The archives of the Missouri Military History Museum reveal the dialectic of the traditional and the new methods of fighting, as incorporated by the Missouri National Guard.
In ancient Greece, the art of wrestling demanded respect where it was regarded as the greatest demonstration of strength in the Olympic Games. This sport retained its admiration through the centuries and caught the eye of the army in general, and the Missouri National Guard of late in particular. The Missouri Militia shows its esteem for this sport by requiring soldiers to go through basic training in martial arts, believing in the strength of the individual as a central tenant in combative preparation, succinctly citing: “The defining characteristic of a warrior is the willingness to close with the enemy.” In this martial art form, wrestling combines physical stamina, mental calm and a situational awareness into a symphony of strategic precision out of a cacophony of potential harm—either theoretical in the ring or actual on the battlefield.
During America’s involvement in WWII, the Missouri National Guard employed the aid of the world renowned champion and hall of famer, Lou Thesz, to instruct combatants. There, he taught the First Infantry “just where and how to apply the proper hold to would-be saboteurs.” During that era, the domestic arm of the military had yet to fully incorporate this skill into its basic training. After the war however, the Guard would create an inter-company wrestling program to battalions, setting up special rooms for these combatives.
The military understood that while old in origin, wrestling’s physical and mental flexibility served and will continue to serve as the groundwork for the modern Soldier upon which advancements can be practiced and expressed. Mixed martial arts provide a prime example of this malleability in which competitors in Combative tournaments draw heavily from wrestling techniques. Recently, Missouri garnered third place at the National Championships Fort Benning with only seven combatants. Next year, they plan on an even stronger showing, with a more concerted effort.
What is remarkable about the coupling of the National Guard and wrestling shows a classic example of a swinging dialectic between new and old, cultural affection and military action; a mix of advanced physiological and psychological understanding with an ancient model to demonstrate it. This model is a standard which illustrates not only a historic interest in and appreciation of physical prowess, but also the Guard’s application of it.
For more information about the Missouri National Guard’s combative techniques or other military interests at The Missouri Museum of Military History in Jefferson City.