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Pendleton grappling team hits the mats

8 Jul 2009 | Cpl. Paul M. Torres

 Thanks to the increased popularity of mixed martial arts, more people have been interested in finding their way into the octagon.

Given the competitive nature of the Marines, it may come as no surprise that the Camp Pendleton grappling and submission team would not only contend, but excel in competition.

“We have 22 fighters on the team that are on temporary additional duty orders and the rest are floaters who just come in when they can,” said Corey Bennin, 38, from Seattle, the team’s coach. “The team unofficially started back in 2005, but in May 2006 we were given a budget from Marine Corps Community Services.”

Thanks to the budget the grapplers were able to set up a room in the 33 Area gym that would allow them to train competitively.

“We work a lot of jujitsu, but before a match we will also work on our stand-up game, said Bennin. “We have several other coaches that we work with to help us with striking depending on what type of league we are competing in.”

There are several different leagues the team participates, in such types of as pankration, jujitsu and MMA.

“There has been a huge increase of interest since MMA has become mainstream,” said Bennin. “Fighters have come to understand that they have to come from a stable platform for both the stand-up and ground game. In my opinion, it is better to start with a good ground game and work your way to the stand-up because the ground game is so much harder to develop, and standing up and throwing punches comes naturally and is quicker to develop.”

The team holds practices from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open to whoever wants to show up. To make the team, an individual must go through a screening process and then secure the permission from their chain of command to receive TAD orders.

“I have been a member of the team for a year and a half now and it has been great,” said Sgt. Nick Molina, 27, from Sterling Colo., who is the team captain. “I started off as a lance corporal and I would go to the practices more than the fighters already on the team. I love the fact that we have everyone from legal administration, to reconnaissance Marines, to Navy corpsmen, and we come together and stomp the civilian teams in tournaments.”

The background of each team member varies as each fighter is encouraged to bring what they already know and apply it in practice.

“I wrestled in high school and have been with the team since March,” said Lance Cpl. David Torres, 22, from Anaheim, Calif., a team member. “This is the first time I have used Brazillian jujitsu, but there are certain aspects of wrestling that are helpful.  You just have to make adjustments.”

The team competes at tournaments year-round, and sometimes as often as every week. Even though they have a budget for travel, it does not cover the sign-up cost for each competition, but that is just one more price they are willing to pay.

“Besides learning mixed martial arts, the Marines and sailors are learning discipline and self control, whether it is training or their diet,” said Molina. “It also teaches them that it doesn’t matter how strong the guy in front of you is, you can throw down with him. It teaches you that competing is mostly mental.”