Military combatives and grappling clubs gaining steam
By Ryan Melanson,
Competitive grappling has been increasing in popularity across the CAF in recent years, both as an aspect of training and as a sporting activity, and one of the military’s senior hand-to-hand combat experts hopes to see that trend continue.
“There’s a lot of very high-level folks in the CAF, competitors who have senior belt ranks in judo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, people who have won provincial, national and world titles,” said LCol Steve Burgess, a logistics officer by trade who also serves as a Senior Military Combatives Instructor with the CAF and lead organizer of the annual Military Combatives Grappling Championship tournament at Garrison Petawawa.
The event began in 2013 on a small scale with competitors from within local units and has grown steadily since. Regional-scale combatives tournaments have also been established at CFB Edmonton and CFB Valcartier, and the latest, Ex RELENTLESS WARRIOR in Edmonton, garnered more than 80,000 views on Facebook through an eight-hour live stream of matches.
These events mix legitimate training in close-quarters combat with tournament-style competition and are run as exercises open to military members only. On the recreation side of things, however, 85 percent of bases and wings across the country now have an active PSP-sponsored club focused on combatives training in disciplines like judo, karate, greco-roman wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
LCol Burgess, who holds black belts in karate, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, was recently in the Halifax area conducting a day-long seminar for members of the local 12 Wing jiu-jitsu club, who meet each week and often have members compete in civilian competitions. He’ll be back on the east coast this spring with training sessions planned for CAF clubs in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. The hope is to eventually establish recreational combatives grappling leagues across the CAF, with seasons in the five PSP regional areas leading to an annual national championship. A pilot project for a league is kicking off this spring in Petawawa, and plans are to follow that up with an Ontario Regional Invitational Championship later this fall.
“We’re going to use these as a trial to hopefully have PSP formally brought in to the combatives world and run the sport of grappling in the CAF,” LCol Burgess said.
As someone who considers hand-to-hand combat an essential skill for all military members, he hopes to see a day when more CAF personnel have the chance to learn and practice these skills within their units, and can then reinforce those skills with leagues, clubs and PSP-run tournaments.
“The essential skills are the ones that keep you alive, the things that save your life. Combatives is all about increasing a soldier’s survivability in a high-threat, high-risk environment, and it’s one of the building blocks in the foundation of warrior culture and warrior mindset,” he said.
The CAF’s most skilled grapplers today are people who received the bulk of their training in the civilian world, and LCol Burgess sees an opportunity to change that.
“The hope is that eventually folks joining the CAF can learn these skills here, train at their bases under elite fighters, and then pass those skills on.”