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Defensive Tactics / Combatives: MMA or Fighting Like a Cop?

by Tom on June 4, 2009 08:52

As your agency’s defensive tactics or force response trainer, you are undoubtedly the “go-to”-guy or gal on all things pertaining to force.  For this reason, it is vital that you are completely clear that the program of training for your cops can actually be applied by your cops.  Training your officers in the latest, most popular program out there must not be based on something because it is cool.  Everything you teach must have relevancy on the street--where it is going to matter the most.

With the growing popularity and mainstreaming of events like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Pride Fighting Championship, and similar events, there has been a large movement in DT circles to adopt the training approach from Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a realistic way to train officers.  At first glance this approach may make sense, but a more careful analysis of the needs of the police officer on the street reveals serious weaknesses in using MMA training as a foundation for training officers.

There is no question that when watching MMA events, one is presented with some of the most talented and dangerous people on the planet.  The level of toughness, technical skill, and determination that makes these fighters who they are is something to behold with the utmost respect.  Because these athletes compete in a sport mimicking a level of violence that is kindred to the violence facing our uniformed warriors, the MMA approach to training for combat is highly touted as a truly viable method for training our police officers (and even our soldiers) as a response to the level of violence that they may face while performing their duties. 

Because of the sport’s growing popularity, officers are now finding themselves with the unhappy task of arresting better trained, physically talented combatants.  This leads well-meaning trainers to believe that by training the officers in MMA, it gives the officer a better chance of prevailing if he/she knows what the fighter knows. 

While much can be learned from the mixed martial arts as currently practiced in the highest levels, the  all-around, comprehensive nature of MMA skills that makes it seemingly desirable, actually makes it impractical for training the “average” cop to survive.  For the “average” cop, police training program development has to consider things that the “average” MMA fighter would never face.  Limitations such as minimal training time, limited attributes (“attributes” are everything the officer physically and mentally brings to the fight) and most importantly…is it going to work when they are tired, injured and scared—and haven’t had any DT training for a year?  These are not concepts the MMA’er ever thinks about, but police trainers must. 

When the cop’s reality of “This has to work or I may die” is compared to the training requirements needed to be just an average MMA competitor where nothing is on the line other than pride, it is easy to find they are two different worlds that share very little context.  The question of training officers to “fight like the MMA-fighter or to fight like a cop” takes on a whole new meaning.

Minimal Training Time

As a defensive tactics instructor, wouldn’t it be great if you had 40…60…or even 80-hours of in-service training time with each officer just for DT?  Reality check:  you are lucky you have 4 to 8-hours of DT training annually.  A really forward thinking agency may permit 16-hours a year.  Most competitive MMA fighters train 2-3 hours daily, and top level fighters often train 4-6 hours daily.  This is required to hone their proficiency in every skill domain they need to compete.  Even at these training levels, we see fighters who are destroyed in the ring by other fighters.  Do the math.  Competitive MMA fighters put in your yearly allotment of training time in less than a week.  Those who just train “for fun” three times per week will have the equivalent of your agency’s training time within two to three weeks.

 So then how does an officer who may train once a year for 4-16 hours expect to fare against a better trained athlete using the same approach?  MMA by design is a technically-based skill set that often takes an athlete months of intensive practice to even begin to solidify the basics.  Officers, unless training on their own, just can’t develop the skills to even begin to match amateur fighters mano a mano, using the same approach to fighting.  Training your officers to match skill sets with those who have superior training is a recipe for disaster.

Limited Attributes

The thing that is overlooked when watching a highly competitive MMA fighter is that you are not just witnessing a “skilled” fighter, but also an exceptional athlete.  The men and women (females are doing it too...and are good at it) that participate in these fighting exhibitions have attributes that many people in the general population do not have.  They have inherent traits of agility, balance, and coordination.  These natural traits have been further developed and honed to razor sharp perfection.  Most cops on the other hand are not physically gifted athletes—they are just average folk with average athletic abilities.

This is not to say that there are not cops who are physically gifted or are not or could not be great fighters.  If most were gifted with the attributes to be great fighters, they would probably be professional fighters and not the great cops they are.  Our reality as trainers is that most cops view physical skills training as something that they are required to do, and not something that they want to do.  Without a great desire to train in complex skills, MMA-based training for the police makes their already limited “attribute set” a further hindrance to effective employment.

So what is the solution for the officer who must survive when all is on the line, although training time and attributes are far from ideal?  We say “Train to Fight like a Cop.”

Fighting Like a Cop

Your job as a trainer of cops is to prepare them for the street.  It is not a contest; there are no trophies for “winning.”  Winning means they go home or don’t—they live or die.  They might also do a great job in the fight and still get sued.  That’s the game cops play.

It is your job to teach your officers to utilize every reasonable means within the law to get done what they need to do in the fight.  Fighting like a cop first means knowing the law.  The better they know the law, the more they are intimately familiar with what they can do and when they can do it.  This knowledge permits them to respond immediately to threat with reasonable tools.  It may mean that shooting someone who is attempting to “submit” an officer and putting them in reasonable fear of being seriously injured would be a reasonable response. 

The tools your cops carry(handgun, knife, OC, baton and taser) are not just stuff to be carried around.  The law permits, given a reasonable perception of threat based on suspect behavior, officers to employ those tools to protect themselves and others, and to take offenders into custody.  Thinking that officers should be trained to meet a trained threat with a similarly trained response is a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the mission and force law governing these contacts.  All defensive tactics problems cannot be solved with defensive tactics.

While the practice of MMA has a place, as trainers we have to be careful that we give our warriors training that is within the context of their job needs.  It lies in providing them with the right tool box filled with achievable skills for the right situation.  Because of the institutional limitations we have as trainers, every moment we spend with our people has to be relevant to their immediate survival needs.  All training must result in a defensible response by the officer.  It must also be simple enough to be effective over a long period of time.  This is what fighting like a cop is all about...Simple...Legal...Effective.  MMA-style training is simply not appropriate for general police training programs.