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Can the Jiu-Jitsu training experiences of Texas peace officers shed light on improved police-suspect encounters during use of force events?

We take a closer look at the research behind the potential utility of Jiu-Jitsu as a policing tool

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By Richard O. Segovia, Ph.D., Ed.D.

I recently conducted a transcendental phenomenological study to describe the Jiu-Jitsu training experiences of Texas law enforcement officers and collected data from semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and observations to examine my research participants’ arrest and control training, specifically its Jiu-Jitsu component.

Interestingly, I found that although officers are trained in various defensive and offensive tactics, some agencies do not promote real-life fight training that Jiu-Jitsu practitioners benefit from, and according to researchers, this gap can yield inappropriate physical and psychological stress responses that result in unreasonable use of force. [2, 3, 7, 9]

The data indicated that the research participants found Jiu-Jitsu training useful. The scenario-based exercises, peer and instructor discussions and feedback, and reflection opportunities enriched the research participants’ learning experience and transferability to their day-to-day work. Furthermore, they attested to Jiu-Jitsu’s value in promoting self-development and improving safety for officers and the community and that having the space to learn, make personal investments, demonstrate learned concepts, and give feedback were all consistent data points when describing their lived experiences.

The main purpose of my research was to try to answer how the Jiu-Jitsu training experiences of Texas law enforcement improve relations between officers and suspects.

Research participants attested to Jiu-Jitsu’s value in promoting self-development and improving safety for officers and the community.

Setting and participants

The setting and research participants selected for my research were state-certified law enforcement officers between 21 and 51 years old and were full-time, duly employed peace officers with full arrest powers who were observed during their annual defensive tactics training cycle; some of the observations were of cadets in the academy. Some of the cadets were lateral officers with experience in other departments. The setting and research participants I selected were appropriate and relevant to the data collected, as they offered an accessible, ample sample of Texas peace officers who train in Jiu-Jitsu.

I used qualitative questionnaires, semi-structured individual interviews and naturalistic observation to collect data from the research participants because they were appropriate data collection approaches in qualitative research design. [1] It is important to note that since my study was designed to examine lived experiences to enhance the understanding of numerous perspectives that researchers might discover, using multiple data sources to capture these lived experiences was critical to trustworthiness. [5, 6, 8]

Summary of thematic findings

Research participants emphasized the significance of peer connections that enhanced their training experience, eliciting varied, insightful thoughts on enhancing safety to advance better community relations. Also, the research participants expressed how the scenario-based exercises proved the effectiveness of Jiu-Jitsu training as a policing tool, driving them to go beyond their current skills and knowledge and apply new concepts and ideas.

The research participants entered the reflection and feedback phase following the scenario-based exercises. They continued the learning cycle as they discovered new ideas through their peers’ lived experiences and how those experiences would help them in their careers.

Augmenting the experience through personal connections

The relationships formed and developed observed during this study were significant to the research participants’ learning experience. Communicating with and understanding the perspectives of peers and instructors enhanced the research participants’ relationships and ability to partner with their classmates in the future, whether in the classroom or the field. The classroom discussions, feedback from practical exercises, and the time spent with such a diverse group during their training cycle promoted learning well beyond the curriculum. The relationships the research participants developed supported the learning cycle and catalyzed them to draw from their lived experiences, consider alternative ways to perform, and share their perspectives to create new experiences for themselves and their classmates.

Jiu-Jitsu is more than just another training component

The defensive tactics program structure, specifically its Jiu-Jitsu component, encouraged and provided time for reflection and thought, which promoted mental well-being. In their systematic review of the relationship between physical activity and mental health during the first year of COVID-19, one particular study concluded: “that higher physical activity is associated with higher well-being, quality of life as well as lower depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress, independently of age.” [4]

Although law enforcement agencies encourage personal fitness outside mandatory training, time and facilities are sometimes scarce. The research participants described the time the curriculum afforded them to train, and the state-of-the-art facilities were conducive to learning and gaining more skills and a nice mental break from daily police work.

In addition to their Jiu-Jitsu training, the training cycle allowed the research participants to spend time with friends and peers in a relatively enjoyable environment less stressful than the streets. The instructors’ emphasis on improving safety, health and wellness helped prepare the research participants for learning by establishing a like-minded, positive learning environment.

The training in which the research participants engaged improved critical thinking and shifted perspectives toward a higher level of tactical and strategic planning and engagement.

Equipping students for present and future roles

According to one study, goal progress, professional development, promotion and higher salary opportunities are factors of career growth. [10] The training in which the research participants engaged improved critical thinking and shifted perspectives toward a higher level of tactical and strategic planning and engagement. The training focused on street-level officer scenarios, and the practical exercises, although drawn from past but similar law enforcement encounters, centered on current officer safety and community service concerns.

The discussions with peers and instructors, mostly tenured officers or officers in leadership roles, challenged the research participants and thrust them into thinking at a level consistent with mid-level supervisory and senior leadership roles. Research participants who had previously taken the training returned to their respective assignments informed, sharing their experience and knowledge with others, and thrilled to continue developing their professional relationships through networking and capitalizing on their new knowledge.

Answers to the study’s questions

Research participants all endorsed the Jiu-Jitsu program and attested to their unique experiences during the training cycle. Echoed by other research participants in one way or another, one participant said, “To receive the type of training that gives you the space to learn and to invest in yourself, which ultimately makes you a better officer to your peers and the community, and to be surrounded by instructors and students with different, but similar experiences, well there’s no better way of self-development, right?” This research participant’s statement highlights critical components of the lived experiences that all participants shared.

In what ways do officers believe Jiu-Jitsu is an effective tool for policing?

The main themes of officer safety, reflection and learned application spoke directly to Jiu-Jitsu’s effectiveness as a policing tool.

A research participant who was a mid-level manager said, “The military has embraced Jiu-Jitsu’s fundamental concepts to train our warfighters for years. We (law enforcement) are a little late to the party, but we’ve seen its (Jiu-Jitsu) effectiveness time and again. In Texas, DPS (Department of Public Safety) has taken the lead with incorporating Jiu-Jitsu in its arrest and control tactics training, and smaller agencies across the state have followed DPS’s lead. The learning opportunity, for both instructors and students, to have a full-blown, real-life, fight for your life exercise, and demonstrate what students learned is a unique and rewarding experience for everyone involved. This type of training will save the lives of officers or citizens.”

How do law enforcement officers use Jiu-Jitsu training to improve their tactical knowledge and skills?

The scenario-based training activities were rigorous and robust, and instructors employed different modalities to afford students learning opportunities to apply their knowledge and increase their tactical fighting skills.

One research participant with five years in law enforcement said he applied his learning through “the different scenarios in class, and of course, the final training exercise.” The research participant above said he applied the concepts during discussions and feedback sessions in which “someone shared an experience about an arrest and control incident” while the class worked through practical applications in class and a patrol supervisor described the force option scenarios and said, “Having discussions and debates on tactics and then trying to apply your classmates’ inputs based on their experience made training so much better.”

The different stations allowed students to practice specific techniques with instructors and for additional mat time with fellow students, which broadened the student experience beyond the traditional defensive tactics curriculum of days past.

Policy implications

This study shows the benefits of a rigorous and realistic training program. A policy mandating that officers take time during their shifts to train on or off-site might not be feasible because of deployment or staffing issues. However, law enforcement leaders can support officer participation in Jiu-Jitsu training by incentivizing them to participate in programs that sponsor first responders or asking for additional funding to expand the training duration and frequency across the region and perhaps incorporate opportunities for remote learning for certain training components. In addition, law enforcement leaders can also seek opportunities to implement routine mini-in-person training during shift briefings or between shift changes, which might stimulate continued learning between training cycles.

Law enforcement leaders can support officer participation in Jiu-Jitsu training by incentivizing them to participate in programs that sponsor first responders.

Practice implications

The participants highlighted the utility of open and honest discussions among students and instructors to encourage feedback while building trust in the classroom and on the mats. Open and honest discussions among instructors and students may benefit law enforcement agencies if training personnel manage the discussions and ensure positive and meaningful exchange. Law enforcement agencies that promote and encourage candid conversations in a training environment might strengthen their capabilities with diverse perspectives and an open-mindedness to consider new concepts and ideas.

Also, practicing routine engagements with partnering law enforcement agencies may strategically benefit an agency’s professional development plan. For example, some agencies employ officers who are subject matter experts on a particular topic, and those agencies can invite officers from surrounding departments to participate in training on those topics. While many agencies already engage in this practice, surprisingly, some still do not.

BELOW: Police1 columnist Jerrod Hardy explores the unique considerations when coaching BJJ to law enforcement personnel, focusing on weapon retention, transitioning to cuffing and strategic disengagement:


1. Creswell JW, Poth CN. (2018.) Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage publications.

2. Khatsaiuk OV, et al. (2021.) Preparing future officers for performing assigned tasks through special physical training.

3. Koerner S, Staller MS. (2021.) Police training revisited—meeting the demands of conflict training in police with an alternative pedagogical approach. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 15(2), pp.927-938.

4. Marconcin P, et al. (2022.) The association between physical activity and mental health during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review. BMC Public Health, 22(1), pp.1-14.

5. Mehrad A, Zangeneh MHT. (2019.) Comparison between qualitative and quantitative research approaches: Social sciences. International Journal For Research In Educational Studies, Iran, 5(7), pp.1-7.

6. Miller RM, Chan CD, Farmer LB. (2018.) Interpretative phenomenological analysis: A contemporary qualitative approach. Counselor Education and Supervision, 57(4), pp.240-254.

7. Parks GS. (2022.) Martial Arts as a Remedy for Racialized Police Violence. Ohio St. LJ Online, 83, p.41.

8. Rahman MS. (2020.) The advantages and disadvantages of using qualitative and quantitative approaches and methods in language “testing and assessment” research: A literature review.

9. Torres J. (2020.) Predicting law enforcement confidence in going ‘hands-on’: The impact of martial arts training, use-of-force self-efficacy, motivation, and apprehensiveness. Police Practice and Research, 21(2), pp.187-203.

10. Weng Q, McElroy JC, Morrow PC, Liu R. (2010.) The relationship between career growth and organizational commitment. Journal of vocational behavior, 77(3), pp.391-400.

About the author

Dr. Richard “Rich” Segovia served with law enforcement for over 29 years at the local and state levels. He worked in several areas throughout his career, including patrol operations, investigations, training, and other specialized assignments. Rich is currently with the Texas Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General Special Investigations Group. He is a certified California and Texas law enforcement instructor with robust instructional experience. Rich earned a bachelor’s degree in business management, a master’s degree in management and leadership, an MBA, and two doctorates, a doctorate in education and a Ph.D. in Advanced Educational Studies.

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