Meet Martina Ptáčková, who is training NATO troops in hand-to-hand combat
“A complex, aggressive, attack-oriented army sport without rules, practised by militaries worldwide, but also an activity that teaches the values of respect, reverence and perseverance.” That is how hand-to-hand combat is described by Martina Ptáčková, an eight-time world champion in martial arts who has trained Allied soldiers at a military training centre and in the NATO multinational battlegroup in Slovakia. How did her story begin and what does working with NATO mean to her?
The origins of a combat sports champion
“I embarked on this journey when I was eight,” says Martina. “As a child, I was bullied at school. To break that cycle, after discussions with my parents, I decided to sign up for a sports class that consisted of different physical activities with elements of combat. Furthermore, my dad himself started training me in wrestling and self-defence. He was expecting that I would switch to a more ‘girly’ sport later, but when he saw how much I enjoyed it, he started supporting me fully.” From then on, things took a quick turn. Martina joined a martial arts club and started practising two types of combat sports: hand-to-hand combat and kickboxing. She took part in official kickboxing competitions and brought home her first trophies by the age of 14.
"I’m fast, strong and not afraid."
- Martina Ptáčková, combat sports champion
Martina is still active in the fighting arena and on top of that, she leads combat sports classes for her students. As she explains, combat sports have always appealed to her because they allow her to use all of her strengths. “I'm fast, strong and not afraid. I enjoy fighting, working hard and pushing the boundaries, especially when someone says something cannot be done. What helps me persist are three words that I repeat before every fight: faith, courage, victory. Believe in yourself, don’t be afraid and succeed.”
Fight like a girl: training NATO troops in Jordan
Martina’s work with NATO started six years ago. Through the Czech Army, she began cooperating with the Alliance on small diplomatic and combat training tasks, growing into a full-fledged collaboration by instructing NATO troops in hand-to-hand combat during training sessions and even missions. Additionally, Martina has trained soldiers at King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) in Amman, Jordan – an international counter-terrorism, special operations and hybrid warfare tactics centre.
“This centre is simply unique. The training ground includes special firing ranges, a full-fledged training aircraft, abseiling and climbing towers, and sophisticated infrastructure. It is like a small city, suitable for training in various situations and troops from all over the world use it. When you enter it, it makes you feel like you are on a set of an action movie: noises, shooting and screaming everywhere. For an untrained individual, it could cause quite a bit of panic.”
The training she conducted focused on different areas, such as border protection or improving skills in the combat space. “You can never prepare for those scenarios, every day is different and there is no stopping. Moreover, the weather conditions take it out of you. The air there is incredibly heavy and hot, and the mountainous terrain makes the training even harder.”
Despite the challenging conditions, Martina remembers her time in Jordan with fondness – this is where she won a nomination for the elite world championship in appreciation of her hard work at the centre and also her previous fight results. “I am glad to have left a Czech girl’s mark at the training centre and obtained respect of the troops and my colleagues,” she explains. “And above everything, I am proud of myself because I never got anything for free and had to earn everything, including my place there.”
Martina acknowledges that her beginnings as a young woman conducting combat training were not easy. “The first time I taught a combat class, I came into the room and everyone kept waiting for the trainer, the leader. They could not connect the dots that I was the coach. I really had to prove myself to be accepted and respected as a female trainer. These days, it does not throw me off anymore, but it proves a point: things are more difficult for me as a girl in this field. I do not know any women working in my area.”
From battlegroups to boardrooms: bridging the two sides of NATO
For Martina, cooperation with NATO goes beyond combat training. As a graduate in international affairs, she is also close to the Alliance’s political dimension: she has attended several NATO summits as a Czech goodwill ambassador and a youth sports ambassador and in 2023, she was one of the speakers at the NATO Youth Summit in Brussels. “The atmosphere at the event was fantastic and I was proud to receive positive feedback for my speech. When they praise you and you get to meet somebody like the NATO Secretary General, you cannot be happier.”
When working with others for the Alliance, be it soldiers, fellow instructors or NATO civilian staff, what Martina enjoys the most is their enthusiasm and dedication to NATO’s values. “Every task I have worked on, from training to political events, has impacted me deeply. I got to meet people from all over the world with various experiences, habits, daily routines and cultural backgrounds, and had a chance to create bonds with them, confiding and learning from each other.”
What would Martina’s advice be for staying resilient and fighting for one’s goals?
“Realise why you started. Everybody wants results, but only a few are willing to strive for them. It is important to remain determined, do not let anybody break you. I always say that the sky is the limit for my goals and plans. My dad has been an excellent school in that regard – he taught me that no matter what happens, I should just take a deep breath, wait ten minutes and try again. I sometimes joke that those who have not gotten to know my dad do not know what life is. However, we should not forget that we do not always have to be machines and that failing is part of the journey.”