Law Enforcement and Martial Arts – the “Best” Connection? – Part 2

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This is PART 2 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. (Please excuse the delay of this post due to technical difficulties)

Shihan Pascetta - Police Honor Guard - circa 1976

Obstacles to “Best Practices” based training

After identifying some of the challenges for officers to even receive DT training beyond the academy basics, it becomes more significant that the initial training received is efficient, effective, and practical. There are number of obstacles that commonly stand in the way of accomplishing these simple requirements.

First, the “basic DT training” that exists in LE today varies significantly from academy to academy and sometimes even from instructor to instructor within a particular academy.  It is only fair to acknowledge that there are some remarkably high quality LE/DT training programs in spite of many obstacles. This article is not intended as an indictment against the present status quo but as a fair discussion intended to inspire positive changes to benefit our LE professionals and help keep them safer.

It is not realistically probable that all instructors will have the same physical and teaching skills, so, that is part of the problem. What is an even greater part of the problem is that the culture of LE training is to draw from within the limited LE community for instructors rather than take advantage of the multitude of top level civilian instructors available.

This is partially a budget issue, partially a cultural issue, and partially a political issue. While there are many LE/DT instructors today with a wealth of knowledge and skills,  there are however, also many more who have simply taken a 1 to 4 day seminar and are then “certified” as “Instructors” or even “Master Instructors” of a particular DT specialty. It seems that, although our LE officers deserve the very best in training and instruction, what they receive is far from the best in many cases .

Further, as a former LE officer, I am also well aware of the culture of LE that leans toward an attitude that someone who is not in LE cannot understand the needs of a LE professional. While I do believe that there is a certain credibility in this position, there are also many professionals onside of LE that have much to offer and are able to adapt their “civilian” approach to a legitimate LE usage. This could more readily occur if they were given the time, cooperation, and communication from LE professionals who wish to expand their own knowledge and skills.

Unfortunately, I have personally observed many extremely qualified MA professionals discouraged from contributing to LE training for various reasons. Rather than welcome this much needed input,  many of the decision makers administrating LE training expend little effort to seek the best DT training available for the officers.

Further, there is little or no budget to compensate professional civilian instructors for their knowledge, expertise, or years of work required to have such expertise. It is obviously more convenient and cost effective to use LE instructors who already receive a  paycheck as police officers.

In the worst cases, some LE instructors are so “territorial” with regard to their DT assignments that they would do anything possible to undermine the possibility of another instructor with greater skills and ability being given the opportunity to teach or share his/her skills side by side with their own.  The people who suffer most from this attitude are the trainees and other LE personnel, not the outside instructor.

It is clear that a professional who spends a lifetime experiencing the many facets or LE will have a perspective that is difficult for most “civilians” to comprehend. It also should be clear that a Martial Arts professional who has spent a lifetime experiencing the many facets of training and teaching Martial Arts will have technical and tactical  insights that most LE instructors may never envision without much more extensive training.

It is this author’s opinion that our LE officers deserve the “best of the best”, unlimited by politics or personal “turf” protection.

Effective, Efficient and Practical

Another significant issue when determining the “best’ type of MA training for LE is that any such training must develop skills that are effective, that are taught in an efficient manner, and must be “practical”.

The training must be “practical” in a variety of ways. There are a number of important factors. The techniques and skills taught first must be prioritized and relevant to the situational needs of the officer.  For example, basic survival must be addressed before control and restraint, even though, statistically, it is more likely that the officer will use a lower level force in the majority of his/her physical encounters and be in “survival” situations less often.

These basic “survival” skills must address a variety of scenarios. Some of the variables that need to be addressed should include:

1.) Size, strength, agility, and speed differences
2.) Logistical differences and the relevant skills sets including close quarter encounters, open space situations, stand up situations, ground situations, and multiple threats
3.) Weapon retention, anti-weapons defenses (blunt, bladed, and firearms)

It is also more significant to teach the underlying principles, tactics, and strategy than any particular set of techniques. Of course, specific basics must be taught along with realistic and functional techniques that will give the officer some concrete examples. That will help develop some of the actual physical skills necessary for application. It is the right combination of all the above that serve to produce the best results.

The mind, however,  is the “primary weapon” of self defense and the  most important that the officer will ever have. This “weapon”, when developed properly, has the potential to supersede size, strength, gender, age, etc. There  is a marked difference between the performance of officers who are taught only techniques in contrast to officers who are taught the principles the make those same techniques work successfully.

Part of the underlying gaps in the present training practices is that only a fraction of instructors understand the principles of combat beyond their performance of the techniques. They cannot teach what they don’t fully understand. Unfortunately, even some of the most  highly regarded professional civilian MA instructors do not teach the underlying principles, concepts, tactics, and strategies that support their methods.

Overly Aggressive DT Instructors

Any training that places the trainee in jeopardy of his/her physical safety early in the training will likely have an adverse affect both psychologically for the trainee and potentially result in unnecessary injury. It is shameful at best and potentially liable at worst when any DT instructor aggressively dominates his/her trainees as part of the training atmosphere.

Further, many young and impressionable officers will emulate those trainers who they look up to in basic training. If the trainer regularly uses an aggressive and arrogant attitude toward the trainee, this sets the example for the trainee to replicate this behavior when dealing with the civilian public who may come under their authority.

Foundation First

Once the officer has a basic awareness of personal defensive skills he/she will have a better foundation needed to learn the skills for the protection of others. If the trainee cannot do simple movements and partner drills necessary for self protection then he/she will have neither the skills nor confidence necessary to come to the aid of his/her partner much less any civilians.

An important goal of the DT instructor should be to establish and further build the confidence of the trainees with progressive physical drills and training that creates attainable goals and then reinforces those skills and awareness. The most effective trainee will be one who is taught and develops a balanced and responsible mindset for any potential physical encounter.

The most effective DT training should be done on the assumption that the trainee arrives with no skills to start with. Without the proper foundation and integration of physical balance, mobility, stability, awareness of distance, alignment, timing, etc, even the most impressive techniques will be ineffective.  The challenge to the trainer is to be able to produce practical results with all the trainees within a limited amount of time.

This is best accomplished if the system of training takes into account motor skills that are common to a large part of the population. There is a federal study that states that it takes approximately 25,000 repetitions of a given movement to develop “muscle memory”. As a result it makes more sense to build a training program based on movements that are already inherent in most of the trainees. By connecting the trainee to something he/he is already aware of and/or skilled in, the time necessary to learn the skill is optimized.

In this author’s opinion many trainers become too enamored with a particular style or system of MA rather than looking beyond the “politics” and bias of such systems. Some recent examples of commonly popular systems and sometimes referred to as the latest “flavor of the month” are being taught and practiced by many LE officers today. Two of those methods include various types of  MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) or BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu).

When searching for a practical system of DT it is much more valuable to find or develop a training system that is versatile, effective, efficient, and practical for LE purposes. There is a great gap between “sport” and real life application, no matter how violent or aggressive the sport may be.

By the way, both of these MA methods mentioned above have some incredible benefits and much to offer an enthusiast who has a serious interest. While there are some parts of both of these methods that are quite practical and realistic there are many more that specifically don’t “fit” the LE needs. In particular is the emphasis in both methods on “going to the ground”.

First, let’s address the fallacy popularly propagated that “80% of all fights go to the ground”. If you examine the FBI stats on that factor you will find that the truth is quite the opposite. A very small percentage of real fights actually “go to the ground”. On the other hand, with the public being propagandized to that illusion over the last decade many “barroom heroes” who watch MMA may well be tempted to imitate the “pros”. Consequently, the possibility of a fight “going to the ground” certainly is now an area that  must be addressed in training.

The real issue here is that in almost all cases, it is impractical for a LE officer to “go to the ground” unless there is no other option. Why? First, there are no mats on the ground and no tap out rules. Second, any falling or impact to the ground may well encounter concrete, asphalt, glass, or other debris that at minimum will be a distraction and at worst may end the confrontation with injury that debilitates the officer.

Third, when “going to the ground” the factor of the officer’s equipment becoming an obstacle or being driven into a vulnerable part of his body by either falling or rolling around become another distraction (at best) and potentially a “game changer”, at worse. Fourth, when in the “Octagon” there is only one opponent. In real life the longer the officer rolls around attempting to “submit” his opponent, the more opportunity there is for an accomplice to step in to the opponent’s aid with either a kick, punch, grab,  or even with a blow from another object (club, bottle, etc)

And ultimately, whenever an officer is in a close quarter confrontation for an extended period of time there is always the issue of gun retention. This threat not only exists from the opponent but also from potential accomplices. Not only may gun retention become another distraction to keep the officer from focusing on gaining and maintaining control of his opponent but it could also become the “game changer’ that unnecessarily risks his own life.

With all the positive benefits of MMA and/or BJJ training, these serious considerations should clearly disqualify any method that emphasizes ground grappling as it primary tactic and or strategy. Those methods that give priority to stand up defense and control, yet still address ground situations as secondary, would logically be a better fit for most LE situations.

Although we have seen some incredible athletes doing MMA and one can appreciate the “realism” of the physical contact and variety of skills applied, it is still not equal to a street confrontation with no rules, not mats, and no limits on what your opponent can use against you. With all the propaganda promoting MMA and BJJ today, even the best and legitimate MMA and BJJ “Masters” admit that in most real life encounters they would much rather be standing then grappling on the ground. They honestly acknowledge that the ground grappling is quite limited in that respect.


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

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