Earning My Stripes: A Veteran’s Journey Into The World of Martial Arts

There’s something about MMA and martial arts that attracts veterans who have returned home from active duty. We have supplied martial arts mats to facilities across the U.S. that are home to, and often owned and operated by, military veterans. We have heard many incredible stories from veterans about their service, and how they got into martial arts after returning home. This particular story was told to us by Linsey Williams, a local Army veteran and competitor who trains at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy.

Listen to Linsey’s Story

I first began learning combative techniques in a pit of shredded rubber tires at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. That training continued in a cold field, more dirt than grass, on the grounds of Ft. Meade, Maryland. My progression really started to unfold when I made my way to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait just six months later. There, we had a few basic blue gymnastics mats that we’d use to line the dusty and sand-filled floor of the gymnasium.

It was here I began to push the bounds of the training I had had to this point. It seemed like more and more of us were gathering together to build each other up while we tested ourselves against one another.

Returning home from extended military duty, especially in an austere environment, can be a strange and difficult journey. For me, the discovery of grappling, boxing, and the martial arts as a whole allowed me to have a constant that stayed with me as I returned home and found the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. That discovery nearly six years ago propelled me into a new world of competition and dedication to combat outside of being a Soldier.

When someone watches combat sports, the challenge between two individual opponents is clear. What they can’t see, and what few comprehend, is that there is a coordinated effort on any given team or group to help propel that combatant towards their very best. Try as one might, it is impossible to become the best on your own.

The feelings that come with training in a group that is working towards a common goal bear a weight that hangs heavy and warm in one’s soul. When I work my hardest and train my best, that helps the people to my right and left be better at what they do. This idea resonates deeply with me because I feel it when I’m on the mats at the gym. I also feel it when I endure long days in uniform. It is hard to forget that you are not enduring a struggle on your own when you are surrounded by others enduring just the same as you.

Minnesota is my home, where I am able to train in a world class facility with dedicated and ferocious athletes. A fascinating thing about martial arts is they carry their own ranking system that you generally wear with your uniform. On the mats, as in the military, one must earn their stripes. In doing so, not only can you understand your place in the bigger picture, but understand the customs and courtesies that one should have while interacting with other ranks. Regardless of how many stripes one wears, or what color their belt is, the idea remains that iron sharpens iron, and when we come together for a common purpose, we all get better.

Follow Linsey Williams


IG/Twitter: @WonderWomanWill