Cutting Edge Training

America’s Combatives and Liability Trainer Training With Real-World Impact

Changing from Technique-Based to Integrated Combatives Problem-Solving

by George on February 17, 2014 16:05

How does an instructor, much less an agency or even an industry change from teaching ineffective, prescriptive, and technique-based defensive tactics training to one that comports with the recent research into human factors and the need for principle-based training?  It first begins with growing as a person and an instructor, and changing the concept of what an instructor is in relation to the students.  However, this change from technique-based training where the instructor is the go-to authority and transitioning into principle-based and student-centric problem-solving is fraught with huge obstacles for the individual seeking to change, much less changing an industry's orientation to DT.

The Journey (please bear with me on this part because there is a point—and it is not about me): 

I began by teaching cops a martial arts-based DT program. Shockingly, I soon found veteran cops looked no different than white belts and progressed at the same rate of expertise requiring years of dedicated training they didn’t have. I'd been experimenting with foundational principles asking myself if was there a commonality between the conceptual foundation within the essence of techniques? So I began a trial and error process with rudimentary understanding of principles. A refinement process of the program took place over years that wholly challenged my entire orientation to what I was doing.  It required me to step completely outside of the comfort and personal egotism of being THE authority and TEACHING THE ANSWER. The truth is, I knew down deep it wasn't THE answer because they--hell, I couldn't--apply the technique in real life against a real person who wanted to hurt me.

The first big breakthrough came when I attempted to defend against a subject who was under the influence of PCP into custody. NOTHING worked (all of you who have had this experience just smiled knowingly).  He left in an ambulance with six broken bones and a knee and elbow that needed surgical repair that he didn't notice.  This fight took minutes and left five of us bent over breathing hard with rubbery muscles. That was my come-to-Jesus moment about techniques and fighting.

In that fight I was just like every weak, out of shape, non-hacking cop who hated DT training (more on that later) that I'd ever taught. I felt like a failure because all of my training and abilities developed over a decade was worthless. I punched him, kicked him, wrenched joints out of sockets, felt bones give way and still he kept coming until the cavalry arrived--and no, the carotid restraint didn't work and what was a TASER in those days?  I resolved to never teach again because I couldn't live with the fact that I was a fraud.  Sure I could fight with other “trained” fighters, but in the “real world,” what I knew didn’t work.

I woke up a day or two later, sore, realizing that every technique I tried, and the other guys later attempted, failed because this guy didn't give us the chance to have the technique unfold. That rather than what I had been taught and was teaching that fighting was a logical progression of application of technique to handcuffs or victory, that fight and every fight that lasted more than one or two punches was, instead, prosecuted through problem-solving process!!! And that I had actually gotten through that fight until we had enough bodies to overwhelm him through a primal application of some of the principles I'd been teaching my cops. It was then things began moving fast in developing a principle-based, problem-solving, non-technical DT concept/program. The program was completely overhauled.

I later took a job at a state training facility where I had 60 veteran officers from all over the state, country, and foreign countries for a week of training.  I eventually had them for 8 hours of DT, 12 hours of firearms, 4 hours of building search, 8 hours of scenario training out of the 40 hours (which is where the concept of integrating all training under principle-based concepts and tactics took hold for me).  With this population as my lab rats, I was able to get feedback from veteran officers about what was relevant and (a lot) about what sucked (they weren't shy).  Refinement led to refinement. I then took a job as a civilian trainer at a PD where I had my own captive lab rats.  Even more refinement took place. 

After a few years, my wife and I decided to go into the private sector.  I was busy running around thinking I was teaching ONLY principle-based DT with NO techniques until Thomas Benge came on to our staff.  Big Tom, after a couple of years of my mentoring, asked me, "Do you realize you are teaching techniques?" I didn’t say it, but inside I thought, “WTF?” I wanted to be offended, probably because of the truth of that statement sucked the air out of me. As he explained his concerns, I realized at that moment that while I was preaching principles and problem-solving, there was a large portion of program that was being advertised as principle-based but was actually being taught through the vehicle of techniques.

I was embarrassed and very troubled. Tom and I went back to the drawing board and I realized what he said was true.  So we became radical in our non-technical instruction. At this level of my understanding (which may not represent the “Truth” with a capital “T”), we have no techniques at all in our system: principle-based problem-solving employing simple, uncomplicated, primally blueprinted, hardwired, human-based solutions that officers find through their own efforts on the floor.

The Point?

Go back to the first paragraph about huge obstacles in changing individual and industry paradigms.  It took me almost 20 years of development and thinking that I was teaching principles only to find that I was still teaching from a prescriptive perspective via "techniques" made up to look like principles and problem-solving.  Why?  Because the technique handed down by the instructor who is the all-knowing-authority-with-the-answers was so deeply embedded in my understanding of instruction that I couldn't see my cognitive dissonance.  Without Tom's insight and courage to challenge and confront me, I would likely still be spouting off the techniques as principles.

I mean no disrespect to anyone because I have been there and done that on this journey.  With that said (and it is heartfelt), I have been on training floors, or I've seen videos, of individuals who are incredibly well-versed and grounded in human factors concepts--even to the point of being able to speak to Ph.D researchers nearly as peers--who still are hup-hup-hupping techniques on their training floors or firing ranges. In fact, I know and completely respect a researcher who also fits this description of knowing human factors inside and out and still advocating techniques in training.

Why is there such a cognitive disconnect between what we know to be true (human factors, the ineffectiveness of techniques/prescriptive training, how humans actually fight, etc.) and what we actually do on the training floor and the range and in officer safety and for SWAT and...everything ("OK...Fit Flap A into Slot B.  Now grab projection C and twist that around the B flap, causing his body to turn 90 degrees.  Now step with your left foot 132 degrees to the left and 18 inches back.  Reverse the polarity of your hands while bending slightly at the waist, pull with the left hand while holding your right rigidly and he goes down in perfect cuffing position. Simple, right?  Works like a charm every time if you are as good as I am--except if YOU do it wrong.")?  This huge dichotomy between what these advanced students of human factors know and what they do is not their fault because they cannot see the gap.  I know I couldn’t see it until someone I implicitly trusted smacked in the face with my dual operating system that was in complete conflict.

The mindset of the "solution as prescribed technique" and "instructor-as-authority" embed into our schemas is so deeply held that we, as humans and instructors, fall back to what is familiar and comfortable. We may even be on that floor speaking like a Ph.D in human factors and immediately teach something as a technique that directly conflicts with what we just said.  It’s not hypocrisy.  It’s not being able to step outside of ourselves long enough to see the problem—an intrinsic weakness of being human.

It’s not hypocrisy.  It’s not being able to step outside of ourselves long enough to see the problem—an intrinsic weakness of being human.

It is scary to step on to the floor filled with officers whose schemas were similarly programmed, have them go through drills designed to help them discover the Universal Rules and Principles of Combatives©, take them to the verge of a DT problem, and then say, "How are YOU going to solve this problem? I don't know. I know how I'd solve the problem, but you can't fight like me, same as I can't fight like you. Work out your own solution that is reasonable and defensible to your Admin and in court." And then just stand there as they fail and flounder and get to a level of frustration without rushing in and saving them by providing an answer. Ah, the instructor saves the day because he/she knows all…

Some have projected this to be just letting everyone do whatever they want and run willy-nilly around the floor doing nothing...IT'S CHAOS!  THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH!  EVERYONE DOING WHATEVER THEY WANT WHENEVER THEY WANT!  ARE YOU MAD??? FLEE, FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES FROM THIS MADNESS!

Frustration is part of learning and it takes experience to ensure that frustration does not build into defeat and turn into defiance.  Instruction through guidance often consists of pointing out how some officers in the class have discovered pieces of the solution using the principles.  The example of a peer finding a piece of the solution helps to guide them to the solution they need. The instructor becomes guide rather than authority.

That is one of the toughest parts of training instructors to give up techniques and to guide our people to their own solutions. How do I give up being the authority? That's the question we all have to answer if we want to abandon ineffective and wasteful technique-training and adopt a human factors-based training system where you present and offer ZERO TECHNIQUES (that the officers won't be able to perform under threat or pressure and requires suspect cooperation). 

It’s a radical concept that forces us to be radical in our approach to training so our students can be successful in an unforgiving environment.

 

It’s About Saving Lives, Not Running Down Martial Arts

by George on December 4, 2013 14:52

“The sad truth is that it often takes a wilderness experience (if you survive) to cement the truth that games can get you killed.”  Thomas V. Benge

 

When we talk with other police trainers about the need for a less-complex, principal-based training program for combative skills (defensive tactics, firearms, impact weapons, tactics, etc.), and especially defensive tactics instructors, we are often accused of not liking a particular “style” of martial arts.  For the last several years, with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) form made popular by the Gracie family and the UFC, we have been vocal about avoiding the use of BJJ, western wrestling, boxing, or any other martial art for police training.  We believe that sports have no place in police training, whether they are so-called fighting sports in defensive tactics or shooting sports in firearms training.  This is because the manner in which they are taught encompasses numerous “techniques.”  Techniques, unless mastery is gained, require intense cognitive effort, making it nearly impossible to apply against a combative foe.  Suspects just don’t cooperate and wait for the multi-part techniques to unfold.  We believe that a principle-based concept of combatives is fundamentally more functional and applicable for everyone, especially for the police where extensive training is rarely afforded to officers.

Full disclosure

We have been martial artists for most of our lives.

  • Our Director holds a 5th dan (black belt), Master Instructor in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Kuk Sool Hapki, Aikido, judo, Western wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and Arnis, as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Our International Master Trainer is a 2nd degree black belt in Kune Tao, with additional training, in some cases extensive, in Jeet Kune Do, Kali, Brazilian jui jitsu and Boxing as well as various martial weaponry (including knives and bladed weapons).
  • Each of our staff or adjunct DT instructors have had some form of extensive formal training in martial arts, wrestling, boxing, etc. prior to training and employing principle-based problem-solving in their professional and training lives.

Our most knowledgeable and competent staff trainers, like most, were initially taught through the vehicle of myriad techniques in how to fight.  Through extensive training, we eventually gained a deeper understanding of the limits of technical, or prescriptive training, and began recognizing fundamental principles underlying the techniques.  It was a long and, at times, extremely frustrating process of realizing the futility of applying techniques and then beginning to question the very foundation of techniques and technical training.  We understood that our prior training only touched the surface of combatives and was incredibly limiting.  Once one digs below techniques to discover the universal lessons they were meant to teach, it becomes impossible to look back to the mundane, complicated, and impractical world of teaching and learning techniques as a means of fighting or defensive tactics. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:  A World-Class Martial Sport

We’ve been accused of being “anti-Gracie.”  We believe any form of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) to be superior for the limited context of a fighting sport on the ground, and the Gracies have certainly had well-deserved success and very good press.  We purposely never refer or imply criticism of any particular sport style of BJJ.  We have nothing but respect for the Gracies as jiu-jitsu players.

On a mat in a controlled environment with strict rules, BJJ (or wrestling or boxing or any martial art) teaches many valuable lessons.  Dedicated jiu-jitsu players certainly gain some combative skills from their many, many hours on the mat rolling with other dedicated individuals.  It is important to remember, however, combatives skills do not necessarily translate to “fighting skills.”  Fighting skills have contextual application to combat.

No form of BJJ is a "combatives system."  It's a sport employing strict rules and restrictions that are not applicable to the street.  Even one of the Gracies said that in an interview with a reporter.  In a fight, all targets are open (groin, eyes, biting, striking, etc.) and many techniques that work on the mat change in combat (PLEASE put me in your "guard" on the street).  Open up the UFC to "combat" and the whole thing changes—and few fights would last more than a few minutes and the results so brutal it would be quickly outlawed.  Now add police tools and anything else you can pick up and use to harm another person, and you have what officers face, except for one thing: cops have strict rules that only occasionally permits them to fight without restriction (deadly force) whereas criminals always fight with no rules and often with concealed deadly weapons. That's the police world of fighting and one we must prepare our officers for as instructors.  And we don't believe BJJ or any martial art should be the basis of police training.

We are not anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts. Far from it. But recognizing that playing "Nerf gun wars" with my herd of grandkids is not the same as being in a gunfight or a real war.  So, too, martials arts is a sterile environment that so many within martial arts—including many in BJJ—fail to recognize is not fighting or suitable for fighting because of the rigid habit of following the rules—rules having nothing to do with actual combatives.  BJJ (or any martial art) is combatives-like, but it is not fighting or combat.

The Essence of Techniques

"Techniques" are a complete series of independent and sequential movements, each dependent upon the last being completed before the next can begin, and each must be performed exactly as prescribed before the next move can be attempted. Once the complete sequence of techniques is properly executed, the technique is complete.  Whether BJJ or Aikido—or any other martial art—techniques and counter-techniques and counters to counters to counters is technique intensive.  Each technique is an exclusive answer to a highly specific and exact problem.  Any technique is one of dozens or hundreds that must be remembered and selected while the suspect is fighting against that technique’s completion.

Techniques are suspect dependent.  That is, the suspect must wait for the sequence of moves to be completed before the technique can be successful—any interruption in the technique’s exact series of sequential steps causes the technique to fail.  So techniques require the time it takes to decide which technique to use and then to employ each step successfully in order to be successful.  Suspects must cooperate or the technique fails.  The series of movements must be remembered and then applied in time before the situation changes.  This requires not only mastery of the technique to create the neural pathways that permit the technique to be executed, but also a deeper mastery of the concepts of why the series of sequential movements work during application against a combative opponent.

What’s Beneath the Technique?

The question for us is not which technique to use, but what are the techniques fundamentally—and foundationally—teaching us about a greater and perhaps more universal combatives method of preparing and employing force against a combative person?  After all, those of us who have "mastered techniques" can employ them in a fight even though we have the same limitations (time to select and employ a correct sequence, etc.) as the academy-trained officer.  For our purposes, there are a couple of reasons for this.

First, pattern matching. Our brains work by filtering all perception a mental map, or model of our external world (called a "schema").  How we actually "see" the world is the result of our perceptions first being sieved through the schema prior to any conscious thought.  This filter is constantly amended by our experiences, fears, and expectations.  The more we see a pattern of movement(s), a pattern for anatomical angle(s), or a pattern of proxemics (where bodies or objects are in space relative to the other), the more quickly we can recognize a pattern of movement/body position/situation and match it to a probable solution, or action script (based on an experienced pattern, the action script tells us how to solve the problem).  Patterns give us a sense of our situation (Gary Klein, 2003).

The process of matching the solution to the recognized pattern is through the concept of “satisficing” (Gary Klein popularized this term, meaning the selection of a probable solution to a problem that is both sufficient and satisfactory).  Through sufficient training and experience that permits us to immediately recognize when certain behavioral, emotional, and physical cues (specific constellations of cues triggering a decision based on an intuitive recognition of the situation) are present:  we react.  When under pressure in a time-sensitive situation (coupled with the perception of personal danger), humans select the first available solution that will probably work sufficiently to obtain a satisfactory solution—if they have experience and are able to recognize a pattern.  This is achieved through experience.  The trial and error of gaining experience (learning what works and what does not) in fighting can be lethal until sufficient capability in recognizing patterns quickly enough to be utilized in a time-compressed event is gained.

What begins to emerge through sufficient repetition and problem-solving is a heuristic (i.e., a rule of thumb) that can be applied to a recognized pattern quickly.  When an officer must later problem-solve in the middle of a danger-filled fight, that officer relies upon a heuristic that is easily recalled (formally, an “availability heuristic—Daniel Kahneman, 2011) that has worked successfully in the past.  An availability heuristic does not depend upon a time consuming memory search.  Rather, a particular rule of thumb that satisfices is instantly selected based on the pattern-recognition and matching a probable solution to the recognized problem.  Generally in combative situations, this “good enough” approach is good enough to win the fight.  Universal principles of combatives work best and are more easily recalled when under threat, especially because those principles mirror natural and instinctive reactions to threatening situations.

Second, and more importantly, techniques are actually intended to teach the underlying combatives principles.  Every “technique” functions through universal principles that have worked since Cain smote Abel.  These highlight manners of efficiently moving the body in relation to the opponent to create success.  Those of us who are successful as fighters actually understand the underlying principles (at least, our schema does) and then apply them as availability heuristics within our pattern-matching.  We are able to use and even modify "techniques" to counter the suspect's efforts to counter ours.  This is only possible after years of intensive and dedicated technical training which is why we see the top-tier UFC fighters able to instantly react to their opponents.  Problematically, few officers are provided the time by their agencies or are willing to work on their own time for years to the point of transitioning beyond techniques.

This is why technique-based training fails the police and we routinely see schoolyard solutions that instructors and plaintiffs' attorneys (and their expert witnesses) complain so bitterly about.  100% of officers are taught to a level of cognitive familiarity with the techniques, yet only a small percentage eventually train to mastery sufficient to pattern-match and apply the technique.  This means that cops have to somehow remember how to do a technique under extreme time constraints in a threatening environment while afraid and experiencing the mental and physical responses to fear.

A buddy attended an 80-hour "police instructor" course in police BJJ.  For two weeks, he rolled and learned.  He was injured at hour 79, and was told to sit out the last hour. This included a free-style between the training pairs.  The instruction: "use what you've learned this week to submit your partner.  Tap out early."  So this experienced and skilled martial artist sat and watched 38 police instructors rolling for 30 minutes, each trying hard to use what they'd learned.  At the conclusion, he said he didn't see a single trained technique.  Not one.  He decided he would not include any of this training in his agency's yearly DT updates.

If 80-hours of intensive training does not yield a change in behavior in DT instructors, it is safe to say there’s a problem with how we're teaching officers when it comes to technical training of the police.

If we teach fighting through the vehicle of the underlying principles of combatives that are encoded within the myriad techniques, then officers, regardless of their training and experience, learn to fight more efficiently and more effectively.  The training makes sense to them.  And it translates to success on the street.

What We Need When Under Threat

When people are under physical or emotional threat, especially in time-compressed events that are personally threatening, their ability to achieve complex tasks requiring a high level of memory recall, contemplation, and physical dexterity and coordination.  The well-known deleterious effects on the human body when within the adrenalized state is widely known.  For that reason, humans need methods of combatives resolution that are:

  • Simple.  Simple does not mean “ineffective.”  Instead, it is synonymous with “non-complex.”  Complexity is the enemy.  Anyone can design something complicated, and complicated mechanisms, systems, and techniques fail with predictable frequency.  Simplicity of design and function is requisite for efficient and effective response.
  • Dumb.  A solution should not require intensive efforts at higher analysis.  Complex thinking is generally not possible during high-threat time-compressed events.  Instead, once the pattern of threat is recognized, the solution should be instantly apparent. 
  • Easy.  Easy is not “without effort.”  Easy, instead, requires a lack of complexity as well as an absence of the need for highly evolved and intensively honed skills requiring exact angles or timing for success.  The greater degree of difficulty in executing a defense skill or movement, the more likely it will fail when the suspect is working against the officer.
  • Natural.  There are options within human response to threat that must be worked with.  This means we must limit what we’d like to in training officers to training them in what they can do given the time we are provided.  Those options are naturally occurring and can be useful in responding with force.
  • Instinctual.  Humans have hard-wired responses to perceived threat.  The Universal Principles of Combatives© are based on these.  We also adopt methods of delivering force based on these natural and instinctual reactions.  The startle reaction, for example, causes us to face the suddenly perceived threat, body lean forward, shoulders square with shoulders raised (to protect the neck and jaw) and hands up between the threat and our face.  The legs are bent athletically, enabling us to move (after freezing, flight or fight).  This is one of the main reasons we teach using an Isosceles upper body when firing a handgun or shoulder weapon—because this is how we react to sudden danger. 

We know there are many opportunities in the police defensive tactics world to train with champions in their respective sports.  These top athletes, with attributes of athleticism that only a handful of humans possess and tens of thousands of hours of training bolstered by hundreds of hours of experience in the ring/mat/octagon, are more than willing to share their methods with those who are lesser mortals.  These professionals are able to dominate other professionals through complex methods and layered strategies only they can actually employ against a resisting opponent.  How does that apply to your own—and more importantly—your officers’ training background and attributes?

Complexity is the enemy of success.  In combat, it is often the simple solution that carries the day with the fewest injuries.

A Few Universal Principles of Combatives©

Principle-based problem-solving provides the simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual method of applying something that works.  Anyone who has ever attempted a complicated technique or multi-faceted plan with split-second timings against a resisting suspect can understand that a simple solution is generally much more effective than some grandly evolving plan with many moving parts.  Simple, dumb, easy, natural, and instinctual solutions through the universal principles permit the officer to pattern-match much more quickly through availability heuristics than by attempting to sort through and then apply one of dozens or more specific techniques. 

Let’s take a look at the application of just two Universal Principles of Combatives©.  Two 3-year olds, Roy and Bill, both want the same toy and both grab it.  Both pull back and forth until Roy pulls the toy, pressing it against his chest.  Roy then rips it out of the other's hands by spinning away while saying, "Mine!"  Billy lost the toy and begins crying.  What happened to make this three-year old function efficiently in this particular, limited instance?

Two principles of combatives, hard-wired into human neurology and physiology, are working here:

  • Body parts to body mass, or, closer-stronger.  I am stronger if I press something I am holding hard against me (or the ground, or push against the suspect's body).  The corollary to this is the farther away from my body I attempt to control something, the stronger and more skilled I need to be.  Distance from my body creates weakness in my joints, whereas the closer the object is to my body, the stronger my joints become.  Against another human, he now must work not only against my maximized strength, but my joints are better protected by increased strength and he must now contend with my entire body weight affecting his ability to take the object away from me. 
  • Move in angles and circles.  Moving in circles (Small-circle, big-circle theory; Point within a circle theory) can overwhelm the suspect. Moving in angles creates tracking problems.  This also relates to the anatomical placement of limbs and the spine (especially the head in relation to the spine affecting the body's balance—another Principle of Combatives©: Control the Head).  As an example, let’s examine a well-known submission:  the Kimura from the guard.  Once the elbow, shoulder, and hips are locked into correct angles, the suspect complies or his humerus spiral fractures.  However, and one of the fundamental drawbacks to the effectiveness of “techniques,” is the requirement of complete and total perfection, e.g., if the suspect’s hips are not locked during the application of the Kimura, he can roll out of the hold and the hold is ineffective.  Locking the hips is mandatory to stop the suspect from seeking vacuum (or an escape route) or the Kimura submission fails.  This is another Principle of Combatives©: Seek Vacuum:  move or flow to the point least resistance.

By locking the toy into the chest, Roy is able to use not only his upper body strength, but his entire body weight to control the disputed toy.  The toy is pressed against his body, essentially welding it to himself, making him much stronger at this particular time relative to the strength of only his arms if wrestling for the toy a foot away from his body.  Billy is still employing only his upper body strength to retain the toy.  His success now depends only upon his ability to deliver superior brute force to overwhelm Roy’s strength.  Success now is possible only if the Billy is far stronger than Roy.

When we take a hold of a suspect’s head, his arm, his firearm, whatever, we pull it to our body (or our body to his) and press it hard against our body.  If reasonable, we may look for targets and strike, poke, shoot, stab, drive over or through, push, or pull an open target (two additional Universal Principles of Combatives©:  Target Seek;  Put Weapons to Targets).  If we are grabbing something, it is anchored against our body rather than wrestling over it in a contest of strength away from our body.  Devon Larratt, the number one right-handed arm-wrestler in the world, described why he is so successful against much bigger and potentially stronger opponents, “I bring things into my center where they become part of me.  It’s much easier to move me than anything outside of me.”  This, in effect, requires Billy to contend with the other boy’s body weight as well as his strength.

To keep the toy and remove Billy’s hands, Roy spins hard in a clockwise direction (either direction is possible and dictated only by the terrain and situation).  He also steps hard to the rear with his foot in the direction he wants to go.

  • Small-Circle, Big-Circle Theory.  This puts Billy into a “small-circle, big-circle” situation.  When Roy moves his body, spinning quickly in one direction and stepping in that direction, the toy in both boys’ hands travels in a small circle with Roy’s chest.  Billy’s body must now move to keep up with Roy’s spinning movement.  Problematically for the Billy, his body must travel around the other boy’s body to keep up with the toy in both of their hands.  However, Billy must travel farther and faster than Roy because Billy has a larger circle he must traverse to get to the same point.  Think of the orbit of the planets around the sun.  If two planets, one closer to the sun and the other farther away begin and end in the same position in their orbit after one rotation, it will require the farther planet to travel in its orbit at a much greater speed to keep up with the planet in the inner orbit.  Small-circle, big-circle.  When Roy spins while pressing the toy they both are holding against his chest, he will spin faster than the other boy can keep up.  Because Billy must move around Roy’s body to keep up, his grip will become untenable.
  • Point Within a Circle Theory.  It also demonstrates the “point within a circle theory.”  Like the game of Crack the Whip, three children hold hands and Child A stays in one place and pivots, anchoring the line.  The other two pivot around Child A.  As Child A spins faster and faster, it becomes impossible for Child C at the end of the “whip” to maintain her footing because she cannot possibly cover the same arc of movement at the speeds necessary to keep up with Child A’s arc of movement.  Child C is flung away or falls.  In the same manner, Billy cannot possibly maintain the same speed as Roy and maintaining his grip will quickly become impossible.

Because Billy cannot keep up with Roy’s speed while spinning, Billy’s wrists are stressed to the point where they must release the toy or suffer injury.  Regardless of how strong the Billy is, his wrists are just not strong enough to maintain the grip against the weight of the boy in red’s body. 

Once we understand these principles, formal techniques are no longer needed.  We begin to fight the way we are hardwired to fight:  if I grab something (a head, arm, weapon, etc.), I bring it to my body and press it hard against my chest;  if I move, I move in angles and circles.  This is, in a nutshell, how principle-based, no-technique training works successfully with both well-trained and lesser trained officers.

Outcome Versus Process

Getting away from cognitive teaching (techniques) and into experiential problem-solving through the principles of combatives, we find that officers begin to solve their own DT problems with their solutions AND QUICKLY REPROGRAM THEIR SCHEMAS.  This is the essence of adult learning.  Problematically, learning to fight through the rote memorization of techniques and their sequential, mandatory steps is exactly opposite to how adults learn.  Prescriptive learning, or learning by a prescribed method where the solution is provided to a specific problem, reliably works only when there is time to contemplate and remember the sequential steps of the particular technique.  Problematically, one technique is the solution to one problem.  If the problem looks different, then a different solution, or technique, is necessary.  The greater number of problems, the greater the number and variety of unique solutions.

Could we teach 20—or 40 or more—techniques to take something from someone else’s hands?  Absolutely.  There is, unfortunately, no shortage of techniques.  However, this results from a misunderstanding about the path necessary for success.

  • Techniques:  Outcome-based.  A successful technique is outcome-based.  Each step of the technique must be positively attained in order for the technique to work and the failure at any stage of the technique results in the failure of the fight.  This generally leaves the officer goal directed (continuing to attempt to force the failed technique to work) and target-focused (focused exclusively on the stage of the failed technique to the exclusion of other external cues and threats).  Outcome dependency is fragile, and failure is always just a moment away.
  • Problem-Solving Through Principles:  Process-based.  Problem-solving is a process of accepting that everything one attempts cannot possibly work.  It requires continually finding or creating a way around an obstacle or defense.  It is not dependent upon anything but perseverance of effort.  By employing the Principles of Combatives©, problem-solving is facilitated.  This is a robust methodology that is less subject to suspect disruption.  When the suspect defends or an effort is unsuccessful for any reason, the fighter transitions to the next method of applying the Principles of Combatives© to satisfice the situation.  This training mirrors our actual process of fighting and trains the individual in solution-oriented combatives.

We're NOT Anti-Anything--We're FOR Contextually Correct Training Concepts and Methods

No one at Cutting Edge Training is anti-BJJ or anti-martial arts.  Rolling is a blast and we’ve spent much of our adult lives training in sport combatives.  We are FOR training that is contextually correct.  That is, we believe that training must be relevant to the task.  Cops need to fight and win like police officers, not like UFC fighters.  They need to train for police  solutions rather than "mat solutions."  We mean it that our training is from the street in, not the mat out.  Context is the key to success and surviving.   

We are pro-officers lawfully winning and remaining healthy, alive, and employed.  We’ve each been through a few wilderness experiences and understand that we were let down by the technical, sport-based training we’d been given—and to which we had been dedicated.  That’s why we train officers in relevant universal principle training they can actually apply.  Because unlike BJJ’ers and martial artists on the mat and in the training halls, cops walk the wilderness each day.  They need a training concept facilitating their weathering the various storms.  They need to come home in one piece, and their combatives training affords them a better chance of doing just that.  Games just don’t cut it when lives are on the line.

The "Unthinkable" in Boston was Predictable

by George on April 20, 2013 12:42

The April 15, 2013 bombing attack by Muslim Americans who were born in Chechnya has graphically awakened many Americans to the reality that most people in the world face:  terrorist bombs can suddenly shred their peace of mind anytime, any place.  In actuality, the US has been subject to terror attacks using Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) since at least May 4, 1886, when anarchists threw a bomb into a crowd at a labor rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago, killing seven police officers (officers firing into the crowd killed another four people).  In the 1970s, the US suffered 50-60 bombings per year, all of them politically inspired.1   Terrorists have operated since ancient history, and will continue to operate as long as one person or people believe they cannot defeat a larger, stronger enemy in confrontational warfare.  Terrorism is the tool of the weak and the motivated.

The terror-suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing are American citizens who were born in Chechnya.  Rather than the predicted al Qaeda “sleeper cells” so many of us expected, these two brothers represent what is becoming the norm, the independent operator with only loose or no ties to a greater jihadi network.  According to Brian Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, those involved in attempted and completed terror attacks are men for whom Islam is less important than the search for adventure and a desire to be part of (the) ‘epic struggle’”2 of Islam against Christianity and the West.

Based on Mr. Jenkins’ research, there have been 41 Salafist-inspired2 plots involving 204 people since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.  The suspects tend to be “malleable males” averaging 32 years of age (with a median age of 27) who tend to be “loners.”  74% are US citizens, 49% are US born, and one-quarter were born with non-Muslim names, suggesting they converted to Islam prior to the plots.  Contrary to public expectations, most of these individuals are not of Arab descent—they are instead predominantly Somalis and Pakastanis.The Boston Marathon bombers fit this profile exactly:  Chechyn-born US citizens of Muslim faith, 26 and 19 year old (respectively) males who had little interaction and identification with American culture and society, and who posted Salafist messages and goals on their social websites.

These grassroots actors5 are individuals who have a romantic—and clearly earnest—belief in Islam’s historic struggle against the West—yet are not formally affiliated with any known group.  Rather than highly trained operatives with extensive combat experience, they are principally self-trained through the internet, and influenced by e-publications such as “Inspire.”6   This publication, with its sophisticated graphics, was the brainchild of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a Salafist militant who was killed by a drone strike on 9/30/2011.  This e-magazine sought to mobilize unsophisticated US citizens to commit low-technology terror attacks with high public impact.  The Fort Hood shooting (encouraged and celebrated by al-Awlaki), killing 13 and wounding 32 people was just such an attack that urged a simple plan rather than a complex plot.  The Boston Marathon might have had similar or even greater numbers had the suspects employed firearms rather than bombs.

The tools they employ, whether firearms, poison (e.g., ricin or anthrax), or IEDs are simply the mechanism of their acts of terror.  Terrorist looks for soft targets that are easy to access and give them the highest body count for the least cost to them.  Bombs make better sense, as pointed out in the “Inspire” magazine, because it does not lead to confrontation and permits the Salafist to continue his personal warfare on the unbelievers.  With the success of the Marathon bombers, it is likely that we will be subject to more of these attacks.  Learning how to minimize the chance of being one of the victims of terrorism simply makes sense. 

Change your thinking

The American public has grown complacent and unthinking about the threat of terror—primarily due to law enforcement’s success in disrupting these plots since 9/11, as well as the Main Stream Media’s suppression of news events that might cast Islam in a negative light.  The threat remains, and may, in fact, now be greater due to the success of the attack and the “blaze of glory” in which the first brother,7 was killed.  While terror attacks have continued since 2001, this is the first time that one event has penetrated the national consciousness to this extent since the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.  This is likely due to the unpredictability of the attack and the targeting of a non-political, non-military event.

It’s time to change your individual mindset and take better control of your vulnerability to attack.  Whether it is an Active Shooter suspect, a Salafist suspect, an Occupy Movement extremist, a union thug, an anarchist, someone advocating violent change from the Left or the Right, it is unsafe to consider a terror attack as unlikely.  It is common place in many parts of the civilized world—and routine in less civilized countries—and we are now experiencing this same assault on our way of life and culture in a very public manner.  Beneficially, the more highly aware you become (without paranoia, which serves no one’s highest good), the less you will be susceptible to common criminal assault and robbery.

A change in thinking creates a change in actions and behavior.  Far from “bowing to terror,” this change represents a realistic response to a realistic threat.  While the likelihood of any individual being harmed by a terrorist attack (of the hundreds of thousands at the Boston Marathon, fewer than 1% were directly harmed by the blasts), it might be safe to say that 100% of those present and nearly all Americans were emotionally affected to some varying degree.  Knowing that one is statistically unlikely to be shot or disintegrated by a terrorist’s bomb does not mean it is time to sink back into the denial.  Rather, it is an opportunity to recognize that we as a society might take responsibility for our own safety as well as watching each other’s backs.

Essentially, a change in thinking creates a more tactical lifestyle, one where the blinders are lifted a bit.  Instead of walking through life with your iPod’s ear buds plugged in, your eyes down, and your mind a million miles away from your present circumstances, a habit of observing others’ behavior is created.  The upshot is that we all will make more eye contact with others, possibly facilitating more connection.  And you might make the difference between a foiled or successful plot.

Notice everyone

Creating habits of increased situational awareness is the goal.  While noticing everyone may not be possible, the goal is to maintain an “eyes-open” approach to being in public.  Who and what is around you?  Reportedly, one of the victims in the Marathon bombing (a double amputee) made eye contact with the bomber as he put his backpack with the IED down and walked away.  This is an example of the need for increased situational awareness.  Asking, “Why is this guy leaving his backpack on the sidewalk in the middle of a crowd?” may have saved this man’s legs and the lives of others.   This is a question he may be asking himself for the rest of his life.8  Rather than a criticism of him, this is something any of us might have done.  Instead, let’s change our timing and ask these questions pre-event—and then act upon the answers.  For example, the average time an unattended bag or package is reported in Israel is less than 40 seconds.  Israelis have learned the hard way to pay attention to potential threats.

Situational awareness is not about racial profiling.  Racial profiling is ineffective and does not further the goal of creating situational awareness.  Because any individual is ethnically a member of “X” race tells us nothing about his or her beliefs, intentions, or threat level.  An “Arab,” “Somali,” “Pakastani,” or even the fact that one is Muslim is not an indicator of threat.  While a suspect description of an individual of “X” ethnicity for a specific crime creates the need to critically examine others of that ethnicity, there is no jihadist “race.”  Extremely devout Muslims may wear a skullcap and their women wear hijabs (head scarf) and even burkas (a loose garment covering all of the body, including the face, leaving only the hands uncovered).  That they may be sympathetic to jihadist ideals and goals does not necessarily make them a terror threat.  Terrorists, both Salafist and secular, and Active Shooters as well, come in every ethnicity and country, including our own.

Effective observation notes the differences in behavior and affect from “normal” social conduct.  Affect defined as the outwardly observable appearance of an individual indicating mood or psychological demeanor.  We see other people moving through their days, some in good moods, many not.  Our brains are hardwired to recognize anger, threat, and fear in others.  We first need to observe their affect before we can recognize it for what it might be.  How is this person’s behavior or demeanor different from those around him or her?

Some observations that lead to questions about an individual and their potential threat level:

  • Whose affect is different from the rest of the crowd?  He or she may just be having a bad day.  Or it might be his/her last day.  Suicide bombers have been noted to have a range of affect from beatific to mournfully crying.  Active shooters have ranged from arrogant to euphoric.
  • Is he or she hyper-vigilant?  Is this person in a state of intense “startle reaction,” appearing wide-eyed or giving the impression he or she is about to be caught doing something wrong?
  • With this difference in affect from those around him/her, is there a disconnect between that person’s dress and everyone else’s?  The well-used example is wearing an overcoat on a warm day.
  • Is he or she carrying a backpack or duffel?  These objects are so common in our culture that they are unnoticed except by loss-control security personnel in retail stores.  The presence of a backpack is unexceptional except when coupled with unusual behavior or affect. 
  • Why is that property abandoned?  Observation of abandoned property is useless without the willingness to take action.  While a person leaving a bag or package in a public place may be absent-minded or careless with their property, that person may later count on someone perhaps noticing and reporting the package or bag to prevent its theft.  If you discover abandoned property  in an area where people are expected or are gathering, first gain distance from the bag, and then report it to police or security.  If possible, it is best to report it while behind cover, out of the path of the blast effects (overpressure, heat, and shrapnel).  Do not investigate the package unless you have the training to do so.
  • Is his/her chest/waist weirdly bulky for the overall body size—are the legs/arms to torso consistent or inconsistent with normal proportions?  Someone who is strangely bulky might be wearing an explosive vest.  Strangely, some suicide bombers have had wires hanging out of their clothing (this has been seen several times in Israel and helped to save countless people).  Does this person have a rifle or shotgun barrel extending below his jacket?

Remember:  observation of behavior and affect that is out of the ordinary is the goal of situational awareness.  The early warning and ability to report in sufficient time to permit law enforcement to intervene and evacuate the blast area is key to preventing multiple injuries and deaths should it be the real deal.  At worst, someone’s abandoned or forgotten property is recovered by authorities and will not be stolen. 

Be legally armed

While legally carrying a handgun will do nothing to prevent a terrorist bombing, armed individuals can positively influence and sometimes end an Active Shooter event.  According to Ron Borsch, of those events that are interrupted or stopped by someone other than the suspect, armed civilians shoot the suspect twice as often as responding police officers.  Nothing is able to confront an armed bad man as efficiently and effectively as an armed good man or woman.

Unlike terrorists, active shooter spree shooting perpetrators (as opposed to workplace shooters who then might take hostages or attempt to flee) tend to be shallow, emotionally frail individuals who are not willing to fight with a capable adversary, and they tend to fold immediately.  90% of spree shooters (those who attempt to murder as many unarmed strangers as possible in the shortest possible time) commit suicide at the first sign of resistance.  For example, in the December, 2012, mass shooting in the Clackamas County Mall (Oregon), the suspect immediately committed suicide when a man with a concealed weapon permit pointed his handgun at him.

Your tactics will include finding a corner to fight from, and firing at the shooter at the earliest possible moment.  Even if he is too far for you to effectively hit, firing at him will let him know that he is not the only one with a gun in the location.  If you cannot fire directly at him for fear of hitting innocents behind or around him, fire into a wall near him, or even the ceiling above him.  Statistically, this tends to end the event.  If he begins to target you, this has two benefits:  1) he’s no longer murdering the unarmed innocents, giving the police more time to effectively respond; and 2) you’re fighting from a corner and he has to hit a small target.

Also, be prepared to be met by anxious, fearful police officers.  Do what they tell you to do immediately.  Realize that they don’t know you are the “good guy,” and they want to make it out of this situation alive as well.

Have a plan

While one would ideally avoid crowds during terrorist times, it is not practical.  This threat is with us for the duration of Islam versus the West, and there is no way to avoid crowds in shopping for food, celebrations, watching a game—your child’s or the pros—or watching the end of a marathon.  Whether an attack by terrorists consists of one or more IEDs as seen in Boston, or it is a direct assault with firearms, having an idea of what you might do should something happen will be vital.  Additionally, knowing areas to avoid can create a safer situation.

Active Shooters, like terrorists and criminals in general, love “gun-free zones.”  If you are in one of these high-danger zones, make sure your situational awareness is in over-drive.  The early observation of unusual affect and threat behavior is essential to increasing your safety from all types of threat.

With family members, planning is key to increasing everyone’s safety.  My wife and I have an explicit agreement if something happens and we are with our grandchildren:

  • If we can get out as a family, we move immediately away from the threat.
  • If the family is threatened, she takes the grandchildren as I address the threat.
  • If we are without the grandchildren, we play it by ear.

With this planning explicitly agreed upon, there are fewer decisions, which means less time is spent in neutral while the events play out around us.  Having a plan permits quick modification rather than figuring something out in the middle of someone shooting at you, in the midst of an explosion, or criminal assault.

Conclusion

Americans are joining the rest of the world in being forced to have an awareness of vulnerability to a threat.  While “gun-free zones” assist Active Shooters in their targeting and execution of their mass murders, terrorists strike soft targets where maximum infliction of severe injury is possible for the least amount of effort.  We will never be able to prevent individuals and groups who believe their grievances justify the murder of anonymous innocents.  Even in a police state like Russia (even when it was the Soviet Union) and China there are still terrorist attacks and mass casualties. 

We can, however, make it more difficult for the terrorist and Active Shooter suspects to operate.  Early observation and reporting, as well as avoidance of items typically used to transport or hold IEDs can make a difference.  Legally carrying a handgun (and being able to use it) will stop an Active Shooter, or, at least, slow him down.

It’s time to pay attention and change how we do business as a people to make us safer while preserving the freedom we cherish.  As our good friend Gordon Graham says, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”  It is predictable that we will remain the target of terror attacks.  While law enforcement may not be able to prevent or interdict every terrorist act, we as individuals and a society are able to better observe and act to upon the indicators of threats to protect ourselves and others from the results of these attacks.

__________________________

1.     “A Desire To Be Part Of An 'Epic Struggle' -- A New Profile Of Jihadis” by Judith Miller, 4/19/2013, http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/04/18/stray-dogs-not-lone-wolves-new-profile-jihadis/

2.     Ibid.

3.     “Salafism”’ is a militant segment of Sunni Islam.  Salafists believe only they are the correct interpreters of Islam and the teachings of the Qu’ran.  In their view, all non-Salafists Muslims are infidels who must be converted, and the entire world will someday be dominated by their fundamentalist beliefs.  The Wahabi tribe’s strict interpretation of living one’s life only through the Qu’ran and the Hadith Qudsi ("Sacred Hadith," a recording of the sayings and actions of Muhammad) are the basis of the militant Salafist movement.

4.     Op.cit.

5.     Stratfor Global Intelligence, “Boston Bombing Suspects: Grassroots Militants from Chechnya,” http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/boston-bombing-suspects-grassroots-militants-chechnya?utm_source=freelist-f&utm_medium=email&utm_freereport=20130419&utm_term=BostonBombing&utm_content=readmore&elq=cdc5af94fc4c40248dc1f54d62a83e6d

6.     http://publicintelligence.net/aqap-inspire-issue-10/

7.     Please note, Cutting Edge Training never refers to terror and active shooter suspects by name.  We will not participate in the process of generating copycats by glorifying these individuals.  These individuals deserve the ignominy of anonymity and being ignored by history.

8.     This is a teaching point only and not a criticism of this individual who was maimed.  I have great compassion for the victims of this attack and their families and loved ones.  We must learn from events such as these to help mitigate these senseless losses.

Product Review: “SIRT” Laser Training Pistol

by George on April 15, 2013 10:46

It’s no secret that ammunition is both expensive and scarce, negatively impacting law enforcement and civilian shooters—if there is no ammo or it breaks our budgets, there is no training.  But we still have to train, and, as instructors, train our officers.  In light of ammo problems, the question is how?  Dry-fire can be an answer, but traditional dry-fire with unloaded weapons has serious drawbacks.  Unintentional discharges are a real possibility.  Additionally, training scars occur in having to manipulate the slide following each trigger press (because when the trigger is pressed and a loud click is heard, the instant reaction should be tapping the magazine, not cycling the slide to reset the trigger).

The question remains:  how do we provide the training we need in a safe, economical, and effective manner?

The answer lies in the SIRT Laser Training Pistol by NextLevel Training (www.nextleveltraining.com).  SIRT stands for “Shot Indicating, Resetting Trigger,” and this training tool represents a giant leap forward in meaningful dry-fire training.  In the form and feel of a fully weighted Glock pistol (other common brands will soon be introduced), the trigger can be adjusted to match the weight and feel of your duty pistol’s trigger.  Depressing the trigger, there is a realistic take-up, resistance, and sear let-off.  The trigger then realistically resets, ready for the next “shot.” 

Each trigger press results in a highly visible laser dot on the target (available in a green laser for outdoors or red for primarily indoor use).  The shooter (and instructor) receives instant accuracy feedback on each trigger press regardless of whether you are target-focused or front sight-focused.  Using the SIRT Laser Training Pistol, powered by a standard CR123A battery, shooters maximize their training in trigger mechanics, grip, stance, and accuracy with a realistic weapon utilizing a realistic trigger. 

While ideal for individual training, all SIRTs have an additional built-in instructional function.  A toggle switch on the top of the non-reciprocating slide provides feedback from two lasers:  first, a laser “trigger take-up indicator” when the trigger finger takes up the slack, and the second laser shot indicator.  The take-up indicator’s laser dot is adjusted below the shooter’s line of sight, letting the instructor observe not only when the shooter contacts the trigger, but also if there is both proper sight alignment and sight picture before the shot. 

All of the fundamentals, including precise trigger mechanics, are reinforced by the instant feedback of the laser’s dot.  Trigger problems are instantly identified when the dot is off-target.  Forget diagnosing bullet hits on targets.  Incorrect trigger presses show up as “dashes” rather than “dots” on the target, requiring the shooter to focus on improving trigger manipulation, grip, and follow-through.  The direction of the dash shows the direction the shooter is pulling, pushing, heeling or otherwise moving the weapon during the shot.

There are three models offered, the “SIRT Pro,” and two “SIRT Performer” models.  The Pro model has steel construction surrounding the electronics (housed in what is normally the slide).  The Performer models are of polymer construction.  If I were spending scarce training equipment dollars, there is no question that I would go for the SIRT Pro’s solid construction and resulting capability to withstand abuse by officers. 

Far from being a toy, this is a robust training tool that will take the rigors of combatives training.  While anything can break, you’d have to work pretty hard at it with the Pro model.  In defensive tactics (only the Pro model is recommended for DT training), the green shot indication laser dot on the “suspect” provides hit feedback far better than a red shot indicating laser while the dual laser provides trigger contact feedback to instructors.  On the live-fire range, the SIRT can substitute for repetitions between live-fire (saving ammunition while getting trigger presses and accuracy feedback), as well as for safety rehearsals when moving.  In scenario training, there is no possibility of injury (the lasers are eye-safe) or damage to property, no clean up, and each trigger press is estimated to cost less than $0.0002 through the life of the $3.00 battery.

In the time I’ve taken to write this review, I’ve had instant visual feedback on no less than 40 deliberate trigger presses and over 100 rapid fire trigger presses on various targets strategically placed around my office (single targets, multiple targets, a hostage target, and targets behind simulated barricades, all at various angles, distances, and sizes).  On a normal work day, I get 150 to 300+ quality trigger presses with absolute safety because live ammo cannot be loaded into the SIRT and with no need to manipulate a slide between each shot to reset the trigger.  Gone are the days of dry-firing my “empty” duty gun at the TV (to my wife’s relief).  If this is not enough, I often get up to 50 magazine changes per day using the SIRT’s weighted magazines. 

After four decades of intensive shooting and teaching shooting, the SIRT has revealed some of my previously hard to diagnose problems (I’m evidently good at hiding bad habits, even from experienced trainers).  The laser is unrelenting in its feedback, even more so than live-fire because there is no muzzle blast, bullet, or hazard to worry about.  It is just the mechanics and the laser dot (or the dreaded dash).  There is no other explanation for the improvement of my shooting other than the time I’ve put into the SIRT.

With all of the training benefits, the rugged construction, and the miniscule cost per trigger press, there is just no argument against NextLevel Training’s SIRT Laser Training Pistol.

For a 20% discount on the SIRT Laser Training Pistol, use discount code:  CETLEM

Why Do We Teach? Handgun Shooting Stances

by George on April 9, 2013 13:51

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training.  Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught.  The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution.  If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable. 

Handgun shooting stances are taught to shooters and reinforced through hours and years of training.  Creating a stable shooting platform, from the soles of the feet through the hands, is necessary to obtain the hits on the target or, more vitally, on the Threat.  Stances are performed with the legs comfortably bent, spine with a bit of a forward lean, with the arms either pushing and pulling, creating the dynamic tension for which the Weaver Stance is known, or pushing the hands forward symmetrically to form the Isosceles Stance.  It is important to focus upon a proper stance in order to be more successful in surviving shootings, right?

Well, no, not really.  Early formal stance training may be useful to a developing shooter.  However, concentrating on perfecting a stance is generally counter to prevailing in a shooting.  Most shootings take place in extremely close distances involving very large targets, are very abrupt, and extremely violent.  Many officers find themselves in awkward positions when the gunfight begins.  Tactics are much more relevant to your survival than your stance. 

Stances May Be Counterproductive in a Gunfight

The mere mention of a “stance” automatically causes the legs to form a solid, well-balanced base supporting the upper body as it fires the weapon.  Marksmanship requires a strong foundation.  However, accuracy, and thus marksmanship, is contextual.  In most gunfights, what the legs are doing is irrelevant to marksmanship needed to survive.  Training to stand solidly in the open and trade shots with a murderous Threat is a sucker’s game—every bullet fired in your direction may end your life.  While being a static target may theoretically have the possibility of increasing your accuracy, being a stationary target definitely assists the bad guy with his marksmanship and putting bullets through you. 

Standing still with bits of red hot lead zipping past while being thumped by muzzle blast generally decreases any shooter’s accuracy potential.  The more vulnerable you perceive you are, the less physically and mentally functional you are likely to become.  Accuracy is more a factor of being able to cope with and overcome your perception of immediate personal vulnerability.  While you are not likely to instantly affect the Threat shooting you (most bullets take time to cause the body to react), you can create a sense of more time that may increase your ability to lay sufficiently accurate fire on the Threat to save your life.  The tactical responses proven to likely increase your survivability is either sudden angular movement or moving to a corner and fighting from there.  Static stances have no place in this lethal environment when you are behind the Threat in the gunfight and need to stretch time to effectively respond.

Developing the capability for precise fire is a necessary skill for any shooter.  However, precision is rarely called for in an actual shooting.  “Combat Accuracy” is all that is necessary for survival.  Paraphrasing Rob Pincus, combat accuracy can be defined as “Any round disrupting the imminent threat to life.”  This may mean a bullet strike to the brain or spine, a hit in the upper thoracic cavity, the pelvis, or any bone.  Sometimes just simple “minute of human” accuracy to any part of the body is sufficient, but no single bullet can be counted on to stop the fight.

For the balance of this discussion, let’s assume that the legs are doing their thing independent of the upper body’s efforts—this may be moving, crouching, or kneeling.  Therefore, this discussion will be about a Modified Weaver or Modified Isosceles and their contextual usefulness. 

Modified Weaver

The position of the arms in the Weaver Stance, characterized by the push-pull tension of both hands on the grip of the handgun, arguably provides a very stable platform for accurate fire.  This shooting method was popularized by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper as the “Modern Pistol Technique,” permitting more precise shot placement at small targets at any distance.

Fundamentally, the body is bladed and the shooting elbow is locked straight, with the gun-hand pushing the handgun forward.  The support-hand’s palm contacts the shooting hand’s fingers, pulling directly back with the elbow bent and pointing downward.  Many have been taught to shoot with their shooting elbow bent and pushing forward.  This is an error.  Instructors attempting to mimic Col. Cooper’s shooting style are apparently unaware that a combat injury prevented him from extending his arm.  He taught others to straighten their gun-arms. 

The FBI’s “Violent Encounters” study (2006) revealed that more than 97% of shootings begin with the suspect shooting first.  A human’s “startle response” to surprise results in spinning to directly face the threat, hands up at face level and extended to protect the eyes and throat, with the spine forward in a semi-crouched position.  Problematically, human factors and the Weaver-hold are counter to the body’s reactions in a sudden shooting situation. 

It is a rare shooter trained in the Weaver method who does not react to sudden and unexpected gunfire by instantly moving into an Isosceles upper body (regardless of what the legs are doing).  In scenario training where there is no expectation of actual injury—with only minor pain penalties when hit by marking cartridges or Airsoft pellets possible—the sudden response to unexpected “deadly threats” by “Weaver-trained” shooters is almost invariably an Isosceles-type reactive response.  This is even seen on the range where there is no personal peril whatsoever.  Shooters tend to transition into the classic Weaver-hold apparently as they realize they are in the “wrong stance.” 

When wearing body armor, the Weaver stance also presents the non-dominant side’s arm hole to the Threat.  Because the Weaver can only be properly employed in a bladed stance, the strongest part of the body armor (center chest where the shock plate is located) is in an irrelevant position, with the unprotected armpit placed in the most vulnerable position.  Wounds from bullets traversing the body laterally through the axillary region, that is, from side-to-side through the armpit, are incredibly threatening to survival because they tend to pierce multiple organs and vital blood vessels of the upper thoracic region. 

The Weaver-hold is ideal when fighting from a corner.  With most of the body covered by the barricade, the stability of this hold is put to use making longer distance or precision hits.  Corners give you time.  Marksmanship is all about having the time to put the bullet on target. 

Modified Isosceles

The Modified Isosceles is a reactive “stance.”  The Isosceles (upper body square to the threat, hands pushed forward at eye-level, the legs doing what they do in that specific situation) reflects how humans naturally react when faced with a sudden close threat.  The upper body of the Isosceles mimics the natural startle response, as seen in video after video of officers responding to real-life threats by punching their handguns out in front of them.  It is a human instinct to put a weapon between you and the perceived threat. 

While generally not as inherently accurate at distance as the Weaver hold, it doesn’t have to be.  Combat effective accuracy requires only hits on target, preferably in most cases, with bullets impacting within three to six inches of each other, creating as much damage to multiple organs as possible.  At close distances where the Isosceles-style will likely be employed, a high degree of accuracy is generally not necessary for survival.  Hitting him well, quickly and often is more critical to winning. 

If wearing a ballistic vest, the Isosceles-hold keeps the center of your vest facing the threat, affording you maximum protection.  It also supports moving and hitting much better than its well-known counterpart. When the shooter moves in any angular or lateral direction, the Isosceles-hold supports hitting until the angles become too severe, forcing the shooter to transition to a one-hand hold. 

Not a Question of “Either/Or”

Either/or is not a question for warriors or trained professionals.  Paraphrasing Gabe Suarez, the context of the problem determines strategy; strategy determines tactics; and tactics determine the methods and skills employed to solve the problem:

  • Where’s the Threat?  Either close or far, big or small.
  • What’s his weapon?  Firearm, blade, or striking implement.
  • What’s he doing?  Charging you or standing.  Grabbing you or behind cover.
  • Where are you?  In the open, behind concealment, or behind cover?
  • Are you surprised or did you have enough time to prepare?  If you had time to prepare, you are likely behind a corner with a firearm in-hand.
  • Are you willing to shoot him right now or are you still frantically looking for alternatives.  Remember the old saying, “Once you’re in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.”

These questions will likely not be answered so much as reacted to.  Realistically, this decision is not made as it is a reaction per your training to the situation suddenly erupting in front of you. 

Conclusion

All plans are made for flat terrain and sunny weather regardless of the ground-truth.  Having a rigid plan to engage in a gunfight with a certain weapon hold and stance is not realistic.  Training and expectations of “how it’s going to go down” may not match your immediate needs—especially so if dogma has any part in your decision-making.  Desperately clinging to a “style” or “method” may mean that you are attempting to drive a nail with a screwdriver in a life-and-death situation.  While a screwdriver is a fine and necessary tool, it cannot be applied in every situation.  The same is true of a shooting stance where dogmatic adherence to a “style” due to guru-worship or personal ego-investment may leave you confused, unable to effectively respond, and perhaps horribly injured.

If you’re suddenly attacked at close range and are purely reactive, you’re most likely to shoot (and hopefully move) in some form of a Modified Isosceles platform.  From contact to rock-throwing distances, movement is the highest initial survival priority—hitting him is a very close second.  However, if you are fighting from a corner, employing the Weaver platform is more likely to get the needed hits, especially if the Threat is at distance or behind his own cover.  Fighting from a corner creates the perception time, and if you have the time to make a precision shot, Weaver may help you obtain that hit.

The bottom line in any deadly force response is to interrupt the eye-target line with the weapon, and once the weapon is on-target, to fire repeatedly slowly enough to hit him as long as you perceive the imminent deadly threat remains.  How the body supports this is context dependent and based on the tactics you employ to survive.  The old bromide certainly applies:  “In twenty years, no one will care about which caliber or stance you were using in the gunfight.  All they’ll care about is whether or not you won the fight.”

Why Do We Teach? Punch/Draw Within Touching Distances

by George on March 16, 2013 03:41

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training.  Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught.  The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution.  If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable. 

The Punch/Draw is a technique designed to disrupt a sudden imminent threat who is within touching distance.  As you realize the suspect is reaching for a weapon, you simultaneously strike the suspect in the face or chest with your non-gun hand while drawing your weapon as you step back.  If the Threat remains within touching distance, employ a combat tuck and shoot him.  If not, extend your handgun out, interrupt the eye-target line, reference the sights and/or weapon, and shoot until the imminent deadly threat is stopped.  The strike disorients or delays his ability to shoot you while giving you time to get on target.

So it makes sense to teach this method when responding to close imminent threats, right? 

Well, no, not really as it is generally taught.  We taught this method in the 1980s before it was widely popularized, and continued until the mid-90s when force-on-force drills began to alert us to a problem—the Punch/Draw didn’t seem to work as advertised.  Then came the avalanche of in-car videos, and we began to see officers shoving or striking suspects with too little negative effect, confirming a problem with this method.

 

Reality is Problematic

As many as half of the officers being murdered by gunfire are from contact to three-feet away from the suspects, and suspects almost universally get the first shot off (“Violent Encounters,” FBI, 2006, page 49).  Trainers realize that officers need to even up the timelines in the shooting:  slowing or stopping the suspect from drawing while creating time for the officer to be able to shoot.  The Punch/Draw was developed in response to this perceived need. 

The strike is intended to disorient the Threat through actual injury or by distracting him sufficiently to enable the officer to draw his/her weapon.  The problem with the Punch/Draw is the nature of momentary effects of the strike (if the officer actually makes contact) and the realistic length of time it takes the officer to draw the handgun before the suspect can begin shooting.

 

The Punch

The “punch” is actually a quick palm-heel strike to the face, head, or body concurrent with drawing the handgun.  This strike is properly more a “stiff-arm” to the face, rocking the man’s head back or gaining distance from the suspect—either he moves back or the officer is propelled backward, gaining some distance. 

It is not unusual for any strike to the head to miss completely, or to get only partial contact.  Accuracy is important, but so is speed.  The moment you orient to his drawing a weapon, you must react.  If your hand is not instantly to his face or striking his chest upon orienting, you won’t beat his first shot. 

The expectation of the effect of the strike must be realistic.  Most punches in a fight miss.  This one just might miss as well.  If you manage to make contact, it will likely be ineffective at stopping his first shot.  He may stumble back if hit well, but that may not give you the added time you need.  It is highly unlikely to disbalance him and cause him to fall, and an instant knockout is very unlikely. 

 

The Draw

It is not unusual for a draw to take more than one-second from a duty holster in normal circumstances.  This means your strike must be effective enough to buy you the time you need to draw your handgun, target the Threat, and fire well enough with enough rounds to stop him from shooting you.  Failing that, you are simply in a gunfight.  Striking and pushing him back will not likely stop him from shooting.

 

Modifying the Punch/Draw

A modification combined with movement may be a better option in certain situations where you choose maneuver to your advantage.  The traditional straight palm-heel strike carries your bodyweight either forward into the Threat (resulting in a more effective strike) or, more likely, backward.  In either case, the linear movement keeps you anchored in front of the Threat.  A static target on his radar is a very dangerous place to be in a gunfight. 

Rather than a straight palm-heel strike to his nose, a quick lateral palm-strike has proven to be useful.  It is similar to a slapping motion and delivered horizontally to his jaw or ear in the same direction you are moving.  The strike is combined with the first step (if moving to the right, the right foot steps as the non-gun left hand strikes).  The striking surface is ideally the open-handed palm heel.  As you move you strike on the way by, draw, circling to keep to his flank or rear as you make your shoot/no-shoot decisions.  If you reasonably believe he is a deadly imminent threat, shoot him in the flank or back.

 

Other Options?

No one can decide pre-fight what is going to work in any given situation—which is one of the reasons techniques are a poor training choice.  Only you will be able to solve your problem.  The principles to abide by in any situation where you are in touching-proximity to a firearm are:

  • Target seek and Put weapons to targets©.  If there is an open target, reasonably strike, bite, knee, shove, or shoot with his weapon or with yours.
  • Move in angles and circles©.  Whether you are moving or you are physically moving him, all movement is at an angle to or from him, or in a circle.
  • Body parts to body mass©.  If you touch him, that body part is welded to your body, forcing him to deal with your body weight rather than just your strength.  If you touch his weapon, it gets welded on to him or to you (paying attention to the muzzle direction at all times).
  • Put the resisting suspect to the ground IMMEDIATELY!©  As soon as possible, get him to the ground—hard. This may involve takedowns or shooting until he is on the ground and no longer a threat.

Some solutions in the past to a weapon being drawn in proximity have included:

  • Don’t fight over a weapon in his waistband or pocket.  If you get a hand on his handgun or over his hand holding a handgun in either his pocket or waistband, don’t fight for it—press the weapon into him and just pull the trigger (making sure your leg(s) is not in the line of fire).  It’s a deadly force situation, so employ deadly force.
  • Divert the muzzle and bring the weapon to you.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon and his gun-elbow to your body…then fight.  If a weapon is within touching distance, slap it, don’t grab.  Grabbing is muscular and slow, slapping is quick and uses the weight of your hand (average:  three pounds) to move the muzzle.  Close rapidly and pull that weapon sideways into your chest, pressing it as hard as possible.  Keep the muzzle away from your body parts and toward his.  If safe, press the trigger, hitting him or creating a malfunction (and be prepared for the muzzle blast).  Strikes can include your forehead to any part of his lower face and nose, and knee strikes to his soft lower parts (groin and thighs), setting him up for you to shoot him or take him down.  If safe, draw your weapon and shoot him (proximity shots to the femoral triangle, armpit, or supraclavicular triangle are best, as are shots to the side and rear of the head, neck, or back.
  • Divert the muzzle and shove the weapon into hm.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon into his body…then fight.  After slapping it, he may pull the handgun back toward him.  Wherever the weapon goes, you must immediately follow and divert that muzzle from you.  People are just not prepared to deal with someone shoving something into their body.  Drive into him, push that weapon against him, and press the trigger as soon as you can (and not be hit yourself—again, prepare for the muzzle blast).  Target seek, draw your weapon when it is safe, and make proximity shots safely.
  • Shove the muzzle into your vest, and press the trigger.  A deputy lost his handgun to a suspect and losing the fight, grabbed the suspect’s wrist and pulled the muzzle directly into his ballistic vest, then fired the weapon.  The vest contained the bullet.  The deputy, expecting the hit, continued to fight and saved his life.  Last ditch?  Yes, but good to have in your tool box.

 

Conclusion

Instead of the traditionally taught Punch/Draw, we teach to strike, move and hit (with bullets).  It makes better tactical sense and is more realistic in the real world where someone is actually attempting to murder you within touching distance.  If the Threat is drawing his handgun, it makes better sense to go at him, pin the weapon against his body when it is still in the waistband or pocket, and press the trigger rather than fighting over a handgun.  If the weapon is clear of the clothing and in-hand, slapping to divert the weapon, pressing it against something while maintaining awareness of the muzzle’s direction, fighting to gain some type of advantage, and then either taking him to the ground (safer) or standing, draw your weapon and make proximity shots to less defensible targets makes sense. 

The traditional Punch-Draw technique is problematic, not serving the very real need for which it was designed.  Modifying it, striking and moving at an angle to create a distraction while maneuvering to his flanks or back, or dispensing with it altogether in favor of aggressing the suspect’s weapon and using it against him, or immobilizing it while you access your own has proven to be the way to go. 

Pointing Firearms: Range Safety or Real World?

by George on March 7, 2013 10:17

This article was published by the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors in their magazine, "The Firearms Instructor," Issue 54.  Please note:  revisions to this blog article have been made to reflect changes in the case law that was in force at the time of the original writing. 

Police officers have been armed with firearms almost since the inception of law enforcement in the US.  Since equipping officers with handguns, shotguns, submachineguns, and rifles, officers have pointed those weapons at suspects whom those officers believed to be a reasonable threat.  It is inarguable that many shootings have been prevented as a result.  Is that practice of pointing handguns at suspects without the present intent to immediately shoot wrong?

In the last few years, some well-known gun writers and police trainers have been urging officers, agencies, and law enforcement in general, to consider that unless the officer immediately fires, the pointing of a firearm at a suspect is a “violation” of safety rules.  Pointing a gun, according to them, is therefore an inappropriate, unreasonable tactic.  What is the basis of their beliefs?  Range Safety Rule Number 2:  “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”  This new idea will be referred as the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard.”

One trainer wrote that “while not a violation of law,” pointing a gun at a suspect and not shooting is a violation of the safety rules of gunhandling and should subject the officer to discipline by his agency.  This action should be considered as “causing” the officer and agency to be civilly liable.

It is important to understand why these well-intentioned individuals are mistaken in their beliefs, and how to argue against the inevitable accusations by plaintiffs and the media (as well as those in your own agency) who will take up the chorus in claiming that any pointing of a firearm at a suspect without firing it is a violation that should be subject to sanction and/or judgment.  These people are, in effect, attempting to create a new negligence standard for American law enforcement—one which is unnecessary and impractical.

As law enforcement trainers, there really are consequences to everything we do and say—often resulting in life-or-death.  If this misunderstanding of range rules in the street is permitted to grow and become “normalized” as part of training, the courts will sooner or later incorporate it into their understanding of “proper” police work and prevent any officer from muzzling someone without shooting.  From that moment on, any officer who points his or her weapon at a suspect and fails to fire will likely be guilty of excessive force.  The result?  More officers hesitating to draw guns, and more police shootings with suspects who thought they could beat the cop to the draw.  More suspects will be shot with a corresponding drastic increase in liability exposure.  And more officers are going to be shot down.

When addressing an issue with a “new interpretation” of an existing concept, care must be taken to extrapolate the possible consequences.  While well-intentioned, this concept has not been well thought out.  The old adage applies—be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

Bottom line:  When an officer has a reasonable belief that a suspect or situation might be dangerous or threatening, he or she may presently point a firearm at a suspect in order to ensure their safety.  It is lawful to do so.  And it is NOT in any way a safety violation of “range” safety rules to point a gun at a suspect(s) who may be armed, violent, or outnumber officers.

Tactical Reminder:  As I pointed out in an article entitled, “The Proper Weapon Hold on a Suspect” (The Police Marksman, November/December 1993), the proper method of holding a suspect at gunpoint is to keep the weapon pointed at the suspect’s waistband.  This permits observation of the suspect’s waistband and hands, allowing the officer to see threat cues, predatory positioning, and aggressive movement while still “on-target.”

POINTING A GUN CAN BE EXCESSIVE FORCE

An officer can now be subject to discipline and liability by pointing his weapon at an individual or group when the officer is unable to articulate the threat he or she felt existed at the time.  In the federal court's denial for a motion for summary judgment, the court stated that pointing a firearm (in this case, a submachinegun) at a subject is “excessive force” when there is no legal reason to do so is Baird v. Renbarger (7th Cir., 576 F.3d 346, January, 2010).  From the facts of the case it would be apparent to any reasonable officer that pointing a firearm at a person in this situation might be unreasonable:

  • An officer who was verifying a VIN during a visit to an auto shop believed the VIN had been tampered with.
  • Returning the next day with a search warrant, the officer pointed a subgun at the occupants of the business, and forced them at gunpoint to sit on the floor together. 
  • The officer then detained the occupants of adjacent shops at gunpoint, including a group of Amish men, requiring them to sit with the others who were detained.

The federal district court determined that it was “objectively unreasonable” in these circumstances to aim a submachinegun at wholly compliant and non-threatening subjects.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals used the major factors within the totality of the facts known to the officer at the time of Graham v. Connor (1989):

  • The severity of the crime at issue:  The crime of altering a VIN is one that is not associated with violence.  The court remarked, “…this is a far cry from crimes that contain the use of force as an element, crimes involving the possession of illegal weapons, or drug crimes, all of which are associated with violence.”
  • The threat of the subject to officers or others:  This officer had been to the auto shop the day before, but articulated no belief that the occupants were threatening in any way.  On the day of the warrant service, all immediately complied with his and other officers’ orders.
  • The active resistance or attempt to flee:  None of the detained subjects resisted at all or attempted to escape.  

Other courts have weighed in on this subject, ruling that an officer pointing a gun at a suspect absent indications of threat is excessive force, including the 9th Circuit in Robinson v. County of Solano (2002) and 3rd Circuit in Baker v. Monroe Township (2005).  Some of the facts in these and other cases leading to a finding of excessive force  or summary judgment motion(s) are:

  • While investigating a crime of illegally shooting dogs, officers pointed a gun at a handcuffed, searched prisoner for an extended period of time.
  • Detaining an infant/child/children at gunpoint.
  • Pointing a gun at the head of an elderly man after he had been handcuffed.
  • Generally it is not justified to point any firearm at a compliant individual when the circumstances are not threatening.  Even if the circumstances were threatening a few moments ago, as soon as that changes, officers must reflect those changes in their behavior and stop pointing guns at compliant or restrained people.

Bottom line:  Point a firearm at a person only when you can articulate your reasonable perception of danger this person poses to you or others, whether it is through their acts or their connection to the dangerous circumstances in which you find yourself.  Failing to be able to explain why you needed to point your weapon at someone can create huge problems for you.

Note: After the submission of this article, the juries in Baird and in Robinson decided in favor of the officers, their verdicts were that there was no excessive force in these cases. That said, the federal circuits are weighing in, and officers should take note that pointing firearms at a person whom the officer does not reasonably perceive as threatening is considered to be excessive force.

THE COURTS SUPPORT OFFICERS POINTING GUNS AT PEOPLE WHEN JUSTIFIED

The US Supreme Court has always held that it is permissible for the police to point guns at people suspected of violent or weapon-related crimes.  This includes those who are suspected of a non-violent crime but who are known to have carried weapons in the past.  Federal Circuit Courts and Courts of Appeal routinely have ruled that officers may hold people at gunpoint when the circumstances reasonably create the fear of violence.  Even the 9th Circuit in Duran v. City of Maywood (2002) stated that two officers moving toward the location of a shots-fired call with their handguns drawn did not increase the likelihood of a shooting.

When an officer reasonably believes the circumstances could be possibly threatening or violent, especially those involving drugs, weapons, or violent individuals, the drawing and pointing of a weapon is wholly permitted.

TOOLS OF INTIMIDATION?

Proponents of this “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” argue that the police firearm is not intended to be “tool of intimidation.”  I would argue that every police tool, from “command presence” to OC Spray, the Taser, baton, Police Service Dog, and every firearm is a tool of intimidation.  The very presence of a police officer who is confronting a criminal suspect is inherently intimidating.  The uniform, bearing, and the weapons the officer carries are designed to be so.

The US Supreme Court in Graham supports this concept of intimidation of suspects, stating, “The right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some form of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it” (emphasis added).  The Court recognizes that intimidation is part of law enforcement.  It is hard to argue that there is a higher level of intimidation other than directing a muzzle directly at a person and telling them to stop their behavior or they will be shot.  The realization of their mortal vulnerability as well as the officers’ intent causes most suspects to comply to avert a shooting.

VIOLATING “RANGE RULES”?

There can be little question that a firearm is a dangerous tool.  It is designed and intended to harm a living being in defense of life (or hunting for meat).  Its carry and display must be regulated and training imposed upon officers in order to reasonably minimize the chance for tragedy by preventing unintentional discharges. 

Range rules were developed through hard won wisdom.  A moment’s inattention or distraction and someone is needlessly injured or killed.  As the range rules have been promulgated and enforced, injuries from firearms accidents have steadily decreased.  Firing ranges are generally safe places to be as a result.

The National Rifle Association’s “Gun Safety Rules” include only three parts:  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot;  3.  Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.  This is a good start for gun safety, especially on a cold range where weapons remain unloaded until directed.

The late Jeff Cooper of the American Pistol Institute at Gunsite Ranch in Arizona developed a version of these rules, one that many officers have been trained in.  The four so-called “inviolate” Firearms Safety Rules are:  1.  All guns are always loaded;  2.  Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy;  3.  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target;  4.  Always be sure of your target.  This article is not intended to discuss the efficacy of these range rules as they are generally stated (which should certainly be up for discussion).  Rather, the application and intention of Safety Rule Number Two will be discussed.

The trainers and writers who are promulgating the “never point a firearm at a suspect unless you intend to shoot” negligence standard explain that while it is legal to point a firearm at a person in limited cases, it is a “violation” of the safety rules.  It is therefore unsafe and should be prohibited.  They agree that having your handgun (or shoulder weapon) in your hands early is a good thing in possibly dangerous circumstances (because, as we all know, the fastest drawn gun is the one that is already in your hand).  They argue the in-hand weapon should be held in a low-ready or off the line of the suspect until the decision to shoot is made.  Additionally they note that there is little difference in reaction-response times between a properly positioned weapon that is held off-target and one that is held on-target.  This, they reason, will reduce or eliminate the possibility of injury due to unintentional discharge and resulting civil liability. 

While some of their reasoning for why they believe an officer should not point guns at people they do not intend to shoot may be useful in limiting liability, the purpose of an officer possessing a firearm is not about civil liability prevention.  It is rather about defense of life and creating compliance.

  • Defense of life.  The main purpose for carrying a firearm is to shoot another person to save life.  Stopping a suspect’s imminent or actual threat to life by shooting bullets through their body is the only reliable and proven method of quickly stopping life-threatening behavior.  Shooting a person necessarily requires the muzzle to be pointed at them.  Proponents of the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” are not against officers shooting people who earn getting shot.  Their concerns are how and when that muzzle is brought on target.  That is the center of this discussion.
  • Creating Compliance.  Many, if not a universal experience, officers have had the experience of a non-compliant suspect in a dangerous situation, or possibly armed, suddenly become compliant when confronted by the muzzle of a police weapon.  Almost all people understand there is a fine line between a gun being pointed at you and that gun being fired at you.

What creates compliance when muzzling a suspect?  The fear of being shot.  The presence of a handgun in police confrontations is universal—officers carry handguns at all times.  A handgun in an officer’s hand is an increase in the degree of the threat to the suspect.  The suspect’s perception of the threat posed by an officer’s handgun muzzle pointing directly at him is dramatic.  A pistol in-hand is cautionary, a firearm pointing at you is a whole other universe of reality—that’s imminent and real.  Confrontations with an armed suspect results in compliance because that suspect knows that if he tries to outdraw a handgun pointing at him, he’ll lose.  Simply put, many, many shootings are prevented because officers muzzle suspects.

SO HOW DO WE TRAIN IT OUT OF COPS?

So let’s say we do adopt the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” and declare that pointing a gun without shooting to be a violation of policy, tactics, safety, and, eventually, law.  What will the result be?

  • Slower response to deadly threats.  Most will agree that officers today are much slower to respond with force than their forbearers.  This reflects our society at this time.  It must be considered that by adopting the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard,” officers will likely be even slower to draw and fire their weapons than they are today.  Of course, there will be an attendant increase in shootings, and the resultant increase in both suspect and officer injuries and death.
  • increased allegations of misconduct.  Due to more sophisticated offenders who already take advantage of the system, the allegations (both true and false) of “the officer pointed his weapon at me” will increase.  This will be especially true in both criminal and civil courts.  The “he said/she said” nature of many of these complaints will cast a pall across law enforcement, causing many to leave their handguns in their holsters until the last possible moment before a shooting for fear of being falsely accused of brandishing.
  • A natural response to great threat.  In highly threatening circumstances, officers will point their guns at a suspect due to their own fear and desire to prevent a shooting.  Many officers, if not most, have had the experience of facing a suspect whose actions were so intense and threatening that the officer could have legally shot him but didn’t for one reason or another.  Universally, these incidents were emotionally startling in their intensity and focus.  Having a weapon in one’s hand and, if given time, NOT threatening a dangerous person with it before a shooting is not natural.  It would be a very difficult training issue and a behavior that could not be prevented.

Pointing a firearm at a suspect in a dangerous, possibly imminently threatening situation is something that we cannot “train out of officers.”

  • Hard-wired response.  It is a hard-wired human behavior to throw our hands and arms forward and up between that which we perceive as suddenly threatening and ourselves when startled.  This action has been termed the “startle reflex.”
  • Posturing to prevent violence.  Humans who feel threatened but are not yet engaged in combat, tend to “posture” in an attempt to intimidate their adversary.  They point the most dangerous weapon they have at that other person before blows are exchanged in hopes that the other person will become discouraged and demoralized, and desist or submit.  This intimidation is designed to avoid physical conflict.  When posturing, unarmed combatants will point their fingers or shake their fists.  If armed with a knife, it will be displayed between the two parties and pointed at the other person as a warning.  A club will be ominously swung in the direction of threat, or struck against an object as an example of the consequences of engaging in physical conflict.  Guns are pointed as a display of warning and threat.
  • A threat of last resort.  Pointing a gun is the highest level of threat—short of actually shooting the suspect—an officer has.  A pointed gun and a yelling officer are wholly intended to transmit the message that “There is nothing left except to shoot you, so comply with my orders.”

How is something this instinctive to be trained out of an officer?  It can’t be.  The result of the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” requirements will be that many officers will be disciplined and possibly lose their jobs as a result of their natural and instinctive response to their perception of great danger.  Citizen complaints will increase.  False accusations of officers brandishing will become the norm by criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs.  Officers will be forced to defend the negative—arguing that something did not occur.  The civil liability exposure for “excessive force” will dramatically increase, resulting in more lawsuits and increased litigation costs, settlements, and adverse judgments.

REASONABLY MUZZLING A SUSPECT IS SIMPLY NOT A “VIOLATION”

There is no “violation” of range safety rules when pointing a weapon at a suspect when the situation is sufficiently threatening.  Rule #2 states:  “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”  It says, “…willing to destroy,” not going to destroy.  This is a paper target rule when taken literally. 

A police officer who muzzles a suspect, as discussed, is conveying the willingness to shoot that person.  However, that officer is communicating to that individual that he simply has not made the decision to shoot him yet, but is very, very close.  The decision as to whether or not the suspect will be shot is now up to the suspect and his actions.

The law as interpreted by the courts permits officers to point guns at suspects in circumstances that justify it.  An officer who points a gun at a suspect is implicitly telling that suspect to change his behavior immediately or he’ll be shot.  As Clint Smith says, “The muzzle of a .45 pretty much means ‘go away’ in any language.”

The “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” is a misunderstanding of the rules intended to increase range safety and safer gun-handling.  Officers in the street work under a different context.  They not only shoot to protect life, but attempt to protect life by reasonably intimidating a threatening suspect by pointing a weapon at him. 

By adopting the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard,” it will likely be sooner rather than later that officers will be prohibited by the courts from employing this important safety practice.  Yes, unintentional discharges occur, but not at a greater frequency than before.  And when they happen, agencies will settle with the plaintiff to compensate for the loss.  But the shooting of more suspects who attempt to fight their way out of an arrest when confronted by an officer who is hamstrung in their last-ditch ability to convince a suspect that the only way out without risking serious injury or death is to comply will be out of proportion to the very limited number of injuries from unintentional discharges.  Sometimes pointing a gun at a suspect is the only chance an officer has to prevent a shooting.

Adopting this misinterpretation of “Safety Rule 2” will increase civil liability beyond anything now seen from the few unintentional discharges that occur annually in the US.  Many more suspects will be shot, injured, and killed as a result of its adoption.  More to the point will be the needless loss of police officers in the line of duty because of a misinterpretation of something that was originally designed to keep them and all gun owners safer. 

Instructors and administrators:  Let’s really think about the very real consequences of this before incorporating it into our legal and tactical doctrine.

A New Idea in Safely Restraining the Proned Handcuffed Prisoner

by George on February 24, 2013 11:11

It’s no secret that there are unreasonable people in this world—otherwise, you wouldn’t have a job.  A suspect who resists the inevitability of being handcuffed, forces you and other officers to use your body weight to control him long enough to get him restrained.  But what of the handcuffed prisoner who continues to struggle and attempts to harm officers?  In the past, hobbles and continued body weight have been the answer.  This method of continued restraint, however, is being misrepresented to courts around the country as something that predictably results in suspect death, leading to  adverse judgments and case law negatively affecting your ability to control the unreasonable suspect safely. 

The possibility of a prisoner suddenly dying in custody from “excited delirium” must be considered by arresting officers whenever a prisoner continues to violently thrash and flail about.  When a prisoner unexpectedly dies following being restrained in handcuffs, allegations of unlawful death soon follow.  In the inevitable lawsuit, plaintiffs allege that the officers’ actions killed—or even murdered—the decedent, despite the autopsy’s finding of minor bruising and scrapes with no forensic evidence of fatal abuse.  Their theory is, “The police used force.  The suspect died.  Ergo, the police killed him.  Pay us money.” 

Plaintiffs will advance the discredited theory of “positional asphyxia,” especially if a hobble is employed during the restraint—which they label as “hogtying.”  They accuse the officers of knowingly placing the suspect into a possibly deadly situation—proned out with multiple officers kneeling on top of him.  This act of kneeling upon the suspect while attempting to restrain his arms is alleged to have compressed his upper torso, causing his death due to asphyxiation.  They and their experts (often high-ranking former police officers) reject the science of physiology and the history of excited delirium and in-custody deaths, blaming officers and their methods.  The latest case adverse to the police is Abston v. City of Merced (9th Circuit. 2013.  NOTE:  Abston was not a published case and cannot be cited, but is indicative of the trend of the courts’ views—rightly or wrongly—of bodyweight applied to suspect’s during the arrest process.).

Excited delirium is not a new theory that was developed, as alleged by plaintiffs, to justify officer misconduct and the murder of people.  Dr. Luther Bell, a physician specializing in mental health issues recognized that some patients died while in an agitated state.  He named this manner of death, “Bell’s Syndrome,” or “excited delirium” in 1849.  We have seen this syndrome manifest in suspect and prisoner deaths in modern policing where various methods of restraint or force have been blamed.

  • 1986: Neck Restraints.  As a result of multiple in-custody deaths, LA County Deputy Coroner Ronald N. Kornblum, M.D., publishes a report concluding that the bar-arm restraint taught to LAPD officers was the cause of death due to compression of the trachea and vessels of the neck.  60% of all police departments banned the carotid restraint leading to a 650% increase in suspect injuries, and a 560% increase in officer injuries the following year (Source:  LAPD).
  • Mid-1990s: Oleoresin Capsicum Spray.  OC, or pepper spray, because it inflames the mucous membranes and decreases the airways, causes death according to the ACLU.
  • Mid-1990s to present:  TASER.  The TASER is alleged to cause the subject’s eventual death minutes or hours later.
  • Mid-1990s to present: Police body weight.  Kneeling on a person, even though that individual remains alive after the weight is removed, inevitably causes death.

Excited delirium is a medical problem that can lead to death.  It is not a police-caused phenomenon.  That said, like a bad habit, it is very difficult to eradicate the idea of positional asphyxia because plaintiffs and their experts have a financial interest in keeping this concept alive.

Compression asphyxia is a preventable danger.  With sufficient time and weight on the upper body, the suspect’s ability to breathe is so limited that suffocation is possible.  Like an anaconda snake killing its prey:  every time the suspect breathes out, the body weight of the officers prevents the suspect from reinflating his lungs fully—eventually the lung capacity is so limited it cannot support life.  If enough weight is kept on the upper torso, oxygen levels become critical and the body dies.  However, officers removing their weight from the subject before death occurs permits that individual to recover.  Like an athlete who works to peak effort, stopping the exercise results in a return to stasis.  If the officers remove their weight after handcuffing the individual, and he is able to speak and breathe, it is not the officers’ kneeling on him that kills the prisoner—it is likely excited delirium.

Despite plaintiff experts’ opining that “Everyone knows that kneeling on a struggling subject kills people, and they ought to restrain them in a manner similar to that used in mental hospitals,” there is no practical method that effectively takes charge of a resisting suspect other than body weight until they are handcuffed.  The suspect who continues to violently resist or attempts to harm officers remains problematic.

One Handcuffed Prisoner, Two Officers

When the subject is taken to the ground, the only practicable solution to prevent his rolling on to his back is to use body weight to his upper torso.  To date, this is the only practical method developed to initially get him handcuffed.  Until now, there has been no real alternative to restraining a violent handcuffed prisoner other than through applied bodyweight.  A new method of restraining a violent handcuffed prisoner without bodyweight or significant force by two officers has been developed and promises to be an effective alternative to kneeling on a handcuffed subject.  Let’s walk through the arrest process. 

When a proned suspect refuses to comply, rather than wrestle his arms to the small of his back into cuffing position, it is far simpler and much more practical to simply handcuff each wrist at the first possible moment.  This provides a handle on each wrist as well as pain compliance.  Now each arm is forced to his back and the empty cuffs are cuffed together—cuff the cuffs.  Once the handcuffs are secured and he finally stops resisting, the handcuffs can be adjusted and the prisoner transported in one set of restraints.

If the prisoner continues to unreasonably flail about, attempting to injure himself or others, his health and welfare now becomes the responsibility of the officers.  To safely restrain him further, both officers move to either side of his torso.  Each officer puts his knees to the ground, and scoots up against the suspect’s shoulders and elbows, using their legs to press the suspect’s arms against his body.

Both officers working together pin the suspect between them.  There is no body weight necessary to press him to the ground.  A very strong and determined individual may require an officer to press down on his shoulder blade with fingertip pressure to keep his arm in contact with that officer’s legs—the pressure needed is surprisingly light.  Sometimes a prisoner will attempt to spin out from the officers, but this is dealt with simply by the officers repositioning, shuffling on their knees to keep the suspect pinned between them both.  If he kicks, a hobble can be used to keep the legs together.

 

Prevent the Appearance of Misconduct

When you respond to a call of a disrobing, screaming, growling, grunting individual who is acting wildly, aggressing lights, with an apparent intense dislike of glass and shiny objects and very hot to the touch, this is an individual who is in immediate need of medical aid and sedation by paramedics.  However, it is the police who must restrain him using their tactics and force tools so paramedics have the opportunity to save his life.  Staging the medics early should always be considered as this person is exhibiting signs of sudden in-custody death.

In order to prevent a prolonged struggle by this drugged or deranged subject who exhibits immunity to pain as well as superhuman strength, the optimal method of quick restraint is a TASER.  Once down and under TASER power, he needs to be quickly placed into handcuffs.  There is nothing as effective as the officers’ body weight to do this, pinning his upper torso to the ground as the wrists are handcuffed. 

Once cuffed, all weight is removed from the prisoner’s body, and the officers use their knees to pinch him between them, preventing him from significantly moving but not in any way affecting his ability to breathe.  If he continues to kick, a hobble can be placed around the ankles and cinched up, with the tail left unattached or held by a third officer.  If he attempts to slam his head into the ground, placing a hand on his head and keeping it pinned to the ground is sufficient.  If he is so determined that he threatens to roll, a hand to his shoulder blade, requiring little force keeps him secured.  In this manner, he may be held indefinitely—and safely—until paramedics arrive and take custody of him.

This is an extremely effective method of protecting the prisoner from himself while also preventing the violently out of control subject from harming officers.  It is deceptively simple, and is often greeted with skepticism by officers until they actually attempt it and find it a practical solution to a problem to which there really has been no satisfactory solution.

While the fiction of positional asphyxia will likely not go away, the problem of suspects dying in-custody due to their own drug-taking may be minimized.  Additionally, as more and more paramedics are authorized to treat this cluster of signs with ketamine and other injectable drugs to immediately calm and suspend the subject’s ability to physically resist, even more will be prevented.

Now there is an alternative to using body weight to control a handcuffed violently resisting prisoner.  If the suspect dies following his being restrained, it may not stop plaintiffs and others from accusing the police of causing the death, but it will eliminate some ammunition for their arguments.  And it is more effective in maintaining control of the handcuffed prisoner.  This is a win-win for officers and the prisoners they are attempting to protect from themselves.

Why Do We Teach: “Sul” Position

by George on February 11, 2013 08:36

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Many handgun shooters use the “Sul” Position” as a “combat ready” position, both on the range and in the street.  The Sul Position is characterized by the weapon hand being held close to the torso approximately at solar plexus level, muzzle down, with the support-hand in various positions as needed or trained.  The muzzle is intended to be directed just to the side of the lead leg to comply with safety rules of never allowing the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy or kill.  It is also presently fashionable as seen in many magazines and training videos.  So it makes sense to train cops or responsible citizens to use the Sul Position as a safe combat ready position, right?  Handgun in the "Sul Position"

Well, no, not really.  The Sul Position is not suitable as a combatives ready position, and was never intended for that purpose.  Often, when something becomes a “position” or “technique”—especially when someone gives something everyone does a name—it becomes both fashionable and misunderstood.  Doing anything because someone else does it without knowing why they are doing it that way can lead to wasted years of training, or worse, tragedy, injury, and sometimes loss of life.  The Sul as a ready stance decreases efficiency of the weapon’s presentation and can create a safety problem.

Sul:  a little history and reasoning

“Sul” is Portugese for “south,” and was originally developed in Brazil.  The original intent was to provide a safer way to move with a handgun in-hand through a crowd or past a person without muzzling anyone. 

How it works:  From a practical ready position with the handgun in a one- or two-hand hold, muzzle directed toward the threat area, the Sul is performed by bringing the weapon to the torso with the muzzle directed downward, or south, and pointed off to the side of the support-hand’s leg (if in the right-hand, the muzzle is directed down and just to the side of the left-leg).  As the muzzle moves downward into the Sul, the support-hand either comes off the grip and flattens naturally, palm down on the torso (ready to quickly move into a two-hand grip), or it comes up over the weapon, covering it.

The support-hand is available to reach out and grab a subject if the situation demands (never the first choice with a firearm in-hand, but being forced to go hands-on with a threatening or resistive subject happens far too often to be ignored or simply dismissed by saying, “Never touch anyone with a gun in your hand”).  Your support-hand may reach out and touch a person you are moving past, ensuring you know their position, to let him know you are moving past, and making sure he doesn’t move unexpectedly.

If moving through a crowd, the weapon moves into a safer muzzle position against the body, and the support-hand moves to cover the weapon as the first line of defense against weapon retention threats.  The support-hand comes off the handgun as needed to guide others, creating a path to quickly move through the crowd while still having the handgun in-hand.  As quickly as the support-hand moves from the weapon to reach out, it comes back, covering the weapon as the shooter continues to move. 

When the shooter is past the individual or through the crowd, the muzzle comes up and the weapon again floats away from the mid-torso, pointing wherever the shooter needs it for quick response to imminent threat. 

The Sul as a Ready Position is Problematic

Because so many lawful shootings in defense of life are an immediate response to a reasonable perception of imminent threat behavior, everything the shooter does must be efficient to obtain first rounds hits on target—as well as each subsequent round.  Hits are the only thing that counts in a gunfight, and looking good in a cool stance or weapon hold just before you die doesn’t. 

Neural pathways (muscle-memory) are created by doing the same efficient movement the same way, getting the same consistent results.  The Sul cannot support habits of efficient weapon presentation because it was never intended to be a “Ready Position,” and its fundamental presentation mechanics are faulty.

Flipping the muzzle.  A “ready position” facilitates the weapon smoothly—and rapidly—interrupting the eye-target line with the muzzle (actually, the bore-axis) aligned with the threat and with minimal disturbance to that critical alignment, ready to put a bullet into the target.  The handgun in the Sul Position is both flat against the body and the muzzle is down.  As the handgun is brought up and punched out, the shooter must accomplish a lot more than just presenting the weapon to the target.  The handgun must rotate in two directions—laterally and vertically—while speeding to get on target.  While a three-pound weight held in your hand(s) at the end of your arm(s) doesn’t seem like much, the rotational forces while punching out all combine to create the critical problem of precisely controlling muzzle flip.  Flipping the muzzle creates muzzle over-travel and inconsistent first round hits. 

Rigidity in the body, shoulders, and arms.  Creating a technique creates mental mind-games in many shooters.  It is not unusual to see shooters on the line, handgun in-hand in the Sul Position, waiting for the execute command, their entire body rigid, elbows held out at their sides and sometimes unnaturally forward.  This becomes a variation of a position of attention, locked both mentally and physically.  Brain studies show that if we are “doing something,” the brain must first tell the body to stop “doing this,” and then find the neural pathways to tell the body to begin “doing that.”  This is measured in tenths of a second for each command—first to stop, and then to begin.  Ready stances should be relaxed and as natural as possible. 

Muzzling one’s body parts.  There are safety issues with this position as it is normally practiced.  It is not unusual for a shooter using the Sul to muzzle body parts, whether a foot, leg, or, um…other highly valued body parts.  When the Sul Position becomes a ready position, it is easy to lose track of the muzzle because the eyes are downrange watching the threat target or searching for one.  The most common safety violation we see on the range is from those trained in the Sul pointing their weapon at their own bodies. 

What Should be Taught?

There is nothing wrong with moving the muzzle in any direction safety demands.  On the range, that’s easy—downrange where the backstop is located.  On the street, that can be problematic.  Cutting Edge Training’s Master Trainer, Thomas V. Benge, developed the idea that the weapon should be pointed in the “safer” direction—the area where the least amount of injury or damage will occur if the weapon is discharged.  Sometimes that direction will be downward depending upon the context of the situation.  Sometimes its safest pointing at that person you might be forced to shoot.

With a weapon in-hand, there is an anticipated need for a possible immediate response or the handgun would still be holstered.  The muzzle of any in-hand handgun (or firearm) should be pointed in a safer direction toward the possible Threat.  Whether or not the weapon should be leveled at the individual depends upon his behavior and your reasonable perception of imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.  For more about when and when not to point a firearm at a person, see our blog article: “Pointing Firearms: Range Safety vs. Reality.”

We suggest a “floating” ready position, that is, the weapon floats to and away from your body as the situation demands, pointing at the Threat or possible threat location until it is safer to point somewhere else. 

  • With the weapon lightly gripped in your dominant-hand while traveling from one point to another toward the suspect’s threat’s location, both hands on the weapon, your upper body is loose and relaxed.  Loose muscles move faster than tense muscles (fewer neural commands seeking pathways to achieve movement).
  • As your perception of threat increases, your grip will tighten as the weapon naturally floats out farther from your body toward the threat.  We also see the weapon getting higher, nearer to the eye-target line.
  • Upon challenging a possible threat, your arms move to near maximum extension below the eye-target line, generally in the crotch/belt buckle area as you make shoot/no-shoot decisions.  The muzzle is on the subject.  This allows you to see his hands and waistband.  This is a deadly force warning that, if the circumstances permit, will likely be accompanied by an oral warning to comply.
  • If the perception of imminent threat to life is sudden, the weapon is quickly pushed forward and brought up, interrupting the eye-target line well before the arms are extended, and the trigger depressed as the weapon is slowing to a stop. 

Rather than a fixed position, the ready position moves as the situation changes.  The weapon moves up and down, left and right, away and back until it is punched out as a warning or a deadly force response to a reasonably perceived imminent threat. 

The concept of the Sul is absolutely valid—it just is not useful as a “ready position.”  If crossing, either an uninvolved person, a teammate, or through a crowd, the weapon moves against your body, muzzle pointing down and away from body parts, with the support-hand either touching, grabbing, or moving someone, or covering the weapon.  The Sul is useful until it is again time to point the weapon in a safer direction—the suspected or actual position of the Threat. 

Why Do We Teach? Martial Arts Rolls

by George on January 3, 2013 08:38

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Cops fall, especially when working in the dark.  Everyone’s been injured to some degree at some point in their career from falling.  Stepping off a curb you didn’t know was there, finding a hole in the ground while walking across grass, being pushed over a coffee table, walking on ice or slippery surfaces, or falling up or down stairs, doing anything in the dark, being taken down during training—all can result in your going down hard to ground.  So it makes sense to train cops in martial arts rolls and breakfalls, right? 

Well, no, not really.  It is actually a waste of very valuable training time.

The training of recruits as well as in-service officers in defensive tactics involves a great deal of material that must be mastered in very little time.  Unless a recruit or officer already possesses an athletic background involving rolling or tumbling, or is an experienced martial artist, training time devoted to rolling and breakfalls cannot achieve the desired goal of inoculating these individuals from injuries from falls.  The limited time available to create minimal competence in defensive tactics and arrest and control is simply insufficient to gain mastery—or even competency—in the ability to prevent fall injuries later in their career.  Absent their own independent training and practice, the typical officer will never again practice rolls and breakfalls to the point where it becomes unconsciously automatic during an unexpected fall.  Spending ten hours in the academy learning how to roll and breakfall without continuing practice is ten hours that might be spent learning a skill or tactic that might later benefit the officer’s survival. 

Martial Arts Training as the Basis of Police Training is Problematic

In the martial arts, “how to safely fall” is routinely taught to decrease the injuries from training as well as to provide a safety mechanism when the student is sparring.  Training often begins with basic shoulder rolls, and then to break falls until the student is capable of safely falling from a hard throw on to a mat or even on to an unprotected surface.  As the training progresses to increasingly more difficult and dangerous throws, different and more effective breakfalls are needed, practiced, and mastered.  Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Martial arts training involves years of consistent and regular training to achieve competency in fundamental tasks that also involve rolling and falling.  Dedicated personal training effort creates an unconscious mastery.  This permits an individual to automatically roll or break their fall when they unexpectedly lose balance.  Absent this type of intensive and extended training, no one can be considered to be skilled in safely falling from the number of hours and repetitions received solely from academy or in-service training.

Defending the Curriculum

Because Defensive Tactics training seems to be a natural result of martial arts training, almost all academy curriculum contains varying amounts of time dedicated to teaching recruits how to fall.  For example, a new DT curriculum for police recruit academy training was being developed by a Defensive Tactics Subject Matter Expert who asked for my review.  The first subject was “Rolls and Breakfalls.”  When asked why the recruits would be spending eight per cent of the course on developing this skill, this highly experienced police officer and very accomplished martial artist answered that every cop needs to know how to protect themselves from falls on the job.  For him, the need for this training content was automatic, something intrinsic to his deep experience in martial arts.  This brought on a line of questioning that became increasingly more difficult to justify.  When finally asked if he thought, absent previous training, the recruits would gain automatic, unconscious competency from this time spent in this activity, he thought, and then admitted that it was very unlikely.  His assumption, that every officer must be able to protect from fall injuries whenever and however they might occur may be valid.  When faced with the reality of the limitations inherent to recruit and police training, that standard is not achievable. 

Officers leave the academy and are instantly in the big leagues--officers have been murdered on their first day of patrol.  The non-martial artists, representing most recruits and officers, have little time to prepare to face every manner and threat of suspect.  Cops are many times more likely to become involved in a physical fight than a shooting, and much more likely to be sued for the simple application of control holds than they are for shootings.  Defensive tactics training, regardless of how much time is allotted to it, is by definition less than desirable for any officer.  There just isn’t sufficient training time in any agency’s budget or schedule to commit the personnel to gaining anything more than minimal competency. 

Every topic in any defensive tactics program must be scrutinized for its realistic value to the officer on the street.  This is measured by the average officer’s ability to successfully apply the skill or tactic on-time, in-time against an unwilling suspect.  This requires the training to provide sufficient time and repetitions to minimally acquire a level of at least conscious competency (although this is not “mastery,” officers can perform the skill or tactic but must think about how to do it).  Will an officer who is three years out of the academy, being assaulted in the dark and shoved off-balance, be able to remember and perform that skill?  Frankly, the typical officer will not be able to execute a safe fall or roll during an unexpected fall.  If that is the case, why teach this topic in training?

Teaching martial arts rolls and breakfalls are a poor use of time when they are viewed from the officer’s very real need for functional knowledge at some distant time.  There simply is not enough time or the availability of frequent, recurrent training to gain even a minimum level of competency when reacting to suddenly falling or being thrown in a fight.  Even if that time and training budget were provided, there are other skills that would be more beneficial to an officer’s survival than rolls and breakfalls.

What Should be Taught?

Simple breakfalls should be covered to assist in maintaining the safety of the recruit or officer being taken down in training.  Explanations and practice of a simple PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) where the goal is to sequentially collapse the body without striking bony projections (knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, and especially the head) against the hard surface of the ground, will be better incorporated into training.  Through this, training is simplified and made safer. 

A level of competency might then be gained during the repetition afforded by takedowns in practice.  The recruit should receive several hundred repetitions of the same or similar fall during the course of the training.  The simple fact of hundreds of repetitions of more safely falling increases an individual’s expertise, and may lead to a behavior change in the future. 

However, more advanced breakfalls from throws, as well as martial arts rolls require an intensity and duration of practice that will never be provided by police training.  They are too varied and specialized, and this limits the number of reps that recruit or officer receives.  That time can be better spent elsewhere during this precious training time to develop their expertise on something that might actually later be useful.