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.


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.


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.


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.

“Approved Techniques” Versus Reasonable Force

by George on March 17, 2011 04:56

All of the latest studies on force response by police scream the fact that officers respond with force sparingly.  Over 97% of the time in an arrest, suspect behavior requires no force response by the arresting officer.  When an offender forces the situation, the majority of the time it is a low-level resistance involving muscular effort by everyone—a lot of negotiating by the suspect, and repeated commands by the officer(s).  When an officer is required by the offender to resort to force to control resistance or defend against assault, how should it be judged by the agency?

The evaluation of any force response should be fairly straight forward—the courts have provided very workable and, frankly, very sympathetic formulas for determining the reasonableness of an officer’s force employment.  Many agencies, however, muddy the waters in their test for reasonableness by using the invented standard of whether or not the officer employed “approved techniques.”   This unnecessary component of determining whether or not an officer achieved proper conduct creates liability for the officer and agency where there was none.


A lot of money and time is spent training officers in defensive tactics and suspect control methods.  Whether the agency is forced to use the system endorsed by its particular state, or is free to choose the system to be presented, every agency settles upon a system or philosophy in which their officers are trained.  In many cases, the agency chooses a vendor to “certify” the agency’s instructional staff. 

Unfortunately, in many instances, these vendors dictate to the agency what the agency’s standards shall be.  They use the fear of the “Double-L of Law Enforcement ” (“litigation” and “liability”) to effectively coerce the agency into continuing to use their training system (translated:  transfer your agency's training budget to the vendor).  Anyone who has ever heard any of the following phrases has experienced this type of blackmail:

  • “If you don’t use our techniques as we train you, you are on your own when you get sued…”
  • “If your instructors do not re-certify regularly, we will de-certify them as instructors…”
  • “If you use our techniques, we will testify for you.  If you don’t, we cannot assist you…”
  • “The use of any techniques other than the ones we teach, or if employed differently than we require, will create liability.”

As a result, some agencies go so far as to create a policy or practice of requiring each officer to employ only those “approved-techniques” in which the agency trained them.  Generally turning a blind eye to what their officers actually do on a day-to-day basis, these agencies reserve the right to judge whether or not the technique the officer used was proper.  This artificial standard is based not only on the circumstances at the time, but also is also judged on whether or not it was applied in the middle of a dangerous fight as it was trained and in an "approved" manner. 

In these agencies, when a subject is injured by an officer using a “non-approved technique or method,” discipline is handed down—an officer who was simply attempting to get the job done reasonably has his/her career damaged.  Lawyers become involved and settlements are made.  And then every cop goes back to what cops do:  arresting bad guys, improvising tactically, and getting by as best they can until someone gets hurt the next time, with continuing findings of policy violations and all of the familiar aftermath. 

These policy violations and resulting liability are not a product of violating the law or a person’s rights.  Instead, this creation of liability is an artificial policy construct dictated by vendors or misguided policy makers that state, “Officers may perform only ‘trained and approved techniques and tactics.’”  Training has been officially deemed by the agency’s admin to be thoroughly comprehensive and sufficient for all circumstances.  The consequence of this is that failure to use the expected techniques and methods is a violation of policy, and while the force may have been reasonable and lawful, liability was created nevertheless by the written standard of performing only those techniques and tactics as trained. 

Important Questions

It is important that a discussion take place within law enforcement over who determines what a force response can look like, and how that force will be judged.  

  • Is an officer’s force response to be judged on the techniques he or she employs in the field?
  • Is it true that if the officer fails to employ a technique as the vendor trained it, or utilizes an alternative, the officer and agency is liable for that use of force?
  • What if an officer uses an “unapproved” method?  Is there automatic liability?

Evaluating Police Force in the U.S.

In discussing any aspect of using force, we must explore the basis of force, how it is evaluated, and where true liability exists.  The basic framework of any lawful force response by police, since 1983, rests in the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.  In US v. Place, 462 US 696 (1983), the court provided a balancing test to assist in determining the reasonableness of a police intrusion during a seizure. 

This was expanded in 2007 by the US Supreme Court in Scott v. Harris, 127 S.Ct. 1769 (2007).  Officers are required to weigh the likelihood of injury or death to the suspect balanced against the threat of the suspect as reasonably perceived by the officer at the time of the force response.  In Graham v. Connor, 490 U. S. 386 (1989) the US Supreme Court ruled that all police use of force is governed by the objective reasonableness doctrine, and is based upon a reasonable officer standard.  The only consideration when evaluating any police force response is, if in the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the force employment, would another officer with like or similar training and experience, given like or similar circumstance, have done the same thing or have made similar judgments? 

There is no mention of specific techniques or using “trained techniques” in any of these force decisions.  The question is simply asked, “Was the officer’s response objectively reasonable based on what he or she knew at the time?”  If yes, there is no liability.  If no, the plaintiff deserves to be compensated for their unreasonably received injury.

Most state laws require the same standard of reasonableness.  For the balance, these states require officers to use “necessary” force.  This is often defined as “force for which no reasonable alternative apparently existed and was reasonable to the situation.  Even with this more restrictive state law, there is no requirement to adhere to a specific technical standard.  

In both jurisdictions (state and federal), it is up to the officer to articulate the circumstances he or she perceived and responded to.  Even though the officer acted properly in the field, there can still be huge liability if that officer fails to fully articulate and document his or her reasonable beliefs.  There are no adverse judgments on the books stating the officer failed to employ some defensive tactics technique properly.  There are, however, myriad cases where an officer failed to prove his or her reasonable conduct in light of the totality of the circumstances known to him at the time.  This is the sole source of liability to officers and their agencies.  

The law does not evaluate the effectiveness of any particular force method, unless it has a bearing on the circumstances.  A shooting will be judged on whether or not a bullet hitting the plaintiff was justified by the circumstances, not on which stance or brand or style of weapon was used.  If deadly force is justified by the circumstances, it can be resolved by shooting, stabbing, choking, driving over, or even dropping a safe from the twentieth floor on the head of the person creating that imminent threat.  Deadly force is deadly force, and how you get there doesn’t matter.  In a case where limb manipulations were used with resulting injuries, no one in the jury at the end of trial is holding up a sign giving a score regarding how well the technique was performed (Juror #1, 8.8; Juror #2, 9.1; the French Juror, 3.1…).  Instead, the juror will simply be asked, was the actual force with which the officer responded reasonable given the circumstances?  Their verdict will generally reflect the defendant officer’s ability to articulate his justification of his actions, combined with the documentation of the evidence.  

According to the law, there is plainly no liability to using or not using any particular technique or method your officer has been trained to use as long as it was reasonable for the circumstances known to the officer at the time.

Responding With an "Unapproved" or Improvised Alternative 

The liability engendered by using an alternative technique is created only when the agency promulgates a policy requiring only “approved techniques” be employed by their officers.  Rather than limiting liability, this type of policy instead actually increases the possible exposure to the agency. 

The reality of any type of force response skills system requiring officers to “properly” apply only its techniques and no other is that no training is capable of answering all of the threats and problems an officer faces in the real world of policing.  Officers are constantly forced by circumstance presented to them by suspects to improvise, and training must reflect this need to problem-solve.  Relying only upon approved techniques cannot meet these needs (hence the need for improvisation) while meeting policy requirements.  In effect, a policy of this type forces officers to violate their policies in order to meet their immediate real-world defense and suspect control needs.

If the agency requires a technique to be used, it expects to see that method employed.  This is not only a dramatic misunderstanding of the purpose of training, but a belief that fighting is solved in an efficient and orderly manner with no input from the suspect.  The reality is that all training is merely a suggested method of resolution, and cannot be expected to be taken as a whole from the training floor and successfully placed wholesale into a combatives situation where the suspect is not a willing participant in the arrest.  Any situation where the suspect does not cooperate will almost universally result in any particular technique failing.  As long as an officer employs force reasonably, or employs an alternative method safely, there is no inherent liability, even if a subject is injured—unless the agency creates that liability by requiring adherence to a rigid technical system by its policy or practice. 

Rather than looking at the method the officer employed as being “wrong,” it would be more useful and would follow present legal guidelines to evaluate the context of the circumstances presenting themselves to the officer at that moment.  It is not a question of which hand was cuffed first and how, but, rather, the inquiry should be, “Regardless of the subject’s injuries, if any, were the officer’s actions and force responses justified by the reasonable perception by the officer of the suspect’s behavior and actions in light of the circumstances known to the officer at the time?”  

Vendors Can Create Liability for Your Agency--If You Let Them

It cannot be argued that vendors add their expertise to law enforcement's ability to do their jobs well and within the standards of proper conduct.  Someone must teach and train officers in the various and myriad skill and knowledge domains required today to safely and competently navigate through the requirements of law, policy, and expectations of professional behavior.  Those who make their living by training or supplying other services and products to law enforcement are generally upstanding individuals who are attempting to benefit both officers and the citizens they serve.  The problem begins when individuals devise a method of ensuring their income that is less-than-ethical.  Making a living by providing a service is one thing.  Coercion through unfounded fear is another

Many vendors who provide certifying systems to law enforcement state that failing to use their approved techniques will result in their not being able to “defend” a particular officer’s actions.  They say that only those incidents comporting with what the vendor declares to be in-line with its program can be defended.  Should the vendor’s technique fail because it was not properly executed (and for those vendors, any failure in the street is always attributed to “officer error”), or the officer simply improvises because he cannot remember how to do some complicated technique (which applies to every officer in a fight), or chooses to do something he made up on the spot, the vendor will not “defend” the agency in its litigation.  

At least one vendor has stated that they would make themselves available to plaintiffs as experts should their client agency’s officers fail to properly use their techniques.  The impression provided to the interested observer is that the officer and agency will be left hanging in court to twist in the wind when the vendor abandons them.  Command staff and officers often truly believe, and many vendors promote the belief, that to prevent being successfully sued, you must have the vendor on your side. 

Nothing is further from the truth.  Your officers will either act reasonably and prove their proper conduct, thus avoiding civil liability, or they will be liable to the plaintiff for their actions.  Their liability will not rest in the quality or type of technique they choose unless the agency creates that liability through policy.  It will, instead, hinge on the duration and type of force based on the circumstances known to them at the time.  Having a vendor’s representative as an expert witness may or may not be beneficial, but, in and of itself, will rarely, if ever, make or break your case.  


The question of liability in any force response is well-settled:  an officer may respond with objectively reasonable force based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the force response.  This evaluation method stands regardless of the method or force technique an officer chooses or is forced to employ.  Force cannot be excessive or improper based simply upon any technique, nor can increased liability result as a result of not properly employing a defensive tactics technique when the circumstances permit its attempt.  In fact, there is no liability created simply because a vendor states a particular technique should have been used instead of the method actually employed by the officer.  

Agencies can create a climate where liability can easily result by publishing an ill-considered policy of requiring officers to employ a particular technique as trained.  This creates a situation where failure to use an “approved technique” becomes a policy violation.  This creates tort liability in state courts.  It also results in disciplinary actions even in those situations where an officer must improvise due to system failures that did not address that particular circumstance.  This discipline will be capitalized upon by plaintiffs in federal court when the fact that the officer was disciplined will be used as leverage in settlement conferences to unnecessarily increase the value of the case.

Vendors should never be allowed to dictate policy to an agency.  Vendors have a vested interest in maintaining the agency as a client.  Beware of thinly veiled threats of de-certifying instructors should they fail to satisfy the vendor’s requirements, failing to testify should officers use non-trained techniques or methods of arrest and defense that are not approved, and of the creation of extra liability should you and your officers not adhere to their program.  This is simply a form of blackmail in order to secure an income stream for the vendor, and is unethical.  Vendors and their programs should support an agency’s policy, and while consultants may assist with policy development, it is always the policy-maker’s responsibility to provide a reasonable policy that protects all involved parties (the citizens, officers, and jurisdiction), not the vendor.  

“Approved techniques” versus reasonable force response.  Hands down, agencies should opt for policies requiring their officers to act reasonably in all circumstances.  Training in force skill domains should be looked at as guidelines for problem-solving rather than as hard and fast techniques by which officers must abide.  The phrase, “approved technique” should be stricken from the vocabulary of all police administrators, policies, regulations, and police trainers (as well as vendors).  While training standardizes behavior, officers must have the flexibility to respond to suspect resistance and violent assault, as well as changing trends in the street without having to fear inadvertent policy violations as a result of their surviving an incident.  

In the real world of law enforcement, there is no such thing as an approved technique.  Your policy and practice should require reasonable (and, if required, necessary) force responses from your officers.  Forget what your vendors tell you.  If you believe your officers are qualified to instruct, don’t send them to re-certification unless you believe they can use the update—your agency actually certifies that someone is qualified to instruct every time one of your officers formally instructs an officer.  If you believe your officer was reasonable in his force response, regardless of what technique he used, then reward him with commendations. 

Until police administrators take back their policy responsibilities, they will be controlled by the false fear of increased litigation and liability.  The Double-L’s are real in many areas of police work, but are mainly manufactured when it comes to anything approaching an “approved technique.  A “required technique ” is not to law enforcement’s benefit.  A hundred arrests of resisting suspects will require one-hundred different solutions.  Flexibility within a reasonable force response is the most realistic and valuable expectation and administrator can have.  The best and most practical standard for evaluating your officers’ force responses lies in Scott and Graham.  It is the law of the land for a reason, and it is a doggone good standard by which to evaluate your officer’s actions.

Force is 'Outcome-Based'

by Tom on October 20, 2010 07:31

During a “routine” response to a call for service, Officer Johnson detains a subject for further investigation.  As the questioning progresses, the individual becomes more and more evasive and contradictory.  Eventually, the officer establishes that he has probable cause to arrest the suspect.  During the arrest process, the suspect resists by first struggling, and then thrashing about and trying to hit the officer with his arms in a bid to get away.  With no backup officer present and the situation getting more and more out of control, Officer Johnson feels he needs to get the man down on the ground to gain some control over the situation.  He tries a "takedown technique" several times, but the suspect defeats every effort.  The situation is getting a bit desperate.  Johnson wraps his arms around the suspect, driving him to the ground.  The subject lands on his elbow, shattering it, suffering what will be a lifelong injury.  Officer Johnson immediately radios for an EMS response and a supervisor to respond.  In his narrative arrest report, Officer Johnson does a good job of articulating the factors in his force decision-making, as well as his actions post-force to get the suspect treatment.

Officer Johnson’s takedown, while objectively reasonable under the circumstances, is not considered by his agency to be an “approved” technique.  He is deemed to have been "out of policy," and therefore his force was "excessive."  He is disciplined.  Officer Johnson appeals the suspension, but loses because his agency points out in arbitration that the agency force policy requires only approved techniques be employed in the arrest of a resisting suspect.  Agency civil attorneys, as a result of the disciplinary findings, eventually negotiate a six-figure settlement to the plaintiff's tort claim.  Officer Johnson and his fellow officers become even more hesitant and uncertain about responding with force as a result of the administration's actions--morale problems deepen. 

This scenario, played out in too many jurisdictions, begs a huge question:  How can it be that an officer can “reasonably” respond with force but still be “out of policy” by employing a technique that is “not approved," thereby creating the situation where the force was "negligent"?  Many agencies have bought into a concept of “correct” or “approved” techniques—generally to their officers’ and the agency’s detriment.  Some agencies break this down further into varying categories, “approved,” “approved but not completed,” and “not-approved but reasonable.”  And, of course, “not approved.”  This drive to create a system of utilizing only approved techniques does not comport with federal or even state laws regarding officer force response.  In fact, it creates an artificial liability, both to the agency and the officer.  This is a concept that should reviewed, critiqued, and finally abandoned by law enforcement.


That officers respond with force to suspect resistance and assault is an activity that is not questioned except by the most radical citizens in our country.  As a matter of law, the police force response is governed by the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution as interpreted by the US Supreme Court in Scott v. Harris (2007) and Graham v. Connor (1989).  In fact, the matter of what constitutes “excessive force” is well settled and is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “force which is not justified under the circumstance known to the officer at the time.”  Again, the matter of judging how the officer responded with force, the duration and level of the force, as well as the injuries inflicted versus the reasonably perceived threat is clearly spelled out.  Force is, in a phrase, “outcome-based.”

Nowhere in Scott (or in Graham) is there mention of “proper” or “approved” technique.  Nowhere is there a discussion of what the officer might have done differently that might have been less intrusive.  Instead, the inherent wisdom of Scott tells law enforcement that if the officer’s force response was objectively reasonable when the balancing test of "the likelihood of injury to the suspect is balanced with the reasonable perception of threat to the officer or others" is met, based upon the totality of the circumstances known at the time.  Graham asks us to look at the totality of the facts as well, including (but not limited to) the severity of the crime at issue, the immediate threat of the suspect, and the active resistance to arrest or attempt to escape.  If the officer's actions in response to a reasonably perceived threat is reasonable (NOT perfect, but reasonable), then the force response cannot be excessive.  The Court, in these and subsequent cases, fundamentally defines how an officer’s force response should be evaluated. 


As already noted, there are no requirements in any case law to use techniques “correctly.”  To require officers to utilize any technique denies a fundamental truth about real world force.  In the real world, a police force response is not a logical series of moves that automatically results in overcoming resistance.  Instead, a fight is defined by Cutting Edge Training as “a series of mistakes corrected as you make them.”©  Every fight is series of rapidly presented and ever changing problems to be solved.  Every physical struggle is dynamic and unpredictable.

Techniques, however, require time to develop and unfold.  Each "move" within a technique is a vital "linchpin"--if any move fails or is missing, the entire "technique" fails.  This means that as the officer is in the process of applying the series of moves comprising the technique against a real-world resisting suspect, the situation can completely change, rendering the need for that specific technique moot.  Generally, techniques require the cooperation of the suspect to be successful because of this—officers just cannot react quickly enough to the situational changes to make the technique work.  If, in the middle of the “second move” in any technique the subject moves his body, the technique fails.  The officer either improvises—and risks being out of policy—or regroups and tries to figure out another technique to apply as the suspect is in the midst of violently taking advantage of the first technique’s failure.  The idea that officers should use only “proper technique” puts officers’ safety in serious jeopardy.  It just isn’t practical in the real world.  Techniques nearly always fail given the slightest resistance by the suspect. 

Techniques are also complicated and difficult to remember--especially so in the heat of combat.  This is because each is designed to be applied to one specific attack or situation.  The unique situation calling for a "rear wrist lock" is not the same as an "outside twist lock," which is not the same as that calling for a "front goose neck" which is not the same as a any other situation calling for a specific, unique response.  The reality is that we can teach officers 3, 30, or even 300 techniques specific attacks.  How does one remember even 30 techniques that must be perfectly performed when a suspect is attempting to injure the officer?

Additionally, most of these "techniques" were not designed to "control" another human being--they were originally designed to injure, break, and kill a soldier on a battlefield, and were only adapted to civilian use (and, decades later, to police training) as a method of training in the martial arts without injury.   This creates contextual problems for any application of technique.  Taking anything out of context generally renders that object or concept null and void.  For instance, attempting to take a technique that is designed to permanently disable a limb by breaking bones or dislocating joints, and then modifying it as a "pain compliance" method fails for several reasons. 

  • Ancient military application would call for the enemy warrior to first be injured in some manner, through a strike by a weapon or punch or kick.  This gives the warrior time to complete the series of moves needed for the "technique" and disable the limb.  The warrior would quickly follow up with a killing blow to dispatch the enemy before moving on to engage others enemy soldiers.
  • Diluting a method of breaking or killing into something that it was never designed to accomplish has huge unintended consequences.  Officers are trained to employ techniques on suspects who are uninjured and physically fresh.  The suspect is free of psychological or physical impediments, enabling him/her to resist the series of movements required for a successful technique.
  • The now-hybrid technique intended to "control" an individual permits the suspect the ability to unexpectedly escape--often easily--is completely ineffective for its intended purposes, unless the suspect is too injured or too fatigued to continue resisting. 

Further, this adaptation of a technique from "breaking" an arm to "controlling" an arm through pain requires the suspect's cooperation.  The suspect must honor the pain without going beyond the limits of the body's structure, or the arm breaks.  Whenever this occurs, the officer is predictably accused of employing excessive force. 

This concept of teaching "techniques" that are now "approved" fails any test of reality:

  • The defense and control situations that officers face are literally infinite, and the limited number of techniques of any system cannot address all of the variations officer face.
  • How is any officer with an average of 80 hours of training can instantly recognize any situation and then instantly select the correct response and then instantly respond?  They cannot.  It takes time to respond, and then time to apply the technique, causing most techniques to fail.
  • Techniques are designed to teach "principles"--not to be employed "as-is" on a resisting suspect.
  • Techniques routinely--almost universally--fail when the subject upon which they are being used resists in any manner.

Reasonable force is, instead, about recognizing that human beings in uniform realistically respond to the chaos of real-world assaults and resistance with levels and durations of force that are justified by the situation.  For example, given a suspect who is threatening to “fight” with an officer who has just arrested him, one officer might attempt a limb restraint.  Another might try a takedown, while others might spray him with OC or use a TASER to subdue him.  All are reasonable, although some are less tactically sound than others.  The only caveat for evaluating force is reasonableness based on the totality of the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time. 

Real force against a living human being who is motivated to resist being taken into custody and who may elect to injure or kill the arresting officer(s) is definitely not a static event.  Its inherent dynamism requires constant improvisation on the part of the arresting officer who has scant fractions of seconds to react to protect himself and/or impede the suspect's efforts.  Techniques, approved or not, fail any test in the real world where they are supposed to be applied. It is a false standard that cannot stand any type of "reality test."


There is a large segment of law enforcement, encouraged by vendors supplying training (who have a financial interest in remaining the "approved training source"), that has bought into the concept of evaluating force based on “proper” or “approved” technique.  This is a concept--especially in agency policy and court testimony--that should be abandoned because:

  • Requiring an officer to respond only with an “approved” technique is not realistic.  The human condition and the limits of police training cannot respond to infinite number of attacks and resistance they face with specific counters and counters-to-counters and counters-to-counters-to-counters, ad infinitum
  • Officers are routinely forced to improvise in their force response efforts.  This need for improvisation routinely surfaces in almost every defensive tactics situation where a suspect resists.  This means that officers cannot realistically use “approved techniques in even a majority of arrests.
  • Civil liability is increased in situations where officers achieve reasonable conduct but violate artificial policy restraints.

To be successful, techniques require a perfect application of force in a perfect situation under perfect circumstances.  If any factor fails in its perfection, the technique fails and the officer is forced to improvise.  Instead, officers and their force response should be judged by the objectively reasonable standard described in Scott and Graham.  This standard is based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time, rather than on a technical standard based on the concept of an ideal application of force that regularly fail in the real world.  Through this standard, every interested party benefits.  Force in America by police is judged from its outcome.  The officer is more fairly judged in his or her work product, the agency does not manufacture liability where none exists, and the suspect, protected by the reasonableness requirements of the law, remains the "architect of his own fate" and responsible for requiring the officer to respond with force.