Cutting Edge Training

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

Wide Open Spaces…A Help or Hindrance to DT Training?

by George on March 10, 2012 12:56

The Defensive Tactics skills training within police combatives is traditionally conducted on the clean, flat surfaces of mats.  Each pair of students gets plenty of room on a padded surface, free of obstacles and especially of other people, to work on their “techniques” and learn the sequence of moves required to be successful—no, this is not another discussion of why technique-based training is not functional or practical or effective, so feel free to read on…

Here’s a question:  “Why the need for so much space in physical skills training?”  When asked, the question seems to dumbfound those involved in the conduct of the training—especially long time instructors—as if the very question on this topic qualifies one for permanent relegation to the category of “hopelessly stupid and incompetent.”  Incredulous and sometimes sarcastic answers will always be about the safety of the participants and the need for a hazard free training area.  “We don’t want students slamming into each other,” will be heard, “They need room to move freely so they can concentrate on the technique.”

Hmmm.  Is this true?

  • Does it reflect the reality of the officers’ environment in which they operate and will be forced to apply the skills learned on the training floor?
  • Does “more room” equate to “safer training” in reality?

When asked, “Why use mats at all?” it is as if the question was asked in Serbo-Croation and there is no translator in the room.  Again, it should be OK to ask the question:

  • Are the mats, in fact, highly beneficial to training and do theyactually serve a demonstrable “safety function?”

Where Officers Apply Their Skills

Officers are forced to respond with force in every physical environment there is.  Sometimes they are able to fight a suspect on an open, smooth grass field or lawn.  Sometimes they fight in the middle of a deserted street or driveway.  Often they respond with force in areas where there are trip hazards (objects within a home, e.g., coffee tables, children’s toys, clutter, etc.), footing problems (curbs, shrubbery, uneven surfaces, etc.), and limited or confined spaces (bathrooms, kitchens, hallways, cubicles, vehicles, etc.).

A fundamental tenet of training is to provide training that is applicable to the real-world needs of the student.  While officers sometimes have the luxury of fighting on an open, flat surface, this is not typical of their needs, and even parking lots and streets have automobiles—both in motion and parked—that are threats and obstacles.  They often are forced to fight in cramped areas where there is little room for expansive movements and techniques, and are required to problem-solve their way through this new and demanding environment while being assaulted by a suspect with unknown capabilities and intentions.

Officers who are trained in open, spacious mats with a wide separation between pairs of students get their first glimpse at solving a confined space problem while on-the-job.  They are novices with “zero-experience” and no training in this fight.  OJT (On the Job Training) is fine when it comes to non-critical tasks; however, OJT when a scuffle becomes a fight has a poor track record.  While formal training permits numerous opportunities to “fail,” and therefore learn what works and what does not—this “live” situation where there is no frame of reference, or worse, an incorrect orientation that does not apply in this context—becomes a place for novel solutions, with no leeway for failure, where “failure” results in injury and, sometimes, being murdered.

Mats Encourage Impractical Street Solutions

The prevention of needless injuries should be one of the top goals of every instructor.  The padded surface that a mat brings to the training area creates an artificial surface that risk managers, administrators, and instructors hope will serve as a safety system to prevent injuries during training.  They permit bodies to fall with less injury, and when they do hit the ground hard, lessen the effects of the impact.  Through the use of mats, there are many fewer bruised elbows and knees in training than there might otherwise be, and, more importantly, fewer more serious fall injuries, right?

No real study of the value of the various training surfaces has been published.  I have trained personnel in combatives skills on mats, carpeting over wooden floors, carpeting over concrete floors, on wooden floors, and on bare concrete.  There is a great difference between the injury rate of participants between these surfaces, especially from falls and throws.  I have seen many more injuries on mats than on any other surface.

Mats provide a false sense of safety to participants.  With this idea that the mats represent “safety,” instructors commonly see a number of problems with:

  • Many officers falsely believing they are “fighting” and can work “at speed” during takedowns and other exercises or drills because they are safe on the mats.  These actions create “fall” injuries.  When working on mats, “enthusiastic,” highly trained students will often gradually—and sometimes abruptly—speed up their practice, despite warnings to slow down, until one of them is injured from being slammed into the mat, often with both partner’s body weight going through the individual on the bottom.  It seems that working on a mat promotes the idea that anything we do is “safe” regardless of the biomechanical frailties of the human body and despite safety warnings by instructional staff.  Drive another human body down to the ground (mat, carpet, or concrete) with the partner’s weight forced through it, and cause the body to land on its shoulder sometimes results in a shoulder separation or fractured clavicle (collarbone).  I have seen this injury occur on a mat several times over the decades, but never on a concrete or a wood floor.
  • Officers are trained in “wrestling moves” that depend upon a soft surface to protect elbows and especially knees.  Mats make the dropping of the body weight through the knees and elbows into the ground part of officers’ “technique” and an essential component of their takedown practice.  Using the mat as a surface on to which one throws himself on his knees detrains an officer from the concrete and asphalt reality of their working environment.  When asked if they would intentionally do that on concrete, no one has ever answered in the affirmative.  If this is so, why is it practiced and trained in this manner?
  • The rate of concussions increase with the use of mats.  While I would always seek to have my head hit a mat rather than a wooden floor or concrete at the same speed, it seems the likelihood of a student being slammed down in a manner that his or her head whips back and strikes the ground is greater on mats than on other, less forgiving surfaces.  On hard, less “safe” surfaces, the participants seem to be less concerned with the realities of slamming each other into ground.

The use of mats as a training surface encourages methods and techniques that are not suitable for the real world application of a force response.  Martial arts “breakfalls,” where one slaps the surface of the mat, is an example of a non-street training response.  On the mat, the “slap” serves to increase the area of impact, lessening the effect of the fall.  While this seems to be a good idea, it fails the reality test.  Because officers work in an environment where there are uneven surfaces and obstacles, reaching out and slapping the ground hard may have serious consequences.  Slapping backward and hitting the forearm against the corner of a street curb has broken the bones of an officer’s forearm.  A breakfall slap resulted in an officer putting his hand through the glass of a sliding glass door with resulting life-threatening blood loss.  Less catastrophically, injured hands, arms, and elbows while breakfalling in the field is more common due to hitting objects unexpectedly.

Training On a Crowded Mat

There are benefits to training on a crowded mat, where others are being taken down around you, some are already on the ground, and still others are being helped up or being dominated on the ground.  Like the real world, the officer is required to develop awareness of his surroundings.  For instance, in the midst of taking a subject down by either the elbow or head, another person is suddenly put on the ground where you intended to take your partner.  Instead of freezing (or, worse, throwing your partner on top of the other person), you orient to the problem, change your angle of movement, and direct your partner to a new spot that is available.  Suddenly, from this crowded area, you have just been trained:

  • To have situational awareness.  You looked in the direction you were taking the subject.  You became aware of changes around you in your environment while other parts of your conscious awareness dealt with taking the subject down.
  • To react smoothly to changes in plan.  For example:  you and the subject were standing and he was grabbing at you.  You found the vacuum (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Move to the Vacuum©) and slipped to his flank (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Move in Angles and Circles©), grabbing his head (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Control the Head©).  You stepped at an angle (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Move to in Angles and Circles©), pulling his head closer to you (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Body Parts to Body Mass©) and, because your situational awareness was high, you took another step quickly, and then another (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Move to the Vacuum©), causing a directional change, and pulling him in a tight circle (Universal Principle of Combatives:  Move in Angles and Circles©), putting him face down on the ground (Universal Rule of Combatives:  Put All Resisting Suspects to the Ground©).
  • To work in confined areas through problem-solving.  With bodies all around working on their own problem-solving, you are constantly working on how to solve the problem you are faced with in an ever-changing environment.  At times in an actual combatives event, you will have to make several changes due to the environment, and this type of training prepares the officer for that inevitability.

Training Without a Mat

What if officers were trained without wrestling mats?  Beyond the fact of every risk manager in the country dying of stroke or apoplexy, and traditionalists voicing disbelief at the thought—especially the judo, jujitsu, martial artists, and wrestlers who form the bulk of the DT instructors—training without mats has been successfully accomplished for decades without undue injuries.  Envision a training area without mats, and what might be seen?

  • Officers would learn to fall properly and without fear of hard surfaces.  Let’s face it:  cops fall a lot.  Cops work in the dark and cover uneven surfaces and fall and trip more than most because of the situations they are placed in.  If all they have been trained to do is fall on soft, “safe” surfaces, they have not been trained to fall in their real world.  Being repeatedly taken down on concrete or carpeting over concrete creates a competency in working in their environment.
  • Officers will learn their takedowns better and more quickly.  If an officer can take a person to the ground without injury, it is a simple feat to take them down hard when it is justified.  A hard surface would create an incentive for the officer to protect his partner, causing them to land softly rather than dumping them on a mat because they can—mats create sloppy attitudes because there is little disincentive to do a proper takedown.
  • It creates fewer injuries because exuberant behavior and the resulting out-of-control takedowns and slamming around have easily foreseen consequences, where mats seem safe and purpose-built to slam other people.

Conclusion

Mats are a martial arts invention that originally permitted judo-players and Aikidoists to repeatedly take each other down hard.  Injuries result from improper landings, and it is a rare judoka or Aikido practitioner who does not have several stories of being injured from their own or other’s mistakes.  Because judo, jujitsu, and wrestling are sports played against a single opponent, and Aikido is a martial art with little martial application, there was a need to have a clear area for the partners to work in, just like the judo tournament or the Aikido dojo.

Law enforcement, however, is not a sport.  While a grand effort has been attempted for almost six decades to adapt Aikido to police training, it is an utter failure in its effective application on the street.  Jujitsu is the latest sport that is being introduced into law enforcement with predictable results—it just doesn’t work for cops.  It, like Aikido, is too complicated, requires too much training, is successful when the suspect patiently cooperates or is too fatigued or injured to resist any longer, and is not practical for the needs of the street.  All but a few dedicated individuals do not benefit from four to eight hours of jujitsu training they might receive per year.

The concept of a clear mat, in each of these sports or martial arts, from judo, jujitsu, wrestling, or Aikido, is not applicable to the working needs of a police officer.  Officers must be trained to deal with their environments.  By having a crowded mat, the officer must adapt to the changing needs of the floor as bodies appear or move.  Their situational awareness grows, serving them both on the training floor and on  the street where focusing solely on the takedown or the suspect may create a trip hazard, cause a suspect to be unintentionally thrown into an object and injured, or permit an associate of the suspect’s to blindside the officer who has not been trained to pay attention during defensive tactics training.

And, to the dismay of risk management and the sports-guys-slash-police-instructors out there, not having mats might be the best training surface of all for DT.

Abandon "Techniques" All Ye Who Train Combatives

by George on January 15, 2012 11:44

“With a technique, it’s like I have a bunch of strings that I have tie together to get anything to work, but a fight happens too fast to do that.  With this principle-based fighting, it’s like I have a ball of string and let it fall, and then I just follow the string wherever it takes me, and it flows.”                                    CPL Nicholas Wankasky, USMC

When it comes to a defensive tactics or combatives program for the police, I must respectfully disagree with any content that is "technique-based," which includes any Aikido, jujitsu, or other martial art-based program.  If it is "technique-based," it requires suspect compliance to be successful, it takes too much time to function effectively, locks in the user's attentional focus, it is too complicated for officers to employ, and it wastes valuable and limited training time. The only training that officers--or any armed professional--should receive is "principle-based" training based on how humans actually function in a real world combatives environment.

 

What is a technique and what is the problem?

 A "technique" is sequence-dependent series of connected actions that are functionally and inextricably tied together: the first move must be completed and successful for the second section of the technique to work, which must be successful for the third and each successive link in the chain to function until the technique is "complete."  Any interruption in the chain of individual moves making up the whole of the technique breaks the chain and the technique fails.  Any imperfection in the angles of movement (whether that is the officer's movement or the suspect's), and the technique cannot be completed.  Any hesitation in the application of the sequence of moves within the technique means the technique fails.  Because fights are unpredictable, involving a minimum of two individuals who each have completely opposing competing interests, the person against whom the technique is being applied is motivated to disrupt the sequence, either intentionally if it is recognized in time to counter it, or unintentionally through simple resistance.  It is most often through this simple resistance that a technique is foiled.

PROBLEM:  Techniques lack internal and external flexibility.  In any fight, the ability to adapt to the instant-by-instant changes in the status quo between the opponents is vital to success.  It is the dependence upon the proper and exact sequence of moves and angles that prevents any flexibility within the technique that disqualifyies this concept of training.  Internally, the movements are ordered, from the first to the last.  There is no room within the technique to adapt to the changing circumstances.  It's like a light switch, not a rheostat--it's either on or off.  The technique works only one way.  This inflexibility limits techniques externally, eliminating any chance of the technique being applied if the exact circumstances are not present for that particular technique.  Minute changes in the suspect's body angle or distance will cause a technique that is already in process to fail.  Once it is being applied, the technique requires the same circumstances from start to completion.  Any change, whether in the sequence or in the circumstances, causes the technique to fail.

PROBLEM:  Techniques take time that just isn't there in a fight. Every technique takes time to achieve this linking of the individual moves within the technique while that the suspect is actively working to limit the time to apply the technique.  In OODA terms, the officer must observe and orient to a suspect being vulnerable to a specific technique (this first requires an officer to be familiar enough with his catalog of varying and individual techniques to be recognize the situational vulnerability).  He must then decide which technique to employ, and then act on that decision.  With any resistance or aggression at all, the suspect will cause the officer to fail in successfully applying that technique.

We must remember that all humans actions within a fight function under the following formula, reaction time plus motor time equals response time, and are further limited due to other human factors.  The officer must react to the vulnerability and employ the correct series of techniques against the suspect who has his own agenda, drives, and will.  The recognition-time, decision-time, and pre-physical initiation time of the officer eats up window of opportunity when the suspect is vulnerable to the "technique"--the suspect is moving moment-by-moment and the situation is changing.  The motor time of a "simple" four-step technique would be measured from the time the officer begins to initiate the first movement to its completion, plus the completion of the second move, and so on through to the completed series of actions of the entire technique.  While efforting the movements of the particular technique, the officer is functionally blind to any changes in the status quo created by the suspect moving and countering the technique.  Techniques create "target-focus" (the officer is focused on the sequence and body parts grabbed, struck, angles of movement, etc.).  The officer is also "goal directed" as he attempting to execute the decision to apply the series of movements. Attentional load under survival stress (a physical confrontation) prevents a typically trained officer from breaking from the efforting of the goal of applying the technique--tenths of seconds tick by with the officer unable to see or be aware of anything the suspect is doing other than the "technique is not working." These human factors limitations put the officer way behind the suspect in the fight--the officer is still fighting to apply the technique but the fight has moved on and the suspect is generating other problems for the officer that he just cannot see because his attention is focused on fighting for a rapidly diminishing position.

PROBLEM:  Too complicated.  An Aikido-, jujitsu-, or martial art-based involving multiple techniques intended to be applied in a rapidly evolving, threat filled fight is by definition a failed system.  Fighting with "techniques" is extremely skill intensive.  The officer must be highly trained in the techniques of the system.  This training must be to "mastery" of the techniques as well as have sufficiently implanted the pattern-recognition needed for the instantaneous orientation and selection of the particular technique applicable within that individualized context of this moment in the fight.

The question must be asked:  "If it takes ten or more years to develop the capability of instant application of technique-based fighting methods in the UFC, how long does it take to train to street competency in technique-based systems?"  Most cops get, at most, 80-hours in the academy. Only a few agencies provide 16-hours of DT/ year (to include carotid restraint, ground combatives, impact weapons, etc.).  So how is any "average" cop going to learn and be able to apply a system of X-number of techniques that all must be "properly" applied to be effective? Experiences shows that they cannot.  In our DT classes, we ask, "How many of you have been able to successfully put a wrist lock/limb restraint on a fresh, resistive suspect without them being able to escape?"  Very few in over 15,000 have raised their hands. For those who do, ALL have been instructors, and all but a couple have admitted that it only worked once or twice in their careers.  Same-same with "takedowns to a cuffing position" when the suspect continues to resist on the ground--only one instructor who insisted that every suspect he's ever taken down was instantly put into a cuffing position.  What this means is that cops cannot apply technique-based methods in the real world away from cooperative partners.

PROBLEM:  Attribute-based.  The ability to apply technqiue-based fighting methods is also "attribute-based."  Attributes are the individual physical, mental, and psychological strengths and weaknesses any person brings the table.  Many look to the UFC-style Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champions and use them as an example of what officers' training should be.  After all, isn't the octagon the best proving ground there is for what works and what doesn't?  First, the individuals competing in these MMA events are the best athletes in their sport--this means Olympic quality skills, strength, and reflexes. They generally have a decade or more of intensive training where their narrow-focus pattern-matching and recognition skills have been honed by the best coaches possible.  The activity inside the octagon is not a "fight."  It is a sport contest with inflexible safety rules, a referee, medics standing by, and a pat-down immediately prior to the contest ensuring none of the participants are armed with a deadly weapon.  Not one death has occurred in the UFC to date, despite the many knockouts that take place.  These, some of the most functionally fit individuals in the history of the world, with skills and reflexes beyond the comprehension of most average humans, do not represent the reality of fighting on the street.  Nor does it represent police officers working the streets.  While these people range in their attributes from below average to high-functioning athletes, most officers represent the athletic attributes of an average human being.

PROBLEM:  Wastes training time.  It is a universal truth:  cops hate defensive tactics training.  Instructors like to discuss among themselves that cops are "lazy, unmotivated, not interested in saving their lives," and other less-than-flattering descriptors.  However, the truth is worse and hard to face for those who love their complicated, technique-based DT program:  Instructors and their complicated systems create officers who hate to train.

No police officer walks into the academy and doesn't want to learn how to defend themselves against an assault, and how to put their hands on a suspect to take them into custody.  All initially enter the gym bright-eyed only to be confronted with a technical system which some find fascinating but most find daunting.  This dauntingness soon leads to dismay as the recruits are told they are being graded on whether or not they execute each of the dozens or more techniques "properly."  Many practice in their extremely limited "personal time" with fellow recruits trying to get the exact sequence, angles, and movements down.  Most squeak by on their final exam.  If a test were to be required in 8 weeks, how many would pass the same test without extensive study prior to the examination?  In 12 weeks?  How about a year?

Next, the officer is in Field Training.  The first application of a limb restraint works just like in the academy--as long as that first suspect is cooperative, like 99% of suspects being arrested (per DOJ BJS).  Upon the first resistive suspect, the limb restraint fails, and depending upon the reasonableness of the FTO, the trainee is either counseled and receives low marks on their Daily Observation Report, or reality is noted and there is no penalty for attempting policing with techniques that fail when they need to work.  Now the officer passes Field Training, and is working solo patrol.  No matter how many times a limb restraint technique is attempted and fails, the officer continues to attempt what he or she was taught--meeting the definition of insanity (attempting to do the same thing over and over again and each time expecting a different result).  The first in-service DT class as an officer often finds the young officer (likely still on probation with all the uncertainty that status engenders) fervently attempting to understand and apply the myriad techniques the agency instructor is presenting.  The officer is bruised, twisted, and strained, and spends several days healing, limping, and groaning from overuse or slight-to-moderate injuries as he or she pushes the patrol car and responds to calls for service.  Overwhelmed with the complication and the inability to apply it "like the instructor" or in anything remotely resembling a realistic street application, frustration builds.  Insanity in the field continues (attempting over and over again to apply techniques on suspects who refuse to wait around for the officer to finish the executing technique and failing to perform as advertised and trained), the officer soon grows disenchanted with spending any time in training that simply reinforces his or her "failure" and causes needless injury and pain.  This valuable survival skill and the time devoted to it is wasted because "training" cannot occur if the officer does not want to participate.  If there is no perception of value by the officer who is just trying to survive through DT classes with the most minimal participation, we are wasting training dollars, training time, and needlessly exposing valuable personnel to potential injury.

The question is often then asked, if not "techniques," then what do I teach my officers?

Officers learn best when they are trained to fight like a human being actually functions in a fight.  We fight by problem-solving.  This type of combatives training relies upon "contextually correct" training that mimics the human fighting methods.  Cutting Edge Training's "Effective Combatives Problem-Solving©" doctrine provides just that--training within the context of the human being in a police fight.  This briefly encompasses:

  • Problem-solving:  officers are trained via adult learning theory.  Participants are permitted to experiment with their own reasonable solutions to their defense problems.  Rather than an instructor giving the officer the solution (which is the "instructor's solution reflecting only that instructor's unique attributes, experience, skills, aptitude, etc.), the student's solution is based on their own individual capabilities and attributes.   Critics complain that officers cannot be left to their own devices and be permitted to run willy-nilly through the streets solving their defense and control problems with their own solutions.  However, the reality is that technique-trained officers routinely fail to apply the techniques they were trained in because the techniques themselves fail in the reality of the conflict, and officers (actually, all humans) universally and reasonably solve their own problems in a combative environment.
  • Universal Rules and Principles of Combatives.©  These Rules and Principles are universal in the human experience of combatives methods, and are the core consistencies upon which all effective fighting means are based.  The Rules are intrinsic to every physical conflict and represent goals and qualities that more common sensical, while the individual Principles are tactically applied as needed.  The Principles represent the "primal blueprint" that all humans operate within--those responses and hard-wired actions that humans employ in a threat incident that have caused humans to survive from the beginning of life.  Rather than the impossible task of attempting to train these primal responses out of an officer, the Universal Rules and Principles of Combatives recognize the advantages of the primal blueprint and assists the officers in how to consciously apply it.
  • Simple skills.  Avoiding any type of technique, Integrated Combatives Problem-Solving© employs simple, gross-motor "skills."  Skills are single movements executed upon decision.  They involve single movements such as a grab, pull, punch, kick, etc.  While any motor skill takes "movement time" (whether a "technique" or a "skill"), the skill is more "timing" dependent (requiring the officer to time the skill properly so that the skill affects the target), it is less "time" dependent (requiring a duration of time to employ to be effective or successful).  Gross-motor, simple skills are more likely to be successfully employed and applied in a combatives event.
  • Reasonable within the law and policy.  All officer solutions within training is required to be 4th Amendment-based and justified.  Regardless of the officer's particular solution on the mat, like that on the street, the officer must problem-solve in a manner that this justifiable and defensible.
  • Tactically sound.  It is imperative to maintain coherency with the "Univeral Tactical Principles"© doctrine.  Any system of training that fails to maintain safe tactics as a foundation only creates confusion with resulting injuries and death. 
  • OODA and Human Factors Compliant.  The problem-solving must be in context with how humans actually function in the combatives threat environment.  Beliefs about what officers "should" be able to do must not conflict with what humans are actually able to perform.

Conclusion

Technique-based training is, simply, an antiquated method of training.  If approached with an open mind, technical training involving dozens or even hundreds of individual techniques that must be performed sequentially and properly cannot be justified any longer as a training method for any armed professional.  Techniques are too complicated, take too learn to learn, and too long to apply if they are remembered in time, to be effective on the street.

The message is clear:  Abandon techniques.  It is truly the dawn of the principle-based training system--something human factors research is proving over and over again.