Modern Army Combatives

I am starting this thread in response to a request that I answer some questions on the Modern Army Combatives program.

As some of you know I wrote FM 3-25.150 and am currently the NCOIC of the U. S. Army Combatives School at Ft. Benning.

Matt Larsen

Great of you to post. Let me get the ball rolling with asking what your personal background is and then what martial influences affected your choice of techniques.JasonEverybody- The current manual (at least I believe it's the one Mat is speaking about) can be viewed at

by clicking on "Documents," then "Field Manuals" and scroll down to FM 3-25.150

Welcome Mr. Larsen.

I'd like to review the Army combatives manual and then I'd like to know how it compares to the new Marine Martial Art program.

I joined the Marines in 1984 and my first duty station was Marine barracks Tokyo. While there I studies both Shotokan Karate and Kodokan Judo. I was there for two years and, after a short time in Camp Pendleton, went to Okinawa where I studied Shorin Ryu Karate with Eizo Shimibukuro. I also traveled around the Orient during these times training and fighting in Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand.

When I switched over to the Army in 1988 I was assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion in Savannah Ga. While there I studied TaeKwonDo, Boxing, and Ninpo Taijutsu. I also Jumped in to Tokumen during the invasion of Panama and went to the gulf war. After about six years down there I went to Ft. Lewis, Wa. And after a short time in a LRS company was assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion. While there I trained in the Korean martial arts and also Judo.

It was during this time, about 1995, that we began to develop the modern combatives program.

In a nutshell, the battalion commander at the time ordered us to reinvigorate combatives training. We began using the 1992 version of FM 21-150 as our guide. After a month or two of listening to the men complain about what a waste of time it was, and agreeing, we told the commander what we thought about it. He said he didn't think that combatives training was a waste of time and therefore it must be something about the way we were doing it. He then ordered us to find a better way.

More to follow.

We formed a committee of the more experienced martial artists in the battalion as well as some senior officers and NCOs. The first step was to look at other Armies to see who actually had effective programs. An effective program being simply defined as the average soldier knowing what their literature sad they should know, and producing their own experts independent of outside sources. What we found was that very few armies actually have programs that meet those two basic criteria and most of those who do have some obvious reason why. For instance TaeKwonDo is the national sport of Korea. It stands to reason that the Korean military would have an easy time establishing a TaeKwonDo program. An exception to this rule is the Russians. SOMBO has been an obvious success.

What then has made SOMBO more successful than our programs? The obvious answer is competitions.

The real challenge of a combatives program is to get soldiers to actually learn it. It is a good question to ask why would anyone excel at the old combatives program. I would submit that if there were any reasons to excel at it soldiers would, but they didn't. On the basic leadership question of providing motivation, our programs have been a failure.

With this in mind, the first place we turned was to wrestling. We had a connection to the head wrestling coach of the University of Minnesota, J. Robinson, who was not only a Vietnam era Ranger, but was one of our committee members coach at Iowa.

Among other places, we also sent some guys to the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. After evaluating the various styles of martial arts, we eventually decided that, based primarily on the ease of learning positional grappling, and that it already had a built in competitive system, that we would build our system with it as our base. There were some things that we didn't like about what the Gracies were teaching, primarily that their focus was on one-on-one arena fighting. However we decided that by integrating techniques from other arts, and by reorienting the training towards the demands of the battlefield, that we could build a system that could be easily taught and would prepare soldiers better than had been done before.

That is essentially what we have today. We build fighters from the ground up, starting with the positional ground grappling of BJJ progressing naturally through the throws and takedowns of Judo and wrestling to the standup fighting techniques of Boxing and Muay Thai and contact weapons fighting from Kali and the western martial arts.

Matt Larsen

Mr Larson,

What knife fighting system (if any) is currently being used by the US Army? I know the Marines used to have the pre-WWII "Biddle System", and that the Rangers have been taught "modern" Bowie technique by Bill Bagwell--is there anything else being used?



There have been several people who taught various people within the Ranger Regiment. I went to a course taught by Kelly Wordon many years ago. None of them however have had any real effect on training. We teach a very simple system based in part on the WWII era techniques of Applegate and Fairbairn and the Russian Martial arts.

Matt Larsen

We teach a very simple system based in part on the WWII era techniques of Applegate and Fairbairn and the Russian Martial arts.Would it be possible to elaborate on that? It sounds interesting...

Thanks Matt, that was a really good post. Question?, do you have any contact with the Straight Blast Gym folks? The BJJ, wrestling, Muay Thai, and boxing sounds a lot like to what they do. I know Adam Singer has made at least one trip to Ft. Bragg.
Gerald Boggs

We teach a very simple system based in part on the WWII era techniques of Applegate and Fairbairn and the Russian Martial arts.

We begin to teach knife fighting by telling them that you may never know you are in a knife fight until his knife is in your back. What that basically gets to is the idea that you must assume your opponent may be armed. To train this we arm one man in the class with a stun gun as a surrogate knife and have them ground grapple. Everyone knows that someone in the class is armed, but only the armed man knows who. It doesn't take very many shots of 65,000 volts before everyone gets very serious about controlling the situation.

For offensive knife fighting, we first teach about the uses of different knife designs and their effectivness with various kinds of attacking techniques. For instance a dagger style knife is such as a Sykes/Faibairn is useful for thrusting attacks even through heavy clothing. Whereas a utility style knife such as a K-Bar or the current bayonet is less usefull for thrusting, but can be used with snap cutting to the hands and arms while closing. We then give a demonstration on the effectiveness of various types of attack, thrusting through a field jacket, slashing against the same etc. We also teach the best targets for the different types of attacks using data from pathology and emergency medicine.

We also teach simple disarms against the knife using principles of leverage, striking and control that are essentially a blend between Jiu-Jitsu, Kali and the Russian martial arts.

As for the Straight Blast Gym guys, we haven't had any actual contact but I like allot of what I have read Matt Thornton say regarding alive training. I also think that a realistic training regimen will eventually push people in the same direction.

Matt Larsen

thanks for some great info, and more importantly, thank you for your service to our country.

Mr. Larsen, welcome to the History forum. It is great to have you.

It Looks like a good, complete system. Although it seems to have been somewhat controversial, I applaud you for including basic ground grappling techniques into the current combatives program. I would think that grappling basics are a very important thing for a soldier to know. One never knows when the need arises in a 1 on 1 unarmed situation, or if a soldier may have to control a prisoner, etc.

Even though some may argue that a 1 on 1 unarmed situation will be rare on any battlefield (it most likely is), I still feel that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/wrestling can help the soldier with understanding body dynamics, control of an opponent and what one should expect from an altercation.

I've always said, a fight is a fight, armed or unarmed. You can't always dictate where it goes. As much as one trains, it is not always up to them as to whether the fight will end up on the ground or not. If one looks at European Medievan and Renaissance battlefield drawings/paintings, they will see that grappling is a sometimes inevidable part of combat - armed or unarmed.

I like the system, good common sense, practical techniques.


I am pleased to see you aboard. I read the long posts on the close quarter forum where you did a great job of explaining the reasoning behind the use of grappling and sportive training.

As you may be able to guess from my username I do Sambo as well I teach it and Russian Style Combatives professionally. The mention of Sambo of course caught my eye and I am interested in how you have incorporated it in your training.

I would love to have the chance to discuss your training program and the use of Russian Martial Arts further. My email address is or if you would prefer to leave your email I can drop you a line.




I assume you are asked this all the time, so I hope you have a canned response you can just cut and paste in here ;-)

Why the emphasis on groundfighting, especially guard work, when the realities of the battlefield, particularly the backpack, utility belt, etc., seem to dictate that it would be almost unusable on the battlefield?


"Why the emphasis on groundfighting, especially guard work, when the realities of the battlefield, particularly the backpack, utility belt, etc., seem to dictate that it would be almost unusable on the battlefield?"

The short answer is because it's easy to learn. In the early days of this program we experimented with various kinds of training, for instance teach them boxing and then have them box, teach them takedowns and have them wrestle. We get the largest payoff from training in ground grappling. Some types of techniques are simply easier to learn than others.

We have always known what we wanted soldiers to be able to do. I would argue that one of the principle reasons we have been unable to teach them to actually be able to do it is because we have traditionally neglected the basics. If you say the words "cross hauk takedown", or "over the shoulder throw" to soldiers who have been in the Army more than a couple of years you will get a universal snicker. If you ask them if they think those are effective combatives techniques they will mostly tell you they are a joke. The funny thing is that those are simply the Army names for Osoto Gari and Ippon Seoinage, which are definatly good techniques. Why then do most soldiers think that they are a joke? Because well-intentioned people tried to teach techniques that take years to master to a bunch of soldiers in a matter of minutes.

So why then do we not give the appropriate amount of training time to combatives? Well basically because generations of commanders have been convinced by the inability of traditional training methods to produce any tangible results that it can't be done.

As for guard fighting, I think there is no reasonable alternative. Wrestling, Judo, and SOMBO all do not emphasize defense from your back because they have an artificial penalty for being there. In each case their alternative is to give your back to your enemy. In wrestling this does not matter because the only acceptable attacks are to continue to try to place your opponents back on the ground. In Judo the alternative is to stall and wait for the referee to give you another chance. In SOMBO you not only have a penalty for being on your back, but there are no chokes, which certainly reduces the necessity of protecting your back. So what are the alternatives to the guard? a) Never be on the bottom. That is a very good plan but hardly realistic. b) give up your back.

Our approach is different than sportive BJJ in that we consider the guard to be a defensive position and only desirable as an alternative to less favorable positions. IMO the rules of sportive BJJ allow guard jumping as a crutch for those who do not want to spend the time to develop a good takedown game. Assuming the defensive is not the type of fighting strategy that we want to encourage in our soldiers so if you give up the takedown we award your opponent points accordingly.

I hope that answers your question Jason.

Marc, I'll try to explain our connection to SOMBO and the Russian martial arts in another post. I would love for you to write me. My personal e-mail is and my work account is


Great thread Matt.

The emphasis on the guard as a defensive tool compares almost equally to the training I received in a groundfighting class for law enforcement.

Welcome to the forum.

True, but Applegate wrote a lot lot on the subject both during and after the War--and he also helped Fairbairn to develop a new fighting dagger that eliminated the shortcomings of the Fairbairn-Sykes dagger (round handle, weak tang, weak point, and edge too obtuse to hone sufficiently for really effective cutting). The idea was shelved during the War as not being all that much high-priority, but Applegate resurrected the idea later as the Applegate-Fairbairn fighting knife, which is really a nice, well-balanced weapon.

If I have any personal complaints about the current A-F, I would have to say that I would recommemd the following changes:

1. A blade one-inch longer for better reach (like the Cold Steel Taipan).

2. A grip made out of (or at least coated with) Kraton (also like the Taipan).

3. A blade made from epoxy powder-coated high-carbon steel, as opposed to the super-hard (and super hard-to-sharpen) stainless of the current model.

Sorry--didn't mean to digress... :-)

Sergeant Larsen,

I was wondering when you were going to join the combatives fray. I think your school is the best kept secret in the Army. I wanted you to know, the Louisiana National Guard OCS Class that just graduated, in their AAR comments overwelmingling said that the combatives training was the most useful thing they learned at OCS. Reason: application to real life. So much for the Leadership and Academics stuff, hugh (smile)? I still plan on coming back to Benning for the Master Trainer's Course. I remain your faithful student. Hooah Master Larsen.

CPT Judd Mahfouz

CPT Mahfouz, we recently started the level three course. It's a month long. I think you'll like it.