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How to prepare for a fight for your life

A well-placed impact can take a fighting suspect mentally and sometimes physically out of the fight

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It is possible to spot an impending attack.

Photo/Tony Webster via WikiCommons

“Stop or I’ll say stop again,” was Robin Williams’ laughter-provoking description of how British police deal with resistive suspects. But as all of you know from personal experience, dealing with resistive and combative suspects is no laughing matter.

The vast majority of people contacted by police officers do not resist the police, and even fewer actually attack police officers. Because a significant amount of time often passes between violent attacks experienced by officers, many cops have to fight the tendency to become complacent. Such complacency can result in an officer being caught off guard when an attack does happen, with potentially fatal consequences.

Sometimes words will fail

You can’t properly prepare to defend against a vicious assault if you have no sense that it might happen to you. You will fare better if you are alert to the possibility of an attack, and possess not only the desire to win (which all officers have), but also the skills and intensity to win a fight.

When it is suggested to some officers that they could bear to be more alert and prepared for the dangers that exist on the street you might hear, “That’s for the young hot shots on nights. I’m semi-retired here on days.”

Another dangerous miscalculation is when officers say, “I don’t have problems that other officers have because I can talk to people.” Having the best communication skills will serve you well, but all cops need to realize the time will come when words will fail.

Prepare in advance for the inevitable

Can you imagine an MMA fighter climbing into the octagon without any prior preparation? An ill-prepared person in a fight will either freeze or flail ineffectively.

What’s ironic is when that person is a police officer then his or her ineffective flailing will be judged to be excessive force instead of ineffective force. Witnesses will say, “Did you see that? The cop hit him like 20 times.”

When you are flailing in a fight, you are failing in a fight.

Why police officers need to train to win

If impacts become necessary, they should be intense, focused and performed with full power to end the fight quickly.

I would like to share with you how I personally prepared to survive 33 years of policing, which brought with it fights that were started by other people, but that I had a sworn duty to finish.

Here is my training regimen for you to consider, which prepared me to win when words failed:

  1. Ongoing martial arts training to first develop and then enhance all personal body weapons and control tactics;
  2. “Thump sparring” while padded making light contact to practice actual combat;
  3. American one-step-sparring where you and a training partner take turns attacking and defending, with specific trained techniques practiced for repetitions;
  4. Arranging for and training in an on-going police defensive tactics class;
  5. Personal fitness training 3-5 times a week;
  6. Regular sessions on a heavy bag, focus bag and speed bag as a part of that fitness training;
  7. Shadow fighting/boxing as part of that fitness training;
  8. Doing knuckle push-ups to prepare fists to survive punches.

Recognizing the threat before the attack

It is possible to spot an impending attack. Just like a poker player holds what he believes is a winning hand, a suspect about to attack will display “tells,” called pre-attack indicators. Your awareness should be heightened when the suspect:

  1. Has a history of violence (especially toward police officers);
  2. Conspicuously ignores you, your requests and commands;
  3. Is excessively emotional;
  4. Makes movements that are exaggerated, possibly adrenalized;
  5. Suddenly stops all movement. Look out!

Certain body stances and postures strongly indicate a suspect is pondering or preparing an attack. These include:

  1. The “knuckle tell” where the suspect’s hands may be down at his side, but they are either in a fist, or the back of the hand is forward, with two or three knuckles extended downward with their thumb bent at a 90-degree angle indicating the suspect is palming something;
  2. Feet and body positioned in fighting stance;
  3. Shoulders shifted, bladed, or even rolled forward;
  4. When the target glances toward other suspects, your weapon, other potential weapons in the room, or an escape route
  5. When the suspect has a “thousand yard stare” where he is looking in a fixed manner through, past, or beyond you;
  6. When the suspect’s hand or hands disappear.

When you see a combination of these indicators, ensure back-up is on the way and establish a defensible reactionary gap between you and the suspect.

Offense is the best defense

When a suspect swings at you, remember this martial arts maxim: “The hand that strikes also blocks.” Do not wait for the impact. Control, avoid, or block it. If you can’t control the incoming punch, hit them back first. Don’t spar! Impact with power to a vulnerable target such as the:

  1. Mustache area;
  2. Chin;
  3. Solar plexus;
  4. Lower abdomen;
  5. Brachial plexus;
  6. Common peroneal, and many others worth learning.

A well-placed impact can take a fighting suspect mentally and sometimes physically out of the fight.

As you make impact, shout “Down!” or “Back!” It sends a message, lets the air out of your abdomen, causes a tightening of muscles at impact improving your power and makes you less vulnerable to a counter-punch that could land.


Remember as you prepare seriously for your next fight, unlike the MMA fighter your contest will not be fought for money or fame; it will be a fight for your life.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.