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Defensive tactics training: Capturing the arm with a ‘lever arm’

Use this technique when a suspect won’t give up their arms for handcuffing

Self defense lever arm pry.JPG

Having been an active street cop for the entire 33 years of my police career, as well as an active police trainer for 43 years, in this series I share some of the defensive tactics techniques that helped me prevail on the street. The series presents a variety of defensive tactics in a format that allows you to follow the instructions and practice the technique. Remember practice makes prepared.

Much of the resistance that officers experience can be described in this sentence: “The suspect just wouldn’t give up his arms for handcuffing.”

Often the suspect is posing this resistance while over the hood of a vehicle or while on their stomach on the ground. The longer this resistance is successful, the more probability exists that the situation will spin out of control and develop into something much worse.

Officers who are not trained in any specific way to overcome this resistance tend to attempt to capture the arm for handcuffing by instinctively locking their right hand on the suspect’s right wrist to forcibly bring the arm in a wide 180-degree arc, from the suspect’s front to the small of the back. This is an incredibly inefficient tactic and allows for a weaker suspect to resist effectively against a stronger officer.

A much better way to capture the arm for controlling is what is sometimes called in high school and collegiate wrestling a “lever arm.” In using this technique, a weaker officer can overcome a stronger suspect and capture the arm for controlling, by using as one might guess by the name, leverage.

This technique will be demonstrated from the right side, but it can be done from the left side as well.

Step one: Capture the wrist

The difficult first step is to work your way in to capture the wrist of the suspect. For the lever arm, you must slide your right hand under the suspect’s triceps and biceps to capture his right wrist, with your palm gripping the top side of his wrist, with your palm down. Make sure your grip is as firm as possible.

Self defense lever arm step one.JPG

Reach between the body and the arm, under the biceps and triceps, to grasp the suspect’s wrist on the top with your palm down.

Step two A: Use your forearm like a lever and pry

While maintaining your grip on the wrist, use your right forearm like it is a lever bar and while you maneuver your forearm upward and forward pry the suspect’s wrist back.

Self defense lever arm pry.JPG

Use your arm like a pry bar and while maintaining the grip on the wrist pry upward with the arm, then forward and then downward while maintaining your grip on the wrist.

Step two B: Continue to pry with your forearm

Put your weight gradually on the suspect’s triceps and biceps area with your forearm upward, then forward, then downward in a 180-degree arch parallel to the suspect’s body, while you bring the suspect’s wrist back towards you. His right buttocks will tend to naturally shoot upward during the movement when it is being done correctly.

Self Defense lever arm pry two.JPG

After prying with your arm, up, forward and then down, you should expose the wrist and hand. Place your right hand on the triceps for pressure and your left hand on the back of his hand for counter-pressure, squeezing the two together to achieve compliance. You can reinforce this grip by supporting the pressure against the triceps with your knee. Do not put your knee on the arm, use the interior of your knee for counter-pressure against the triceps.

Step three: Once you capture the arm, control it

Once the wrist is captured with the arm back toward you, transfer your grip to a control hold, with your right hand putting pressure on his triceps and your left hand on the back of his right hand. Control is maintained by pressure on the triceps, while maintaining counter-pressure on the back of his hand, squeezing the two together, while telling him, “Bring your left hand to the small of your back. Stop resisting.”

At this point, you have the suspect in a hold which is known by most as “rear pain compliance.” When he complies, do not release the hold, but you can let up on the pressure, rewarding his compliance. He is now in a position to handcuff. If you are on the ground with the suspect, you will be able to maintain pressure on his wrist with your left hand and counter pressure by supporting his triceps with counter-pressure against your knee. That will allow you to use your right hand to apply the handcuffs.

Self Defense Lever arm finish.JPG

Once you expose the suspect’s right hand, place your left hand on the back of the suspect’s right hand and your right hand should be on the triceps of the suspect’s right arm squeezing them together for pressure and counter pressure. Your right knee can reinforce this grip by being against but not on the triceps.


By utilizing the lever arm, you are using a technique that allows you to capture the arm with pure technique, rather than pure strength. However, by lifting weights on a regular basis to build your upper body strength, coupling your strength with the technique, makes the technique even more effective.

For those of you who at any time in your life competitively wrestled, or practiced judo or Jiu-Jitsu, you already own this technique and have most likely used it often. For those of you who have not, consider learning it and adding it to your toolbox.

Stay safe, stay strong and stay positive.

NEXT: 4 steps to incorporate Jiu-Jitsu into your department’s use of force training

Photos by Anya Marcou. Techniques demonstrated by Lt. Dan Marcou and Aidan Marcou.

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.