Trending Topics

Defensive tactics training: More options for escape from a headlock

Police1 readers share alternative techniques to the ‘Big Ben’ option

Marcou_Dan_IMG_7946 (2).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.

In last month’s offering, I demonstrated a simple impact to the groin I called the “Big Ben.” It was offered as an option for an escape from a headlock. Some of our black belt officer/readers offered other options I would like to share with you, such as from:


“When you are brought into a headlock you must first immediately base yourself, then, like a windmill, reach up behind his head and closest shoulder to find his face/eyes. At the same time that you are grabbing his eyes and pulling his head back and down is when you swing with your other hand to ring the bell. This is partly for pain, but mostly for a distraction while you are breaking his stance. Remember, like OC, not everyone responds to a groin strike.” (This technique is not pictured.)

Thank you Ghostvet for accurately describing a widely accepted option for an escape from a headlock.

Another suggestion from an anonymous reader:

“After administering the ‘Big Ben,’ reach around the attacker’s waist with your left hand and grab tight at the belt-line and pull hard as you shoot your right leg between his leg and roll over your right shoulder as you pull with your left hand. You will come up on top of him and if he still holds on then strike him hard in the groin.” (This technique is not pictured.)

Thank you for sharing and so accurately describing another effective option for an escape from the headlock.

Pictured Technique

This technique and the previously described techniques can be utilized if the Big Ben does not completely accomplish your escape, or without the Big Ben as a precursor as a stand-alone technique.

Step 1: Administer the Big Ben from an angle from which it will be most effective. Even if the suspect does not release the headlock, the impact will loosen him up and compromise his balance a bit.


Loosen them up with the Big Ben.

Step 2: Make certain your base is wide with your left leg behind his right leg. After the strike to the groin, your left arm should wrap around his waist and grab the attacker’s hip bone. With that left hand, pull him back hard causing him to fall backward over and around your left leg.


Reach around and grab the opposite hip and pull them back over and around your inside leg.

Step 3: As he topples to his back, control him as he hits the ground or disengage.


When they hit the ground control or disengage.

Physical Skills Training Must Be Pre-Service and Ongoing

It is interesting to note that every one of the options for this one attack I have seen in my years of personal training. However, I have seen none of them in officially sanctioned police training classes. Basing your survival on the basic training you get at the academy level and the in-service training funded by your department is like going to Las Vegas with three dollars in your pocket. When the stakes are the highest, you will be out of options pretty quickly.

Being a Great Communicator is also Important but Insufficient for Total Survival

You can have a community policing mindset while being a master communicator and de-escalator, but still, there will be times when you say, “Police officer, you are under arrest,” and the fight will be on.

I always knew I wanted to be a police officer and I knew it would be physical so my training started before I became one. I ran, lifted, stretched, wrestled (as reader the.g so wisely suggested), boxed and then studied the martial arts. When I was finally hired as an officer, I continued with this training in an ongoing manner with one exception. I invited other officers to train with me. We called our group “Kei Satsu Jitsu,” which meant “Police Way of Combat.”

In our ongoing class, my fellow officers and I perfected our team physical arrest skills, self-defense options, weapon retention skills and use of empty hand personal body weapons. We even had firearms days. My fellow officers and I increased our tactical options, as well as our proficiency, with our existing basic academy skills. On the street, we always won physically, legally and emotionally because we were prepared for the challenges we faced. And we practiced courtesy right up to impact and beyond so we looked like the good guys and gals while we were winning.

Physical skills training must start with pre-service and be forever ongoing for the active street police officer. There are too many officers who when their TASER does not stop a suspect owe their survival to the basic academy skills they have not practiced for years, which is quite a gamble.


The knights of old trained constantly for their inevitable honorable combat. You are their honorable modern counterparts and your physical challenges lie just as inevitably ahead in your future. You must choose to train regularly and train well on your own time and your own dime for your own sake, now more than ever.

Thank you so much to readers the.g, ghostvet and anonymous for adding additional suggestions with each of these segments. Please continue to do so for your input is valuable by emailing As you know better than most, there is no technique that works all the time and so it is good to have multiple options.

Simply put, during an empty-hand violent struggle, don’t you think that if you have many empty-hand options in your toolbox thanks to your on-going training it will be less likely when fighting with an unarmed man that you will have to resort to as elmo44 puts it “grab the firearm by your right hand and use that”?

That’s what I thought, and that’s why I trained. Prepare to be prepared!

Readers Respond

As a student and teacher of Krav Maga, I know when in a headlock, always turn 90 degrees to your attacker. Do this first. It takes the pressure off the neck and allows the defender to breathe. It buys precious seconds in case the groin strike, eye gouge, or other takedown isn’t effective or needs to be attempted multiple times.

— Art Joslin

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. 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.

Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. He is the co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters.” 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 two non-fiction books, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History” and “If I Knew Then: Life Lessons From Cops on the Street.” All of Lt. Marcou’s books are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.