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U.S. Military Using MMA as Recruiting and Training Aid

It's funny how things work. On the same day that MDS writes a guide for people covering the world of mixed martial arts, one of the country's most venerable newspapers features an article about it on the front page. The New York Times makes a couple of errors, they refer to the sport as ultimate fighting and use the driven into the ground human cockfighting reference, but it's a really positive piece that highlights how far the sport has come.

The U.S. military, realizing MMA's popularity among young men, is using the sport as a tool to aid recruiting, training and soldier morale. Army bases hold tournaments culminating in a branch championship at Fort Benning which looks a lot like events put forth by the UFC and other leagues. The three other branches all utilize the techniques in various ways and there's even a TV show dedicated to MMA on the Military Channel.

A recent tournament drew more than 250 entrants even though most of them would be deployed on active duty during when the Army-wide championship was being held. The effects on morale are pretty clear.

"It's a mental game," Private Miller said. "If I could do this, I'd stay in the Army for 20 years."

There's a practical purpose as well and all the branches are careful to emphazise training that can help win battles, as opposed to skills that might help in the Octagon.

Matthew C. Larsen, the director of the Modern Army Combatives Program, has written a field manual outlining how to use MMA techniques in the field.

"These guys could be in any situation, from a life-and-death battle with a bad guy to trying to subdue a citizen who has Stockholm syndrome, and you don't even want to hurt that guy," Mr. Larsen said. "But you've got to have all these moves for all those different situations."

The pro leagues are benefiting from this as well. Brian Stann, WEC's light heavyweight champion, won a Silver Star with the Marines in Iraq and promoters have held cards billed as G.I.'s vs. Pros. It's safe to say that when CBS, the New York Times and the armed forces are all paying attention, MMA's surge in popularity is for real.