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Muay Thai or Thai Kickboxing is the art of using standing strikes and various clinching techniques to subdue an opponent. It is often characterized by its use of fists, elbows, knees and shins in full-contact fighting, which requires a large amount of physical and mental strength.

Photo by Jaron Hampton

Marines kick up their warrior skills

30 May 2017 | Jeremy Beale/Staff Writer Marine Corps Base Quantico

As sweat leaked from the brows of 10 Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) trainee instructors, a grit was being forged that could not be replicated without the determination of brothers and sisters of the Corps joining together to receive the imparted wisdom of Marines past and present.


The seminar was the second in a training and lecture series designed by Headquarters and Service Battalion (H&S Bn.) at Yale Hall, in which Marines were taught the basics of Muay Thai, also known as Thai Kickboxing.


Leading the training exercise were civilians Miguel Marcano, Muay Thai instructor and retired Marine Maj. Kelly Grissom, grappling instructor of KOA Martial Arts of Stafford, Virginia.


Martial Arts Training Instructors Staff Sgt. Carlos Perez and Staff Sgt. Rodrigo Davalos were also present helping their fellow Marines hone their Muay Thai technique.


With the writ of approval from Col. Todd Oneto, commanding officer of H&S Bn., and the vision of Capt. Matthew Skala, commanding officer of Tenant Activities Company (TACo) and student of Kelly, the seminar was held to help produce resiliently lethal and well-composed Marine leaders.


“These Marines need to learn about various styles of mixed martial arts and use the many resources at their disposal if they wish to truly create a positive influence on their fellow Marines,” Skala said.


Skala believes by inviting two experienced fighters, Kelly and Marcano aboard base, that it would encourage the Marines to learn how to teach and lead their units more effectively.


“How do you encourage Marines to move forward, to do better and improve themselves?” asked Perez, martial arts training instructor. “This is a leadership course and we are here to train well-rounded warriors to go out and train their units in an effective manner, which will further emphasize the warrior ethos—the building of mental and physical character developed through leadership and teamwork.”


According to Perez, these classes are meant to produce a combined sense of control, composure and character in Marines that can be taken into potentially dangerous or unfamiliar combat and humanitarian efforts.


“It is by teaching leadership and tolerance through natural physical discipline that the Corps can be strengthened,” Perez said.


However,  Grissom recalled his time in the Marines and time spent in MCMAP and believes beyond discipline, martial arts has the tendency to shape the Marines’ perspective of their mission and enemy.


“There is nothing like martial arts as it is the highest level of physicality that a person can experience,” Kelly said. “Whether it is grappling or kickboxing, a fighter lays witness to a level of violence that pushes a person outside of their comfort level and in many circumstances, be it momentary or permanent, and forces the martial artist to face their mortality.”


According to Kelly, it is the feeling of air escaping the lungs during a rear-naked-choke, the gradual extension of a joint nearing its breaking point or even the contact of bare knuckles to flesh, in which a fighter begins to enter an emotional space that makes them believe they can be hurt or killed.


Kelly believes that it is this very fear—combat under stressthat will determine the survival of the fittest.


It is H&S Bn.’s expectation to continue training an elite, courageous and committed war-fighting regiment of Marines and sailors ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.


With honor for their Corps and country, Kelly believes that to truly achieve combat readiness, it requires a high level of commitment to training for combat readiness through the use of the tools and mentorship at a Marine’s disposal.


“Muay Thai is just one of many fighting styles practiced across the world,” Kelly said. “If we want MCMAP to continue being a successful program then we need to show our Marines new skills—especially those within the instructor’s course.”


Muay Thai Instructor Marcano, a friend and colleague of Kelly, held a similar view in regard to training new skills as he was driven to improve himself at any expense. 


Marcano is the son of a Marine and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by serving the Corps and country; however, his path ended up differently.


Marcano honors his father’s legacy by traveling all around the world learning and training in new martial arts styles in pursuit of self-improvement and it was this wisdom that he wished to impart on the Marines.


“The Marines were really receptive to the art of Muay Thai and it was a pleasure training America’s finest in new techniques that will improve their capabilities as martial artists and leaders,” Marcano said. “It is important that they find new ways to train to increase their success level, so when they bring these styles back to their units they can use this knowledge to build mentally and physically tougher Marines.”


According to Marcano, mixed martial arts are character builders which drive a person to their limit and for the Marines he taught, they were on a journey to their own self-improvement.


“My path has been a series of ups, downs, sideways and circles, but I know this is what I want to be doing because I want to improve myself by making myself and others better,” Marcano said. “If I can make someone else better by welcoming them alongside my journey then it is absolutely worthwhile.”


Nevertheless, while the seminars are in their trial period, Capt. Skala hopes MCMAP will be able to host events quarterly to add additional training to the existing hand-to-hand and close quarter’s combat standards, thus creating more versatile Marines.


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