Cutting Edge Training

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Fear in the Warrior’s Life

by Tom on May 2, 2011 05:20

“…the hero and the coward live just a decision away from the other.”

A recent discussion of fear caused me to think about the part that “fear” plays in the warrior’s response to the need to act in dangerous circumstances, where that danger is life threatening and a real possibility. 

The discussion started with a bashing of fear citing how debilitating and horrible having fear is to the human existence.  I believe that fear, in and of itself, is neutral…it’s really neither good nor bad.  It just is.  Fear is a part of being human.  It is our response to fear—our decisions and resulting behavior—that is the real issue.  In fact, there are times when fear is good and justifies threatening and even deadly responses (e.g., pointing a gun at someone whose behavior has placed others in imminent fear.  This creates a fear response from the antagonist—he stops his threatening behavior because he fears he is going to be shot, and injured or killed).  So fear has a place that can be healthy when it motivates people to behave appropriately.

Fear as a motivator is the mechanism by which many people achieve great riches, or why they get up and go to work every day even though they would rather sit in the sun and relax, or why they behave in socially acceptable ways.  Fear can be a co-motivator with healthy pride in achievement, causing warriors to perfect and maintain their skills, as well as to seek out new and different ideas, methods, and knowledge.  Warriors understand that no matter how prepared they are at this moment, they cannot prepare for everything, but they can be better prepared to meet the unexpected through a greater and more diverse skill and knowledge base.

Fear is a problem when we experience a degree or level of fear that paralyzes and causes us to do nothing when we should be doing something (even running is sometimes the appropriate response to fear).  Paralyzing fear is created when we let our imagination to overwhelm us, focusing on “what if,” and fixating on our mortal vulnerabilities.  When the mind has not been disciplined through difficult, arduous training, the mind can spin helplessly out of control, and the paralysis is complete unless something greater shocks us out of our stupor.

Fear can become debilitating when we deny it for too long.  The fear may be so great that we believe we cannot face it, so we consciously stuff it down.  Eventually, however, the fear will make itself known through negative psychological or physical manifestations such as mental or physical paralysis, numbness, and disease.

If we really get down to it, fear seldom occurs in a vacuum.  It is generally the companion of something more sinister (despair, anger, hopelessness, danger etc.).  So really fear is just the messenger of something that is already present or something that is coming.  Healthy fear does not generally happen by accident.  Perhaps the old adage of “Don’t shoot the messenger” is appropriate here.  Whether you see fear as a good or bad thing, as a stand-alone plague or a tag-along to a much bigger issue, fear will be present in a warrior’s life.  It is in our response or lack of response to this universal emotion that truly tests and forges who we are.

As Gavin DeBecker suggests, “fear is a gift,” and not a curse.  I don’t believe that fear is a “monster.”  It is what we do in the presence of fear that is telling about the individual.  In the presence of fear, our character is revealed.  Having been a police officer, I will tell you that there were times when I was definitely afraid, but I chose to do what needed to be done.  And in life there are still times when I am afraid, but I step forward anyway, through that fear. 

Am I schizophrenic because I feel the fear yet continue my life in a positive way?  Should I kid myself, deny that I feel fear, and live in pseudo-humility asserting all the while that I am not really scared at all?  I say NO to both.  I think that the hero and the coward live just a decision away from the other.  I think that the myth of the never-nervous, always calm, going forth and conquering warrior is just that…a fantasy.  Lt. Col. David Hackworth (US Army, deceased) once said, “Being brave on a battlefield is not letting anyone know you’re afraid.”  Fearlessness before and during battle is simply a perception by others, not something that is experienced except by the foolish or mentally ill…it is not reality.

I believe we should recognize our human fear and accept its capacity to motivate or cripple us.  As a warrior and trainer of warriors, I offer this to our students:  ”feel the fear and do what is required of you.”  Courage is not about the absence of fear, but what you do in the presence of fear, while under the influence of fear.  We train to respond in times of danger.  Imagine what your response is going to be—believe it, taste it, smell it—and then work your skills and tactics until your response is automatic.

The bottom line is that each of us must accept the fact that as a human, you and I will die one day—maybe today.  Also accept the fact that, as a warrior, you and I invite the possibility of death because we choose to run to the sound of gunfire.  Because it doesn’t matter that I am going to die.  What matters is that I die as a warrior if that is what God demands of me, stepping into my fear and not hiding from it.  If I can accept that, I need never fear being afraid—I will simply be whatever I am despite my state of fear.

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.


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

by Tom on June 4, 2009 08:52

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimal Training Time

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

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

Limited Attributes

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

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

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

Fighting Like a Cop

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

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

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

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