Attracting a viewership of more than 1.5 million people around the world, the fifth annual Military Combatives Grappling Championship was held at CFB Petawawa on June 24.
This annual tournament brings together Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members from across the country and across all elements, Navy, Air Force and Army, to compete in grappling, a form of modern hand-to-hand combat.
“It’s the most effective way, without engaging in actual hand-to-hand combat, to be able to practice the specific techniques and tactics required to be successful in that particular environment,” said LCol. Steve Burgess, Tournament Technical Director and Senior Military Combatives Instructor.
In essence, combatives is a term for close quarter combat.
“Combatives, in general, is really what we refer to as close quarter battle. It’s hand-to-hand combat in close range. Close quarter combative’s is defined as 25 meters or less,” explained Burgess.
According to Burgess, who has been a military combatives instructor for 16 years, combative’s has been revived as an essential tool for warfare considering how 80 percent of the world’s population lives in urban build up areas.
“Using weapons, especially weapons of mass destructions like bombs, is not appropriate because of the collateral damage, because of the innocent civilians and folks that get caught in the crossfire. So, we’re always careful of how we actually apply lethal force.
“Because of that, it has once again changed the nature of warfare back from the Cold War paradigm, where you saw nuclear weapon concentration and weapons that can strike from long ranges and can cause a lot of casualties, we’ve been forced back to that close quarter range,” noted Burgess.
Combatives also encompasses tactical shooting.
Grappling is a subdivision of the hand-to-hand combat component of combatives “that’s best thought of as a combination of wrestling, judo and submission,” says Burgess.
In order to provide CAF members with a chance to practice this essential skill, the Military Combatives Grappling Championships were established in 2013. It is held annually at CFB Petawawa.
In its inaugural year, the tournament only had 25 competitors. Its popularity has since immensely increased with several local grappling championships taking place throughout the year at different bases.
This year’s annual tournament brought together 35 units from across Canada with approximately 130 competitors, both male and female, of all ranks and levels.
“It really truly is expanding across the CAF and it’s truly a pan CAF activity,” commented Burgess.
The tournament kicked off on Friday, June 23 with the official weigh-in of competitors and a chance for participants to grapple recreationally, as a sort of icebreaker.
The next day, competitors put their best fists forward to fight for the tournament’s top spots. The tournament crowns both a winning unit and an absolute champion.
This year’s winning unit was 1 Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), based in Petawawa, and the absolute champion was MCpl. Darren McGuire of 3 RCR.
For the first time this year, crews from the Director of Army Public Affairs (DAPA) in Ottawa filmed the event and live streamed it. The live streaming was viewed by 1.5 million people around the world.
The tournament, however, is much more than just practising grappling techniques, it’s about instilling a warrior ethos.
“It’s instilling the essence of the warfighter because that’s really what combatives is, it’s the essence of the warfighter. Every military, every warrior tradition in recorded human history has hand-to-hand combat as the defining characteristic of its warrior tradition, always. There’s not a single exception to it,” said Burgess.
This warrior ethos goes beyond the mat and is something that is demonstrated with the partnership the tournament has with Soldier On.
“To me, it was a marriage made in heaven for us.
“We are warriors helping our fellow warriors in their time of greatest need,” said Burgess.
Every year since 2014, tournament’s participants and attendees donate to Soldier On.
This year, the Military Combatives Grappling Championships was able to raise a total of $3,000 for the organization.