Study Confirms Military’s Widespread Use of MMA-Based Training Techniques Likely Source of Brain Injuries

Army Study Finds Troops Suffer Concussions in Training

Since 9/11, Army and Marine Corps leaders have instituted mandatory hand-to-hand combat programs based on violent MMA fighting techniques; thousands of troops may be at risk for TBI/CTE, increased suicide ideation

by Joaquin Sapien and Daniel Zwerdling
ProPublica and NPR, Aug. 24, 2012

This story was co-produced with NPR and is slated to air on All Things Considered. (Check local listings.) It was also co-published with Stars and Stripes.

A new military study has found that almost 6 percent of soldiers who took hand-to-hand combat courses at a Texas Army base were struck in the head and suffered symptoms the Pentagon says are consistent with concussions, also called mild traumatic brain injuries.

A larger Marine slams his smaller opponent to the ground during Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training session Oct. 14, 2009 at Camp Smith, Hawaii. There are few safety rules in place that prevent mismatches during MCMAP grappling and sparring sessions between students training in the military’s mandatory MMA-based programs. (DoD)

Over the last decade, hundreds of thousands of soldiers have taken such classes — called “combatives” — at bases nationwide before deploying overseas.

Researchers stress that the study is relatively small, drawing from classes at Ft. Hood with just under 2,000 soldiers. And they haven’t finished the study yet.

But the preliminary results have sparked concern among brain specialists inside and outside the military, suggesting that some soldiers went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan having suffered mild traumatic brain injuries in training — and might have been more vulnerable to long-term consequences from additional concussions later.

While we already know that boxing and other combat sports are linked to brain damage, little is known about how this process develops and who may be on the path to developing CTE — Dr. Charles Bernick, a CTE researcher at the Cleveland Clinic in an American Academy of Neurology written statement

“The more hits your brain takes, the less likely it will be that you will have a full recovery,” said Dr. Alex Dromerick, director of neuroscience research at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Retired Lt. Col. Michael Russell, who is leading the Army study, said he wouldn’t comment on it until the final version is released.

Col. Carl Castro, the director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program, which funded the study, said the final results might dictate changes to improve safety. Castro said there is no acceptable number of concussions for a training program, if there’s any way to avoid them.

“Even 1 percent of soldiers would concern me,” he said. “I’d say we need to do something. We don’t want soldiers getting injured while training, if we can prevent it.”

Read the rest of this story:

Watch video clips of Marine Corps Martial Arts Program:

Marines conducting MCMAP training in Iraq:

Army vs. Marine Corps sparring session:

Marine executes hand-knife move, renders buddy unconscious:

History Channel experiences Marine Corps’ “House of Pain”:

Watch more video clips of military MMA-based fighting:


One Response

  1. At least on the Marine Corps’ side, I think that the program is good but some MAI’s execute it poorly. The Corps takes these things pretty seriously, which is why it got rid of the “body hardening” techniques that were first resident in the program when I came in, around 2002. We used to bang forearms together, kick thighs, punch abs. The Thai Muay Thai Fighters take body hardening seriously, but also do it daily for years. We just couldn’t take the abuse, and be able to execute our missions, because it was an unrealistic training exercise. So, it went bye bye.
    The poor execution I’m talking about came from the Marine hitting his head on the ground during the counter to the roundhouse kick. If the padding was that non-existent, the move should have been shadowboxed, someone should have caught him, or someone should have held the pad.
    All that being said, I believe our methods for combatives training are quite tame to that of other militaries around the world, who can be quite brutal.

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