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What is the best martial art for you?

Right now, a very dangerous person is preparing for the day they meet you. Are you preparing for them?

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Visit any studio you are considering and sit in on some classes.

Photo/Dan Marcou

As a youth, I witnessed officers make a very important physical arrest. After that event, it became clear to me that police work was my calling. After what I saw, I deduced that physical skills would be a prerequisite for becoming a good police officer. I set off on a lifelong quest to pursue and maintain these skills.

Below, I’ll break down the winding path I took to ensure I was capable of fulfilling the promise to protect and serve, displayed prominently on the squads I patrolled in for 33 years.


My father was a former boxer. As children, he bought my brothers and I boxing gloves, a speed bag and a heavy bag. He taught us to slip punches, block, counter-punch, move in stance and focus impacts to vulnerable targets.


I wrestled competitively. The practices and matches conditioned me to apply those skills to control suspects on the ground until backup arrived or I was able to transition to a compliance hold.

Traditional Japanese Karate

Traditional Japanese karate was the first martial art I studied. This style introduced me to the discipline of martial arts, teaching me a variety of empty-hand techniques and kicks.

American Self Protection

Throughout college, I studied a defensive style called “American Self Protection,” taught by a law enforcement officer. I learned how to properly fall, enhancing my ability to train in defensive throws and take-downs.

In this defensive style, through repetition, one internalizes specific responses to common attacks like strangleholds, chicken wings, head locks and others. The training was so applicable to the real world. When the attacks I trained for occurred while I was a police officer, my reactions were so immediate and intense that my attackers never had a chance.

This style often saved me on the street from severe injury or worse.


Aikido was also taught to me by a fellow police officer, who adopted non-traditional training protocols to teach Aikido’s direct application to police work.

He gifted me “Sankyo,” which became my secret weapon. I used it whenever I had to go hands-on with a resistive suspect before back-up arrived, or whenever there was a crowd of sketchy onlookers. The hold was not only extremely effective, but it was a crowd-pleaser – even among a suspect’s allies.

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A Kei Satsu Jitsu class attended by police officers on their own time lifted the skill level of officers in our area.

Photo/Dan Marcou

Police Defensive Tactics Training

Academies and departments now take a systems approach to Defensive Tactics Training. Systems include control holds, takedowns/decentralizations, counter-measures (punches and kicks), handcuffing techniques, as well as use of force guidelines.

I used our states’ control holds and decentralizations to physically de-escalate situations throughout my career. Front and rear compliance from my state’s system were my go-to control holds.

However, I also utilized the bar walk, the boma, the goose neck, the arm bar, the bar arm, the cheek hook, the chin lock, the swoop, the spock, pressure points and even the sleeper.

Through ongoing training, I learned to apply these holds dynamically and to transition from one technique to another (if one failed to convince a suspect to submit).

Important Point About Police Training

Another valuable street application of police defensive tactics training was the way it developed powerful, focused impacts.

Police training proved essential because in martial arts, most of the repetitions of punches and kicks during training were delivered to imaginary targets in mid-air, emphasizing technique more often than power. While sparring, we were required to pull punches and kicks while avoiding contact.

Over the years as a police officer, while approaching fights in progress, I witnessed the tendency of highly trained martial artists to gingerly spar with their aggressors like they were in a tournament rather than a street fight.

The mantra, “We don’t spar on the street,” was embedded into my brain as I performed the full power impact training during police training. As Sun Tzu once said, when the time comes, you must “strike like thunderbolts from the nine-layered heavens.”

Tae Kwon Do

I studied for decades in two different styles of traditional Korean Tae Kwon Do. My “Do Chang” (gym) was also run by two police officers. I was allowed to incorporate my police training into my martial arts training.

The specific training of Tae Kwon Do and karate skills became especially important on the job to help me prevail when I got in over my head and faced multiple attackers – especially on two occasions when someone tried to disarm me.


This studio also offered classes in Judo, a Japanese style that teaches you how to take an opponent off their feet and follow up with hold-downs.

Hapkido, which was also offered, teaches joint manipulations, submission holds and pressure points. It filled my toolbox with defensible options for controlling suspects without injury. I also extensively practiced disarming techniques. I applied these techniques successfully on the street, but only when I felt that if I did so, victory was assured.


On occasion, I was invited to train in Jiu-Jitsu studios operated by fellow police trainers. I found Jiu-Jitsu very law enforcement-applicable and a superb blending of all the styles described above.

Kei Satsu Jitsu

Kei Satsu Jitsu means “police way of combat.” It was an ongoing class I taught for police officers, which met and trained once a week in all tactics mentioned above year-long, except through hunting season and the holidays. Officers came on their own time and it was attended by a large number of officers in our department, as well as members of area departments.

It lifted the skill of our officer to a level that made use fairly indomitable on the street when we were working as a team.

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Martial arts not only helps with survival training, but it’s also great family time. My son grew up to be a probation officer and defensive tactics instructor, and my grandson is already serving as my training partner.

Photo/Dan Marcou

Advanced Communications Skills

Communication skills are used much more often by police officers than physical skills. Many fights can be avoided through effective communication.

I attended valuable training in verbal judo, professional communication and hostage/crisis negotiations. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance for a police officer to be a skilled communicator. After all, Sun Tzu once said: “To win one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

It’s Your Choice

When words fail, all police officers have been trained in police defensive tactics at the entry level. However, too many officers receive little, if any, timely follow-up to this training of these perishable skills.

I strongly feel that supplementing this training with the martial arts of your choice will benefit you and the studio you attend. Your practical application experiences will give context to your fellow students’ martial arts training. In turn, their willingness to allow you to practice not only your newly acquired martial arts skills, but also your police defensive tactics on them, will pay you dividends on the street.

Recommendations on how to choose a style of martial art(s) to train in

  1. Visit any studio you are considering and sit in on some classes.

  2. Research the instructor and the style you are interested in training in.

  3. Consider an environment that offers multiple disciplines.
  4. Choose an instructor that has the capability of allowing you to re-enforce your police defensive tactics skills, while blending them into your martial arts training for street application.
  5. Consider bringing interested family members with you. Most studios have family rates.

Add running and weight lifting and you are physically good to go!

Are the Martial Arts for You?

Whether or not the martial arts are for you is your decision. In making that decision consider this: Right now, a very dangerous person is preparing for the day they meet you. Are you preparing for them?

Some say the martial arts are a way of life. In my time spent in that mud room, where life and death were in the balance, I came to realize the martial arts were not just a way of life, but a way to live.

NEXT: Read and share Dan Marcou’s Defensive Tactics Training series

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.