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The Blue Brief: Saving a Life with Jiu-Jitsu

The old saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” but that’s only partially true.

Perfect practice makes perfect.

Ruger Pistol Day at the range
All the practice in the world doesn’t matter if you’re not doing it right.

Too often in law enforcement, there isn’t enough training. What we get is subpar.

In the last episode, I talked about the importance of training in law enforcement. Today I want to dial that in a little further.

Yoda knows.

So, let me tell you the tales of a couple of incidents from my career.

These happened at various stages throughout my law enforcement experience and each demonstrates why good training is vital.

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Humble Beginnings

I’ve had a few different tours of service during the course of my career. I’d like to think I learned from each one and tried to do a better job with what I learned.

For the first 10 years, I worked my way up from reserve deputy to patrol sergeant. The learning curve was enormous.

I had been exposed to standard police training in arrest control during the academy. Looking back, my education was woefully lacking.

Knowing we revert to our training makes that education crucial.

Police work is not like some careers where you can afford to make a few mistakes. Sometimes you can do everything right and still die.

During one fateful car stop very early in my career, I tried to help a deputy make an arrest on a really strong, mentally unstable guy.

The experienced deputy did well but I struggled with what to do.

Expectation Management

I want to make something clear…it’s not easy to arrest resisting people.

You might think two, big, strapping, young men should be able to get it done. It’s rarely that simple.

The size of the officer(s) and suspect, everyone’s ability, and level of resistance are all factors.

Size, ability, and will all weigh in heavily on the outcome of a physical confrontation.

A couple of strong guys will have a hard time arresting even a small person if that individual is dedicated to fighting.

Why? We try to make arrests with the minimum amount of force.

It would be relatively straightforward and efficient to clobber someone, but that’s not the goal.

If law enforcement can talk someone into handcuffs, that’s the first approach. Depending on the level of resistance, it can escalate from there.

Use of Force

There are recognized levels in both use of force and resistance. For officers, it starts with presence.

A cop, being present (hopefully in a tidy uniform) makes a statement that should direct things toward a course of order.

You have 15 seconds to comply.

From there, officers move to verbal commands, telling people what to do. This is followed by empty hand control techniques, often called hands-on.

Should that fail, officers may resort to using intermediate weapons such as a baton, pepper spray, etc.

Finally, police have less lethal and then lethal methods they can resort to if all other efforts have failed.

Keep in mind, this is usually driven by the subject.

You’ll Never Take Me Alive Coppa!

Levels of resistance mirror the levels of force.

Subjects start at passive but can move to passive resistance.

Imagine someone sitting at a protest and refusing to leave, that’s passive resistance.

The suspect often sets the terms of the engagement.

Active resistance is when someone tries very hard to avoid arrest. Think of a scuffle where the suspect is not trying to attack the officer but focuses on getting away.

Finally, active aggressors will attack officers with a range of force to avoid arrest. Shooting, punching, or running over police are all examples of this.

I learned about all of these and saw their dramatic effects when officers in neighboring jurisdictions were killed by suspects.

Ultimate Fighting

During this time in my career, the Ultimate Fighting Championship started in my home state of Colorado. Wow, it was brutal!

In an earlier fight during UFC 2, Pat Smith nearly caved in a “ninja’s” head, then Royce Gracie came along.

It was the closest thing I had seen to the type of struggles officers faced on the road. I was hooked.

Eventually, I met a friend who trained under the Gracies, so I started learning.

When I moved to Florida to go back to college, the world was my oyster! There were martial arts schools everywhere! But I started training Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

(Can martial arts help you as a gun owner? We find out in Does Martial Arts Make You A Better Shooter?)

Take a close look at my face here, there’s a lesson plan smooshed into it.

I drifted between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, learning a lot over the following years.

Eventually, I became a mat rat, a creature in many ways similar to the gym rat, who lurked on tatami surfaces in fighting schools.

I liked these martial arts because the UFC proved they worked. Much of the training I had as a cop was ineffectual or required compliant subjects or it was completely conditional.

If the subject is kneeling and compliant, do technique A (like the laughable, 5-step, karate magazine tutorials of old).

I learned that doesn’t work when it’s a straight-up fight.

I was lucky enough to train with Ramon Dekkers, an eight-time Muay Thai world champion.

Muay Thai was devastating and a method of last resort, but jiu-jitsu appealed to me as the gentle art of folding clothes with people still in them.

I could subdue subjects, often without hurting them.

In short, I had no idea how important an investment I was making. But I would soon learn!

Saving a Life with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

I went back to the sheriff’s office a few years later and felt much differently. Not only did I now have a college degree but I possessed something else that was equally important.

Education is also important in law enforcement.

I felt very confident about my abilities and that changed my demeanor. As a result, I acted calmer.

With that mindset, I taught my deputies the things I learned. In two separate classes, I rolled (sparring) with all of them, tapping them out.

They challenged me in succession, with brief breaks in-between. This wasn’t about showing off…this was about demonstrating how effective jiu-jitsu was.

This is how we learn.

A few months later, I responded to a call of a distraught young man in his 20s who had attempted to hang himself inside a shed.

His brother stopped him and this led to a fistfight.

Running can increase the risk to everyone involved. Also, was this a tractor stop?

When I arrived, the despondent man saw me and started fleeing into his house. Where I lived, guns are a common part of life so I was determined to stop him from accessing any.

I gave verbal commands, he ignored me. Then, I grabbed his wrist, he shook me off.

Feeling grossly outmatched is an unnerving experience.

I’m 6-foot-4-inches. At the time, I weighed around 260 pounds with my gear.

My subject was 10 years younger and bigger than me…and I soon learned, much stronger.

With his intention to resist, I shoved him to the ground from behind and took his back — meaning, I got on top of him in an effort to establish control.

I was quite surprised and more than a little alarmed when he started doing a pushup with me on his back!

It wasn’t fun, like this.

At that moment, I knew with certainty if I didn’t stop him, the outcome of that situation could be bad for both of us.

So, I used jiu-jitsu to keep him on the ground.

Within seconds, his elbows shook, and he dropped. With his will to fight broken, he laid there panting. His brother helped me get him into handcuffs before getting him help.

Conclusion

I often look back on this call as a powerful affirmation of lessons I learned watching combatants in the octagon.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor
(Photo: AP/John Locher)

But in a strange twist of fate, I had used jiu-jitsu to prevent someone from killing themselves.

I did it without punching, kicking, beating with a stick, or shocking with a device. It was accomplished solo with a distinct disadvantage.

Check out this great program if you are in law enforcement and would like assistance with training.

When you possess a higher level of skill, you often do not have to resort to extreme measures. You are also less likely to take actions spawned from a sense of fear or panic.

This is the direction law enforcement needs to go.

All the challenges of modern policing are too complex for a one-system solution. There are so many variables and too many scenarios that can happen from shift to shift.

In a time where scrutiny is greater than ever and optics are crucial, the quality of law enforcement training has to improve along with the quantity.

Jiu-jitsu is a shining example of one facet within this career where cops can utilize a higher level of training to everyone’s benefit.

Do you like the idea of police needing to use less force? Are you a BJJ practitioner or cop who has used it on the street? Sound off in the comments below. Need more Blue Brief? Check out more articles here!

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8 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Mark

    And then there's the gracie survival tactics, geared especially for law enforcement. Worth checking out.

    October 1, 2021 5:47 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daniel S.

    "Folding clothes with people still in them." I actually laughed out loud haha.

    I've been watching Jocko Willink a bit more lately and he likes to talk about jiu jitsu a lot. I've been wondering if that's a good martial art to learn. For me that is. Might need to investigate it a bit for myself. The most I've got is some Kenpo as a kid and Taekwondo from a semester at the local community college. TOTALLY ready to try and subdue someone a head taller than me lol. Great article!

    September 27, 2021 9:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thank you Daniel!

      Most of the altercations I experienced during my career ended up on the ground, so it made sense to train BJJ.

      I've done other martial arts too, but even as a white belt in BJJ I could tie up or tap experienced practitioners of other systems when on the ground.

      I can't recommend it enough.

      September 28, 2021 7:12 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Daniel S.

        I'll check it out then when I get the chance! There's a dojo next town over I keep seeing.

        September 28, 2021 8:08 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Irvin B, McDougal

    Great article. Scary feeling locking up with a suspect bigger/stronger than you. That young man was lucky you were the cop who encountered him. Another officer, not as well trained, could have got ugly.

    September 27, 2021 7:26 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thank you Irvin,

      This sounds like the voice of experience! As I mentioned in the beginning, I was that officer when I first started. I really did not know enough about how to handle violent resistance. I learned, but I had to step outside of law enforcement to get the training I needed.

      Thanks for the read!

      September 28, 2021 7:16 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Daniel L

    This was a pretty cool read for me because I've been training in BJJ at a local gym for the past year with the goal of being prepared for law enforcement. Since starting, I've enjoyed participating in the occasional competition. Even though I've lost almost every match in my tournaments, it's crazy fun nevertheless. The Gracies on their YouTube channel were very influential in my decision to start training.

    September 27, 2021 1:53 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Daniel,

      Thanks for consistently stopping by!

      I'm glad to hear you are ahead of the curve on this one. When I started, it was uncommon for LE to be heading in this direction. You can see that it paid off.

      Thankfully, things are changing. Get some decent standup in too if you can but remember the risk of a puncher's chance!

      September 27, 2021 2:18 pm
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