Staying alive: Combatives course equips cadets with fighting skills

Academy cadets Jackson Bell (left) and Robert Goodno spar during the Academy's Combatives course here Sept. 19. The three-part course is a graduation requirement for cadets. (Air Force photo/Amber Baillie)

Academy cadets Jackson Bell (left) and Robert Goodno spar during the Academy's Combatives course here Sept. 19. The three-part course is a graduation requirement for cadets. (Air Force photo/Amber Baillie)

Academy cadets Sydney Rower (left) and Abby Wolters spar during a Combative Class here Sept. 19. The three-part course is a graduation requirement for cadets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Amber Baillie)

Academy cadets Sydney Rower (left) and Abby Wolters spar during a Combative Class here Sept. 19. The three-part course is a graduation requirement for cadets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Amber Baillie)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- An Academy combatives course not only provides cadets with hands-on training to survive combat, but arms them with the skill and confidence to protect themselves in everyday life.

The three-part course is a graduation requirement for cadets and teaches them basic moves of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, wrestling and catch wrestling, a mixture of grappling styles, developing a warrior ethos and dominating another person through body position.

Female cadets are required to take Introduction to Combatives, PE 114, during their freshman year; male cadets are required to take Boxing, PE 110. During cadets' junior year they enroll in Combatives 1, PE 215, and Combatives 3, PE 315, to complete the entire combatives curriculum. 

"The confidence the course can give a cadet is invaluable," said Capt. Kevin Quinn, an Academy combatives instructor. "Some cadets have never participated in sports or ever been in a fight. We teach them how to control their body and win a fight if needed."

Techniques included basic strikes, weapon retention and dominating body positions.

"The course provides them with baseline skills," Quinn said. "You have to keep up with the techniques to stay good at them. We have a lot of cadets who continue with Jiu Jitsu, catch wrestling and boxing after the course."

All cadets compete in the course and women will win fights against men, said Dave Durnil, combative instructor here and chief of training.

"It's exceptionally important that the class is co-ed," he said. "It's good because it provides value for cadets to understand the true strength that another person can possess. Individuals will walk into a class with preconceived notions. I think it's important for them to face each other as service members, not as a specific gender or class, but as equals and future combatants."

Quinn said instructors get reports from combat veterans who said the training saved their life.

"We try to share those stories with cadets," he said. "We want them to know that these are practical skills that work, and will allow them to survive in situations downrange or in life."

A majority of the instructors have practiced Jiu Jitsu for more than five years and regularly compete in state and national martial arts competitions.

"We have highly specialized instructors who help develop the training," Durnil said. "Safety is a huge component of the course and we have eyes-on training."

The Academy heads the Air Force's Combatives Center of Excellence, Durnil said.

"Around 50,000 Airmen a year receive what we teach here (combatives training)," he said. "They receive it through officer accession sources with the exception of commissioned officer training. About 35,000 Airmen receive it at Basic Military Training each year at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and Air Force technical schools."

The Academy has offered the course since it opened its doors in 1954. It was originally designed to equip air crews with survival techniques in case their aircraft was brought down during combat.

"We focus now on the environments Airmen operate in," Durnil said. "How is it different than how the Army operates? What are some of the rigors involving adrenaline, heart rate and the psychological difficulty of dealing with another person in an aggressive scenario?"

The main purpose of combatives is to survive and accomplish the mission, Durnil said.

"Airmen don't put on combatives when they put their boots on in the morning -- it's with them all of the time," he said. "Even if an opponent outweighs an Airman by 100- pounds, if the Airman can hold them down long enough for another Airman to physically intervene or intervene with a weapon, they will win the fight. Our program is about managing the engagement and sharing techniques that will allow Airmen to hopefully be able to deescalate when possible."