Is training in Mixed Martial Arts the right thing for your officers?

The physical skills needed to win must be simple, based on gross motor movements, learnable in an eight-hour session once a year, and practiced for about ten repetitions

Law enforcement training is usually slow to change. Unfortunately, most agencies provide training only after a tragic or near-tragic event. For example, at my agency we had not trained in any type of formal defensive tactics training for at least 10 years prior to an officer making the ultimate sacrifice when in 1996, he was disarmed and killed during a burglary. It wasn’t until after his death that we started conducting department-wide defensive tactics training. In teaching and training around the country, I have spoken with many trainers who can relate to this.

For the first time, we may actually be getting ahead of the training curve when it comes to the explosion of Mixed Martial Arts. In preparing for the onslaught of suspects that have either watched enough MMA fights on TV, or have actually trained MMA to be good enough to defeat an officer, we are training our officers to defend against these people. Many trainers are teaching how to work from the ground by getting suspects in their guard. They teach techniques when the suspect has the officer in their guard. Others teach how to counter other standard MMA techniques. I have participated in many of these classes, learned some great techniques.

The problem is, most of the officers we teach are not going to train long or hard enough to be able to perform these techniques when they are being attacked.

Now let me say here, I love training in martial arts and think all of our officers should train martial arts since their lives may depend upon being able to think clearly when attacked. But they’re not going to. This is the dilemma that we face as trainers. This is why teaching how to counter various MMA techniques is not practical for the majority of our officers. If a suspect is training in MMA, and chooses to attack an officer, the officer needs to be able to win not counter techniques.

I have been in many classes as a student and watched the dismay, doubt and disdain students have expressed with various techniques. Obviously, the instructor teaching the technique is skilled in applying and teaching the technique. But once the students start working the techniques, they can’t seem to get it to work. The instructor can give great instruction, be patient and thoroughly explain every detail and the student will still not be able to get it.

Take for example, the officer who is on his or her back, with a suspect is between their legs and grabbing the officer’s gun. I’ve seen many instructors teach some type of martial arts wrist lock to defeat this attack. Although I will not say anything in class, I ask myself “Why is the instructor teaching a non-deadly force technique to a deadly force attack?”

The student is not being taught the concept of how to win... they are being taught how to control. Sometimes we have to teach to meet the violence that we are confronted with so our officers can win.

The physical skills needed to win must be simple, based on gross motor movements, learnable in an eight-hour session once a year, and practiced for about ten repetitions. If you have trained law enforcement officers for any length of time during in-service training, you know that most officers will practice any given control tactic about eight to ten times before they start talking to their partner about some war story, complain about the agency or explaining why the current technique will not work in real life.

Will they do what you teach them when it matters? Another common issue arises due to training being conducted in a “safe” environment to limit injuries. These training areas are a must, since officers will be required to return to work after training is over. The challenge is to induce stress and challenge the student while keeping the training safe. With the help of a little creativity and equipment, students can safely be challenged.

By inducing stress, you will learn what your students will really do to resolve a violent encounter. You will see that the techniques you teach without stress, may begin to fail or be forgotten when stress is added. After applying this theory to our training, I realized that some of the techniques I taught did not work or were not used under stress. I then began to teach concepts to the students and let them apply the tactics or techniques they thought would best resolve the situation. This type of training doesn’t exclude solid foundation training — it builds upon it.

By first teaching the basics in various disciplines — firearms, building searches, defensive tactics, etc. — then teaching concepts under stress, students figure out on their own what works best for them. As a result, students leave training knowing that the techniques they will rely on will work for them.

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