Saturday, May 23, 2009

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. | In Hollywood, the fight scene always begins with two guys trading punches from a respectable distance.

Cue the right cross. Rescue the girl. End scene.

But soldiers at Fort Eustis can’t summon a scriptwriter for a clean, happy ending if they end up grappling with the enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan. So, they’re getting some real-world instruction from one of the most respected family names in the art of fighting.

Instructors Rener and Ralek Gracie, of the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy headquartered in California, are on post this week to teach a 30-hour combat course.

They are the sons of Rorion Gracie, creator of the popular Ultimate Fighting Championship and founder of the Modern Army Combatives Program.

The Gracie brothers spent part of Wednesday toiling inside a nondescript building with a padded floor, imparting their advice to members of the 7th Sustainment Brigade, who will return to their units and train other soldiers.

To the uninitiated, the exercise looked like guys wrestling haphazardly on the floor, interlocking arms and legs. But most fights are not stand-up confrontations, Rener Gracie said.

“Traditionally, you go in and knock someone out,” he said. “But that’s for the movies.”

More likely, he said, the two combatants will throw punches, get in close, grab each other and fall to the ground.

Normally, the stronger person ends up on top. The secret is to save your strength while your opponent exhausts his or hers, then apply a chokehold or other leverage-based technique.

This fighting style doesn’t require brute strength or an overwhelming size advantage. And anyone can learn it.

The Gracie brothers even compartmentalized the training, studying hundreds of fights to isolate 24 of the most common moves that a soldier can use.

Chief Warrant Officer Mark Elkhill came away impressed.

The master combatant officer-in-charge for the 7th Sustainment Brigade said hand-to-hand combat in Iraq or Afghanistan probably happens more often than people think, especially when detaining suspected combatants.

“It’s not just the infantry door-kickers who are at risk,” he said. “We’re logistics. We’re transportation. But we go out on convoys. We do that supportive kind of stuff, so we’re at risk as well.”

Chief Warrant Officer Elkhill likes the idea of learning submission holds instead of trading punches.

“You can last longer with punches than you can with a submission,” he explained. “If you have a submission done on you and it breaks your elbow joint — some people can take several punches to the face and still continue.”

The uncle of the Gracie brothers is Royce Gracie, a legendary fighter on the UFC circuit. A quick check of turned up several clips of Royce, a well-built but slender man defeating larger opponents.

In one, he defeated a sumo wrestler who stood 6-foot-8 and weighed 486 pounds. He employed a shoulder lock that forced the larger man to give up.

The Fort Eustis soldiers are not sumo-sized, but they do wear a lot of battle gear.

Rener Gracie said the system is still effective when a soldier is fully equipped, although they must work up to practicing with it.

“With the proper angle and the right leverage,” he said, “you can do anything.”

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