and leaders a way to train the way we will fight.

The information contained in this section is designed to be available to commanders, unit leaders, MAITs and MAIs in order to design, implement, and manage unit combat conditioning programs.