In the world of martial arts and combat sports, there’s a well-established recognition that there is, on average, a significant difference in physical strength and striking power between men and women.
Studies indicate that the average woman has around 52% of the upper body strength of the average man. As a result, in the interests of athlete health and safety, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts strictly prohibit males from competing against females and vice versa.
However, in the US military, the rules are distinct, and for a good reason. US Army military combatives tournaments might appear similar to amateur MMA, but they serve a different purpose. Combatives is not intended to be a sport; it’s a training method designed to teach soldiers hand-to-hand combat skills and, more importantly, how to be warriors.
Matt Larsen, who played a crucial role in developing the Army’s combatives field manual in 2002, explains the fundamental difference between combatives and MMA. In combatives, the focus is on inculcating an ethos and a skill set for real combat situations. The arena in combatives serves as a training ground, not the point of competition as in MMA.
While MMA strictly separates male and female events, the US Army recognizes that the real struggle on the battlefield doesn’t adhere to gender divisions. When soldiers are deployed, the enemy doesn’t segregate based on gender, and the US military must ensure that its soldiers are prepared for any scenario they might face.
“We can’t go to the Taliban and tell them we’re looking for a 140-pound female to fight our female,” explains Kris Perkins, former director of combatives for III Corps and Fort Hood. In real-life combat situations, sometimes men and women must fight side by side.
The sight of a woman being engaged in combat with a man might raise discomfort for some, but according to Larsen, it exemplifies actual equality. It challenges the perception that women cannot handle the same challenges as men and proves that they can be treated equally in demanding roles.
When female soldiers participate in combatives, they enter a true test of their abilities. While some may feel uneasy watching a woman engaged in a fight with a man, it’s essential to recognize that this is not a sporting event; it’s an opportunity for soldiers to train for the harsh realities they may face in the field.
An example from the finals of an event at Fort Hood showcases Army Staff Sgt. Jackelyn Walker competing against Pfc. Greg Langarica. The contest was intense, with Langarica eventually securing the win, and Walker leaving the arena on a stretcher. Walker’s response after her release from the hospital reflects the indomitable spirit of female soldiers. “We can be just as tough as the guys,” she asserted. “We can do it.”
In turn, Langarica, who had smirked after defeating a woman the day before, gained a new perspective from the experience. He realized that his opponent wasn’t merely a woman; she was a warrior, embodying the ethos of combatives training.
In conclusion, the US Army combatives program serves as a crucial component of military training, preparing soldiers for real-world combat scenarios. By challenging gender norms and embracing equality, the military ensures that its soldiers are equipped with the skills and mindset needed to face any challenge on the battlefield.