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Combining ethics, tactics and technique in VNR

A defensive tactics instructor from a major police department requested our opinion regarding the vascular neck restraint


A defensive tactics instructor from a major police department requested the Ethical Warrior opinion of the vascular neck restraint

At RGI we have a saying: Ethics drive tactics — tactics drive technique. If you’ve been reading our series of articles, you know that most of them have focused on the “ethical” and “tactical” aspects of being a professional protector.

We also believe that being ethical — and even employing great tactics — might not be enough to preclude the need to use physical techniques in some situations.

We are both lifetime martial artists — Jack is a subject matter expert for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, and Bruce is certified as both a firearms and general police instructor. We know it can get downright physical. However, please consider the following question.

The Vascular Neck Restraint
We were recently approached by a defensive tactics instructor from a major police department who requested our opinion regarding the vascular neck restraint (VNR). This instructor has 30 years of martial arts training and 25 years as a police officer, and he was concerned about the “muddy” prospect of training officers to use this type of technique.

We agree with his assessment of the training — it can be muddy. The VNR is a highly effective technique but, if improperly applied, it can have disastrous results.

This question merits further assessment and discussion. Please take a moment to think once more about our saying: Ethics drive tactics — tactics drive technique.

Before any technique is used, some conditions must be satisfied:

1. Is it ethical? Do my intended actions protect myself and others — even my suspect, if possible?
2. Is it tactical? Does the specific environment and atmosphere of the situation require a strong physical response?
3. Is the physical response technically appropriate? Does my intended action (technique) — in context — satisfy #1 and #2, above, and am I competent to take that action (perform that technique) without losing my clarity of mind (my protector mindset)?

In essence, will using this technique, at this time and place, protect self and others? Or am I using it out of fear, anger, disrespect, as a punishment, to protect my ego, etc.

Using a technique, any technique, without satisfying #1 and #2 — or even discussing it beforehand — is, indeed, a recipe for “muddiness” (read: possibly inappropriate and perhaps even illegal).

Ethical Considerations
In most Defensive Tactics courses, officers are likely to get good technical instruction on the technique at hand. Officers will also probably hear the legal ramifications of using the technique. However, it is also critical that they review these other considerations:

  • Imperative for ethical application:
    1. Is this potentially lethal technique necessary to protect myself and others?
    2. Am I making myself disproportionately safer at the suspect’s expense?
  • Necessity for maintaining a clear protector mindset:
    1. Am I capable of controlling my anger and fear enough to apply the technique effectively and dispassionately?
    2. Can I maintain the awareness to recognize compliance and switch to a different control technique if possible?
  • Importance of being acutely aware of the tactical appropriateness:
    1. Am I using this technique because it “works” or because it is the most appropriate response in the situation?
    2. Am I making myself vulnerable to other attackers by “locking on” to the suspect?

If all those considerations are addressed, then officers will know that whatever techniques they are taught are likely to be used appropriately.

We do not pretend officers have the time to review these considerations under the stress and danger of an actual physical conflict situation. We believe they must be clarified beforehand. The first time you think these things through should not be when you’re preparing to defend your actions in court. A sustained program of realistic physical training fully incorporating tactics and ethics gives officers the best chance to be prepared — and to do the right thing.

As far as the VNR goes, we believe that it has gone out of favor because the technique has been used too many times without the proper ethical and tactical considerations. This is a shame since it can be a useful and effective technique. But it is amoral. Criminals can use the VNR too. Even if your agency’s policy allows it, please use it as an Ethical Protector.

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International, subject matter expert for Combatives and Warrior Ethics for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, and trains police officers in de-escalation skills.

Bruce J. Gourlie is a former U.S. Army infantry officer, a retired FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge for Intelligence and currently the director of security in a large healthcare system.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.