Karate, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu … these ancient arts have been accessible to police officers around the world for generations. That’s because the skills an officer learns practicing martial arts can help him or her cope with the ongoing danger of the profession in so many ways.
Mental conditioning is just as important as physical and cardiovascular strength. To have confidence and calm in a time of modern-day battle is an undeniable advantage. SWAT teams, in particular, face times of concentrated stress on a regular basis, and could benefit from the mental and physical conditioning that these techniques provide. The question is, how can instructors best package what could be hours and days of training into a one-hour take-away learning experience for the crazy-busy SWAT officer?
Here two men who have successfully practiced, competed in and now teach martial arts to special tactical operations teams explain why it’s important to keep martial arts training fresh, and teach it in a way that is relevant to the profession and modern life. After all, law enforcers practice martial arts for the same reason Chinese fighters did thousands of years ago—to win on the battlefield.
Martial arts as a lifestyle ... and liability
A certain amount of defensive and survival tactics training is course de rigueur from day one in the police academy. As SWAT programs continue to organize and re-tool their methods, they too look for better ways to teach physical tactics, and the syllabus is always evolving.
George Sheridan, president of the Indiana SWAT Officers Association (ISOA), has long been invested in the martial arts. He has practiced everything from Karate to Jiu-Jitsu to Shinto-Yoshin for nearly 40 years, and has been involved with SWAT for 28. In the military Sheridan was a close combat instructor and ran a martial arts school. Now he teaches what he learns to military and law enforcement teams looking to sharpen their skills.
Sheridan takes what he learns in his travels (which incidentally ranges from Arizona to Okinawa and everywhere in between) and uses it to develop nontraditional martial arts classes for SWAT teams. At one point in his career Sheridan trained with U.S. karate pioneer Robert Trias, founder of the first mainland U.S. karate school. Trias helped develop police physical tactics in the late 1940s, “back when they started putting pen to paper and documenting this type of stuff,” adds Sheridan.
Inside the agency, trainers must develop ideas that have been tried and tested from the battlefields of the feudal era up until now, and then modify them to fit inside the parameters of today’s world. Indiana SWAT officers practice the attacking arts Shinto Yoshin Kai and Kiu-Jitsu in addition to striking arts Shuri-Ryu and Karate. Sheridan and other instructors must present the training in such a way that it is tactically acceptable, legally acceptable and easy to recall.
“Everything we do we have to answer to,” says Sheridan. “We have to have the appropriate methods of control to manage resistive behavior with the appropriate amount of force.” Some martial arts techniques, like the neck restraint, would amount to high liability were it applied in a law enforcement setting. If an officer is not properly trained, he can easily come into legal issues, not to mention injuries.
“It’s crucial to focus on four postures:” says Sheridan, “standing, kneeling, sitting and lying.” And keep it simple! “Cops don’t like to sweat, train or bleed ... You have to keep it very simple so that in high stress situations they won’t have to be going through a repertoire of multiple techniques.”