5 things you should know about Marine Corps Martial Arts Program

5 things you should know about Marine Corps Martial Arts Program

Marines are known for their proficiency in fighting, but not many people know that they’ve developed their own hand-to-hand fighting system, called the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. MCMAP combines several different styles with close-quarters combat techniques and Marine Corps philosophies to create something new. While many, varying opinions exist on the program, it’s important to understand one simple thing: it’s only as effective as its wielder. In short, if you weren’t any good at fighting before you learned MCMAP, you’re still not going to be much good after you earn that tan belt.

Here are the broad strokes for what the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is all about:

It’s comprised of several different fighting styles. 

arm bar demonstration
A Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer demonstrates an arm bar. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece E. Lodder)

Seventeen styles, to be exact. That’s right, seventeen different fighting styles cultivated from around the world were pulled together to create MCMAP. It includes techniques borrowed from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, and Krav Maga to name a few. Keep in mind, however, specific techniques were pulled from each and then adapted to be applicable for Marines in combat.

There are five belt levels

MCMAP belt
A green belt with a tan Martial Arts Instructor tab. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dylan M. Bowyer)

Before you walk across the parade deck at MCRD, you will earn your entry-level, tan belt. The other belt levels are, in ascending order, gray, green, brown, and black. A black belt, as in other martial arts, has varying degrees — 6, in the case of MCMAP. While most of the belt levels can be the subject of mockery, we highly recommend you don’t mess with a black belt.

You learn about more than just fighting

Marine Corps Martial Arts Program lecture
Sometimes you get a lecture, sometimes you run across base. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melissa Wenger)

MCMAP is also about studying warrior ethos and understanding that fighting is not just throwing a better punch than your opponent. To quote Marine Corps Order 1500.54A, which officially established the program in 2002,

“MCMAP is a synergy of mental, character, and physical disciplines with application across the full spectrum of violence.”

Infantry Marines are generally required to earn a green belt

Marine Corps Martial Arts Program grunts
If you’re a grunt, you’ll likely be forced to ground-fight in rain. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Or at least a gray belt. Typically, if a commander sees there’s open space in the training schedule and the armory is too busy to make you stand in line for 3 hours, you’ll be ordered to practice MCMAP. Most grunts earn their gray belt by the end of their first pre-deployment training cycle. Some are required to earn their green by the end of their second.

There are different types of instructors

Marine Corps Martial Arts Program MAIT
The red tab indicates an MAIT. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece E. Lodder)

There are Martial Arts Instructors then there are Martial Arts Instructor-Trainers. The main difference is a standard MAI can train other Marines to “belt up,” while an MAIT can train a Marine, whose belt level is at least green, to become an instructor.

To become an MAI, you must attend the grueling and unforgiving Martial Arts Instructor Course. To become an MAIT, you must attend the even more painful, more advanced Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer Course. Either way, your soul will never be the same.

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