For three straight weeks, several Marines aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany put their combat fighting skills to the test to secure the highest belt level in the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Out of 21 Marines who signed up for the gut-wrenching MCMAP training, 15 graduated with advanced belts, April 29.
Now black-belt certified, Sgt. Shereka Slater, Detachment 2, Supply Company, I&I, MCLB Albany, has finally secured the fifth-ranking belt within MCMAP.
“I’m excited to not only have my black belt but to get back to the shop and show other Marines,” Slater explained.
Slater began the course with a brown belt – the fourth-ranking belt within MCMAP.
MCMAP is a course designed to teach Marines hand-to-hand, close-quarters combat. Similar to civilian martial arts courses, MCMAP students are awarded colored belts based on skill level ranging from tan, grey, green, brown and black belts.
One of Slater’s favorite techniques came from the brown belt actually. According to Slater, the firearm disarmament technique taught her how to guard herself against a weapon when she’s unarmed because it actually can cause serious bodily injury to someone.
All U.S. Marines graduate Marine Corps basic training with a fundamental level of MCMAP skills, and the training is available to them throughout their career. For MCMAP instructor, Cpl. Rushane Thompson, Headquarters Company, MCLB Albany, always viewed the program as a good way to show growth.
“After I picked up corporal, the opportunity presented itself. I went to the course as a green belt, I graduated (in 2018) and completely fell in love with the MCMAP program,” Thompson added.
With much dedication, it took Thompson less than two months to get his black belt. Now as an instructor, he’s helping other Marines like Slater advance their skills.
“I feel like more Marines should get out and do it. Not only do you advance in a belt but you push yourself …,” Slater said. “You come out and PT, you have other Marines of all ranks pushing you and showing you that anything is possible in the Marine Corps.”
Thompson broke the course into three phases: beginner’s level of tan belt, intermediate level of grey and green belts and lastly, the combination of all skill levels – brown and black belt.
“We started at tan, tan is our foundation in the MCMAP. You can’t get to your black belt without knowing tan, that’s where you learn off balancing, your first throws (and) your first (techniques and submissions),” Thompson explained.
For Slater, it was a chance to tidy up her techniques.
During the last week, Marines battled it out with two minutes of free sparring with and without weapons.
“We’re trying to take our aggressors to the ground but once you take them to the ground … the main purpose of ground fighting is also to get back up,” Thompson said.
“One of the things that I learned is that it’s not all about how fast you go. It’s about actually taking your time to execute the technique properly,” Slater added.
But there were days when Slater and other Marines wanted to throw in the towel.
“I had some days when it was very hard but I pushed through … and not only to progress as a Marine (but to) show other Marines that ‘hey, if I can do it, then you can do it too,’” Slater admitted.
On the brink of a breakdown, Thompson reminds each Marine that MCMAP training is for the Marine to the left and right of them.
“I remind them not to go internal … what that means is that once you’re feeling pain, your body just wants to focus on that pain … if you submit to that pain, if you put your knees down when you’re on a high plank then everyone gets penalized, everyone has to do burpees … it makes them push past the limit that they thought they couldn’t pass,” Thompson explained.
And to really push his 21 Marines to the finish line, Thompson held a motivational run the day before testing.
“What we did throughout all three phases, we did little by little (of) going up on our combat conditioning,” Thompson said. “The motivational run (combined) all of that skill into a couple of hours of physical training, practical application and free sparring, and showing Marines even when you’re tired, you’re doing it for the Marine on the left and right of you, so let’s finish all together.”
For Marines who are hesitant to train for a higher MCMAP belt, Thompson has these words of encouragement: “find an instructor that’s actually making you fall in love and see MCMAP the same way as they do in their eyes,” Thompson added.
Upon completion of MCMAP, 15 Marines graduated with two grey belts, four brown belts and nine black belts.