Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

What Martial Arts Do Green Berets (US Special Forces) Learn?

If you’re like me, then you’re probably interested in all types of combat, including the combat training received by most military groups. One well known military group is the US Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets.

They have formidable combat skills, and are trained to kill. But what martial arts do the Green Berets learn during their hand-to-hand combat training?

The Green Berets are taught certain techniques from martial arts such as Boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and several more. The U.S. Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) teaches recruits how to handle themselves in certain situations using the martial arts taught to either disengage or fight with the enemy. In this program, recruits learn how to grapple with an enemy, how to strike while clinched with them, and how to fight unarmed, should the situation arise.

The Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) teaches new Green Berets basic martial arts knowledge that will be the most effective in real combat. In the rest of the post, I will cover the techniques the recruits learn, what martial arts MACP is based on, and other combat systems that have been used by the U.S. Army Special Forces.

What Is The Modern Army Combatives Program?

The MACP is a program used to teach U.S. Army recruits how to handle themselves when confronted by a potential enemy. The purpose of the Combatives course is to teach recruits how to defend themselves without weapons, and how to control threats with a non-lethal response when possible.

Former U.S. Marine and Army Ranger Matt Larsen, the creator of Modern Army Combatives, seen here during training.
Former U.S. Marine and Army Ranger Matt Larsen, the creator of Modern Army Combatives, seen here during training.

It was created by U.S. Marine and Army Ranger Matt Larsen in 2001. Matt Larsen is an expert in Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Karate, and several other martial arts. With his martial arts knowledge, he began instructing Combatives at Fort Benning, and his program has been taught to Green Berets since 2007.

The Modern Army Combatives field manual is broken up into various chapters, with two on ground-fighting, one on takedowns/throws, and one on striking. The rest of the chapters provide information on how to train and other scenarios, such as defending from or attacking with a weapon.

The entire field manual, known as “FM 3-25.150 (Combatives)”, can be found on the official site of the U.S. Army here.

What Techniques Are Taught During The MACP?

The Modern Army Combatives Program takes techniques from many different martial arts, combining them into a unique and all-inclusive self-defense system. In this section, I am going to describe the martial arts used in the MACP, and what recruits are taught based off what we can read in the Field Manual.

Basic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

The MACP is very heavily focused on ground fighting, and with good reason. The first UFC event showed the world that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the most effective form of fighting, with wrestling being the next best thing.

The Combatives Field Manual breaks up ground fighting into two chapters: basic and advanced. In the basics chapter, the manual teaches recruits how to achieve a dominant position and submit, and how to defend submissions.

Combatives Jiu-Jitsu training starts with basic positions, such as the Rear Mount, shown here.
Combatives Jiu-Jitsu training starts with basic positions, such as the Rear Mount, shown here.

The basic positions listed in the manual are:

  • Back Mount
  • Full Mount
  • Opponent In Your Guard
  • Side Control

The manual then describes a few ways to improve your position. First, the manual describes how to stand up off the floor safely (without getting hit), known as Standing Up In Base.

The next maneuver taught is an escape from mount, where the recruit first traps one arm and one foot of the opponent on the same side. Then the individual bumps the opponent using his/her hips, and rolls over into their opponents’ guard.

The rest of the position advancement maneuvers teach how to escape side control, how to achieve rear mount, how to pass guard, and how to escape rear mount.

MMA Legend Bas Rutten demonstrates the Rear Naked Choke, one of the basic submissions of Combatives training.
MMA Legend Bas Rutten demonstrates the Rear Naked Choke, one of the basic submissions of Combatives training.

After that, the manual describes a few submissions, those being:

  • Rear Naked Choke
  • Cross Collar Choke
  • Guillotine Choke
  • Kimura Armlock
  • Armbar from Mount
  • Armbar from Guard

The remainder of the chapter teaches some drills to improve the skills covered, and some basic submission defense.

Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

The second chapter is for advanced ground fighting, where it mainly describes how to attack your opponent while maintaining your dominant position.

The chapter starts with two new positions, North-South position, and Knee-on-Belly. After that, it shows a few new techniques for passing the guard. It then demonstrates a few new chokes, listed here:

  • Paper Cutter Choke
  • Leaning Choke
  • Nutcracker Choke
  • Sleeve Choke

If you don’t recognize these chokes, it’s because some of these require the opponent has a uniform or shirt on in order to complete the choke. The manual then goes on to show how the chokes can be used during transitions, when on the opponent’s back, in knee-on-belly, in side control, and when in their guard.

Straight Ankle Leg Lock submission, one of three taught in the MACP.

Then it gets more interesting because the manual introduces leg locks. It lists three, those being:

  • Straight Ankle Lock
  • Figure-Four Ankle Lock
  • Straight Knee Bar

The chapter ends by describing how to strike and defend from strikes in the various positions.

Wrestling/Judo

The next chapter of the program shows the recruits various elements of Wrestling and Judo, mainly takedowns and throws. It first demonstrates how to break your fall, both falling backward and forward. This is something Judo and Jiu-Jitsu classes usually use as a warm up.

Next, the program teaches a the various takedowns and throws, those being:

  • Basic Takedown (Clinch Takedown)
  • Leg Hook Takedown
  • Hip Throw
  • Rear Takedown

Next, the program manual shows how to defend against both a guillotine choke and a bulldog choke. After that, it shows a few ways in which using a wall can help you complete a takedown.

UFC Champion Jon Jones demonstrates a perfect Leg Hook Takedown.
UFC Champion Jon Jones demonstrates a perfect Leg Hook Takedown.

The chapter ends by demonstrating a few ways to finish both a single-leg and double-leg takedown before moving on to strikes.

Muay Thai/Kickboxing/Boxing

This section basically encompasses all types of standup fighting. The chapter starts by listing some of the basic strikes:

  • Jab
  • Cross
  • Hook
  • Uppercut
  • Elbow

The program then recommends stringing together your punches in combinations, as this will make them more effective. Next, the chapter details some of the various leg strikes, such as:

  • Inside Leg Kick
  • Rear Leg Push Kick
  • Outside Leg Kick
  • Stepping Sidekick
  • Knees

The chapter ends by also recommending the fighter learn to control the range in a fight, from kicking to punching to elbow range. If you’re interested in learning Muay Thai yourself, check out the post How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Muay Thai?

Muay Thai encompasses all the striking techniques used by the Green Berets.
Muay Thai encompasses all the striking techniques used by the Green Berets.

The techniques described in the past three sections encompass most of the skills taught to the Green Berets during basic combat training. In terms of martial arts, this means Green Berets have a working knowledge of Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Boxing, and Judo. But this is not the end of their ability, as each individual can continue to train and improve on their own time.

What Other Combat Systems have the Green Berets Used?

The Modern Army Combatives Program has not been in place for very long. The Army began using it in 2002, with the Special Forces adopting it later in 2007. Before the MACP, there was LINE.

LINE stands for Linear Infighting Neural Override Engagement, a very basic close-quarters combat system adopted by the U.S. Special Forces in 1998. It had several limitations on the techniques that it taught, mostly due to the program requirements, such as ease of use in low lighting and ease of use while extremely fatigued.

The LINE program was designed to be easy to learn and retain after constant repetition of the program’s drills. However, many criticized the program for being too time-demanding, requiring the participants of the program to constantly revisit techniques in order for them to be used effectively. Because of their busy schedules, many members were unable to maintain the proficiency they had when first learning the techniques.

In 2007, the U.S. Army Special Forces officially replaced LINE with the Modern Army Combatives System, which has many advantages over LINE. It is a lot less stringent, more effective, and easy to learn. The MACP includes the most basic yet effective techniques from various martial arts, making it superior to LINE.

This also makes the MACP very similar to Krav Maga. Krav Maga is also a combination of several different fighting styles combined into one simple self-defense system. However, despite being just as simple as the MACP, it is more effective due to its use of uncommon or “dirty” tactics. I explain more about Krav Maga in the post What Is The Best Hand To Hand Fighting Style?

Do The Green Berets Have A Colored Belt System?

As most of you know, many traditional martial arts such as Karate feature a colored belt system, which is used to distinguish a student’s experience or skill level. Interestingly enough, the MACP also has a belt ranking system.

Damien Stelly, Andrew Chappelle, and Tim Kennedy earn their Combatives black belt.
Damien Stelly, Andrew Chappelle, and Tim Kennedy earn their Combatives black belt.

The belt system had been used by the Marines since 2001, with recruits initially earning their tan belt after 40-70 hours of Combatives training. They can then graduate to gray, green, brown, and then six degrees of black belt.

However, Combatives creator Matt Larsen was adamant about giving belts to MACP students. This was mainly due to his emphasis on Combatives being a combat survival system, and not a sport. Larsen wants the focus of the program to be on learning the survival skills, and not on earning a belt.

Despite Larsen’s thoughts on the belt system, he ultimately awarded the first belts of the MACP in 2010. The first belts he awarded were three black belts for fighters with the most success in the Army Championships. The three men awarded a black belt were Damien Stelly, Andrew Chappelle, and Tim Kennedy, the last of which was a Professional MMA Fighter.

Does The Combatives Program Hold Martial Arts Competitions?

The MACP held competitions for the skills it taught since its inception. However, Larsen wanted competitors to focus on the fundamental skills, and not just on winning MMA competitions. In order to guide fighters into the fundamental skills they should learn, he created a tiered competition structure, which features Basic, Standard, Intermediate, and Advanced competition.

Tim Kennedy shown here winning the All-Army Combatives Competition, where he is a three-time champion.
Tim Kennedy shown here winning the All-Army Combatives Competition, where he is a three-time champion.

Basic competition is reserved for new recruits, where the competition starts on their knees, and is a simple grappling match with no leg locks allowed. The Standard competition is a normal grappling match, although only straight leg locks are allowed. The match is scored based on takedowns landed, and positional dominance.

The competition then goes up to Intermediate, where the fight uses pankration rules. The fight is 10 minutes long, with no breaks. The fighters can land open-palm strikes on the head and closed-fist to the body. Knees are allowed to the opponents body and legs. The advanced competition is basically MMA rules, with the exception of elbows and knees to the head.

Conclusion

Green Berets are trained in the basics of martial arts, and have good working knowledge in several of them. The Combatives program helps to further their learning, with an extensive focus on grappling, making their fighting style very effective.

Learning to fight like a Green Beret is not too difficult, as their full Combatives training can be found on the U.S. Army’s Official Site (linked here).

You will have to train in basic Boxing, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and Wrestling. All in all, they are very well-rounded in training, and could likely hold their own in MMA competition. If you’re interested in training martial arts, consider checking out the Training Tips page. Thanks for reading!

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