March 24, 2010

Virginia Guard Soldier heads to Georgia for Army National Guard Combatives Championship

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — When Staff Sgt. Matt Stemmler, an instructor at the 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, wrestled in eighth grade, he had no idea he would get the opportunity to compete in the 2010 Army National Guard Combatives Championship at Fort Benning, Ga., more than a decade later. Having just completed the U.S. Army’s Modern Army Combative School, Level Three at Fort Benning, Stemmler is training to do just that.


Staff Sgt. Matt Stemmler took up mixed martial arts three years ago. He will travel to Fort Benning, Ga., March 27-28 for the 2010 Army National Guard Combatives Championship. (Courtesy photo)

Stemmler, 26, from Woodbridge, completed the Army’s four-week course that focuses on boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, wrestling, and stick fighting three weeks ago and is travelling back to Georgia to represent the Virginia Army National Guard in the Army National Guard Combatives Championship March 27-28. Stemmler was selected as the honor graduate for the lightweight class and will compete in the tournament in the same weight class.

“We had to compete in fights with other students near our weight each Friday (three boxing fights, three kickboxing, and three stick fights). The students then selected two from each weight class to fight for ‘honor grad’. I won the lightweight division's honor grad,” said Stemmler.

“The course focused a lot on the level one and two techniques, mostly due to the fact that as a level three instructor we can now certify Soldiers to be level one qualified,” he said. “In addition to all that, we also spent a great deal of time working on more battlefield specific techniques, such as weapons retention and knife fighting.” 

When Stemmler first heard about the tournament from the instructors in Georgia he was interested, but not to sit by idly and watch: he wanted to compete. “I heard about it while I was attending combative level three at Fort Benning. They asked if any of us newly certified level threes wanted to referee it, and I decided to compete in it instead,” said Stemmler.

It has been a relatively short journey as a mixed-martial arts competitor for Stemmler who only began getting interested in MMA less than three years ago while deployed to Kuwait with Company D, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team and has already completed levels one through three of the Army’s combative training program.

“I was watching the Ultimate Fighter for the first time, I had never seen the UFC prior to this, and I started seeing mistakes that they were making and things they could do better, so instead of being an ‘armchair quarterback’ I decided to start training,” according to the warrior.


Staff Sgt. Matt Stemmler is 3-1 as an amateur Mixed Martial Arts fighter. He recently completed level three combatives at the U.S. Army’s Modern Army Combative School and will now get to see how he stacks up against other warriors in the Army National Guard. (Courtesy photo)

He completed the first two phases at Fort Pickett with the 183rd RTI and is now an instructor for both courses at the Virginia school house. Tie his military combative training with his civilian acquired fighting styles and Stemmler may be a force to reckon with in the upcoming tournament.

“I did a few years of Tae Kwon Do as a kid, I was an all-state wrestler in high school, and have been learning a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai in the past few years,” he said. “I train at a gym named Gold Medal Grappling in Woodbridge, Virginia. Our gym has a style that pretty much meshes the aforementioned styles into something we call ‘Ameri-Jitsu’.”

Looking forward to the competition, he is excited about the possibility of being able to compete against his peers from across the nation and representing the state of Virginia at such a high-level event.

“I think competing in this event is very important.  I love to compete, and represent my state and unit wherever possible,” he said.  “And it would be pretty awesome to be considered the best fighter in the whole National Guard should I win.”

“Having known Staff Sgt. Stemmler for just over a year, I have seen that his work ethic is one that shows while in uniform and out,” according to Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Homer, senior instructor at the 183rd RTI. “There have been many times Staff Sgt. Stemmler has placed the needs of the Regional Training Institute before his.”

“He received quality training from the Modern Army Combative School and from his peers.  Again, Staff Sgt. Stemmler proved he was up for any challenge and coming back to Virginia with the highest honor,” said Homer. “I see great things for his future and come March 27 when he goes to Fort Benning, Ga., to compete in the Army National Guard Tournament, once again Virginia will be represented well with an exceptional person, leader and competitor.”

Not only does Stemmler instruct Soldiers for the Virginia Guard and compete in nationwide National Guard tournaments, but he is also an amateur fighter in his civilian life, and has a winning record.

“I'm three and one as an amateur MMA fighter. My most recent fight was March 20th that I lost narrowly through a judge's decision. My three wins were by decision, a submission, and a TKO,” according to Stemmler.

“It’s a surreal feeling when that cage door closes and you're looking across at another guy who's sole purpose is to beat you up in front of your friends and family. You realize that it truly is just you against him, it’s a gut check for sure.”

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