Cutting Edge Training

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

Expecting THE Fight

by George on December 5, 2012 08:28

There are three types of hands-on fights that officers must prepare for.  While every cop has lots of experience going “hands-on” with resisting subjects, you may or may not have experienced all three levels of unarmed suspect resistance.  And this may cost you your life or your health.  The three levels of “fights” officers experience are the scuffle, the determined escape, and THE Fight.  Each varies in intensity, has its own perils and consequences, and each category requires you to quickly orient to your present reality.

The scuffle occurs when a suspect panics at the sudden realization of being under arrest.  Scuffles involve very low-level resistance where the suspect often negotiates or pleads while pushing and/or pulling in a disorganized effort to get away.  The certainty of jail creates a mindless type of flight behavior consisting solely of muscular effort as he frantically seeks to somehow delay the inevitable.  However, panic is not an effective fighting strategy and officers are very familiar with this behavior.  In fact, they are expert in overcoming this type of physical conflict.  Officer injuries in this common force incident are typically strains, sprains, and falls. 

The “determined escape” is less familiar but not altogether surprising.  This involves a suspect who is willing to injure you in order to escape.  This suspect often begins by attempting to pull or push, but unexpectedly escalates to punches, elbows, head-butts, and knees in order to create an opening.  Once you are stunned or injured, this suspect flees.  His purpose for fighting is to escape.  The usual strains, sprains, and falls occur, but the sharp violence from this suspect also brings with it contusions, lacerations, and possible brain injuries ranging from mild to severe concussions.  While not as common as the scuffle, this is a combative experience that is also universal to the police experience.  Too often, as you are struggling to contain the resisting suspect, your first indication of a determined escape is a sudden flash of light accompanied by the pain of being struck.  Surprised, you are knocked back or just lose your grip, and you realize the suspect is already sprinting away.

If you are able, you chase and physically engage him again.  Even though he struck you, you remain reactive as you attempt to overcome his resistance.  At some point you expect him to submit, become fatigued, or be injured sufficiently from your efforts to finally comply.  You understand you are in a fight with someone who will hurt you to get away. 

There is another type of fight that is less common, although, unfortunately, not rare.  The infrequency of this event, in itself, creates a problem for you.  Some officers retire having never been in this fight, while others face it early in their careers.  An arrest goes sideways and you orient to the suspect tensing, pulling, and pushing.  You begin to respond through your usual methods when the suspect suddenly strikes you.  That flash of white, surprise, and loss of grip on the suspect create the space he needs to flee. 

There is another type of fight that is less common, although, unfortunately, not rare.  The infrequency of this event, in itself, creates a problem for you.  Some officers retire having never been in this fight, while others face it early in their careers.  An arrest goes sideways and you orient to the suspect tensing, pulling, and pushing.  You begin to respond through your usual methods when the suspect suddenly strikes you.  That flash of white, surprise, and loss of grip on the suspect create the space he needs to flee. 

Except this time he doesn’t run.  He stays and closes the gap, renewing his assault.

If this is the first time you’ve seen this, you may, like other officers, become confused and disoriented by the suspect’s actions.  Officers are typically stunned, sometimes for critical seconds at this unexpected event.  There is a desperate effort to orient to this change from what should be a familiar pattern, to make sense of this strange situation.  Every other suspect fled the moment there was an opportunity, but this guy is not only staying, he is intent on injuring you.  Frantically attempting to orient to this abrupt difference between the expectation of flight and the unexpected continuation of violence, officers become shocked, mentally locked in place while attempting to make sense of it.  The suspect has achieved two of the three tactical goals:  surprise and violence of action.

Officers in this situation finally recognize the danger and fight back with renewed ferocity in time…or they do not. 

If you are able to fight back, there will likely be a new and unfamiliar determination in your effort—where generally your force is restrained, your response is now definitive.  You may realize the suspect is attempting to cause serious injury, and quickly transition to deadly force.  Or you resort to your own sudden physical violence to overcome this suspect’s murderous intent, employing strikes, throwing the suspect to the ground, or transitioning to a reasonable force tool.

Unfortunately, some officers are unable to orient to this unexpected change.  This is where serious injury is likely to occur.  It is during these seconds of confusion and inability to quickly adapt that officers lose their handguns, are beaten to unconsciousness, or are mortally injured.  The inability to swiftly shift from expected suspect behavior to what is actually happening can fatally delay an effective force response. 

If you have been in this situation, you remember the exact moment.  You remember the suspect’s face, the look of hatred, the confusion you felt when he had an advantage and rather than using it to flee, he stayed to injure you.  And you remember the difference the next time you went hands-on.  While still responding with reasonable force based on the totality of the facts known to you, you no longer played wristy-twisty games.  Instead, your efforts were definitive and designed to gain swift compliance.  You no longer expected the suspect to simply flee after attempting to injure you.  You now take measures not only to stop his flight, but to prevent his ability to harm you because “you’ve been there” and know it was a close call. 

Preparing for THE Fight

A sound survival strategy does not depend upon the luck of the draw, hoping not to be confronted with a suspect who is intent on continuing the fight when he could leave.  There are steps you can take to ensure you are better able to respond.  Enrolling in a quality Mixed Martial Art school, attending more DT classes, and/or getting some one-on-one instruction from your agency instructors can’t hurt.  However, there are other, more valuable preparations you can make.

Expect THE Fight.  If you haven’t experienced THE Fight yet, expect it.  Just knowing about the probability of being surprised by unexpected aggression will provide you with better context for the suspect’s actions when it finally happens.  Humans decisionize under threat through pattern-matching with likely solutions, settling upon the first solution that seems to fit the problem.1   If you someday expect the suspect to remain and fight, even though every suspect you’ve dealt with has turned and run, it creates an expectation that will help you to more quickly pattern-match and orient to the suspect’s behavior.  You will say, “Oh.  I thought this might happen,” rather than, “What’s going on…what’s he doing?  This never happened before.”  Expecting THE Fight prepares you for that possibility, opening your decision-making options and rapidly recognizing the change in circumstances.  The faster you orient to any fight, especially THE Fight, the more likely you will positively influence the outcome.

Know your force policy and force law.  It is unfortunate that many officers are unsure of when they are permitted to respond with force, including deadly force.  Having been taught only techniques—and sometimes only pressure points to poke at—many officers have never been trained that lawful violence is intrinsic to policing.  Some have been incorrectly trained that punches to the head are either deadly force or excessive force.  Under certain circumstances, deadly force may be lawfully employed against an unarmed suspect given the intensity of a suspect’s threat if that officer can articulate his reasoning. 

There are too many accounts of officers who have been involved in extended fights with suspects, some well-beyond five-minutes, where the officer’s fatigue was so great that defense was no longer possible.  Research shows that officers are functionally unable to continue fighting after just 45-seconds to one-minute of full muscular effort.2   Officers should be trained that deadly force is an option early in this type of incident based on injuries and a high level of fatigue.  Articulating the suspect’s clear determination combined with continuing efforts to seriously harm the officer while having ample opportunity to flee is key to justifying a deadly force response in these circumstances. 

The thorough knowledge of force law and your policies, as well as the ability to articulate your reasonable perceptions and belief of the suspect’s threat, provides you with a confident understanding of the permissions and limits to force.  The question, “Everyone will fight, but will they fight on time?”3  is valid during THE Fight.  “When” is answered in policy and law, and is just as important as “how” in winning any force event. 

Put resisting subjects to the ground immediately!  One of the Universal Rules of Combatives© taught by CUTTING EDGE TRAINING is, “Put resisting subjects to the ground immediately.”©  Suspects who are on their feet retain their systemic body strength as well as their mobility.  Both are threatening to you.  The moment a suspect resists, he should be taken to the ground.  This gives you options, based on the Universal Rule of GroundCombatives©: “Stay if you’re winning, leave if you are losing.”©  Dealing with a suspect on the ground is not a contest.  He is unsearched and his intent unknown.  If you feel you are holding your own and dominating him, by all means stay until he is secured.  But if you believe you are about to be injured, or he is about to gain advantage, it is time to tactically retreat, select the reasonable force tool, and make the decisions you were trained to make based on the law and your policy.  By intentionally taking a suspect to the ground immediately upon the first sign of resistance, it is possible to short cut many suspect’s intentions to harm you.  For those suspects choosing to continue to fight, an intentional takedown will generally leave you standing with the suspect on the ground.  If the fight continues, make your tactical and force decisions from there. 


While every incident where you’ve resorted to DT or experienced a failed Taser discharge has the ability to become THE Fight, a suspect who is willing to stay and fight  when escape may be possible may be a once or twice in a career event.  It’s important to rapidly recognize the unexpected behavior of the suspect.  In all officer safety situations, anything out of the norm means a critical decision-point, and a suspect who is fighting back and can escape but chooses to stay and continue fighting, signals a radical change in normal suspect behavior.  Why he is not fleeing doesn’t matter right now.  The fact that he is still attempting to hurt you does.  Knowing force law gives you permission to respond with reasonable force that will take care of the problem before you are too fatigued to protect yourself.  Putting him to the ground as soon as possible helps to limit his strength and mobility.  Expect THE Fight so you won’t be surprised when it finds you.


1.    Klein, Gary, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, MIT Press, 1998.
3.    Clint Smith

Pain and Preparing for the Fight

by George on July 23, 2010 05:38

"One should include a course of familiarization with pain...You have to practice hurting.  There is no question about it...You have to practice being hazed.  You have to learn to take a bunch of junk and accept it with a sense of humor."

--Admiral James Stockbridge
Medal of Honor recipient
POW in Viet Nam for 7.5 years

Pain.  Pain lets us know something is "wrong," so we'll stop and not be injured any further, allowing us to take care of the injury and heal.  Pain isn't real.  When you think that your foot "hurts," it is, in reality, simply your brain interpreting nervous impulses sent by reception centers in your foot as pain.  But pain "feels" real. So real, that most people will do anything--ANYTHING--to avoid pain.  Many, or perhaps even most of our population will go so far to avoid pain that they will never do anything more physical than walk to their car.  This, however, ensures that they will be in constant, low-level chronic pain for their entire life--have you ever known an out-of-shape, overweight person who was not in pain?

You are in the warrior profession.  Cop or military, yours is a world of violence within the law against those who employ violence beyond all rules.  The context of police and military fights may be different, but the reality is that, at its core, each is a profession that lawfully delivers violence against other humans.

Pain.  Where there is violence, there is pain.  Often, pain is experienced by all combatants, although the losers suffer far more—unless they are rendered unconscious or die quickly.

Every professional is prepared for his (or her) particular profession by passing through basic training.  For the police, it is the academy.  For the military, it is Boot Camp.  Once out of basic training, advanced training continues for the duration of his or her professional career.

Notice that I said, “Every professional is prepared.”  That top-down approach--Command requiring you to pass a program of instruction--means that you are simply within the lowest common denominator of your profession upon graduation:  somewhere around below average--if you are extraordinary, you are almost average.  From this point on, you must prepare yourself for your profession if you are going to be able to survive all but the lowest levels of violence directed at you.

If you are targeted by a predator or the enemy, the violence inflicted upon you will create pain.  Now most of us in this warrior class have heard of great warriors who fought through tremendous pain to accomplish their mission, to save their buddies, their partners, or their teammates, to save those who could not protect themselves—and some came back alive.  The Medal of Honor.  The Medal of Valor.  These are the highest awards possible to those who overcome all odds.  There are few in warrior profession who do not have a belief that he or she will be able to fight through the overwhelming pain and do what is required if called upon to do so, even at the cost of their lives.


  • Can you prepare for it?  I believe you can.
  • Is it possible to avoid pain in training and then master it while injured during combat to overcome the odds and save your life and the lives of others?  I think anything is possible of a human being, and that miracles happen.  I also think this is unlikely.  Avoiding pain is natural, and when this natural inclination becomes the habit, pain becomes a barrier that may become bigger than the pain itself.  As is said, a man does not rise to the occasion, but sinks to his lowest level of consistent training.  If you train with pain avoidance as a goal, then your training may not reflect your real world needs in that moment you need to fight through a wall of pain.   That training goal of pain avoidance may stop you from saving your life.
  • Or is pain about your attitude in life and in training, something you steel yourself against by testing how far you can go, and each time going a bit farther than you thought you could?  I believe an acceptance that your body is finite, that your life may be done at any moment, and you won't live forever is one of the keys to dealing with pain.  I believe you temper your mind to tolerate that which others cannot.  It permits you to remain effective even though your body’s nerves are screaming at you.  By convincing yourself that it is “only pain.”

I just finished teaching a “Tactical Duty Knife” class to a diverse group of deputies, police officers, and corrections officers.  This was a typical class of police officers where a few worked intensely, most worked hard, and a few worked enough to get by.

One aspect of this class is learning where and how to use the knife.  We do this by employing a Benchmade “Trainer” training knife (these are the only training knives we’ve ever found that were safer to use than any other brand).  Typically, I ask one student if it is OK if I use the knife on him to demonstrate.  With his permission, I put the tip of the blade on one of his high-value targets, then shove and dig it in at the intensity I would use if this were a real situation and I was employing my knife in a deadly force response to save my life.  And as always happens, the student immediately melts away because it hurts.  Sometimes they squeal.  Almost always they make some noise indicating distress.  There it is again.  Pain.

As I don’t believe that rank has its privileges, only greater responsibilities, I don’t believe that it is right for an instructor to inflict pain without that student reciprocating on the instructor.  So I invite and permit the student to use the training knife on me in the same way.  Often they are a bit tentative as they begin to push--they're decent people and good people don't intentionally hurt others without just cause.  They know it hurts because they just experienced pain.  When I stand there and tell them to push and to dig with the knife, they increase the pressure.  It hurts but I work hard at reflecting no emotion or pain on my face.  When I tell them that they need to really push and to dig with that knife, they generally shove it hard into me.  It hurts, and still I reflect no emotion or pain.  Sometimes I am forced to urge them to work the blade harder and more vigorously.  And only after I believe that I can’t stand it anymore, I give them another second to push and to dig with that dull steel blade before I move away from the knife to stop the pain—and work to never let them see how much it hurt.  I do this because I’m their trainer and they need to see someone role-model the proper training attitude.  Sometimes that need to be their role-model sucks, but every trainer is a volunteer, not a victim.  It is my responsibility as their trainer to give them every opportunity to survive and prevail, and the first lesson in surviving combat is having an attitude that permits me to prevail no matter the cost.

Then I work with a different student to demo the next target.  And he or she reciprocates with me.  After the students do this back to me, I begin to hear people on the floor saying things like, “Doesn’t he have any nerves?” and “I guess he doesn’t feel pain.”  I sometimes want to scream at them, “Of course it hurts!  A LOT!”  Instead, I say, “It’s only pain.  I need to learn to manage it so that it does not manage me.”  I say this because I need to hear it as much as they do.  This is a lesson that every warrior must learn—“I manage the pain and quit only when I choose to, not because pain forces me to.”

Pain.  I know I can only take as much as I decide to take, one-tenth of a second at a time.  It is a decision made every moment to continue.  Eventually it becomes longer worth it and I give up.  I know I am not a “tough guy” who can take pain indefinitely.  Maybe there are no “tough guys” in the real world.  Maybe they can be found only in comic books, novels, and movies.  I have read first-hand accounts of our POWs in North Korean and Vietnamese prison camps who “broke” under torture.  I realize that I am no different than any of those men, and fear that I may not have been able to handle what the best of them did.  Each and every man who wrote about his torture stated that he held out as long as he could until they were no longer capable of resisting the pain.  Could I have done as well under such terrible conditions and such terrific intensity?  I don't know, but I keep pushing myself to my limits...and then just a bit further.

Pain.  Something a warrior must understand, be familiar with, and know intimately.  At some time, whether in training, in a fight, or in combat, a warrior will inevitably be injured at some point—not a bump or a scrape, but a serious injury.  It will hurt to rehab that injury or wound.  But if he doesn’t carefully push through the pain, with reason and dedication, he’ll never be functional again.  I know that over the years, pain, while not a friend, has and remains a constant companion of mine in this life.  I never look forward to it, but I don’t fear it as I once did.  It just is. It's just pain.

By working through pain intelligently during training, where it is safe to experiment with your limits, you begin growing your capacity for pain, to function while in pain, to fight better and longer while hurt.  You will learn where you can accept more pain, and where it is smart to avoid it.  There are instructors out there who train full-contact on students all the time.  Their hype is that they create tougher fighters.  The reality is that effective, efficient combatives injures others severely (kind of by definition, right?), and only a few of the top dogs can survive in that environment for any length of time.  Sure they're "tough," but they also have a God-given physical attributes, skills, and talents that the rest of us mere mortals were not favored with.  Intelligent training protects the student from serious injury while presenting an opportunity to effectively learn the skills, tactics, and lessons needed in their profession at arms...and from pain.

In your chosen profession of violence, I believe that our students are taught so often that they are the ones in a force event or in combat that will hurt and kill the other guy that the reverse becomes unreal—that you might be the one who is injured but required to remain combat effective and in the fight, even though a body part might not work, or its it’s hard to breathe, or you are bleeding badly.  The reality of conflict is that few in a fight—and especially in combat—are immune from some type of injury during their battle.  Learning that pain is something that can be decided about, at least for a time, is an incredible training gift.  And something every warrior needs.

Pain.  It's a decision.  It's a capacity that can be increased by training.  Learning to go just a little longer than you think you can stand teaches you about the toughness necessary to prevail in a fight.  I watch how the students in the police and military knife classes, and all of our classes, accept or avoid pain or discomfort.  In this last class, like all classes, I saw a few consciously pushing their limits to pain.  A couple of them I would never have guessed initially that they would understand the need.  I was also surprised by how others I thought would be tougher avoided pain at all costs.

I see those who push themselves as different from the others.  Knowing that man or woman is a warrior, I can trust to watch my back.  Because I know that no matter the cost to them, they will keep fighting beyond the pain, through the blood, and will risk as much for me as I will for them.

Every SEAL team member I have ever met and/or trained has said to me that he is "stupid."  After hearing this dozens of times from dozens of operators, I finally asked why every SEAL I ever met said that.  A good friend of mine, a former Chief who'd spent 18 years in the teams, looked at me and said plainly, "Smart people wouldn't go through what we we did to get on the teams and stay there.  They quit.  Only someone who's stupid enough not to quit can be a SEAL." Stupid enough to take the pain and privation that training puts a man through to create the toughest possible warfighter.  The BUD/S Naval Special Warfare Instructors know that the pain they inflict on the SEAL team recruits will cause them to grow, to go beyond what they believe to be their limits, and to create a warrior who will never quit.  That training will cause them to make decisions every moment during the selection process.

By accepting pain and moving beyond its limitations, you are freed from the constraints of "normal" people.  Where a normal, rational person would quit because of pain and be killed, you keep fighting and win, saving your life or someone else's, and accomplish the mission.  It's just pain.  A warrior doesn't seek it...only accepts that it is, and does what he or she has to do in spite of it.