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MCMAP – The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Daniel Lee instructs a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) course for Marines aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor

The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program was established in 2002 with Marine Corps Order 1500.54. It was described as a revolutionary step to replacing all other martial arts programs before it. 

According to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Center for Excellence, “the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is an integrated, weapons-based system that incorporates the full spectrum of violence and contributes to the mental, character, and physical development of all Marines.”

The purpose of MCMAP is to train Marines in realistic fighting scenarios. While many traditional martial arts may have hundreds of techniques, MCMAP focuses on those which are most effective in crowd control, self-defense, and lethal combat.

MCMAP trains Marines in unarmed combat, edged weapons, weapons of opportunity (one mind, any weapon), and rifle & bayonet techniques. There is also a strong component of character development and the responsible use of force. 

Recruits execute a rear choke during a Marine Corps Martial Arts training session, also known as MCMAP
Recruits with Charlie Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, execute a rear choke during a Marine Corps Martial Arts training session at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, March 23, 2020. Recruits were instructed to execute the different techniques step-by-step to ensure they were performed correctly. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brooke C. Woods)

What is MCMAP?

MCMAP stands for Marine Corps Martial Arts Program — a hybrid combat system designed by the Marine Corps that combines techniques from the old-school Marine Corps and seventeen — that’s right, seventeen — different forms of martial arts.

They include:

  • Aikido
  • Boxing 
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  • Capoeira 
  • Escrima 
  • Hapkido
  • Jiu-Jitsu
  • Judo
  • Karate
  • Kendo
  • Kickboxing
  • Krav Maga
  • Kung Fu
  • Sambo
  • Savate
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Wrestling

Many Marines enjoy training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muy Thai, boxing, or wrestling in addition to their typical training. BJJ is particularly prevalent among special operations and infantry Marines. 

What is MCMAP Training Like?

Marine Corps Martial Arts training doesn’t aim to make a cage fighter out of every Marine. In addition to the fighting techniques, the Marine Corps focuses on physical conditioning, studies of warrior cultures, and warrior ethos training. 

U.S. Marines execute a Marine Corps Martial Arts knife disarming techniques during MCMAP advancement course
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Noah Casey, right, a supply chain and material management specialist with I Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion, executes a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program technique on Cpl. William Velasquez, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planning specialist with I Marine Expeditionary Force, during a MCMAP advancement course on Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 19, 2021. The Marines participated in MCMAP in order to improve mental, moral, and physical strength. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Gillam)

Physical Conditioning

In the last decade of the War on Terror, the Marine Corps shifted its focus on physical fitness to combat conditioning. In MCMAP training, this is especially prevalent. As a recruit, you’ll face the bayonet assault course, body-sparring, and pugil stick fighting. 

Marines who move into the Martial Arts Instructor Course will face an especially grueling course that will put Marines through a series of difficult physical conditioning events:

  • Running with boots, flak jacket, and rifle
  • Buddy drags, fireman carries, & ammo can lifts
  • Obstacle course in full combat gear
  • Burpees, pushups, mountain climbers, & other calisthenics
  • Sparring, ground-fighting, & pugil stick fighting

Warrior Culture Studies

After tan belt, each MCMAP belt level includes the study of a martial culture. A martial culture is a society or tribe whose primary function is the creation, training, and sustaining of warriors. In fact, the entire ethos of the society is tied to the warrior identity. 

The word “warrior” is used very loosely today, with athletes who show toughness, or even celebrities. However, a true warrior is an arms-carrying professional fighter. A warrior’s primary function is to train and prepare for combat.

There are two primary martial cultures studied in MCMAP: Apaches and Spartans. Both cultures trained their boys for war beginning at a young age. The principal responsibilities of men in both cultures were hunting and war. 

The martial culture studies in MCMAP at each belt level are:

  • Tan belt — structure and history of MCMAP
  • Gray belt — Marine Raiders 
  • Green belt — Spartans
  • Brown belt — The Apaches
  • Black Belt — Band of Brothers
A Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor demonstrates how to properly hip throw during MCMAP sustainment training
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. James May, martial arts instructor, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, demonstrates how to properly hip throw during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) course on Camp Fuji, Fuji, Japan, Feb. 23, 2016. The purpose of MCMAP was to train Marines in hand-to-hand combat techniques and to develop mental and moral character including the responsible use of force, leadership, and teamwork. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Lance Cpl. Juan Esqueda/Released)

Warrior Ethos Training

An ethos is the characteristic spirit of a culture — in this case, a warrior culture. The Marine Corps focuses strongly on its warrior ethos of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. At each level of MCMAP training, Marines are instructed on elements of becoming an ethical warrior, which includes:

  • Combat Leadership
  • The Fog of War
  • 11 Leadership Principles
  • 14 Leadership Traits
  • DUI and Alcohol Abuse awareness
  • Sexual Assault
  • Marine Corps Values
  • Professionalism & Ethics
  • Law of War
  • Decision Making
  • Risk
  • Maneuver Warfare

This is by no means an exhaustive list. A large part of MCMAP includes ethics training and instruction in the Marine Corps way of life. 

What is the Motto of MCMAP?

The motto of MCMAP is “one mind, any weapon”. This means that even without a weapon, Marines are fully armed at all times. This is based on a combat mindset, the ability to assess the situation and act — and be fatal with any weapon, including what MCMAP calls “weapons of opportunity.”

The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, or MCMAP, logo "One mind, any weapon."
The Marine Corps Martial Arts logo, “One mind, any weapon.”

Marine Corps Martial Arts History

Early Marine Corps

In 1775 when the first Marines began serving, they relied upon smooth bore muskets with sawed-off barrels and slashing swords called cutlasses. In addition, Marines had access to bayonets they could affix to their short muskets when ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore fighting was necessary. 

Numbering about 2,00 Marines, this was the force that began creating close combat techniques that would last until about World War 1. 

The World Wars

In World War 1, Marines faced intense close-quarters battles in trench warfare. During this time, many infantry units began training in boxing and unarmed combat techniques that were quickly proven effective “in the trenches.” 

Between World War 1 & World War 2, Colonel Anthony J. Biddle began creating standardized bayonet and close combat based on boxing, wrestling, savate, and fencing. He was an amateur boxer and joined the Marine Corps at the ripe age of 41! 

Colonel Biddle brought many different techniques to bear, many of which are still in use today, including bayonet fighting techniques and some unarmed throws and clinches from Savate — a back-alley French fighting style. 

Colonel Anthony J. Biddle Sr teaching bayonet techniques to Marines
Colonel Anthony J. Biddle Sr teaches bayonet techniques to WW2 era Marines. The same techniques he pioneered are still in use today.

He even wrote a book called Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat

But Colonel Biddle wasn’t the only Marine bringing martial arts techniques into training. 

Then a Captain, Wallace M. Green learned kung fu techniques from Chinese-American Marines. He instructed units under his command to include them into their training. Green would later become commander of MCRD Parris Island and then Commandant of the Marine Corps appointed by President John F. Kennedy. 

Also a Captain during this time, Samuel Griffith learned Kung Fu techniques while serving at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He later became the Executive Officer of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and was awarded the Navy Cross for actions during the battle of Guadalcanal. 

An iconic photo of Colonel Anthony J. Biddle surrounded by Marines with bayonets pointed at his throat
An iconic photo of Colonel Anthony J. Biddle surrounded by Marines with bayonets pointed at his throat.

Modern Marine Corps

In 1956, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hayward took over command of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Deigo. He was also captain of the Judo team and appointed Gunnery Sergeant Bill Miller NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of hand-to-combat.

GySgt Miller was charged with creating a new combat system that could be taught to any Marine and be used to quickly kill the enemy. 

Beginning in 1956, all Marines were taught lethal martial arts techniques derived from Okinawan Karate, Judo, Taekwondo, Boxing, and Jiu Jitsu. This new martial arts curriculum was also taught to special operations forces from all branches of the military — even CIA paramilitary commandos. 

GySgt Miller was awarded the “Black Belt Emeritus” with a gold tab in 2001 for his contributions to martial arts in the Marine Corps. 

Eventually, these techniques were combined into the “LINE system” in the early 1980s. LINE stands for Linear Infighting Neural-override Engagement — a fun acronym but ultimately coined after the term LINE was created. 

Marines practice a counter to the bear hug drill during MCMAP training
Lance Cpl. Michael Jacobson, a Chicago native and rifleman with Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, practices counter to the bear-hug on Lance Cpl. David Thruston, a Columbia, S.C., native with the same unit, in the USS Gunston Hall’s well deck, June 21, 2012, while training to earn his grey belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, or MCMAP. The 24th MEU, along with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, is currently deployed to the U.S Central Command area of operations as a theater reserve and crisis response force. The group is providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

The LINE System

The LINE system was founded upon several basic principles.

  1. Techniques must be able to be executed in low-visibility environments like nighttime or when concealed by smoke.
  2. The ability to execute techniques while under extreme mental and physical fatigue.
  3. Techniques must be usable while wearing full combat gear.
  4. Proper execution of the techniques must cause death to the opponent.
  5. Techniques must be gender neutral, i.e. executable against either gender. 

Started by Master Sergeant Ron Donvito in the early, LINE was the first official standardized fighting system for the Marine Corps, establishing a Marine Corps Order and clear testing standards.

The LINE system was taught to Marines, Airborne Army Infantry, U.S. Army Special Operations, and Navy SEALs. 

However, it was found lacking in flexibility for use in situations that didn’t require lethal force, like peacekeeping operations where crowd-control and arrest techniques might be used. 

The Marine Corps began searching for a new solution, and from 1997 – 1999 the Marine Corps Close Combat program began creating what would become the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program — or MCMAP. 

The Creation of MCMAP

In 1999, General James Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps, detailed his vision for a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. While serving as a Captain in Vietnam, he witnessed North Vietnamese soldiers avoiding a fight with Korean Marines because of the perception that all Korean Marines were black belts in Taekwondo. 

General Jones initiated a period of testing & evaluation, and two years later — MCMAP was born. He assigned LtCol George Bristol and MGySgt Cardo Urso to develop the curriculum that would be taught at the new Martial Arts Center for Excellence (MACE) in Quantico, Virginia.

Marines spar with each other during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program class at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Tyler DeWitt, chief accident investigator with the Provost Marshal Office on Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ) and a Douglas, Wyoming native, left, and Cpl. Yanet Rivas, a maintenance management analyst with MCBQ G-4 and a Coachella, California native, spar with each other during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) class on MCBQ, Virginia, Aug. 17, 2021. MCMAP aims to strengthen Marines mental and moral resiliency through more lethal and realistic combative training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Tia Dufour)

According to the Martial Arts Center for Excellence: “The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is an integrated, weapons-based system that incorporates the full spectrum of violence and contributes to the mental, character, and physical development of all Marines.”

MCMAP Belt System

The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program uses a belt system like any other martial art. MCMAP uses a five-belt system similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They are:

Tan Belt

The lowest color belt is earned in Marine Corps Recruit Training. Basic combat techniques are taught, including the basic warrior stance, punches & kicks, bayonet thrusts, and simple chokes and counters to chokes. 

Warrior ethos training includes the responsible use of force and the Marine Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment. 

The requirement to earn a tan belt is 27.5 hours of training. Recruits must pass the test with at least an 80% score. 

Marine Corps recruits execute MCMAP techniques while earning their tan belts during MCMAP training aboard MCRD San Diego
U.S Marine Corps recruit Tyzai Burris, with Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, executes a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) technique at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, May 25, 2022. The MCMAP belt system incorporates a building-block approach, while progressively increasing the difficulty of the techniques and advancing the skill proficiency and leadership abilities of the individual Marine. Burris was recruited out of Oklahoma City, with Recruiting Station Oklahoma City. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tyler W. Abbott)

Gray Belt

Gray belt builds upon tan belt techniques and requires 25 hours of training. It begins with more advanced bayonet techniques, strikes, and an intro to ground fighting. Warrior ethos training includes a study of the Marine Raiders, fundamentals of leadership, and hazing. 

Green Belt

This is the first belt level where a Marine can become a Martial Arts Instructor and earn the tan tab on their belt. To earn a green belt, Marines must complete 25 hours of training and be recommended by a reporting senior Marine. 

To become an instructor, a Marine must attend the 3-week Martial Arts Instructor Course. Marines who successfully complete the MAIC can instruct their units in tan, gray, and green belt techniques — and certify their belt levels. 

Warrior ethos training includes a martial culture study of the Spartans, managing fear, alcohol abuse, and the 11 Marine Corps Leadership traits. 

Brown Belt

This belt level introduces Marines to the advanced level of techniques taught in tan, gray, and green belt courses. It requires 33 hours of training and the recommendation of a reporting senior. Brown belts can also earn an instructor tab.

Warrior ethos training includes a martial culture study of the Apaches, financial responsibility, and the laws of war. 

Black Belt

The highest belt level requires 40 hours of supervised training. Earning a black belt signifies a deep understanding of the fundamentals of Marine Corps Martial Arts, and the advanced techniques. Black belts can become instructors and also be selected to become Martial Arts Instructor Trainers — earning the coveted red tab on their black belt. 

Warrior ethos training includes becoming an eternal student, leadership styles, and becoming an ethical warrior.  

Martial Arts Instructor Tabs

After earning their Green Belt, Marines can be selected to attend the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course, or MAIC. This is a grueling 3-week course taught by Martial Arts Instructor Trainers (black belt with red stripe). Upon completion, Marines are awarded a green, brown, or black belt with a tan instructor’s tab and can train Marines up to their current belt level. 

The course consists of physical training, leadership training, and martial arts training. These courses are taught at seven different satellite locations throughout the Marine Corps, including Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune, and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Marine Corps recruits compete against one another with pugil sticks during MCMAP training at MCRD San Diego, CA.
U.S. Marine Corps recruits with Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, compete against one another during a pugil sticks event at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, June 21, 2022. Recruits executed numerous Marine Corps Martial Arts Program techniques throughout the Pugil Sticks event. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tyler W. Abbott)

Martial Arts Instructor Trainers (MAITs)

Martial Arts Instructor Trainers, or MAITs, are trained at the Martial Arts Center for Excellence in Quantico, Virginia. This is a rigorous seven-week course where Marines earn the red tab and can return to train Marines in all belt levels, and certify Marine Corps Instructors.

There are only 300 Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Trainers in the entire Marine Corps. To put that in perspective, there are around 1,000 Critical Skills Operators in the Marine Raider Regiment, the Marine Corps’ Special Operations Force.  

MCMAP Techniques

While earning their tan belt, Marines learn the basic warrior stance, break falls, and basic punches and strikes. Each step in the MCMAP belt system builds upon the last, and usually begins with recurrency training on prior belt level techniques. 

Tan Belt Techniques

Fundamentals

  • Basic Warrior Stance
  • Ranges of close combat engagements
  • Target areas of the body
  • Weapons of the body
  • Angles of Movement

Punches

  • Lead hand punch
  • Rear hand punch
  • Hook
  • Uppercut

Falls

  • Front break fall
  • Rear break fall
  • Side break fall
  • Forward shoulder roll

Bayonet Techniques

  • Straight thrust
  • Buttstrokes: vertical & horizontal
  • Smash
  • Slash
  • Disrupt

Upper Body Strikes 

  • Eye gouge
  • Hammerfist: vertical & horizontal
  • Elbow strikes: forward horizontal, vertical low to high

Lower Body Strikes 

  • Front kick
  • Roundhouse kick
  • Vertical knee strike
  • Vertical stomp

Chokes 

  • Rear choke
  • Figure 4 variation (rear naked choke)

Throws 

  • Leg sweep

Counters to Strikes 

  • Counter to rear hand punch
  • Counter to rear leg kick

Counters to Chokes and Holds 

  • Counter to rear head lock
  • Counter to rear bear hug
  • Counter to rear choke

Unarmed Manipulations 

  • Basic wristlock takedown
  • Reverse wristlock
  • Armbar takedown

Armed Manipulations (with rifle)

  • Counter to overhand grab
  • Counter to underhand grab
  • Counter to muzzle grab
  • High, low & mid blocks
  • Righ & left blocks

Knife Techniques

  • Vertical slash
  • Vertical thrust

Gray Belt Techniques

In addition to reviewing the tan belt techniques, gray belt includes:

Bayonet Techniques

  • Disrupt & thrust while closing with a static opponent

Upper Body Strikes 

  • Chin jab strike
  • Forward & reverse knifehand
  • Vertical knifehand
  • Vertical elbow strike high to low

Lower Body Strikes 

  • Horizontal knee strike
  • Side kick
  • Axe stomp

Chokes 

  • Locate the carotid artery
  • Front choke

Throws 

  • Hip throw

Counters to Strikes 

  • Counter to lead hand punch
  • Counter to front leg kick

Counters to Chokes and Holds 

  • Counter to front choke
  • Counter to front bear hug
  • Counter to front head lock

Unarmed Manipulations 

  • Basic wristlock comealong
  • Escort position

Armed Manipulations (with rifle)

  • Off-balancing techniques
  • Counter to overhand grab strike with weapon
  • Counter to underhand grab strike with weapon

Knife Techniques

  • Forward thrust
  • Forward slash
  • Reverse thrust
  • Reverse slash
  • Bulldogging

Weapons of Opportunity

  • Straight thrust
  • Vertical strike
  • Forward strike
  • Reverse strike

Ground Fighting

  • Counter to the mount
  • Counter to the guard

Green Belt Techniques

In addition to reviewing tan and grey belt techniques, green belt includes:

Bayonet Techniques

  • Disrupt & thrust while closing with a moving opponent
  • Buttstroke off-line with static opponent

Lower Body Strikes 

  • Push kick

Chokes 

  • Side choke

Throws 

  • Shoulder throw

Counters to Strikes 

  • Counter to round kick
  • Counter to round punch

Unarmed Manipulations 

  • Enhanced pain compliance
  • Reverse wristlock
  • Basic wristlock
  • Reverse wristlock comealong
  • Enhanced pain compliance wristlock comealong
  • Controlling techniques

Knife Techniques

  • Block vertical strike with follow-on strikes
  • Block forward strike with follow-on strikes

Weapons of Opportunity

  • Block vertical strike with follow-on strikes
  • Block forward strike with follow-on strikes
  • Block reverse strike with follow-on strikes
  • Block straight thrust with follow-on strikes

Ground Fighting

  • Armbar from the mount
  • Armbar from the guard

Brown Belt Techniques

In addition to reviewing tan, gray, and green belt techniques, brown belt includes

Bayonet Techniques

  • 1 on 2 engagement
  • 2 on 1 engagement
  • 2 on 2 engagement

Ground Fighting

  • Bent armbar from side mount
  • Basic leg lock

Ground Chokes 

  • Front choke
  • Side choke
  • Rear choke
  • Figure 4 variation (rear naked choke)

Throws

  • Major outside reap throw
  • Opponent pushing/pulling

Unarmed Versus Handheld

  • Hollowing out with follow-on
  • Bent armbar counter
  • Forward armbar counter
  • Reverse armbar counter

Firearm Retention

  • Blocking technique
  • Armbar technique
  • Wristlock technique
  • Same side grab front & rear

Firearm Disarmament

  • Counter pistol to front
  • Counter pistol to rear

Knife Techniques

  • Block reverse strike with follow-on
  • Block straight thrust with follow-on

Black Belt Techniques

Bayonet

  • Low light 1 on 1 engagement
  • Low light multiple attackers

Throws

  • Sweeping Hip Throw

Unarmed Manipulations 

  • Neck crank takedown

Chokes 

  • Triangle choke
  • Guillotine choke

Counters to Chokes & Holds 

  • Knee bar

Ground Fighting 

  • Face rip from the guard
  • Straight armbar from scarf hold
  • Bent armbar from scarf hold

Firearm Disarmament 

  • Counter pistol to the head one-hand
  • Counter pistol to the head two-handed

Upper Body Strikes

  • Cupped hand strike
  • Face smash

Knife Techniques 

  • Strong side vertical slash
  • Strong side vertical thrust
  • Strong side forward/reverse thrust
  • Strong side forward/reverse slash
  • Reverse grip forward/reverse thrust
  • Reverse grip forward/reverse slash

Weapons of Opportunity

  • Garrote from the rear
  • Garrote from the front

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