Combat mindset training
Combat behaviours are what keep our soldiers alive on the battlefield. Every Army member is a soldier first regardless of trade or position. To train our combat behaviours, we go through a range of subjects; combat shooting, tactical combat casualty care, Army combatives, combat physical conditioning, and ethical decision-making. Most of these objectives can be achieved across Army through battle physical training, weapon training simulation systems, Army first aid, and soldier professional military education sessions.
However, soldiers outside of combat trades and units are lacking in Army combatives – one of the most effective methods to training combat mindsets. For a logistics soldier at a Force Support Battalion (FSB), the only foundational warfighting they will conduct is the annual infantry military training at the start of the year. Whilst we understand that not all soldiers are infantry and they need to prioritise their own trade, the combat mindset is vital to ensuring our soldiers can function in a warlike environment.
It is in our contract with Australia to be experts in close combat. Army’s solution to this is the Army Combative Program (ACP). Every soldier is required to have a minimum of level 1 to survive a physical encounter and to retain your weapon. The ACP is great at setting a foundational understanding to combative training, but it is very basic. Levels 2 and 3 start introducing applications of lethal and non-lethal techniques which also introduces basic grappling. It allows the program to be run as a course and be taught by an instructor with minimal experience.
Combat units do a great job at providing additional training utilising combat sports such as Brazilian Jiujutsu, Judo, and wrestling. This opportunity is lacking for soldiers at other units though and commanders should seek for resourcing and opportunities for higher ACP qualifications and combat sport training.
Why combat sports?
Combat sports enhance the learning of the ACP. The intent is not to make soldiers professional martial artists. The motion of grappling an opponent who is applying real force against you is simulating combat stress and creating the combat mindset, to eliminate the threat. We can always practice weapon and equipment drills to create muscle memories in our operators. However, in a warlike environment, the stimulated stress and shock will cause soldiers to lose their fine motor skills.
Combat sports train soldiers to remain calm and think under extreme stress. This will increase our soldiers’ abilities to operate under higher stress thresholds. The combat mindset is what will reduce that shock of the individual once that first round rings out. The controlled aggression that is trained utilising combat sports will directly influence a soldier’s reaction to a contact. Other benefits include significant fitness improvements, confidence, and respect. The integration of combat sports with the combat mindset in Army will change the culture of our Army to be a “ready now, future ready” workforce through an increased combat mindset collectively as an organisation.
The Australian Defence Force Combat Sports Association (ADFCSA) is an organisation which promotes athletes to compete in tournaments representing Defence through financial support. Commanders should seek to leverage resources available by sourcing members of the association and encouraging existing practitioners into joining the membership. The association needs the support from commanders to enable soldiers for participation.
Whilst it is not always the case where the unit will have an experienced member in combat sports who can provide training, commanders should see if a recreational combat centre exists on the base such as Integrated Combat clubs (ICC) located in Amberley (9 FSB), Enoggera (7 BDE), Holsworthy (6 AVN), ADFA, Edinburgh, and Darwin. Other operating Defence combat clubs can be found on the ADFCSA share point page. The majority of the major Defence bases currently have an operating club. These clubs offer a controlled training environment free of charge for all Defence members.
Message from the President of the ADFCSA: Major Derek Morris
“Combat sports are often lauded for their ability to develop a combat mindset in practitioners. Combat sports include grappling-specific sports such as BJJ, Judo and Wresting, and striking sports such as Taekwondo, Muay Thai and Boxing. This combat mindset, characterised by qualities such as resilience, tactical thinking, and the ability to stay calm under pressure, is essential in both sports and actual combat situations. It is important to note, however, that participating in combat sports doesn't directly replicate real-life combat scenarios. Sports Judo, for example, teaches discipline and how to leverage strength and technique against an opponent within a strict set of rules and controlled environment. While these skills are valuable, they are practiced within a framework vastly different from the unpredictable and often more dangerous nature of real combat, which may involve multiple adversaries and no rules. While combat sports can contribute to the development of a combat mindset, they represent a controlled approximation rather than a direct replication of real-world combat scenarios. In the absence of simulated combat scenarios, however, combat sports provide at least some exposure to physical confrontation and combat uncertainty.”
Commanders will have different appetites for risk, especially for combat service support and combat support commanders. ACP levels 2 and 3 will have higher rates of injury. The learning outcome is often assessed to be not worth the risk of injury in our already stressed workforce for deployable soldiers. Soldiers will fight with their ego. They will have higher rates of injury compared to the average civilian white belt. This increases the importance of combative training as it will convert that ego into controlled aggression. It will allow the soldiers to understand how the body moves under stress and the mechanics of grappling. The risk of injury decreases significantly as soldiers gain more experience in their training.
A real-life example is ICC Amberley which was raised in January 2023 by 9 FSB as a regimental sport. The club sustained multiple sentinel reports at the start, which resulted in it being deemed to be a high-risk activity. Today, the club has competed in the Army Combative Tournament and held its own tournament in November 2023 with no injuries since May. Once soldiers learnt how to fight and to respect their training partners, the club thrived – attracting soldiers and aviators from the entire base.
It is evident that the high levels of injury from ACP is due to that initial encounter of soldiers with grappling and the lack of experience from both operators and instructors. Formalised combat sports training will provide a safer environment with better outcomes for soldiers and increasing capability. Combat training is not something that can be achieved like a course using our approach with the ACP. It is like a marathon which needs to be practiced weekly. The ACP should be approached as a basic foundation to combat training which complements further training. This is achievable through leveraging off ADFCSA athletes and local clubs within Defence establishments.
The combat mindset is heavily reliant on the soldier first mentality; the physical and mental preparation to deploy to war. Infantry training is one method to training the combat mindset, but non-combat units have limited funding to conduct said training. Combative training if resourced correctly can be achieved with minimal cost and provide effective combat mindset training for soldiers across army. Commanders should not hesitate to reach out to members of the ADFCSA both internal and external to the unit for further training opportunities.
Soldiers need to possess a high level of combat mindset as we change our focus to prepare for large-scale combat operations. Our adversaries are lethal and we need our soldiers to enhance their combat mindset to enable deliberate combat behaviours and increasing their survivability on the battlespace.