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Defensive tactics training: Using Big Ben to escape from a headlock

There is one escape from the headlock that recognizes the danger of the hold

Marcou _Head _Lock IMG_7937 (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.

The headlock is a common hold that has been used on police officers during violent physical assaults. The problem with the headlock for an intended victim is that if the attacker maneuvers correctly, the victim will find themselves in a side strangle. The attacker is also in a position to deliver impacts to the face, the head, or inflict severe neck injuries upon an officer without options.

The danger of headlock escapes

Escapes from this hold involve rolls, takedowns and throws. These escapes all work well in the mat room, however, if the attacker fails to react properly by letting go, and instead retains a firm hold of the head and neck throughout the maneuver, the attempted escape may result in serious head and/or neck injuries to the person performing the escape.

The other problem with these escapes is they are too complicated to effectively teach in this format.


An adage defensive tactics trainers remind themselves of when deciding what to teach their students is “KISS,” which stands for, “Keep it simple stupid!” (The stupid is the trainer, not the trainee.)

There is one escape from the headlock that recognizes the danger of the hold. It is simple to learn and simple to perform. If done correctly it will lead to not only the release of the headlock but end this brutal assault. It is the Big Ben.

The Big Ben!

Step one: The first thing you must do when placed into a headlock is to maintain a solid stance as you “turtle up.” You must square your feet at least shoulder-width apart or even further, put your chin to your chest and lift your shoulders to limit access to your carotid arteries and trachea. This prevents your strangulation and keeps the suspect from crushing your trachea. In other words, this will keep you alive for a bit longer.


Step one: Maintain a solid stance as you “turtle up.”


Step two: Here is where we keep it simple. By placing you in a headlock, your attacker has brought you within striking distance of a vulnerable target ‒ his testicles. Therefore, step two involves identifying how vulnerable the suspect has made himself while orienting yourself to access the target. This is a mental and physical process, because since you are in a headlock you may not be able to see the target.

(Generally speaking, the testicles are not a primary target for a police officer out to maintain control, however, when you are in a headlock, you are quite possibly on the way to having your name put on a wall so it is defensible in this situation.)


Step two: Identify the suspect’s vulnerabilities.


Step three: Using the arm that is the farthest away from the suspect, make a tight fist and straighten that arm out toward the ground. Imagine the portion of your arm from the elbow up to and including the fist, is the gong on the British landmark Big Ben. Swing it back and then swing it hard upward, to deliver a devastatingly powerful focused strike directly to and through the testicles. The striking surfaces of the fist will not be the knuckles but the top side of the fist (thumb side). Strike as hard as you can into the scrotum like you are trying to drive his testicles right through his intestines up into the attacker’s stomach.

If the suspect does not release immediately, swing the gong back and strike him again and again until he releases the hold.


Step three: Swing the pendulum driving up and through the target.



Once free from the headlock, get some distance and decide whether to control, disengage, or de-escalate.

The “Big Ben” to the groin often ends the attack. The disabling pain of a perfectly focused hammer fist to the testicles may leave the attacker writhing on the ground in pain.

In conclusion, all I have to say about that is better him than you.

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.