The U.S. Army's new hand-to-hand combat training not only is good for close encounters with the enemy — it also helps soldiers win tournaments.
Three of the teams that practice the mixed martial arts techniques placed tops in the recent Week of the Eagles combatant tournament.
Army combatant instructors sergeants Stephen Whorf and Francisco Portillo say the winnings are just proof that using the best parts of all close-contact fighting styles — like jujitsu, karate, tae kwon do, kick-boxing and wrestling — is the most effective.
"This right here is reality fighting," said Whorf, who is assigned to 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment and has been doing martial arts his whole life. "The great thing about this is you're not punching a bag, but we're here wrestling with another person. Because we train here 100 percent, that pays off."
Whorf said he knows from experience how well the techniques work when he was in Nashville recently and said he got jumped by five men and stabbed. He credits his mixed martial arts training with saving his life by using a knee in the head and a foot sweep to knock them off their feet.
"I did exactly what I learned here. After that, I became a firm believer in this," he said.
The Department of the Army has ordered that every soldier be trained and certified at least on the first level of the mixed martial arts techniques by October. The order is part of the Army's transformation for more realistic training and to give soldiers the true warrior mentality. They have found it to be effective from experiences for the Rangers at Fort Benning, Ga., and it expanded for all soldiers to be trained in the mixed martial arts.
Portillo, combatant instructor for 3rd Brigade, said the goal of the hand-to-hand combat training is to be able to control your fear and commit yourself to the Army's warrior doctrine that says engage the enemy and finish the task at hand.
"That basically means kill-or-be-killed. We teach that the one time they'll need it, they'll have it at hand," said Portillo, who has studied martial arts since he was a child.
Portillo said this type of fighting is particularly important to the 101st Airborne Division, whose soldiers do house-to-house searches under dangerous circumstances.
"Sometimes an Iraqi will jump on their back and they will have to respond," Portillo said. "It's a fluid situation and you're closing the distance under fire."
Clarksville Mixed Martial Arts Academy owner and instructor John Renken said his school specializes in these varied techniques and it seems to be working for the ones who train there.
Renken has been hired by the Army to teach mixed martial arts to the soldiers at Fort Campbell and has the only school in the area to certify Modern Army Combatives to Level 3, the highest level available.
"Truth is found in combat," Renken said. "If your guys can't fight and can't win, then there's something wrong."