Law Enforcement and Martial Arts – the “Best” Connection? – Part 1

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This is PART 1 of a 3 part series titled: “Law Enforcement and Martial Arts – the ‘Best Connection’?” A new section adding to this article will be posted each Monday.

Shihan Pascetta receiving Honors Award at New Jersey State Police Academy - Sea Girt, NJ 1975

Here are some relevant questions facing Law Enforcement officers, administrators, and trainers today concerning Defensive Tactics training:

Is there a “natural” fit between Law Enforcements (LE) and the Martial Arts (MA)?

What is the “best” Martial Arts system to learn for Law Enforcement?

Do our police agencies have the “Best of the Best” with regard for Defensive Tactics (DT) training for their personnel?

What are some realistic and practical expectations for improving the present LE/DT training?

Modern Law Enforcement

The purpose and justification for the existence of Law Enforcement entities has been the need for order in any society based on laws which protect the citizenry from criminal threats from within.  In modern times this has come to include even terrorist attacks to that society from both inside and outside. The proper use of force, where justified by law, must go hand in hand with the skills and tools necessary to actually enforce that law including the use of physical force when necessary.

Some issues facing modern day law enforcement have not changed over the centuries, however, in other ways the social changes and norms in each particular society have created a need to modify the way many of these skills are applied.

Over the last 50 years in the United States we have seen a markedly different shifting of values and norms that have had a significant effect on how Law Enforcement is viewed. This subsequently has created an atmosphere of change in training methods and mindset with regard to the training that Law Enforcement officers receive.

As a result there are many factors that must be addressed when considering what is or would be the best physical training alternatives for those in Law Enforcement. First one must consider common logistical factors while remembering that not all Law Enforcement officers are in the same situations or scenarios.

In order to establish “best practices” based training there is a need to prioritize and one must be careful to keep the training in context with the most common yet urgently needed skills first.  Beyond the basics there needs to be further specialization. More is not always better.  However, after addressing the most basic and common DT (defensive tactics) needs of any officer, then the greater the variety of training and experience he/she is exposed to, the more likely the officer will become confident, aware, and prepared for other contingencies.

Both morally and by law, our political leaders have an obligation to provide adequate training that creates, develops, and maintains the tools necessary for our LE personnel to perform the duties and obligations of their offices. Anything less would legitimately provoke “failure to train” liability on those decision makers.

“The Basics”

The most difficult challenge to LE (Law Enforcement) is to provide the best “Basic” foundation of martial skills to each officer in the most efficient way and in a significantly limited amount of time. The public illusion seems to be that every officer has the skills and ability to “win” in every encounter with any opponent. As unrealistic and this obviously is, many citizens seem to expect this “quasi-Superman” ability from our officers.

When protecting against the “bad guy” (interpreted: the other guy) we expect the LE officer to be all powerful and invincible. When applying the law to us, directly, we expect the officer to use the most restraint, both physically and verbally. This is clearly quite a double standard, unrealistic, yet not so uncommon. Therefore, it is not surprising that the LE officer may find himself in a “no win” scenario at some point in his career while dealing with the public.

In reality, the first physical training priority must be to train the officer to be able to protect himself before he can protect others. An interesting factor has been that, along with the benefits of the societal changes to “equal opportunity” employment, the size and strength the “average” LE officer has decreased significantly over the last decades. One of the challenges is for a smaller or even average size male or female LE officer to possess the physical skills and/or power to overcome a much larger or aggressive subject. What is even more unrealistic is to expect the trainee to develop such skills within the limited basic training times allotted at most Police Academies.

What makes this challenge even greater is the fact that there is rarely an emphasis on “DT maintenance training” for LE after the initial “Basic Training” given in the academy.  In fact, most officers receive little or no structured DT training as part of their in-service training after graduating from the police academy. In contrast, firearms certification and re-certification is typically required twice annually. This is incredible since the statistics of how often a LE officer uses his firearm is remarkably lower than how often he must physically escort, restrain, or defend against a subject during the execution of his professional responsibilities.

Sadly, the message appears to be clear. The powers that control LE and make such decisions are either grossly uninformed or seem more concerned with liability and the safety of others while the officer’s safety is at risk and placed last. Further, it seems that many departments are willing to spend more of their budget on striping and decals for their vehicles than for up-to-date, DT maintenance training for their officers.

This author is impressed and has the highest respect for those officers who invest their own time, efforts, sweat, and finances in training to further their own DT skills.  Unfortunately, not all officers who have the interest have the resources and/or time to expand their knowledge and skills on their own. And, of course, there are a small percentage of those who are oblivious and lack motivation even if such training were handed to them gratis.


Copyright 2010, R.V.Pascetta, all rights reserved.

(Go to  PART 2 of this 3 part series)

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