The US Army decided to drop bayonet training a few years ago. Bayonets are responsible for roughly 0.0% of combat casualties, and bayonet training wasn’t so much for building bayonet skill as for building fighting spirit — which they can build with unarmed combatives training.
The Modern Army Combatives Program, headquartered at Fort Benning, Ga., consists of four skill-level courses — a weeklong basic course, a two-week tactical course, and a basic combatives instructor course and a tactical combatives instructor course, each of which is four weeks long.
Proposals from Training and Doctrine Command call for eliminating all four levels of training and creating a master combatives trainer course that would be no more than two weeks long.
The modern combatives program is based on Brazilian jiu-jitsu — which isn’t geared toward armed conflict amongst groups of fighters, but which does allow troops to train hard, while training realistically, without too many injuries. It is an excellent choice for MPs and the like.
Anyway, a grappler generally reaches competence — a blue-belt in BJJ — after 100–200 hours on the mat, or a little over a year of training two to three times a week. That’s a lot longer than two weeks, even if they’re 40-hour weeks — and I can say that I’ve never survived anywhere near 40 hours of grappling in one week.
Capt. Paul Lewandowski finds the dissolution of Combatives endemic of a larger problem — that training for compliance is favored over training for effect:
Everything from equal opportunity training to cold weather injury prevention is prescribed at the Army level, and every unit is required to maintain extensive name-by-name records. The core theory behind this compliance-oriented training is that there are only two kinds of soldiers in a unit: those who have received the training to the minimum standard, and those who have not.
In certain tasks, providing soldiers the minimum standard of training in accordance with clear, published, specifications is the best and most effective method. However, there is a disturbing trend in which more and more training is being treated as “regulation compliance.” Reporting the results of training on a spreadsheet or PowerPoint slide captures the effect of training only in the most narrow, linear sense. It treats the soldier who sleeps in the back of the classroom and the soldier practicing until his/her hands are callused as one and the same. Effective military training has an incredible transformative power that cannot be articulated within a slide deck — such as when a squad finally develops the camaraderie to be a high-functioning team, when a young soldier understands that his/her responsibilities aren’t a burden but a source of pride, or when a young lieutenant finds the courage to lead by example. Training has the power to do more than alter a slide — it can alter a soldier.
Combatives training is a sterling example of transformative training. The basic Combatives course is 40 hours of instruction almost always done as consecutive eight-hour days. The course curriculum is physically demanding, with virtually no conventional classroom time. It is extremely taxing on soldiers’ bodies and minds. To graduate Combative level I, students engage in roughly two hours active fighting against one another. Students also must execute a “clinch drill” in which the soldier closes with and takes down a trained instructor who, meanwhile, is actively striking the student in the head and body. The instructors wear boxing gloves but the only protective equipment for most soldiers is a mouthpiece. The vast majority of students report these two aspects of the course — the active combat against other students and being hit full force while achieving the clinch — as the two most harrowing, yet rewarding, aspects of the course.
This type of intensive training offers each individual soldier an unscripted version of combat. Virtually no other training pits individual soldiers against a reactive, intelligent, aggressive enemy.
It’s upsetting that no other training pits individual soldiers against a reactive, intelligent, aggressive enemy.