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Defensive tactics training: Elbow joint to arm bar

A technique for lone officers who meet resistance on the road

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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.

Today I am going to gift to you a technique I used many times when I found myself alone on a traffic stop dealing with the resistance of a strong suspect. I also used it during many other circumstances to overcome extreme resistance.

It is a difficult technique to learn but effective. I call it the “elbow joint to arm bar.” It is a technique that is excellent for overcoming the resistance of a larger, even stronger person than you. It allows you to focus the strength of both your legs to overcome the strength of one of a subject’s arms to gain control. This is how it works.

Step one: Escort grip

When you have grounds to arrest, words have failed and you decide to go hands-on with the suspect a commonly used initial contact is an escort grip, during which you take hold of the suspect’s right arm (It works from the left as well).

Place your right hand at the suspect’s right wrist utilizing a pincer’s grip. Simultaneously take hold of his right elbow area with your left hand, also in a pincer’s grip, while telling the suspect, “Police (Sheriff) relax, you are under arrest.”

If the suspect complies, order him into a handcuffing position. If you feel immediate, strong resistance, you can choose to disengage or move on to step two.

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This is the escort grip utilized when words fail and officers need to go hands-on.

Step two: Find the natural bend in the elbow

Once you feel the resistance and have decided to attempt the technique, your right hand stays on the right wrist while you squat into a position as if you are in the midst of a “clean and jerk,” with a set of Olympic weights. (In martial arts this is called the “horse stance.”)

At the same time, the left hand that is on the elbow rotates 180 degrees so that your fingers are pointed at your left shoulder as the palm heel of your left hand finds the interior underside of the elbow, where it naturally bends. With that found, push up to bend the arm at the elbow.

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After feeling strong resistance, get into the “horse stance” and rotate the hand on the elbow 180 degrees so your fingers are pointed toward your left shoulder. Find the bend in the arm and push upwards, while using your legs to re-enforce the upward push where heavy resistance exists.

A suspect who is resisting will have tightened the arm considerably and this is where your legs come in. As you push up with your left hand you reinforce this movement by utilizing the muscles in your legs by slowly moving upward. As the arm bends make certain you are not going against the locked elbow. That is a different technique.

Place the suspect’s wrist into the bend of your left arm with your right hand and form a solid stance with your legs as you step toward the suspect bending and barring the arm further. The arm should be bent behind the back in a natural position.

This initial hold is not yet a pain compliance technique, but a mechanical control hold.

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Place the suspect’s right wrist in the bend of your left arm.

Step three: Sweep him over the hood to control

During this movement, the suspect will have a natural tendency to lean forward, and this will compromise his balance.

Since your squad, the suspect’s vehicle, or another parked car will usually be close use it to avoid the more devastating impact of going to the ground by sweeping him in an arc over the hood of the available vehicle.

While maintaining the arm bar, guide him so that his chest comes down over the vehicle and his head does not go into the vehicle. Accomplish this by moving your body in an arc that sweeps the suspect over the hood or trunk of the vehicle. The hood or trunk is a much more forgiving surface than an asphalt or gravel shoulder to not only the suspect but you as well.

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The suspect will naturally lean forward, so sweep him over the hood of the hood or trunk of the available vehicle.

Step four: Apply a modified pain compliance technique

Once the suspect is leaned over the vehicle and you still have his right arm in the arm bar, hook the fingers of your left hand around and supporting the suspect’s right triceps. The fingers of your right hand can fold around the back of the suspect’s right hand with your middle finger indexing along the knuckles that meet his right hand. At this point, you will find your arms are crossed in front of your chest squeezing the hand and the triceps together to achieve pain compliance.

Order him to “Stop resisting,” and to “Bring your left hand behind your back.” Once compliance is achieved let up on the pressure, but do not release the mechanical hold.

The big mistake with the arm bar is that people think pain compliance is achieved by “cranking” the arm upward. This tends to injure the shoulder before any meaningful pain compliance is achieved. I have always preferred to use holds that control without injury.

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Hook your left fingers over and around the back of the suspect’s triceps, while your right hand controls the back of his right hand, indexing your middle finger where his knuckles meet the hand. Squeeze the hand and triceps together to achieve pain compliance and order him to “Stop Resisting and bring his other hand behind his back.

Effective but difficult

On the street I have found this technique once mastered is extremely effective and can be utilized often. I found it especially effective on traffic stops when backup was a long way off. I could apply the hold after overcoming resistance and either talk them into bringing their left hand behind their back so that I could apply handcuffs or allow me to maintain control until more help arrived.

It also allows an officer to be in a defensible position if that officer chooses to disengage.

However, the negative aspect of this hold is that it takes a lot of practice to master this technique, but once mastered it enhances your ability to control on the street at the level of non-injuring empty hand force.


Here’s hoping you don’t let the degree of difficulty in mastering the elbow joint to arm bar technique bar you from mastering this winning technique.

Stay safe, stay strong, stay positive and keep fighting the good fight.

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

NEXT: Police research: 1,000 cops address non-compliance during traffic stops

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.