Defensive tactics come of age

Defensive tactics training is the most sophisticated it has ever been. But at the same time, defensive tactics training hasn’t kept up with the times. How could these two contradictory statements be accurate? Well, the state of defensive tactics...


Defensive tactics training is the most sophisticated it has ever been. But at the same time, defensive tactics training hasn’t kept up with the times. How could these two contradictory statements be accurate?

Well, the state of defensive tactics varies greatly from city to city, state to state and region to region. Because there is no centralized depository for defensive tactics, and departments can choose who trains their officers (or who trains their trainers), officers are in varying states of readiness for a hand-to-hand or armed attack.

“I went to teach in North Dakota a little while ago, and I was teaching a technique related to control holds, a segue to achieve a control hold, and to my surprise, no one even knew the control hold...which is the most common technique used to put handcuffs on someone,” remembers Richard Nance the defensive tactics expert at Wartac, a U.S.-based company founded by Nance and David Hallford in 2004 to provide police, military, and civilians with a realistic approach to firearm disarming, firearm retention, and edged weapon defense. “With the explosion of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), agencies must now look at dealing with attacks and assaults that they hadn’t considered before. Ground fighting is an important topic to defensive tactics; a cop has to have techniques to not get taken down, and have techniques to get back up.”

In the past, departments typically contacted their local martial arts school to learn how to defend themselves during an arrest turned violent. Back then, the emphasis was on controls, moving away from overtly violent striking and kicking. “The tactics we learned early on were coming from the less aggressive martial arts like Aikido, due to concerns about liability,” acknowledges Fletch Fuller, vice president and director of law enforcement training for ISR Matrix International. “The problem is, everyone realizes that most arrest situations look more like a football scrimmage than an Aikido seminar. There is an inordinate amount of time spent master[ing] complex motor skills without regard to what happens when the fight is on. This type of training insulates departments from liability; it doesn't apply to the truth on the street. It doesn't really prepare the officers because once people resist, they have to improvise.”

Today, specialized defensive tactics programs offered by vendors are designed specifically for law enforcement. They might be based in a particular fighting style (e.g. Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Krav Maga, etc.), but they are created for law enforcement.

Reverse engineering

A relatively new trend in defensive tactics is the study of real altercations between law enforcement and perps. Due to the proliferation of dashboard cameras and other video recording devices, there is finally a host of real-life encounters that can be studied, and from which officers can learn.

“The litmus test is dashboard video and CCTV,” says Tony Blauer, CEO and founder of Blauer Tactical Systems Inc. “If you look at any video of a ‘real fight,’ you never see anyone look cool, you never see anyone look technical, and you never see anyone use the techniques they learn in the academy. If you reverse engineer defensive tactics to support the fights you face, your tactics and procedures will necessarily change. When I ask who controls the fight, the first answer is that the cops do, and that is completely wrong. The level of violence is controlled by the bad guy, the location is chosen by the bad guy and the duration is controlled by the bad guy. We now have videos of bad guys fighting and we can reverse engineer our defensive tactics to combat their fighting style,” Blauer says. “When a UFC fighter is getting ready for a fight, he studies video of the guy he is fighting, preparing for the things he does. Most cops don’t study the bad guys; they train in martial arts and focus on court-defensible techniques. As a result, most training is not relevant, realistic and rigorous. Technology has kept up with the bad guys but the training is not keeping up.”

This content continues onto the next page...