Cutting Edge Training

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

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.