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Defensive tactics training: The Sankyo technique

Becoming proficient at the lost art of empty hand control is within your grasp if you have patience and commitment

Sankyo Step 4 (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.

Sankyo is an Aikido technique that is extremely effective and applicable for controlling resistant subjects. However, it requires a deep commitment to training in the technique before attempting to overcome resistance on the street.

For me, that meant I practiced it for years before I felt I owned it. Once the technique was mine and its many applications understood and mastered, it became one of the most powerful tools in my toolbox. I used it when I found myself making an arrest of a resistant suspect in the presence of a crowd that had either the potential to turn into friend or foe.

The times I used it in front of such a crowd, it not only controlled the suspect without injury but the crowd was so fascinated by the technique that they did not turn on me. Sankyo never failed to turn a crowd from, “Get your f----ing hands off him!” to, “Wow! That was cool.” Sometimes they even applauded.

Let’s take Sankyo one step at a time.

Step one: Escort

In most classes where Sankyo is taught, beginners are shown how to apply it from a handshake. I am going to bypass this and start right from how I applied it on the street.

The most often used application by me was to first apply the standard right hand on the right wrist, with your left hand slightly above the elbow in an escort grip. As you make contact tell the suspect, “Police (or Sheriff), relax. You are under arrest.”

If there is no resistance you can talk them into a position to handcuff them from. If you sense a tightening of the arm, move on quickly to step two.

Sankyo step 1.JPG

Step one: Escort grip

Step two: Pull down arm

When I met resistance, I would pull straight down on the arm and the suspect who was resisting would naturally pull their arm upward to resist and break the grip. Using this movement to facilitate my next move, I could move into many holds as a response to this resistance, including Sankyo.

Sankyo Step 2.JPG

Step two: When met with resistance, pull down on escort grip.

Step three: Drive the elbow to the sky

To move into Sankyo, I would maintain the escort grip and drive the suspect’s elbow straight up until the point of the elbow was pointing to the sky. This would be facilitated by the fact that when you pull down on the escort grip, a resisting suspect will naturally pull up against you, making the driving up of the elbow an easy task.

Sankyo Step 3.JPG

Step three: Drive the Elbow to the sky.

Step four: Establish Sankyo

Once the elbow is pointed at the sky, take your left hand, release the elbow and reach around the backside of the suspect’s hand and take hold of the meaty pinky-side edge of the hand with the four fingers of your left hand. While keeping this grip, and maintaining the elbow pointed toward the sky, use these fingers to turn the suspect’s hand so the back of the suspect’s hand is turning gradually toward the suspect, counter-clockwise.

Sankyo Step 4 (2).JPG

Step four: Establish four-finger grip on the meaty part of the hand and establish the Sankyo twist.

Step five: Re-enforce the grip

Once the Sankyo twist-grip is established with your left hand, release your right hand, which is on the wrist, and place your four fingers of your right hand, thumb up, on the four corresponding fingers of your left hand, re-enforcing the Sankyo twist, until compliance is achieved. This should be done while maintaining the suspect’s elbow pointed to the sky and verbalizing “Stop resisting.” You will be able to tell when compliance is achieved when the suspect rises markedly up on his tip-toes.

Sankyo Step 5.JPG

Step five: Re-enforce that grip with you other hand and obtain compliance.

From this position, Sankyo is one technique that is effective, eye-catching and once applied it can be used as:

  1. A come-along.
  2. A non-injuring, take-down technique (for another day).
  3. To gain control and easily transition to rear compliance for handcuffing (for another day).

No technique works 100% of the time however

No technique is 100% effective, however, I must say about Sankyo, that when I chose to use it in the special circumstances I have described (overcoming standing resistance in front of a crowd) it worked for me 100% of the time. With that said, I feel compelled to repeat that this was after a great deal of ongoing training in this and many other control techniques. Most of this training was done on my own time, on my own dime.


Becoming proficient at the lost art of empty hand control is within your grasp if you have patience and commitment. For those of you not only committed to reading this series but also to devote yourself to the practice of these techniques it is time to stop reading and proceed to practice.

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.