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Sharpening the Warrior Spirit

by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Keypher Strombeck
19 September 2023 In the realm of elite military training, U.S. Navy special operators have carved out a legendary reputation for pushing even the most formidable individuals past their known limits. These warriors embody qualities of mental resilience and unwavering determination. They also share an unbreakable spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood that serves as the bedrock of their strength.

At the heart of their warrior spirit is a training regimen that exceeds ordinary combat drills and physical exercise. The Naval Special Warfare (NSW) combatives program is a fusion of multiple martial arts disciplines. This amalgamation is more than just a mix of fighting techniques; it is a conduit through which operators hone hand to hand and hyper-enabled operator combatant skills, forge bonds, and fortify their mental resilience.

Contrary to what one might assume, stepping into the world of Naval special warfare combatives program is a far cry from the tense, grim atmosphere of hand-to-hand combat. Instead, newcomers are greeted with smiles, energetic music, and a surprisingly fun atmosphere.

“What is so special about the NSW combatives program is that it is a melting pot,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Kelly, an operator who was instrumental in the evolution of the NSW combatives program. “From Male to Female, E-5 to O-5, all are welcome.”

A typical day at combatives training transcends physicality. The spirit of camaraderie among participants enables them to navigate chaos with a sense of calm and unity in an algorithmic like training that escalates through a series of moves and counter moves which cycle an operator into dominant positions that can solve any realistic combat contingency situations.

According to Command Master Chief Christian Hartwell, assigned to NSW Basic Training Command, commitment to discomfort and pushing boundaries intertwines with daily life. The decision to go to combatives every day, embodies the warrior spirit and resilience against the allure of the easy path.

“I live between my office and the training location, and I have a decision to make every morning,” said Hartwell. “Do I make the easy choice, turn right, and come to work, or do I make the hard choice and turn left and go to combatives? By turning left, and just showing up, mentally I have already won that day because it is not easy, especially Fridays. Fridays are a nightmare.”

On Fridays, operators participate in marathon sessions. Marathon sessions, devoid of clocks, last one hour and test mental fortitude, teaching operators to stay focused and composed even in extreme fatigue. Belts, earned through discipline and commitment, mark progress, shaping operators into better individuals.

“We take the clocks down,” said Chief Petty Officer Ronald Gilb, assigned to the NSW combatives program. “No one can see how far into the roll they are and it's a mental exercise more than physical. When you're physically engaged in combatives that long it is incredibly exhausting, especially if you're on the receiving end of that session. If the guy that you're with is a little stronger, a little more skilled, a little faster, and has a little more in the tank, it can be a very humbling experience.”

Guiding them is Ricky Lundell, a civilian martial arts coach who stands as a luminary in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo with fourth-degree black belts and numerous international championships. Most notably, Lundell is a former Cael Sanderson D1 wrestler. Lundell’s coaching prowess spans from High school wrestlers to UFC fighters. Assisted by Lindsie Lundell, the combatives program has been tailored meticulously for NSW operators.

Lundell paints the picture of the NSW combatives program as an operational art form training that imparts the skills vital for close combat.

"[This style] revolves around operating downrange," said Lundell. "It's about mastering the essential skills of shooting, moving, and communicating, while also enabling operators to effectively break contact or control adversaries. Staying on your feet is crucial for staying operational, and our training empowers operators to do that."
Gilb emphasizes the profound impact of this training on operator performance, especially in close combat scenarios. He explains the essence of mental fortitude and combat skills are woven into the fabric of this training.

"Our training prepares our operators to meet multiple different levels of resistance, so we can modulate our response," said Gilb. "We're good at gunfighting, but every situation does not warrant a bullet. The NSW combatives program builds confidence in operators to be able to stay on their feet and keep operating in close combat."
Lundell also added that the combatives program trains operators to be more versatile and capable of handling combat in any environment.

"Our unique combatives trains operators how to remain in a dominant position," said Lundell. "It's the only program that continuously applies moves from multiple disciplines to keep opponents down. Through maintaining dominance, operators gain a significant tactical advantage, and build confidence in handling any variety of situations."

It is through this art that operators embrace the value of patience, strategy, and adaptability. Each session at the Naval Special Warfare Advance Training Command combatives facility becomes a vital lesson in problem-solving and empowers operators to remain calm and focused amidst the chaos they might face during critical missions.

"There are very strict rules of engagement, and that is where combatives training becomes crucial," said Hartwell. "To control a situation calmly and confidently, we must know how to handle people, we must be confident that we can always manage the situation, and more importantly, that our teammates can handle themselves in any situation. That confidence comes from the mental resilience and comradery that NSW combatives provides. That's why it's critical."

Participants recognize that the skills learned in combatives prepares them to face adversity in all aspects of their life.

“This program is not just beneficial for mental or physical strength,” said Lundell. “I have guys come up to me and tell me that the discipline and commitment they learned through the training has made them a better husband, a better father, a better teammate, better at receiving instruction, and even better a leader.”

Through the voluntary commitment, dedication and perseverance, participants strengthen unit cohesion, forging an invaluable asset within their sacred training ground on the mats.

“Currently combatives sustainment is a completely volunteer program,” said Gilb. “I invite any operator to come and leave their ego at the door."

In the end, the combatives program is more than a training ground; it is a crucible where warriors are not only forged but where bonds are created, and spirits are lifted. It is a testament to the enduring power of camaraderie, brotherhood, and the unbreakable warrior spirit.

“The struggles, victories, and defeats shared during combatives training form an unbreakable bond, becoming a lifeline during missions, where trust in one another is paramount,” said Hartwell.

Naval Special Warfare is the nation's elite maritime special operations force, uniquely positioned to extend the Fleet's reach and gain and maintain access for the Joint Force in competition and conflict.