Blue Line


January 27, 2016  By Al Arsenault

Police Judo is a new martial art created by and for police. The police careers of the authors have spanned more than half a century, much of it spent patrolling “Skid Road,” and we spent more than 70 years studying various martial arts.

Our training hall was located at the old police station gym by Main and Hastings (‘Pain and Wastings’) squarely within this festering and squalid neighborhood. Our police gym was a sterile and clinical setting amidst a cesspool of crime, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, poverty and general depravity that almost defies human imagination.

With personal arrest rates topping 1,100 per year (not including picking up drunks), this physically tough beat proved at times to be a highly volatile crucible of carnage and chaos. Superior control tactics were a necessity in this horribly depressed neighborhood, a shark-infested gutter of atrocities and anti-police activism. The decent and downtrodden constantly fight to exist and police help them to do so under very trying and challenging circumstances.

Police Judo was not created as a type of fighting per se but as a means to take resistive and combative people into custody using as little brute force as possible. The practical and innovative assimilation and fusion of ancient Judo techniques (grabbing, unbalancing, throwing/tripping, etc.) with modern police arrest and control tactics (joint locks, takedowns and throws) assists the handcuffing process.

Some of the techniques are new but most have been altered and modified from existing martial arts specifically for police use. Students do not learn a martial art that must be adapted for use on the street. We strive to keep all vestiges of sporting applications, convention and traditionalism out of our training, as ‘street’ and ‘sport’ do not safely mix. Police Judo is a street-proofed martial art designed to ethically control those being arrested with minimal risk to all parties involved.

{The need for Police Judo}

According to Statscan (2008), 70 per cent of assaults against peace officers typically involved other offences like obstruction of a peace officer (36 per cent), level one assault (21 per cent), uttering threats (18 per cent), mischief (14 per cent), failure to comply with a disposition (11 per cent) and breach of probation (nine per cent). Only 14 per cent of these assaults involved a weapon and only one per cent of all assaults resulted in the officer needing medical attention.

There were about 3,600 cases of assault against peace officers in adult court in 2006/2007, so impactful assaults are not rare events.

We introduced all Washington state police use-of-force trainers to Police Judo in May 2014. A US border agent laughed when we explained the purpose of our trip, noting that that’s why they carry guns and pepper spray; he essentially felt that hands-on training was redundant. Perhaps from his caged perch he could see no real reason for developing such skills. Try policing our skids with that kind of attitude, we thought – he wouldn’t last a week.

It seems that ‘gadget reliance’ is outstripping the perceived need to cultivate solid arrest and control tactics. We are offering, in many cases, best-practice techniques and tactics for use in the field. Our way is not the only way but our arrest and control tactics have been adapted and altered through the trials and errors of extensive ‘field testing.’

The techniques have often been executed under extreme and harsh conditions that the criminal-minded, drug and alcohol induced, psychotic or mentally ill have laid out at our feet like physical and emotional land mines — or thrown into our faces like virtual vats of acid. The hard-won and sage experience offered in this training is coming from those who have dealt with high volume arrest rates over many collective decades of beat policing.

Police Judo was not merely born out of the creative juices of seasoned martial artists sitting around the edges of a mat pontificating about what violence is like; rather it was forged from the fires of violence and even fear itself. The crime rates are off the CompStat charts in this besotted neighbourhood; the high rate of violence in particular typifies the nature of policing such a ghettoized neighbourhood.

This is not weekend warrior or sleepy hollow, speculative stuff – this is top-notch use-of-force training coming from battle-hardened veterans of the meanest streets of Vancouver.

Police Judo aims to fulfill a basic need which today’s street policing demands: ‘peace officers’ taking people safely into custody to prevent crime and restore peace to society. With the unprecedented degree of social media oversight coupled with anti-police activism (blue lives matter!), society at large is crying for the ethical use of force.


Our goal in creating Police Judo is to give officers great tools to keep everyone involved as safe as possible during and even after the handcuffing process. It uses finesse and superior tactics over brawn and brute force. There is no need for unfettered, unethical violence merely because you can do so, legitimately or not.

Fortunately, the vast majority of police officers conduct themselves in a highly professional manner. Those who do ‘go caveman’ on a person resisting their control are not necessarily ‘bad’ officers, rather their ‘bag of tricks’ is sadly lacking or they are unable to deal with the adrenalin rush that comes with the rough stuff.

They lash out with batons, boots, and bare fists because their arrest and control repertoire is severely limited in scope and largely driven by fear; they flounder because their toolboxes are tragically devoid of useful and effective tools, ones which could put them emotionally and physically in control of potentially violent situations.

It is easy to be ethical when you are in control of a situation. An officer needs skills far beyond firearms training (and even those involving other belt tools) to take people into custody. Using force is all about the context where it is used; it must be reasonable, not merely minimal, to be justified. The days of the dark back alley are over; they’re now well lit and likely to have video cameras.

{Ethical use of force}

The philosophical base for Police Judo is unlike that of most striking martial arts in that our goal is not to destroy but to control the opponent; grappling arts accentuate limb control but with the goal of getting an opponent to submit as an end in itself. We concentrate on techniques that are ‘low-risk’ and ‘high-yield’ in nature, thereby providing a strong ethical base for our use-of-force options.

The opponent drives the level of force used in any physical altercation; the type and duration of the resistance offered dictates how long and strong such requisite force is applied. The altercation ends when 1/ offenders choose to comply and submit to the officer’s attempts to gain control and handcuff them as part of a lawful arrest or 2/ they are forced into handcuffs.

In some cases officers are defending against an outright attack; otherwise they are using force to thwart physical resistance by those being handcuffed. Such a demanding task requires great tactics, considerable skill (both solely and as a partnership/team) and a finesse that may not be totally appreciated by the viewing public nor trumped by cute dojo tactics.

We do not enter into (rule-bound) competitions, do patterns (kata or forms), nor are we too interested in ‘art form’ techniques that are merely pretty to look at or fanciful and complex in application. Most martial arts clubs do not encourage using their skills on the street except for self-defence. We expect our students to make good use of their skills, primarily if they are acting in a law enforcement role.

{Training is key}

Police officers, corrections staff, security personnel, loss prevention officers, doormen and others have all related how well the ethical application of Police Judo techniques have served them. They understand that under stress, officers will perform as they are trained; the building of a sound tactical base, while incorporating effective techniques into realistic training, is an essential skill to have in the real world of law enforcement.

Performing detailed scenario-based training is ideal but if time and resources do not permit, then emphasizing ‘best practice’ and practicing ‘most-likely’ effective aspects of arrest and control tactics can be done on the cheap. Indeed, simulation-based training tries to replicate situations likely to be encountered on the street – this is an effective way to train.

Any takedowns on the mats can be turned into mini-scenarios through the creativity of the instructor. For example, assailant(s) can be sent in to test the tactics of students performing mock arrests and subsequent handcuffing. If students choose to disengage, do they continue watching the assailant? How do they deal with multiple assailants? Do they watch their partner’s back? Do they speak effectively and show a strong command (force) presence?

Injury rates tend to climb if students are allowed to train full-on combatively in a competitive manner; realism includes, and incurs, injuries. Special care must be taken to protect trainees whose future and current careers depend on being injury free. That said, we have no rules except to care for your partner.

Care and concern extends onto the street with people that we are duty-bound to deal with.

Coming up:

POLICE JUDO – Continuous Control
The Art of Ownership
Holding vs Controlling

POLICE JUDO – Where Realism Meets the Road
Street Smarts
Realism vs Idealism
No Ref, No Rules

POLICE JUDO – Training For Effect
Going to the Ground
Keeping it Savagely Simple
The Adrenalin Rush

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