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Thoughts on the army rangers combatives manual from the man who wrote it

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    Thoughts on the army rangers combatives manual from the man who wrote it

    In light of the recent discussion about MCMAP, and the ongoing "combat sport vs. martial art" silliness that never seems to go away, I though I would copy this post from the e-budo forum (my understanding is that linking to it would not work if you're not a member of their forum). It is a discussion of the then-new (circa 2000) army rangers combatives manual by one of the men who wrote it, Matt Larsen (just so there's no confusion, an army ranger himself).

    I've quoted it in its entirety because I think its all worthwhile, but the real meat starts in paragraph 5 (the one that begins "I always ask our students..."), although the 3rd paragraph also has some good stuff, including some really interesting remarks about sambo and the Russian army. This essay includes some very interesting discussion of benefits to training in grappling for a soldier, having nothing to do with groundfighting itself per se, as well as remarks about the role of competition and 'sport' in effective training. Please bear in mind too that Mr. Larsen has a longtime background in TMA, and in fact used to teach Shorin Ryu (which he learned in Okinawa) in the military.

    Hope people find this worthwhile, and I'd be very interested in any comments from bullies who are current or former military. Without further ado:

    "Around 1995 LTC Stan McCrystal took command of the second Ranger Battalion in Ft. Lewis WA. And ordered a reinvigoration of Combatives training. We got out the FM 21-150 and started doing just what it said to do. The men call !!!!!!!! on something pretty quick and that is just what happened. After about two or three months we went back to the commander and told him that it was a waste of our training time, that we would rather be shooting, or rucking, or anything else that had a better return for the amount of time invested. We also told him that the manual did not reflect the current realities in the battalion. For instance, the weapons fighting portion does not reflect that in a rifle squad there are two SAWs, two M203s, and everyone else is armed with an M-4, not one of which is very suitable for bayoneting and butt-stroking. That is not even to mention all of the flashlights, lasers, and optics on them or assault slings, etc.

    He told us that if it was a waste of time there must be a reason and told us to come up with a better answer. A comity was formed of senior NCOs and the various martial artists in the battalion. Represented on the committee were Bujinkan, Judo, Shorin Ryu, Shotokan, JKD, wrestling, boxing, and several others. Many of these men had been drill sergeants or Ranger Instructors and had been responsible for teaching the old stuff even before the 1992 manual. All had extensive experience in the both the infantry and the Ranger Regiment.

    The first thing we did was take a look at what had been done elsewhere. We soon noticed that there were very few successful programs around. Our criteria for success were simple. The average soldier in the army had to know what their literature said they should know, and they had to produce their own experts independent of continuing outside instruction. We found that there were very few instances of successful programs in large armies, and that in most cases where there was a successful program there were underlying societal reasons that the program was successful. For instance Judo training is very common in the school system of Japan so it stands to reason that the Japanese would have an easier time than some having at implementing a program. The same thing holds true for Korea with TaeKwonDo. The biggest exception to this rule was the Russians with SOMBO. Almost alone in the world the Russian army takes an untrained populous and successfully trains them on their program. We then asked ourselves what it was about SOMBO that made them have success teaching it to soldiers. The most obvious thing was competition.

    Most people begin their martial arts training because they want to learn to fight, but that is not the reason that they continue. After all, few people who train with a Katana do so because they think they may have to use it. There are other often times more compelling reasons to train. They love the history or the romance of it, or they just enjoy it. None of these is a compelling enough reason for most soldiers to dedicate the countless hours that it takes to become proficient at most martial arts. For example when I was stationed on Okinawa as a Marine, Out of the eight hundred men in my infantry battalion I was the only one who pulled myself away from the bars to train. Once again competition provides that reason.

    I always ask our students "Who is the best fighter in your company?" They almost never know. I then ask them who the best runner is and they all know. Subconsciously the army has chosen running as more important than fighting. The reason is probably that there has not been any way to show your proficiency in combatives. This is why competition is important. There is more about how we intend to avoid the pitfalls of competition, i.e. a sportive focus, in the manual itself.

    We then started looking around to find a way to emulate the successes of SOMBO. Our first stop was obviously wrestling. J. Robinson, the head wrestling coach for the University of Minnesota, was a Vietnam era Ranger and Steve Banach, or battalion S-3, was one of his wrestlers so he came out to help us. He gave us a bunch of great advice and pointed us in the right direction and we started looking around. After several other things we eventually sent four guys to the Gracie Academy. They came back as almost disciples of the Gracies. We however were a bit more skeptical. What we saw was that in many ways what the Gracies had was very good, but it did have some problems. First, it was oriented around one on one arena fighting. We obviously were thinking more about the battlefield, i.e. many people all with weapons, and equipment. We thought that the sportive aspects had a serious potential to change the techniques even farther away from the battlefield. We also thought that the nature of the Army would allow a more systematic approach to training than was practical in a commercial school.

    It is my opinion that among the many reasons that the army has not had a successful combatives program since WWII., the two main ones are;

    1. Any one motivated enough to expend the personal and professional energy to change the system probably has an extensive martial arts background and therefore has the pedagogy of his system ingrained into him. The unfortunate thing is that most martial systems come from a time when Warriors were raised and not recruited. If you were to get your recruits when they were twelve and you did not need them to be proficient fighters until they were eighteen, you would train them completely differently than if you got them when they were already eighteen. When I was a young recruit the first thing that we were taught was one hour of ukemi, and then we went straight into osotogari (otherwise known as the cross hock takedown), and seoinage (otherwise known as the over the shoulder throw) both of which are excellent techniques. Neither of which can be learned in a half of an hour.

    2. The second reason is that few can see past the obvious question of what techniques soldiers need to know to the less obvious question of how do we get them to know what we think they should know. We catch allot of criticism from martial artist for teaching the ground grappling from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. "Soldiers don't need to be rolling around on the ground", "The ground is the last place you want to be on the battlefield", "blah blah blah blah blah". The reason that we teach that stuff first is not because we think that it is a soldier's first option, or the preferred place to be, or "90% of fights etc.". The reason is that in the amount of time we have we can actually teach them something useful. From the beginning of time martial arts enthusiasts have been saying that if commanders would give more time, etc. etc. But the truth is that they will not. Commanders are under the same pressures now that they were 100 years ago and that they will be under 100 years from now. They will not give more time.
    There has to be another answer, and we think we have found it.

    I like to compare the way combatives used to be taught like learning marksmanship at the soldier of fortune convention. You put a guy behind a fifty caliber machine gun and its cool. He walks away motivated and it looks like training. But at the end of the day, no one showed him sight alignment or sight picture. So he didn't learn a thing about shooting. We all know that combat marksmanship is a difficult proposition. You are smoked and under stress. It is dark. The targets are fleeting, etc. etc. But no one doubts the necessity of learning Basic Rifle Marksmanship. Consider that dominant body position on the ground and the control of the range, angle and level in standup fighting are the BRM of combatives."
    1. The defining characteristic of a warrior is the willingness to close with the enemy.
    2. The winner of the hand-to-hand fight in combat is the one whose buddy shows up first with a gun."

    Interestingly enough, they just eliminated the bayonet training in the Army BCT as it was finally deemed "obsolete"

    Good article, thanks


      Originally posted by soldiermedic25 View Post
      Interestingly enough, they just eliminated the bayonet training in the Army BCT as it was finally deemed "obsolete"
      Obsolete because someone erroneously decided close-quarters fighting wasn't useful in 21st century warfare or because modern rifles, being shorter and lighter than their predecessors, don't lend themselves to bayonet techniques? Which might also be untrue...


        On topic/off topic, all at the same time. The article mentions sombo, also known as sambo, which is the Soviet system for hand-to-hand combat. And, they made some assumptions about the success of Soviet army training methods for the mass. Soviet infantry conscription was two years long, and their methods worked for their standards.

        Our perceptions of Soviet training and methods in the West may not be as factual we held them to be at the time. But, perceptions are what drive people's understanding of the world, and their reactions to it. And, it wasn't necessarily about competition. Competition is always a factor in combatives, but it might not have been the driving factor for the Soviets.

        The difficulty of a forum like this is accurately capturing the concepts and historical examples to put some of what was referenced into a context that will advance the topic. And, to do that in relatively few paragraphs, and do it cogently.

        The Soviet sambo system (from the cyrillic CAMBO) was taught at varying levels of difficulty, depending upon the unit type. I'll touch on a few different unit types and try to provide some examples.

        For a two year army conscript, the level of sambo training was minimal. I actually have seen a copy of a 1980's Soviet war-in-Afghanistan-era recruit training manual, and it was pretty basic stuff. You might get that level of material in a good high school self defense class, with a crippling use of the entrenching tool in close-quarters combat thrown in.

        Then there were the special units which got more training, and it was routinized and systematic in its presentation and practice. And, in these units the level of competition in training went up, as well. So, the level of training changed, and the manner of training changed.

        The troops of both the regular and special units were generally in two categories, cadre members who were long term troops and officers, and the conscript toops. Because of the turnover caused by the conscript system, special units focused on specific mission types and narrowed their training syllabus to that mission set.

        All services, to include the police and the MVD internal security units, and the KGB, all took advantage of a school system called the Dynamo Sports Club. It was a cover or front. The Dynamo system was a physical training establishment of the Soviet state that provided uniform physical training to standard across the country. This is also where the DOSAFF comes in.

        The DOSAFF was a youth program that really provided pre-trained youth to the army and to the special units of the military. By the time a conscript got to the army or to a unit that was pre-selected for him by talent scouts in the DOSAFF program, that young man would have had hundreds of hours of pre-training in shooting, combatives, and possibly even parachuting and radio work.

        Some were shunted off to other work role development, such as motor vehicle maintenance classes.... And, they were assigned to the motor pool when they got called up. It was a very coherent utilization of the human resource of the state, but it was thoroughly materialistic in its approach to the human being. The person really didn't matter too much in this model. To balance this Western judgement on this system, for a high school boy, motor vehicle maintenance would have been exciting, and he was gaining a useful life skill.

        These things were significant factors in the Soviet preparation of their soldiers. They tiered the requirements, they pre-trained, they had both highly trained long term cadre members mixed with conscripts of varying levels of competence, and they had a uniform training method that was maintained across the Soviet state in the state operated Dynamo Sports Club, to which military trainers(Spetsnaz, Airborne, Army, etc.), police trainers (MVD), and agent (KGB) trainers all belonged. Most of this was invisible to us in the West.

        It may give more context to the success of their methods than simply saying "competetion" was the key. Competetion in training is a factor, but you can see there were many significant structural factors in their organizational troop/technicial production model than met the eye at the time.

        Unfortunately, these wiki articles are a little weak, but.... If you want to do your own home work, they do provide a starting place.


          Is it fair, then, to say that no one in the world was taking untrained conscripts and turning them into proficient unarmed fighters without some kind of widespread youth training?

          And if the Japanese Judo school system and the Korean TKD school system were examples of doing that, what was the difference between those things and the widespread prevalence of wrestling in American schools? Was it simply that American recruits weren't being taught enough wrestling for the school wrestling background to help them very much?


            Originally posted by Don Gwinn View Post
            Is it fair, then, to say that no one in the world was taking untrained conscripts and turning them into proficient unarmed fighters without some kind of widespread youth training?

            And if the Japanese Judo school system and the Korean TKD school system were examples of doing that, what was the difference between those things and the widespread prevalence of wrestling in American schools? Was it simply that American recruits weren't being taught enough wrestling for the school wrestling background to help them very much?

            What country has widespread pool of proficient fighters? All countries with conscripted fighters/ servicemen do not have large numbers of quality fighters. As far as I know just about everyone in S. Korea graduating from high school has a bb in TKD an on the very high percentile they cant fight. I also think most Israelis that all learn Kravmaga do not all represent the system well.

            I believe the US wrestling program produces much better fighters because its a volunteer program and because of that you are training amount people who really want to be there vs people who are obligated to be there. Your exposure to better quality outweighs systems with hordes of reluctant people you have to spend your limited time training with.

            The US army has always been considered superior to the Soviet when you compare each individual soldier because the junior solders have 4 years of service compared to the Soviets soldiers who have up to 2 years of service. The Soviet doctrine has always been attrition, without the massive numbers they would not prevail according to their own doctrine so the quality on the whole is low even if their top tier is well trained.


              Factors that need to be considered

              There are factors beyond in-service training that may need to be considered here. In-service training is one set of variables, and pre-service training is another set of variables.

              For instance, this week I read in the open press about physical fitness levels of 2010 American recruits, and the percentages of population no longer physically fit for induction. The article states that in 1983 49 states had mandatory physical education in schools, and today that it had dropped significantly. It was in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and on Fox News (a broad spread of politically oriented sources).

              The push of the article was that more states will start requiring physical education. Why did they stop? Training reflects the thinking of the period in which it occurs.

              The years of regular physical fitness training in youth add to ability in young adulthood. Not only ability, but resiliency, endurance, etc.

              When I was in school during the "duck and cover" days, it was obvious tht the school system had a purpose, which was to produce citizens capable of national service and productive engagement at 18. Over time, I think that has changed, and the product of the school system that enters into young adulthood is different today.

              Looking at in-service training, in viewing the actual American hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat training films of World War II (the originals), it was obvious that the techniques were kept few in number, and to the point. This included knife and bayonet techniques. These were easily acquired and could be repetetively trained. No black belts were being trained.

              But, since viewing those, I've learned to consider the context of the organization and society of the period being discussed. Every era has its own way of seeing the world, and in World War II many of the unarmed techniques were jiu-jitsu (or how you prefer to spell that word).

              With the resurgence of close-quarters combat and trench warfare in the Korean War, the 1954 Army manual includes such things as garottes and black jacks. This reflected the experiences of the 1952-1953 phase of the war, when the front stagnated on the 38th parallel, trench raiding was something done to gather intelligence and capture prisoners. No joke, but you don't get that level of detail in history classes. The methods were simple and easily acquired, and ruthless. I understand that manual is not to be a reference for, or used in, troop training today.

              With the continuing American involvement in Asia, karate became the new favorite method, and manuals of the 1960s reflect that influence.

              The post-Vietnam 1975-1980 years saw a turning away from hand-to-hand in the Army, even if there are manuals. The war in Europe became the focus of thinking, and nukes were big on everyone's mind. I remember discussing this, and was dismissed with a comparison of nuculear war to the bayonet. Except, most wars are not fought at the nuculear level. During this period, bayonet training was "instinctive". The idea was everyone will instinctively defend themselves.

              In the 1980's, combatives might have been seen as useful for physical fitness and psychological tempering of the soldier, which is true. But it again reflects an understanding of that period.

              I loose track of this in the 1990s because I have not looked at this period as a historian, but with the current emphasis on going to the ground that I have seen with Army trainers I work with today, the influence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is evident in the early-2000 period. However, it shows an unrealistic emphasis on ground work. Ground work is necessary, but as a main course it reflects an abstraction not observed in earlier periods.

              Also, a comparison of methods taught to the NKVD (Soviet Internal Troops), Spetsnaz, East German Ministry of the Interior troops and the Stasi (East German Secret Police and intelligence), and earlier American training over the 20th Century, shows an emphasis on staying upright and dominating the enemy, and moving on the field of combat. Going to the ground and grappling was the last course of action for all training documents in these organizations.

              So, there are many in-service and social factors of each period most people don't consider. And, over time, I've learned to appreciate the context of the times in which policy and doctrines are developed. And, this has a direct relevancy to how we talk about militay combatives, because people will start citing different periods and different nations, but we've got to talk about those things within their context. Good context allows people to draw better lessons, and it helps with developing good interpretive models which builds comprehension we can use in shaping our own training and studies.


                Originally posted by dougguod View Post
                Obsolete because someone erroneously decided close-quarters fighting wasn't useful in 21st century warfare or because modern rifles, being shorter and lighter than their predecessors, don't lend themselves to bayonet techniques? Which might also be untrue...
                A little bit of both I would think. The M4 is shorter and lighter than the M16, which was pretty light to begin with. Also a combat situation where you would fix bayonets and charge or prepare to have your trench overrun isn't something that the military higher ups list as a priority.

                That being said, the bayonet assault course at BCT was one of my favorite trainings.(Its an obstacle course, and you get to yell "kill" as you stab tires)

                I'm not sure but they still might have the training for the infantry, if there are any newly minted 11B's to verify that would be great.


                  Originally posted by soldiermedic25 View Post
                  That being said, the bayonet assault course at BCT was one of my favorite trainings.(Its an obstacle course, and you get to yell "kill" as you stab tires)
                  Why would you yell "kill" instead of say "die"?


                    OK, this is my opinion based upon what I actually was trained on, and what I wasn't trained on. Remember that this is from 1988-1991.
                    The Army didn't focus on hand to hand, and training was focused on the Cold War. I actually had hand to hand traing during a one week training based upon a section leader taking initiative.
                    I learned how to hip throw. I learned how to position my hands in the event of a threat. I learned how to throw someone in the event that a garotte was placed around my throat.
                    There was a little bit more than that, but that is irrelevant.
                    Had we practiced every day these combative movements it might have been worthwile. We didn't. That's where the problem is.
                    I have personally received instruction in many martial arts. I never consistently practiced any of them. That's the problem. You have to train in order to benefit. I don't care how many black belts you have. If you don't train, it don't mean shit.


                      Originally posted by Bubba_The_SHY View Post
                      Why would you yell "kill" instead of say "die"?
                      Kill can be a noun,too, as in "# of confirmed kills". In soldiermedic's example, I imagine the intent of the yell was something like "This was a proper kill".


                        Originally posted by Bubba_The_SHY View Post
                        Why would you yell "kill" instead of say "die"?
                        Because the tires aren't being trained to die, the men are being trained to kill.

                        I went through Infantry school in Summer 2006. The bayonet training was definitely to build aggression and the killing mentality. When drilling the techniques, we would have stand opposite each other (at a safe distance) and perform the technique. Then we would have to hold the front site post to our helmets (so we don't stab each other) and charge and body check each other.

                        Then the cadre would shout things like "What is the spirit of the bayonet?" And we would have to shout back "To kill kill kill, with cold blue steel!"

                        The whole exercise was to build aggression.

                        So on the bayonet course when you leap out of a trench and charge a rubber target and the cadre shouts at you which techniques you are supposed to use to dispatch the target, you are supposed to passionately, angrily, aggressively stab like you are actually trying to kill that piece of rubber. So you are supposed to command yourself to kill, rather than command the tire to die.


                          Basically what everyone above said. You're taking (for the most part) complacent, chubby americans and trying to bring out that killer instinct that has been obsolete for generations. Its crude conditioning, and while for the most part later on we laugh it off(it was a big joke when I first started training at Ft. Sam to yell, "HEAL!!" when slapping on a field dressing or tourniquet), I think its a lot more effective than people would realize.

                          I am unsure if they still do the pugil stick battles, because usually bayonet training, the assault course, and the pugil sticks were all rolled into same block of instruction.



                            The system's not letting me +rep you.

                            I'm doing push-ups. It was well said.

                            I came across this video last night:
                            YouTube- Kill or Be Killed

                            It's a little cheesy by today's standards, but it was probably pretty brutal by the film standards of the early '40's.

                            I think it shows that certain threads of thought about combatives training in the US military are consistent. The training of regular joes off the street to turn them into soldiers. The "one mind, any weapon" idea. I also see hints of the idea that a fistfight's only going to last until someone shows up with a better weapon. Details may change, but the mentality is the same.

                            Interesting stuff...


                              When I awent through RIP Larson taught us what is now considered Army Combatives. Back then it was bascially Gracie Combatives. Everything we learned was reinforced at the unit level. We would train BJJ usually twice a week for PT or after PT, or for afternoon PT. During Ranger Rendevous(sp?) there were boxing matches and grappling matches, now there are MMA matches. I think what Larson did was revolutionary by standards at the time and is leaps and bounds better then the Basic army Combatives I learned in Basic Training.



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