CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Nearly 30 Marines with 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment's Battery E started smacking, kicking and bruising their way to earning a gray belt.
For the cannon-cockers here in Iraq, the two-week course is a chance to catch up on training and help the time pass. More importantly, it's a chance to refresh themselves on a low-intensity skill they may need while deployed.
"It's important for them to know how to properly defend themselves," said Capt. Robert B. Thomas, a black-belt instructor from Denver. "It's just as important though, that they know when to use the techniques they're learning."
The Marines are learning the techniques for strikes, kicks and grappling moves just as they would back in the United States. But here, there are no pads. There's no grassy field for soft landings either.
"This training is motivating," said Lance Cpl. Gerrado D. Montes, from Laredo, Texas. "It helps us discipline ourselves with our physique. It also teaches us how to be responsible when using force. It gets you dirty but we live in the dirt anyways."
"This keeps us more up to date with the martial art belts," added Lance Cpl. Javier Rivera Jr., from Los Angeles. "Being the tallest in my unit has its advantages and disadvantages. Martial arts training makes us stronger mentally and physically."
Marines, covered in sand and steadily adding bruises to their body, are using the time to advance their own qualifications, even as they perform their daily duties. Even those with prior competition fighting experience are gleaning new lessons toward their next qualification.
"I fought in 'Rage in the Cage' tournaments and other organized fights in Arizona," said Lance Cpl. Jordan P. Lamoreaux, a radio operator with the battery from Mesa, Ariz. "The MCMAP program is one of the best martial arts out there. It's very balanced, teaching grappling and striking moves."
The former kick boxer said he hoped to leave Iraq as a green-belt instructor and train for his black belt as soon as he becomes a noncommissioned officer.
"Right now my rank is holding me back," Lamoreaux said. "But I will get it. This is really good stuff."