By Mr. Mark Manicone (Fort Jackson)August 31, 2017
As you step inside the Adjutant General School's sparring gym, the smell of musky perspiration and grunts of exertion fill the air as Soldiers train in Army combative techniques. Boots, flip-flops and sandals lined the edge of the sparring mat; their owners locked in a wrestling match of strength and will.
Soldiers are constantly testing their physical and mental fortitude through rigorous training and exercise. But it's not every day that you get a civilian who knows and can relate to that level of training.
That's what the Soldier Support Institute's AG School got when mixed martial artist Stephen Thompson came to observe an Army combative class.
"He's coming to the Army to get a different perspective on fighting, and to show his appreciation," said Lt. Col. Kevin Agen. "He's also training for a big fight in the coming months."
Thompson was impressed with the
level of proficiency of the Soldier during their sparring. The style and techniques implemented by Army instructors are very similar to the fighting styles Thompson has had to master as well.
"It's pretty cool to see you guys do some Gi Jiu Jitsu -- I've put it on the backburner and I shouldn't," Thompson said. "But that's where you'll build your technique 100 percent."
Thompson explained that a lot of his training isn't "going hard all the time" it's drilling to get muscle memory down, and that's where it matters the most.
"If you find yourself in a combative or street situation, thinking is too slow -- it should just be reaction," Thompson said.
Thompson started martial arts when he was 3 years old, under his father's guidance. His father had fought in the 70's and 80's and was experienced in the profession, and in coaching other fighters.
Thompson jokingly remarked that he really "didn't have a choice in the matter" when he started in the sport.
He slowly got better and better, serving as his eldest sister's sparring partner. And once he got into his teenage years, he transitioned from karate into kickboxing where "the real fighting was."
And that's when he got in his first real fight.
"My first fight was at 15," Thompson said. "I looked like I was 12, and fought a 26-year-old guy -- and I beat the brakes off him."
Going into the fight he doubted his real strength because he "only sparred with his sister, and she'd always beat him up."
That's when Thompson realized he had a knack for fighting, and pushed himself to train harder and harder. But his road to success didn't come without speed bumps. While he was into kickboxing as a teenager, he got into one fight that mangled every ligament in his left knee.
He was out for a full three years, with many not expecting him to fully recover and fight again. But that was only just another motivator for the athlete.
"In that three years when I busted every ligament in my leg, they'd said I'd never fight again," Thompson said. "And that just lit a flame inside me to get back into it."
A lot of his training he compared to the Army's training, but the main thing that stood out for Thompson is the combative level that he would never touch. But as he explained how he deals with an opponent before a fight, he drew a parallel to what Soldiers experience in a combative sense.
"You're looking another guy in the face, and he just wants to rip your head off and end your career -- that's scary," Thompson said, "but I never approached it with anger, and I always was calm before a fight -- that's just how I coped with it."
"I know guys who are veterans, and one of them told me that when the bullets were whizzing by they would just laugh at it," Thompson said. "Everyone copes differently and that's just how he coped with combat."