The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, or simply MCMAP, is a unique fighting discipline developed specifically for use by the United States Marine Corps. MCMAP emphasizes hand-to-hand and close quarters battle using a variety of weapon systems (including weapons of opportunity you may find laying around the battlefield).
All Marines earn a Tan Belt before graduating recruit training (the equivalent of a white belt in most disciplines), and depending on your occupational specialty, you may be required to earn a grey or even green belt with further training.
So without further ado, here’s what you need to know about the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
Earning a belt isn’t when training ends.
It’s not all that uncommon to hear junior Marines talking smack about “Marine-Foo,” but those who do tend to be owners of decidedly junior belts (tan or grey). The reason behind this is pretty simple: MCMAP is meant to be a compounding discipline, wherein you’re taught the fundamentals of complex techniques in those junior belts.
The tan belt syllabus places an equal emphasis on learning the basic fundamentals of fighting with the building blocks for more complex skills you’re supposed to learn later in the MCMAP hierarchy. When a tan belt says MCMAP didn’t teach him how to fight, that’s a lot like a white belt in any other discipline making the same complaint.
Even as you climb the belt ladder, however, you’re still not done. Earning a green, brown, or black belt doesn’t mean you’ve learned all there is to know. It means you’ve demonstrated competency in each technique and the associated lessons and are now prepared to continue training at that level within your unit. Without consistent training, even a black belt is worthless.
MCMAP is just the latest Marine Martial Art
MCMAP was first widely adopted back in 2002, but it wasn’t the Corps’ first formal hand-to-hand combat training. It could be said that training in close quarters battle with knives and bayonets dates all the way back to the first forming of the Marine Corps in 1775, when Marines often fought in cramped spaces aboard ships.
By the 1980s, these varied combat techniques led to what was known as the LINE System, which was oriented specifically toward being as lethal as possible in a fight. Eventually, however, the Marine Corps recognized a need for hand-to-hand combat training that could be used in non-lethal environments as well, prompting the establishment of the MCMAP system.
MCMAP is Mixed Martial Arts
Although MCMAP is seen as a singular discipline, it actually borrows heavily from a number of existing martial arts. There are techniques within the MCMAP syllabus from Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Eskima, and good old wrestling just to name a few. The intent of MCMAP wasn’t to re-invent the wheel, it was to develop the most capable war fighters possible.
As a result, MCMAP training offers a number of skills that translate well into mixed martial arts. When I say so, I’m speaking from experience — I went 3-0 in civilian tournaments as an amateur fighter in Southern California when I was holding a MCMAP brown belt, and continued to train in civilian gyms long after earning my black.
A black belt is just the beginning
There are technically five belt colors in the MCMAP syllabus (tan, grey, green, brown, and black) but that can be misleading. There are also several levels of MCMAP instructors, starting at green belt. Beyond that, there are also six different degrees of black belt Marines can attain.
MCMAP black belt Instructor Trainers (ITs) are among the most heavily trained fighters in the Corps. Earning a “red tab” on your belt involves demonstrating expertise in every MCMAP technique alongside a grueling 15-day training rotation where Marines will be expected to demonstrate their proficiency in a variety of ways.
It’s not only about fighting
Like many martial arts disciplines, MCMAP extends far beyond the basic fighting techniques it teaches. In fact, MCMAP sees the physical aspect as only a third of the discipline, with equal emphasis placed on education and developing strong moral character.
MCMAP isn’t just about developing the skills you need to win a fight, it’s about helping you become an “Ethical Warrior.” In that regard, MCMAP fits perfectly with the Marine Corps’ core values of honor, courage, and commitment.
Just remember, it doesn’t matter what the discipline is: a black belt doesn’t change who you are. MCMAP teaches discipline, ethics, and combat techniques–but properly leveraging them is a matter of practice and character.
Anybody can talk the talk. Real Marines walk the walk.
This article was originally published 8/29/2020
Feature image courtesy of Cpl. Patrick P. Evenson, U.S. Marine Corps