News: Protecting yourself when the weapons are down
By Sgt. Tim Sander
345th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan " After an intense firefight, you find yourself separated from your unit, out of ammunition and face to face with an enemy fighter. The enemy lunges toward you with a knife and you are suddenly faced with a split second decision that could mean the difference between life and death.
For some Service members in Afghanistan, the decision would be simple: side step, execute a quick strike to the side of the neck and take control of the enemy by using a variety of Combat Hapkido techniques taught by Grand Master John Pellegrini, Master Robert L. Gray and Command Sgt. Maj. James Redmore during a twelve-day tour across Afghanistan June 30 through July 12.
The tour took the three martial arts experts to five bases, allowing them to share their techniques with U.S. forces and also members of the Afghanistan Special Forces and Polish military.
Combat Hapkido is a reality based form of self-defense, developed specifically for close-quarter combat, said Pellegrini, a 58-year-old native of Florence, Italy, who has been actively involved in martial arts for the past 40 years and is also the founder and president of the International Combat Hapkido Federation.
"The techniques we teach can be extremely effective; our style gives the person options," said Pellegrini. "The person can use very mild, controlling techniques or escalate all the way to lethal techniques depending on the situation they find themselves," he added.
Pellegrini explained that this makes Combat Hapkido ideal for the military because it allows service members to operate within the boundaries of the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention while maintaining positive control of prisoners.
"Another difference that distinguishes Combat Hapkido from other forms of martial arts is that our system is based on scientific research in biomechanics, kinetics and other disciplines such as pressure points," said Pellegrini.
"This is achieved through an understanding of how the human body works. Once you understand the human body, your effectiveness in combat becomes superior because you have knowledge of where to protect yourself and where to strike," he said.
When given the oppourtunity to teach service members in Afghanistan, Pellegrini said he had no qualms.
"I have worked with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division a few times already and while at Fort Drum one time I found out they were getting deployed so I volunteered my services," said Pellegrini.
"I did it because I strongly support the troops and I believe in what we are doing in Afghanistan," he added.
Pellegrini normally charges $2,500.00 a day for his services, but waived all fees for his twelve-day trip to Afghanistan to show his support for the war effort.
"It's one thing to say "I support the troops," but it's another thing to take action," said Pellegrini. "I believe everyone can do something to support the troops and this is what I can do," he added.
Of all the unique experiences, Pellegrini say what stood out most was the "unbelievable friendship and camaraderie" he received from the service members he encountered.
"I was absolutely impressed by the level of professionalism and hospitality we were shown," said Pellegrini. "The highlight of the trip was to feel so accepted by the troops."
While training the Afghan Special Forces, Pellegrini had high praise for their role in securing lasting peace and freedom in Afghanistan.
"I believe the greatest gift one country can give to another is freedom," said Pellegrini. "But as we all know, freedom is not free. You can not just package freedom up and give it to someone. To have the oppourtunity to teach the Afghanistan Special Forces made me feel like we were empowering the Afghan people to protect themselves and their freedom. We gave them the tools and skills and they certainly have the hearts and will to use those tools."
Master Gray, who worked along side Grandmaster Pellegrini throughout their adventures in Afghanistan, says this trip is one that he will never forget.
"I never served in the military so when the oppourtunity came up, I considered it an honor and a privilege to be able to join Grandmaster Pellegrini and teach American Soldiers," said Gray, who has been practicing Combat Hapkido for twelve years and holds a 4th degree black belt in the style of martial art.
Gray, a 54-year-old resident of Upstate New York, has also worked with the 10th Mountain Division a few times while at Fort Drum and says he jumped at the opportunity to instruct American Soldiers on foreign soil.
"I was with Grandmaster Pellegrini during his first seminar (at Fort Drum) and when the offer to go to Afghanistan came up, I threw my hat into the ring and volunteered," said Gray.
Before ending his seminars, Pellegrini spoke a few parting words of sincerity for all in attendance.
"Now you have the knowledge to defend yourselves; I truly hope you never have to use it."
For all the brave warriors serving in Afghanistan, there is sure to be one thing in the back of all their minds; they all want to return to their homeland safely. Thanks to two civilians who were willing to sacrifice 12 days of comfort and safety, and a command sergeant major who understands the importance of a good combatives program, those service members" chances of survival have increased significantly.