From medic to martial artist: 'Thunder' medic becomes combatives instructor

by Cpl. Jaewoo Oh
U.S. Army

CAMP CASEY, South Korea - Maintaining one's physical condition up to military standards is one of the most important aspects for all Soldiers in the Army. However, physical strength and endurance is not always enough for those serving in a high-risk area such as the Korean peninsula.

In order to enhance Soldiers' close-combat skills, the Army has created the Master Combatives course for Soldiers at all echelons. The master combatives training allows Soldiers to learn advanced close-combat and tactical skills to further their combative techniques as well as to gain a better understanding of how to teach the techniques to Soldiers in their units.

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Dees, a senior medic assigned to 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division/ROK - U.S Combined Division, has proudly completed the Master Combatives course as an honor graduate of the light-weight class.

Dees had been attracted to the martial arts ever since she was young. She was not offered a chance to learn martial arts until she joined the Army and found her first opportunity through the modern Army Combatives Program.

"I never had a chance to learn martial arts when I was young. I ran into the combatives course in Iraq when I was deployed in 2010," said Dees. "My squad walked into a gym for physical training one day and found my now husband teaching combatives to other Soldiers. From that moment I fell in love with the sport."

Previous to falling love with the martial arts, Dees' greatest weakness was physical fitness. Her desire to change herself and serve the country were the critical reasons to enlist in the Army.

"Before I joined the Army, I did two years in college," said Dees. "I was struggling with my studies and my health. Then one day, I walked past the recruitment office and decided to join the Army to change myself and do something for my country."

Her decision to join the Army on that day set a path for her toward combatives training. Putting herself in a position where she would have to challenge herself to meet the standards of the Army guided her to overcome her physical weakness.

After her first encounter with combatives, Dees honed her physical capabilities by studying and developing her martial arts techniques. However, despite her experiences and preparations, the Master Combatives course pushed her to her limits.

"For me the Master Combatives course was an emotional and physical roller coaster," said Dees. "There were days when you became overly-exhausted; the course itself demanded physical and mental resiliency."

During her master combatives training, Dees began her day of physical training by running laps around the gym and doing active stretching. On a typical day, when all the candidates were warmed up and ready to start the day, the course started with instruction on combination techniques.

"Each morning, we would learn techniques involving boxing, kickboxing, take-downs and tactical skills," said Dees. "Once the classes on the skills were done, we would do live-rolling until 1600 - similar to sparring matches in boxing."

"Most of what we learn during the course is very practical," continued Dees. "We learn to deal with adversaries rushing towards me or trying to kill me. We learn how to subdue them."

Eventually, four weeks of extensive training came to end. At the end of the course, only two candidates within her weight class were eligible to become the honor graduate of the light-weight class.

"The final day was quite similar to other normal days. We worked on combinations and light sparring," said Dees. "Once tactical exercises were finished, we took five minutes of break before the 'Pankration Round.'"

The "Pankration Round" is a type of sparring match which allows open hand slaps to the face with punches, kicks and take-downs to the body. The results of the "Pankration Round" and the cumulative test scores during the four week's course decides which candidate has the best combatives skills and ability to demonstrate combative techniques.

When the results came in on the final day of the course, Dees was the last woman standing. Her resilience to endure the intense training and willingness to learn difficult techniques earned her the honor graduate designation.

"I thought to myself: 'If I can maintain a mindset of pushing towards the goal I can get through,'" said Dees. "Every day I train, I get better. Every day I train my resiliency gets better. For me, completing the course to the end has been a great self-confidence boost."

Shortly after her graduation from the master Combatives course at Fort Benning, Georgia, Dees returned to Camp Casey to resume her duty as a medical noncommissioned officer of the "Thunder" Brigade. She also teaches basic combatives techniques to Soldiers who did not have the opportunity to practice martial arts otherwise.

"Teaching Soldiers is such a rewarding experience. I love taking Soldiers who know nothing about martial arts and teaching them techniques that will one day protect them," said Dees. "It makes me feel safe, because if something bad happens to them, I know they are going to be fine using the techniques I taught them."

Discovering combatives and martial arts has changed Dees' life for the better. Challenges come to people in different ways. It can vary from problems that they face suddenly, or weaknesses that they have tried to defeat for a long time. However, having to push through the obstacles is the key to changing one's own life and in turn, positively affecting the lives of others.

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