A punch to the face isn’t exactly the rendezvous with destiny most people envision when they think of finding self-confidence.
But Staff Sgt. Marcus Edwards knows that when it comes to Modern Army Combatives class, it’s often the moment where faith in self comes out in its strongest form.
Edwards teaches soldiers the Brazilian jiu-jitsu-based style of self-defense full time in a small, makeshift gym tucked away in his brigade’s motor pool. Here, the walls have no insulation, and a tiny space heater is the only thing that keeps the room at a decent temperature. Clearly, it’s no one’s perfect fight house, but nonetheless Edwards’ goal remains the same: take soldiers who might not be confident and make them better.
“It’s all about having confidence in you, regardless of who you’re fighting,” said Edwards, who manages a combatives training program for the 593rd Sustainment Brigade. “You know what you can do, and if you believe in what you can do, you can accomplish anything.”
The day when soldiers must gain physical control of an attacker furiously throwing face and body punches serves as just one part of the five-day course Edwards oversees. And the return is an official certification in the first of four levels in the combatives training program.
Currently, Edwards explained, the 593rd is the only brigade on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to have a brigade-wide combatives certification program. Teaching at that level, he said, takes an individual who has completed the highest level of combatives training the Army offers.
Edwards also teaches soldiers from other JBLM units.
And while the overall mission of combatives is to give soldiers the skills to handle enemies in close quarters, Edwards always hopes to build his students up on the inside more than anything.
“It [combatives] could take somebody from being timid and scared to being confident and strong,” he said.
Standing at 6 feet 3 inches tall, Edwards carries around his broad frame of defined muscle tone well. And with his thunderous, powerful voice taking center stage as he coaches his group of 20 soldiers on defensive fighting positions, he doesn’t much resemble someone who lacks self-confidence.
There was a time, though, when believing in himself was the last thing Edwards was any good at.
“I wasn’t always a big guy,” said Edwards, a native of Bellflower, Calif., who bounced from foster home to foster home as he grew up. “I was a smaller guy, and I got picked on a lot.”
Wherever he went, he had to prove himself.
“Somebody was always bigger than me; somebody always wanted to bully me around.”
So he joined a football team to give himself confidence, and he got involved in wrestling and karate.
“I got into these sorts of things to give myself confidence, to protect myself, and also to build some type of foundation to say, ‘hey, I don’t have to be stuck in this position,’ ” he said.
“My biggest thing is building confidence in people – giving people the confidence I know I didn’t have as a child.”
Edwards now knows combatives offers that, but just three years ago he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the sport.
“I thought combatives was kind of blown out of proportion,” he said. “I didn’t think it was that serious. I was like, ‘this stuff is not going to work.’”
Then, in 2009, after a deployment to Afghanistan with the 40th Transportation Company, a friend challenged him to put up or shut up. He convinced Edwards to compete in an installation-wide combatives tournament on JBLM and either prove his trash talking right or prove himself wrong.
With only two weeks before the event, Edwards joined a team to train and competed as an individual. His last fight, while he didn’t know it at the time, would be the toughest fight of his life.
He vied with a first sergeant for the first place spot in his weight class and came out victorious, though it was by no stretch of the imagination an easy achievement.
“Ever since then, I just got a newfound respect for the sport, and the competition is unreal,” he said.
“That was a hard man to beat,” he recalled. “He was like 6-foot-5 and almost 300 pounds. That was the fight of my life, and it taught me how I need to dig deep.”
Now, it’s a sentiment that thrives in his students. Pfc. Jesus Carbajal is one of them.
“From the beginning, you feel a little bit nervous, but once you apply all the movements the instructors teach you, you start feeling more confident, and you start losing that fear,” said Carbajal, who attended Edwards’ class recently. “At first, I wasn’t that confident myself. But you learn the movements and all that, and the next thing you know, you want to go and go and do more.”
Edwards has high hopes for his program, which is the only combatives training JBLM offers to all soldiers on the installation outside of its Modern Army Combatives Academy. He plans to someday turn it into the one place soldiers located on Lewis-North can go for combatives classes.
The small, unassuming building, packed into an unlikely place, where soldiers park and work on their military vehicles, reflects a lot of work ahead if Edwards’ aspirations are to come true. But no matter the size of the facility, his happiness is at its peak.
“You can never get enough of seeing a Soldier enjoying what they’re doing,” he said.
To enroll soldiers in Edwards’ class, unit training noncommissioned officers need only submit a roster of prospective students to Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org. Soldiers with profiles must have prior clearance from a physician assistant.