Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- Two Marines struggled and slid in their own sweat on the padded floor as each fought for supremacy. The tangle of limbs ended with an arm wrapped around a neck and a hand tapping a leg. The round was over and the next one soon began with a friendly meeting of palms.
Marines with the 8th Communication Battalion grappling team gathered to prepare for their next competition aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, July 29.
“In the Marine Corps, we talk about honor, courage, commitment and being a warrior,” said retired Master Sgt. Edward Raimo, a technical advisor for the team. “A sport like grappling and mixed martial arts cultivates that warrior ethos by challenging yourself against an opponent. There’s no rank out here, it’s just about who’s the better grappler on that day.”
Team members, who come from across Camp Lejeune, meet during their lunch breaks to improve their physical and mental toughness on the mat, while learning new techniques and improving the old.
“There’s nothing tougher than being overpowered in a situation where you’re about to be choked out,” said Sgt. Kevin Pelzel, the team’s head coach. “It’s just a reminder that no matter how good you get you still have a lot to learn. Humility is one of the most important aspects of being a leader.”
Newcomers are welcome regardless of rank, which is left outside of the dojo and competitions, and there are no prerequisites for joining. Camaraderie, willingness to learn and consistent effort are more important, Pelzel said.
“It also creates a family, much like the Marine Corps,” said Raimo, who organized and ran a grappling team on base in the past. “Everything is tested and challenged on the mat, just like boot camp. By competing you test all the knowledge you’ve learned and apply it on the mat.”
The team originally started as intramural, but Marines from outside of the battalion have already joined. Pelzel said that he hopes more Marines will join and allow the team to attend larger competitions.
“It’s a good adrenaline rush and the people are great,” said Staff Sgt. Sarah Manning, a team member and a liaison officer with Marine Forces Central Command. “There aren’t a lot of females out there who do this, so it’s a great time to show what I’m capable of. It’s pretty empowering.”
Not everyone who attends the practice has to compete. However, Marines who want to improve their grappling techniques or simply get in better shape without going to crowded gyms may also participate.
“There are so many applications of grappling,” Pelzel said. “Just having that athletic ability to come to a safe environment where you’re also being pushed to your limits. It’s good training and it’s applicable to everything we do.”