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Commitment to combat: 11 takeaways from the bodycam video of a sword-wielding suspect’s challenge

Amid the threat posed by a man armed with a Katana, officers demonstrate exceptional de-escalation skills

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A recent officer-involved shooting in Tucson, Arizona was captured on body-worn camera. Two officers can be seen facing a man armed with a Katana (Japanese long sword), who appeared to possess a pre-trained (probably self-taught) expertise with the sword.

During this situation the officers carefully attempt to perform the balancing act done by officers nationwide every day. They try to de-escalate a potentially violent situation by avoiding taking an aggressive posture, while still maintaining the ability to take defensive action if suddenly needed.

Here is an overview of this situation through the eyes of a long-time police officer and police trainer with a background in martial arts who has trained in the use of the Katana. I would like to point out that I am by no means a master with the Katana. However, I know enough about the weapon to share with you observations that might help you in the future in assessing the imminent threat posed by a suspect armed with a Katana.

The call

On February 24, 2024, deputies were dispatched to a Day’s Inn in Tucson, Arizona. An employee of the hotel reported that guests had complained about a man who was outside the hotel swinging a “Katana” and screaming. Hotel employees contacted him and asked him to return to his hotel room, 116, but he refused.

When officers arrived, they located a large, sturdily built, bearded man. He met them outside standing in front of room 116. He was armed with a Japanese sword known as a “Katana” that was sheathed inside its Saya (scabbard). After watching the bodycam, let’s discuss this incident.

1. Relative positioning

The two officers met the suspect outside his room adjacent to the parking lot. The officers were in crisis de-escalation mode, sincerely straddling that line between establishing effective communications with a possibly mentally unstable individual while maintaining a modicum of safety for themselves.

They did this by taking a non-threatening stance while bracketing the armed suspect. The contact officer maintained a distance estimated to be about 21 feet from the suspect. He appeared to remain near the corner of a parked vehicle, which could give him the option to move laterally and quickly to create a barrier if needed.

The contact officer kept his weapon holstered while communicating with the suspect.

2. Crisis communication

The contact officer’s tone of voice was non-threatening and calming throughout. His verbalization showed he was a skilled communicator with a sincere desire to rectify this situation peacefully.

3. Suspect’s communication red flags

The suspect’s body language communicated a desire for confrontation. He positioned himself outside of the room that he was asked to return to. He stood deliberately blocking the open doorway to his room armed with a Katana (Japanese long sword) sheathed in its Saya (scabbard).

Note: The Katana has been the weapon of choice in warfare for Japan since the eighth century and is quite possibly one of the deadliest weapons in human history.

When the contact officer asked the suspect to lay the Katana on the ground he kept the sword in its Saya but set the Kissaki (tip) to the ground while holding it firmly and functionally to his front. (When a suspect has a Katana secured in its Saya officers should not consider the Katana disabled for all practitioners are taught from the beginning to be able to strike a fatal blow from the draw.) He took on the stance of a palace guard, posing as an apparently deadly obstacle to anyone who tried to approach. This stance allowed an actual trained palace guard to stand permanently in a pre-attack posture while looking like they were just standing their post.

During the communication, the suspect displayed an unstable/unpredictable mindset.

The suspect ordered the contact officer, “Now listen to me, dog,” after which he declared, “I am trying to achieve greatness in the Katana.”

The contact officer asked the man if it was possible for him to train to greatness “in the comfort of your own room.” This request could not have been made in a more pleasant and non-threatening manner.

Without any good reason for doing so, the man shifted the topic to killing, declaring, “Unless someone comes at me is willing to kill me, I’m not willing to kill them.”

The contact officer tried to affirm the reference to not killing by saying, “And that’s how it should be. 100%.”

The next statement was convoluted but could be interpreted to be directed at the officers. The man said, “Unless someone comes at me and is willing to kill me and they don’t accept it…they’re willing to kill me.”

The man followed with a delusional declaration saying he was “related to Dionysus,” who was son of the mythical Greek God, Zeus.

4. Weapon

The contact officer kept his weapon holstered throughout the communication phase until the suspect began to move his Katana upward but still in the Saya. The contact officer ordered, “Leave it there, dude!”

5. Intent

The suspect disregarded the order and, if he was truly a student of the Katana, demonstrated an absolute commitment to kill by his next action. He aggressively drew his Katana from the Saya and then very deliberately threw the Saya behind and beside him to the ground. This motion is the traditional sign language to an opponent that the man throwing the Saya is emphatically saying, “I am fully committed to combat and I will not stop until you are dead or I am dead!”

The suspect momentarily presented the Katana in a defensive/offensive stance called “Seigan No Kamae,” which means “calm stance.” One should not be lulled to complacency by the sound of the name for the stance is specifically designed to enable the quick cutting of the throat of an opponent, defensively, or offensively.

6. Delivery system

After pausing, he raised his Katana in a high strike position and activated his delivery system by advancing on the contact officer at a rush. A clear threat of death or great bodily harm was imminent for the contact officer.

7. Justifiable self defense

During these movements, the contact officer reacted to the developing deadly threat by stepping laterally to give himself more reaction time, while attempting to establish the parked car he was near as a barrier. He simultaneously drew his weapon to meet the imminent deadly threat.

Both officers, identifying the threat, with a tone of urgency coupled with a tactical curse, tried to de-escalate the situation by ordering the suspect, “Don’t fucking do it!” and “Put it down!”

[RELATED: Can a bad word be a good tactic?]

8. Katana: Real or replica?

I would like to pause here to answer a question that is often asked about the Katana. Can you tell the difference between a real Katana and a replica? Does it make a difference?

Like the real or replica firearm, there is no good way to make this determination when the weapon is in the hand of an attacker threatening murder.

However, unlike the firearm, the replica Katana poses a very real deadly threat to an officer. The Ha (edge) of a replica Katana, when swung with velocity will severely lacerate.

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Real or replica? Can you tell the difference? And when it comes to the Katana, does it make a difference?

Photo/Dan Marcou

9. Threat stopped

After the large, demonstrably homicidal man, charged armed with one of the deadliest swords in history poised to strike, and refused all commands and requests to stop, two shots were fired. The suspect was stopped immediately and the firing stopped as well.

10. Follow through

The cover officer immediately called in the situation. The officers approached the suspect and began life-saving efforts, but the suspect died.

11. Last resort

The suspect refused to comply with requests to return to his room. He refused requests and then an order to lay down his weapon. He talked menacingly of killing and eventually drew his Katana raised it to enable a high strike and charged the contact Officer.

This suspect exhibited evidence that he had trained with the Katana.

Once the suspect charged at the contact officer with a blade specifically designed to efficiently kill humans, after having demonstrably committing himself totally to the kill, the best weapon available to the contact officer, to the exclusion of all other options, was his duty weapon. It was, in the time made available to him for defense, his weapon of last resort.

I would like to state these officers should be applauded for their initial attempts to de-escalate the situation as well as for their, in my assessment, justifiable response to an imminently deadly and totally frightening assault. Their conduct was of true professionals.


This situation demonstrates clearly that crisis de-escalation is a very honorable endeavor and officers must continue to improve their skills in this art as these officers have done. However, even the best communicators among us must always have a pre-trained Plan B like these officers did, for the suspect, who is fully committed to combat and will not stop until one of you is defeated.

There is no second place on the street so prepare.

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.