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Defensive tactics training: Escape from a full nelson

It is imperative that officers who find themselves the victim of such an assault be able to escape quickly

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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.

The full nelson is a commonly used street attack because it is one of the most easily applied street holds.

This hold is especially dangerous to a police officer, because not only can it be employed to seriously injure the neck, but an officer can also be badly beaten and disarmed while being restrained in this hold. The hold is banned in high school and college wrestling because of its high propensity for injury. It is imperative that officers who find themselves the victim of such an assault be able to escape quickly.

Here is one viable option to train to prepare yourself in the event you wind up in this dangerous predicament.

Step one: Balance and stomp

Maintain your feet initially by establishing a solid base. If you think to do it, you can turn your foot sideways, find his shin and rake the shin downward until you stomp his foot hard to set up the escape (not pictured).

Step Two: Press

Place both hands on your forehead with the pads of your fingers pushing hard against your own forehead.

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Push your hands hard against your forehead while pressing your elbows hard forward and together.

As you press hard against your forehead bring your elbows forward and together. This will not free you, but it will create a potential space in your attacker’s grip to facilitate the escape.

Step Three: Arms up

As your elbows reach a point as far forward and together as possible, while you are still pushing hard against your forehead, quickly throw your arms straight up into the air and immediately drop through the grip, sliding through and out all the way to the ground.

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As you are pressing your hands against your forehead and forcing your elbows forward, suddenly throw both arms suddenly straight up as you drop down through his grip.

Step four: Drop, roll and stand up

As you hit the ground immediately roll quickly over your reaction shoulder and come up to your knees.

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Roll over your reaction side shoulder off the line of assault and push your self first to your knees.

Push off the ground and get a standing position as you prepare to react appropriately to the threat that you now are facing.

Once you start the escape, your movement must be smooth and continuous. Any pause creates an opportunity for your attacker to re-enforce or re-establish control.

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Stand up in a good defensive stand and decide what your next move will be depending on the threat you face at that moment.

Option two and three

After step two is completed, another option (not pictured) you can use is to step behind your attacker’s legs and drive him backward by sitting back. As he hits the ground, double strike hard with both your elbows. This should break his grip.

Still another option is after stepping behind him as described above, and then while bending downward, you can wrap up both of his legs and lift them (not pictured) as you drop back, smashing him hard against the ground to break his grip.


In conclusion, I would like to say that I always embraced Colonel Hal Moore’s philosophy that no matter how bad things get, “There is always one more thing you can do, to ensure success.” However, having one more thing to do does not just automatically happen.

You must imagine what bad thing might happen before it does and then train so that when that bad thing happens, you have become a master at putting into motion at least one (better even to have two) option(s) that will not only ensure your success but also your survival.

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

NEXT: Access Dan Marcou’s entire defensive tactics training series here

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.