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Defensive tactics training: The elbow strike is a match for the snatch

Any impact used to thwart a suspect from taking your firearm must be done with all the power you can muster

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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.

One of the most dangerous holds a suspect can apply to an officer is to establish a hold on your holstered weapon with an intent to disarm. One preventative measure you can take to give yourself some time in this situation is to have a secure holster. This will not necessarily defeat the assault, but it will most likely delay the weapon snatch. The existing security of your weapon offered by the holster can be re-enforced by locking it down with the available hand.

Take advantage of opportunity

When there is an attempt to snatch your weapon, and the suspect is temporarily thwarted by you locking down your weapon and the security features on your holster, it puts you momentarily in a position of advantage, because your attacker will have to drop his guard to affect the snatch. Whether the grab comes from the front, side, or back your attacker will be wide open for a full power-focused impact.

For such a close-quarter assault as this, a viable option is to deliver a focused elbow strike to a vulnerable target on the face. Advantages to using the elbow strike are:

  • The elbow is not as easily injured as your fist.
  • The elbow can deliver a great deal of power to a point of focus even in close-quarter combat.
  • The short distance between you and the point of impact can help demonstrate when you must justify the injury (injuries) to the suspect, the proximity of this aggressive attacker when you defended yourself.
  • Likely suspect injuries can be proved defensible when in addition to proximity, it is shown that there has been an attempt to disarm.
  • The full power elbow strike performed correctly can be an attack ender.

How to perform the elbow strike for power

For the impact to have its greatest effect you should be in a good balanced stance. To strike an attacker reaching for your weapon from the front, the toes of your reaction foot should be pointed at your attacker. Your strong foot should be set back and at a 45-degree angle to your reaction foot, with your feet at least shoulder-width apart and slightly off-set to avoid your feet being in line as if you’re walking a tight-rope.

Your knees should be flexed with your weight distributed evenly between your feet. Your body should be bladed with the striking elbow away from the aggressor and your opposite hand providing a guard or locking down your weapon.

Take your strong hand and form a fist, bringing it to a point about two inches in front of your breastbone, palm down. Load your elbow for impact by rotating your upper body at the waste turned as far away from the attacker as possible (like you are drawing a bow). If your striking arm is parallel to the ground and your fist is at breastbone level your strike will impact the suspect at your own lung height. You can raise the strike by increasing the forearm’s angle to the ground while raising your fist’s height accordingly.

From the loaded position rotate your upper body toward the target at full speed, striking your target with the front two inches of the elbow along with the elbow. Drive your power up from your strong foot still attached to the ground, to and through the target, while rotating your hips toward the target.

In the case of a weapon grab from the front, you have many viable targets. Strike to and through the nose, chin, temple, or jaw. At impact shout “Let GO (impact on go) of my gun!” This communicates what you want them to do and also informs witnesses and backup officers that the suspect has hold of your weapon. Making noise at impact also increases the power of your impact.

To strike a criminal attacking from behind, hit him by using a quick elbow jab striking with the back two inches of the elbow to and through the chin. Or, for even more power, you can also strike with the elbow to the rear as you power pivot on your reaction foot 180 degrees, striking them in the jaw as you pass on the pivot 180 degrees to face them.

How to defend against a weapon snatch from behind

Follow these steps:

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As an attempt is made to snatch your weapon from behind, secure weapon and load elbow for impact.

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Begin to pivot as you impact your elbow to and through the target.

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Impact through the target as you pivot 180 degrees and prepare to defend, disengage, or control.

How to defend against a weapon snatch from the front

Follow these steps:

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Establish stance, secure weapon and load for impact.

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Rotate to strike your elbow to and through your target.


I cannot overemphasize that any impact used to thwart a disarm attempt must be done with all the power you can muster. This is indeed a violent, but necessary, life-saving impact.

When justified, the elbow strike can be a devastatingly effective non-lethal defensive weapon to use. In a situation where the use of deadly force may very well be justified It will not likely end the attacker’s life, but it is highly likely to end the attack.

I have personally discovered and am now sharing with all of you the elbow strike, which is the perfect match for the attempted snatch.

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.