News: Marines, civilians connect through armbars and choke holds
Story by Lance Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan - The student’s face turned from pink to red, the vein in his forehead pulsating with each passing second. At the last second, his hand reached out and slapped the ground four times, signaling a tap out. The instructor released his grip on the student’s arm, allowing it to return from its contorted form.
The instructor turned and faced his class, an assorted group of Marines and civilians. The Marines with their high-and-tight haircuts and clean shaven faces and the civilians with their beards represented the different worlds brought together by a mat and a will to compete.
The students trained for several hours in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a martial art derived from Japanese Judo.
“The whole premise of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is to use technique, not strength.” said GySgt. Mark Stewart, the company commandant with Regimental Combat Team 6, and a ten-year student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. “It’s designed around opponents being not equal to each other, one little guy against one big guy, where you have to use technique.”
The Sunday night classes started when Stewart met a civilian contractor wearing a Brazilian jiu-jitsu shirt at the gym. After inquiring if the man practiced jiu-jitsu, the two began classes on Sundays.
“[Stewart] actually initiated the classes,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Peter Beckwith, (retired) a contractor with RCT-6.
The classes brought together two groups of people, Marines and civilians, who otherwise might not have interacted.
Stewart, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, described the partnership as a brotherhood between people who love the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Beckwith studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu for seven years and said he shares Stewart’s view, stating it doesn’t matter if you’re a Marine or a civilian, the holds and maneuvers still feel the same.
“If you get choked out by a Marine, it feels the same as if you’re getting choked out by a contractor,” said Beckwith with a smile.
On any given Sunday, you can find 10 to 15 students training. The class is split evenly between military and nonmilitary personnel.
This mixed environment builds and strengthens relationships between different units.
“The biggest thing at this point is comradeship amongst Marines and civilians,” added Stewart. “It’s not a stranger in the chow hall anymore. You get to know other people on this base.”
This connection – through arm bars and takedowns – benefits the students with more than physical fitness.
“Often the civilians are going to coordinate with the Marines during their daily duties and the Marines will have to converse with those contractors as well,” said Beckwith. “It’s always helpful when you walk into an office that you’re unfamiliar with and you see some guy you’ve been rolling with on the mat. It’s an instant connection and makes it easier to communicate.”
For the Marines, grappling is more than a relationship builder; it’s a way to stay mentally sharp while getting a workout.
“It’s a game of strategy, and a game of thinking,” said Stewart. “It keeps you thinking, it keeps you fresh. So you can take that into the fight.”
Stewart added that Marines learned that it’s not always the bigger, stronger man who wins, but often it’s the smarter opponent; an important lesson for anyone in the military.
The Sunday night classes also help Marines get out their tents and do something more productive with their off time.
“As society has evolved, we’ve become less and less into sports and getting out there and getting in contact with people,” said Stewart. “It’s more about video games than anything else.”
Stewart said he looks forward to every class, and is enthusiastic about any opportunity to spar with someone on the mat.
Editor’s note: Forward Operating Base Delaram II currently houses Regimental Combat Team 6 in 1st Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.