MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.– The morning dew was still heavy on the ground as students in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor trainer course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., set out for their morning training routine. The Marines climbed ropes, crawled under concertina wire and helped each other over walls before carrying their partners to the next course almost a mile away. When Marines slowed down, succumbing to the pressure of the course, yells of motivation and encouragement from other squad members drowned out their groans and grunts to keep the exhausted Marines pushing through the pain.
For seven weeks, instructor trainees endure physical obstacles, mental hardships and character tests to earn the proud title of MCMAP instructor. It is these Marines who hold the future of the Corps’ martial arts in their hands.
Marine Administrative Message 537/01, issued nearly ten years ago, made the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program official. Over the past decade, MCMAP has seen many changes, but the heart of the program and the desire of Marines dedicated to creating ethical warriors remains the same.
“I’ve been around the Marine Corps long enough to see basically four systems of close-combat,” said Master Sgt. Johnny W. Marlow, MCMAP instructor trainer at the Martial Arts Center of Excellence at MCB Quantico, Va. “I think the previous systems died off because they had a lack of the mental and character discipline; they were all about the physical aspects.”
A decade ago, the program was much like the earlier close-combat systems with a focus mainly on physical abilities, close-combat techniques and conditioning the body.
“MCMAP used to be a fight club, a tough man’s club,” said retired Lt. Col. Joseph C. Shusko, MACE deputy director. “Over the years, the emphasis has gone back to the purpose of the program, which is building character.”
Because of the initial concentration primarily on physical performance as well as multiple injuries early on, many Marines were wary of the program.
“I think the acceptance of MCMAP has been one of the largest hurdles we’ve gradually overcome,” Marlow said. “In the beginning, MCMAP was feared because it was seen as dangerous. “
The Marines at the MACE, however, did not intend the program to be merely for physical conditioning and technique development. The true heart of MCMAP was in the creation of the ‘ethical warrior’.
“Ethical warriors are able to lead Marines with a moral compass that points north,” said Sgt. Cody J. Boudwin, MCMAP instructor trainer. “Anybody can go out and be physically fit, but to also be able to make the right decisions and lead Marines in the right way is a crucial aspect of being a leader.”
The ethical warrior concept is strengthened by incorporating three guiding principles into the program: mental, physical and character development.
“In order to have a very stable foundation, you need to have the three different disciplines,” Boudwin said.
Mental, physical and character developments are all equally important to the instructors at the MACE. These disciplines often referred to by combat instructors as the three-legged stool, provide the bedrock for the martial arts program and are intertwined within the training system.
“The physical aspect of MCMAP is the most tangible, but it takes no pre-eminence over the others,” said Lt. Col. Patrick A. Beckett, MACE director.
The current martial arts program was designed so Marines tackle physical challenges throughout program courses while also overcoming mental obstacles and character tests along the way.
During the instructor trainer course, the staff emphasizes the importance of ending each physical challenge with a character or hero study. These studies educate the students on the valor of Marine veterans and provide every day applications for the Corps’ values of honor, courage and commitment.
“The program is tied to what those three words mean,” Shusko said. “Through them, everyone can see the value of this program.”
Close-combat fighting plays a large role in the program, but the staff and processes at the Center set much greater goals for each of their students.
“Technical skills can be taught anywhere,” said Staff Sgt. Jerry B. Hymas, MCMAP squad instructor. “What I want my instructor trainer students to learn from the program is how to be better leaders. They are going to become more confident in their own abilities. They are going to develop the proper character and mental habits to make themselves better.”
Building self-confidence and the ability to lead through trials are vital aspects of martial arts. The difficulty students face during martial arts training is the tool for achieving that leadership confidence.
“Adversity teaches you that no matter what situation you find yourself in, you can overcome it and push through,” Boudwin said.
The goal of the MACE is to create ethical warriors who are strong, ethical leaders within their shops as well as in actual combat settings. What makes the program so valuable is that it transcends the bounds of Marine occupational specialties to prepare every Marine for whatever the Corps may throw at him, Beckett said.
MCMAP has reached an important milestone as it hits its tenth anniversary. Those at the MACE are happy with what the program has become and are excited about its future.
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot we need to improve in the program,” Marlow said. “But I think the goal of MCMAP would be for it to spread.”
A new perspective on the intentions and goals of program starts with the students at the instructor trainer course. The physical, mental and character discipline they developed through their training will fuel them to inspire and motivate the Marines in their units around the Corps to also become ethical warriors. It is the hope of the MACE instructors that this growing force of ethical warriors continues to form the bedrock of the Corps.