Ron Donvito and the L.I.N.E. System

Q) Ron tell us about the LINE System.

The LINE System is a system of close combat that I developed before I joined the USMC in 1978.

It is a standardized system of close combat skills for every warrior at entry level training.  It is designed to do is give a military unit a close combat system that is the same regardless of MOS, regardless of age and regardless of gender or rank enabling everyone to train together. This gives you a standard, similar to a PT test.

What we tell people is that many people PT differently but everyone takes the same PT test so by putting everyone on the same page that way if you want to change the programme it is easy to do.
If you want to change page 3 you first have to have everyone knowing page 3. Standardization is the key to any training skill for military units.

On Deployment as a Scout/Sniper with 8th Marine Regiment 1985
On Deployment as a Scout/Sniper with 8th Marine Regiment 1985

Q) Could you give us an outline of the skills that make up the LINE System?

Basic LINE is broken down into six parts.

The first part is LINE I. LINE I deals with attacks in the grappling range and in today’s era of BJJ and MMA, the word grappling sometimes has the wrong connotation. Grappling is the time when some one has their hands on someone else. It does not have to be on the ground, it could be standing, because that is normally where it starts. So LINE I takes care of all your grabs, chokes, and headlocks.

LINE II deals with punches and kicks. LINE III is our ground fighting phase. LINE IV defence against an edged or hand held weapon. LINE V is using the edged weapon and LINE VI is enemy neutralisation.

LINE six is not sentry neutralisation. It is designed for use when someone has been separated from their unit; these techniques are designed to upgrade their situation when they don’t have the capabilities the enemy does have.

Q) What is the duration of the basic military LINE course?

We always teach ‘train the trainer’ courses .The basic instructor course is two weeks long, a total of fifty hours of training. They learn not only how to do LINEs I-VI but also how to teach them. We have found that’s a much greater force multiplier than just training students. So when we teach thirty instructors we have thirty more instructors out there that are teaching. Since we can run a student ratio of anything up to one to three hundred we are teaching a lot of people with this process.

Q) Tell us the military units you have trained in the LINE System.

The system was first adopted by the USMC and was the first standardised system in the history of the Marine Corps for nine years until my retirement in 1998. From 1998 the US Army Special Forces as an entry level on the Q course picked it up and is currently teaching it.

So every U.S. Marine, officer and enlisted, regardless of MOS from 1989 through 1998 received LINE training. Every U.S. Army Special Forces soldier in the Q course since 1998 until current have received it. All told around 750,000 military personnel around the world have received training in the LINE System.

Training with members of my former WPNS Company 1982
Training with members of my former WPNS Company 1982

Q) What are your opinions on the current types of martial arts training and hand-to-hand combat in the US military?

One of the problems we run into is that we have to distinguish between what is sport and what is combat. Unfortunately, sport is enjoyable to do, sport has certain applications but because we can’t totally replicate combat a lot of times we kind of miss the mark.

Right now one the things that is very popular is grappling. There’s no problem with that and it’s definitely one important piece of the pie. However, anytime you take a small piece of combatives and make it your entire programme you are going to run into problems. It must be understood however that any program that is taught on a large scale must have as its goal the institution of the program. Many of the systems of today are in their infancy and have not yet shown all that they are capable of.

 LINE is designed to be an all encompassing system and while it is not an end all it does address all forms of basic close combat from standing to on the ground both armed and unarmed.

Briefing foreign dignitaries on US Marine Close Combat at Quantico VA 1991
Briefing foreign dignitaries on US Marine Close Combat at Quantico VA 1991

Q) How did you come up with the name LINE?

That’s a story that only people that have been around the military will understand. I came up with the system in civilian life and then for twelve years pitched the idea to the U.S. Marine Corps but because I had no rank no one would listen to me.

When people started seriously looking at the system, my officer in charge told me that in order to sell it to the Marine Corps it would have to have a name and he asked me what I called it. I told him I call it close combat, I call it hand to hand combat, CQB, what everybody today calls combatives.

He said it has to have a specific name to sell it, and asked me how it was done?

I said well it’s designed for a fire team, which is the smallest military unit within the Marine Corps. I told him the fire team leader faces his three team members and they are in a single file line. He said so you stand in a line to do it and I replied yes. He said then, that is what we will call it, we will call it Line.

So for two years Line is what was done before the U.S. Marine Corps adopted it as their close combat system.
I was tasked by the headquarters, US Marine Corps to write the combatives manual FMFM 0-7 on close combat.

I wrote the manual and everything that I wrote was accepted by the Marine Corps except the name Line. They wanted to change it to MCSOCC: Marine Corps System of Close Combat, I had a problem with that because for two years people had been doing Line and if you changed the name even though the skills would be the same you would have arguments and there would be problems with it.

I called the US Marine Corps War Fighting Centre and said don’t change the name and they said we need to change the name because Line is not an acronym. I said of course it’s an acronym and they asked what does it stand for.

I said I will call you back and I hung up the phone and we grabbed some dictionaries and we just came up with words that fit the letters. Now all the words fit, but it was an afterthought it was never meant to be and acronym. They called me back and said what is the acronym and I said,” Linear Infighting Neural-override Engagement”.

They said that’s too complicated, we will just call it LINE.

Conducting ground fighting drills with US Army Special Forces 1998
Conducting ground fighting drills with US Army Special Forces 1998

Q) Could you tell us about your research in the medical aspects of close combat?

One of the things that I have always done is base my LINE System skills on science and medical data and research. One of the things I wanted to make sure was that people were not relying on any one person’s knowledge or experience.
The first thing I did with the system was I went to forensic pathologists whose job it is to tell people why other people have died. I showed them the techniques to make sure that all my techniques were medically feasible.

You can’t guarantee the success of a technique however if you strike with enough force on the inside of the wrist and the outside of the elbow of an extended arm you are going to damage the elbow joint, that’s medical feasibility.

In addition, all techniques in LINE are designed to have technical probability not only technical possibility, so in layman’s terms you can knee a man in the face, but if you were to hold his head and pull it towards your knee and knee him in the face that possible technique becomes probable for success.

Everything in LINE was taken to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner and a board of forensic pathologists. Every technique in LINE was tested for medical feasibility not only in 1989 but, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1998.

Q) When you train the trainers for the military do you test them or assess them?

Yes, one of the things that is important whenever you have standardisation is for you to have a standard that is tested and graded. Within the military training community stress is simulated by time constraints, we have three basic tests for the instructors.

The first is a simulated stress test, which is called time trials; they have to be able to do their techniques in proper form within a certain timeline. That timeline induces stress so we see how they work under stress.

The second thing they have to do is do the technique under a fatigued condition, so on the final day of testing they are doing aerobic and anaerobic exercise starting in the dark with full kit on for approximately four to six hours. This is before they do their physical test on technique, so we know that their technique has been degraded through fatigue.

The final phase is a teaching test and the teaching test is done to ensure that the system is taught the same way by all students.

You may be able to get away with it in civilian life but in the military when you are training a lot of people you have to ensure that not only does your technique have to be standardised but also your method of training has to be standardised.

This has to be so all the instructors say the same thing and use the same principles and there aren’t personalities put into it because as soon as you do this, you now go off on a tangent and before you know it everyone is teaching their own variation of the original system.
 Q) Do they have to requalify?

Yes the qualification for a LINE instructor is two years in duration and to requalify they have to come back and requalify on the final days testing. If they are in a combat zone and provide proof of instructing we will requalify them because we simply can’t get them back.

LINE Instructor Course Graduation Day Special Operations Personnel, Hawaii 2005

LINE Instructor Course Graduation Day Special Operations Personnel, Hawaii 2005

LINE Instructor Course Graduation Day Special Operations Personnel, Hawaii 2005

LINE Instructor Course Graduation Day Special Operations Personnel, Hawaii 2005

LINE Instructor Course Graduation Day Special Operations Personnel, Hawaii 2005

LINE Instructor Course Graduation Day Special Operations Personnel, Hawaii 2005

Q) Now looking at LINE I could you describe the specifics.

LINE I is the basis of the system and what everything really works off of. The first two techniques are controlling techniques. When LINE was first developed I didn’t have any control techniques because I personally don’t believe in them.

Unfortunately soldiers have certain situations where they have to control people vice killing them. So the first two techniques are defences against lapel grabs where they are using joint manipulation to control someone to put them in cuffing procedures.

The next four techniques of LINE I are counter to the front choke, rear choke, front headlock, rear headlock are all lethal options so the counter ends in the death of the opponent.

Our belief is that with conventional war gear on the limbs get to you first and since the limbs get to you first and being the least protected of the persons body parts, we damage that first and use it as a control device.

The whole thought process is to get the person on the ground and use your large muscle groups of your legs and the protected heel of your foot, protected through the rubber and leather of the boot and then step on the head and neck in a forceful manner and crush the skull. It’s not pretty or sophisticated, but that’s our design.

The only technique that differs in LINE I is counter to the rear headlock and the reason that we don’t take the person to the ground is because all of the torso weight is on your cervical portion of your spine.
So we stand them up with an eye gouge to get pressure off of your spine first and then we crush the trachea with a hand strike.

LINE II is counters to punches and kicks .Punches and kicks are from the intermediate range of close combat, so you have to close distance, we use the punch or the kick to close distance and get us back into the grappling range and then we use the same techniques from LINE I.

The whole thought process behind the LINE System is that you may have a different entry point but we do the same thing as much as possible because that gives us a greater amount of repetition and the more repetition you have the greater retention you are going to have of skills.

SWARM practice Spec Ops personnel Hawaii 2005
SWARM practice Spec Ops personnel Hawaii 2005

Q) So in LINE II when your enemy comes in to punch or kick you do you evade or stay on the confrontation line and cover and engage or some other option.

When we talk about punches we are going to have three basic punches we are going to be dealing with.
The punches we are going to be dealing with are where someone is attacking at full force but the punches are always going to be arcing in their angle of attack.

Students ask us why we don’t deal with linear punches and we try to explain most people don’t throw linear punches in a fight and most people only throw linear punches in a sparring match.

We have techniques in LINE I that deal with linear attacks when some one chokes you it’s the same physical motion as someone’s punching you so we deal with it in the same way.

All of the looping punches since they are arcing; it is difficult to get to the outside of the joint where we would want to be, so you have to be inside. So, because we are in closer instead of kicking as we do in LINE I we use knee strikes in order to stun the person and get them on the ground and then we again crush their skull.

LINE Three is our ground fighting aspect and this is where we differ to most systems, the only goal to our ground fighting that we do is to stand back up. We teach that the enemy that is fighting you doesn’t have to win, he only has to tie and hold on since in most close combat scenarios soldiers will be numerically inferior, the opponent only has to wait until his friend joins the fight .

We teach grappling techniques such as the basic arm bar, but not to cause submission. Our goal is to stand up, so you may try and disengage, but he is holding on with his hand and because that limb that he is holding on with is extended it may be broken. So we do damage to our opponents limb on the ground and we stand up and as our opponent is already on the ground, we crush his skull.

LINE IV is unarmed defence against edged or hand held weapons and the principle that we use is called immobilize and neutralize What that means is we neutralise the weapon system by stopping it first by immobilising it then we destroy that weapon system normally by destroying that hand that is holding it or the arm that is holding it, then we go back to the previous practises of getting them on the ground and stepping on their head.

Q) So is that initial neutralising of the weapon hand or arm taught post evasion or from stationary?

All of our techniques are taught static and then movement is added in once the student understands and is familiar with technique using crawl, walk, run methodology.
Now we always want to dissipate the force of the attack and the worst type of attack you will face is when you don’t have the ability to move away from it.

So we teach that first since that is the hardest thing then once they understand the concept of how they are going to immobilise the weapon then we allow them to use movement to move away from the path of the weapon because it does two things for us. Number one it dissipates the force but it also gives you more reaction time. One of the principles that we teach is distance equals time and time equals safety and the further you are away from your opponent the more time you have to look at what he is doing the safer you are going to be.

LINE V is the use of the knife. We teach a lot different than most people, we use the ice pick grip or some people call it the reverse grip.

The reason that we do is because we are training entry level people and we have found that when people are afraid or when they have to penetrate the largest amount of material with a knife they inherently grab it in the reverse grip.

It also allows them to hold onto the knife, especially in violent contact, a lot easier than in the hammer grip.
We go after the neck and face area for two reasons; number one is that it’s the least protected area with conventional war gear and two it works outside of what we call psychological limits of acceptance.

As we grow up everyone accepts psychologically what is normal and face attacks, groin attacks, throat attacks are never seen on television in comic books and none of your hero’s ever get stabbed in the groin or face.

By working outside those limits of acceptance two things happen. Number one, you are going to cause shock and hesitation to your opponent and number two, your limits of acceptance are broadened because you are used to this form of attack.

LINE VI is neutralisation of enemy personnel and what it is, is techniques to kill somebody unarmed or armed in as silent a way as possible. We understand there is no such thing as completely silent killing and Murphy tells us the person that we are trying to kill silently is going to scream like a banshee.

We talk about cover, concealment, and stalking, but our most important thing about LINE VI is that it is the first time that you are teaching the soldier to kill someone that has no violent intent towards them. It’s the closest thing to murder you will ever ask a military person to do, so the psychological trauma is going to be much greater.

This in LINE VI brings about the discussion of what they do for a living, to kill a man with a knife or with your bare hands when he attacks you is a difficult task but to kill a man that is looking at a picture of his new born sitting on a log, even though tactically it’s necessary, is much more difficult.

That is what LINE VI is about, bringing about discussion about the fact that we are doing what is right and are on the moral high ground. Even though it might seem not the moral thing to do in reality it is something that has to be done and that is what your job is.

Q) If you had a global position of decision making for the military in close combat what would you like to change?

The first thought pattern I would have and I have been in that position at a lower level would be set up a standard because there are great martial artists everywhere and there are great ideas, however until everyone is doing the same thing you can’t correct anything, you can’t make anything better until there is a standard. The analogy that we use with LINE is that LINE is primer, not paint. It’s what you put on the bare material to protect it until you can put paint on it.

To become very skilled at this subject takes a long time and at entry-level training within the military you do not have a long time to train people. So you need something that is basically that coat of primer that protects them because they may go to combat well before they get follow on schooling in combatives or they get a lot of practise.

So the first and most important thing is for the students to get something that is standardised so no matter where they go within the military they’re doing the same thing and they feel comfortable in it and there is a set way of testing the proficiency so that if some one is falling through the cracks we will pick it up and be able to bring them up to speed before they go to a combat zone.

Q) In the LINE System do you teach things like firearms disarming or weapon retention?

The higher levels of LINE, the follow on skills, LINE has different aspects just as with any close combat system. There are weapon retention techniques and there are both short and long gun disarming techniques. We have CQB techniques, barrel grabbing techniques, but they are all follow on skills that are normally mission specific.

We have units that do a lot of CQB work so they go to CQB combatives; if we have an executive protection unit what they do is go to executive protection combatives. They are still the same principles of LINE the techniques are specific for their mission.

Q) Could you tell us of post employment LINE skills reports?

The bottom line is that because of the number of people that we train and what they do we have had many instances where LINE was used in combat with very good feedback. Of course this is unofficial; because I am a civilian I do not have any access to classified information. In most cases not because of the technique as much as the methodology and that is because of the use of the principles of operant conditioning.

The whole idea of LINE is to train as military personnel have trained through out the centuries. Given a specific stimuli regardless of what that is, we then condition a response to it. To us our basic response to any attack is to get the person on the ground so they are somewhat incapacitated and then step on their head.

You take an American soldier in full kit and body armour and he’s got a lot of weight and he’s stepping on someone’s head against concrete or hardened dirt its going to cause massive trauma to the skull. We have had many instances especially in the recent years to where LINE was used successfully.

Q) Ron, you are a man with very high religious beliefs. How does that fit with teaching how to kill?

That’s an awesome question because the number one way to ensure that your soldiers are going to follow you in combat and the number one way to be able to keep your people not only physically fit but also psychologically fit is to ensure they are always on the moral high ground, that they are wearing the white hats. Everyone fights better when they think they are the good guys, even the guys we consider the bad guys think they are good guys.

You know we call them terrorists, they call themselves freedom fighters. My belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, my God, allows me not to worry about the fact that I am teaching something that could take some one’s life because I would never use it out of anger, I would never use it out of frustration, and I would never use it against someone that is doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is controlled by people of violence and the only way for us to protect our loved ones is to show these people of violence that we have more violence capabilities than they do.
We would love to live in a completely peaceful world, I would love not to have to teach men how to kill however the only thing that scares a wolf is a larger wolf, predators aren’t afraid of big puffy sheep.

So the bottom line is our military people go places and show people what we are capable of if we are pushed so they don’t come to our homeland and they don’t hurt our loved ones and that’s our job not only to protect ourselves but also to protect those that we love.

We have a chapel here at our training facility and we give away free bibles and the reason being is that sometimes unfortunately there is a perception that we are trying to change, that being a warrior and having the ability to kill the enemy is somehow not linked to the Lord. The bottom line is all anyone has to do is read the Bible and understand that some of the greatest characters in the Bible were awesome warriors.

The difference between a warrior and a bully is that the only people that fear the warrior are the bad people. All the loved ones will flock to the warrior because the warrior isn’t intimidating to anyone other than the one he is going to kill.

I was brought up Catholic and it was really brought to me by a Special Forces soldier by the name of Frank Sullivan that talked to me about religion and I have always believed in doing the right thing and the more that I was educated the more the Lord showed me what I needed to do and this has brought me great success in my training of soldiers.

When soldiers come to you and you are giving them a skill that is going to be a high responsibility skill whether it be shooting, explosives, or combatives they want to make sure the people that are teaching them are on pretty sound ground and you can’t get on any sounder ground than that of the Lord.

I am a Christian. I don’t have a specific denomination and it doesn’t mean we don’t train non-Christians. What it does is that when you come to my place you are going to see immediately that we are strong Christians and we fly the Christian flag. We have many students come her that are not Christians. I do not force my beliefs on anyone, however I do not hide my beliefs either and by the grace of God we have had many people come here that were not Christians and have left Christians.

Q) Looking around your dojo I see pictures of tigers and wolves.

We have two animals that we emulate not in technique but in personality. The tiger is taught for our children, as the tiger is very independent, as our young children are and is very strong and capable of a lot of love, taking care of their own.

We find the children really identify with tigers and our kid’s programme is called the tiger’s programme.
The other animal that we use for the military and our adults is the wolf because the wolf pack is very similar to a military unit and so we use the team work aspect and the team mentality. The world is made up of prey and predators. Military personnel will always have to deal with predators, because prey does not cause problems. The predator only fears larger predators. Military units are like a pack of wolves hunting that which threatens it, it is this mentality that we teach and believe to be the key to our soldiers being victorious and coming home safely.

Q) Who is the one person in your military life that you most respect?

That would be Hans Marerro who was a student of mine in the USMC that I met in 1994 and he is the only person I have ever met that will stand up for what’s right regardless of the odds or consequences. As a friend he will back you to the very end and it doesn’t matter if he is going to die. He truly is, if you could clone someone, the one to clone. He is the personification of the true warrior.

The other two are Kelly McCann and Jack Nevils. Kelly McCann is the reason I was introduced into the Special Operations community as he had the ability to give thumbs up or thumbs down and I went to train with some of his Spec Ops guys back in 1989 and he is the most proficient man I have ever seen with a gun, he walks the walk as much as he talks the talk and he is unbelievably skilled and a man of honour.

Kelly McCann I believe was born without a fear gene and I don’t think there is anything that scares Kelly McCann, I’m not like that and there are a lot of things I’m readily afraid of. What I’ve always admired about Kelly’s mindset is that if you pull a gun on Kelly he will make you eat it without a blink. He’s a phenomenal guy.

Jack Nevils is a Green Beret that I met who went to Iraq and did great things there and again a man of honour and a killer. In our occupation the word killer must not be used only with a bad connotation. All true warriors are killers at the core, they are men who will kill a bad guy with out blinking an eye lash and put a child on his lap in the next moment to ease the fear of a bad dream and they wont know what he has just done because he has the ability which we all need to have in the military, to turn the switch. He is a strong Christian and the most knowledgeable warrior in the CQB arena that I have ever met. Jack is the epitome of the professional warrior , a man who desires nothing more than to be home with his family and live in peace, but who when called will go and kill the bad guys to keep his family safe. It is an honour to call him friend.

"Ground" Fighting practice in the surf, Hawaii 2005

"Ground" Fighting practice in the surf, Hawaii 2005

"Ground" Fighting practice in the surf, Hawaii 2005



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Article written by Tank Todd

Special Operations CQB Master Chief Instructor. Over 30 years experience. The only instructor qualified descendent of Baldock, Nelson, and Applegate. Former instructors include Harry Baldock (unarmed combat instructor NZ Army WWII), Colonel Rex Applegate OSS WWII and Charles Nelson, US Marine Corps. Tank has passed his Special Forces combative instructor qualification course in Southeast Asia and is certified to instruct the Applegate, Baldock and Nelson systems. His school has been operating for over eighty years and he is currently an Army Special Operations Group CQB Master Chief Instructor. His lineage and qualifications from the evolutionary pioneers are equalled by no other military close combat instructor. His operation includes his New Zealand headquarters, and 30 depots worldwide as well as contracts to train the military elite, security forces, and close protection specialists. Annually he trains thousands of exponents and serious operators that travel down-under to learn from the direct descendant of the experts and pioneers of military close combat. Following in the footsteps of his former seniors, he has developed weapons, and training equipment exclusive to close combat and tactical applications. He has published military manuals and several civilian manuals and produced DVDs on urban self protection, tactical control and restraint, and close combat. He has racked up an impressive 100,000+ hours in close combat.