Blue Line


January 27, 2016  By Al Arsenault


POLICE JUDO – Where realism meets the road

by Toby Hinton and Al Arsenault

Judo founder Jigoro Kano took the unsafe and destructive techniques meant for the battlefield from the plethora of jujutsu styles that existed in 1882. He added mats on which to practice, thereby making judo training safe for everyone.

Kano would likely applaud our removing the non-sporting and potentially injurious elements of judo and adapting them for police use in the no referees or mats venue of the street, especially in light of his precept of “mutual welfare and benefit.”

With Police Judo we have effectively transferred a level of care out of the training hall and onto the street. After all, no one deserves to be needlessly or roughly manhandled by police, especially the drugged, drunk, enraged or mentally ill, who are more often fighting themselves. The more dispassionate an officer can be when applying force, the better the outcome at all levels. That said, police are not paid to be punching bags or sacrificial lambs. Using force is clearly required.

There has never been a greater need for accountability in police use of force, which is so often captured on video. There was no harsher testing grounds for using force than in the relatively violent and lawless streets of Vancouver’s Skid Road.

The goal of Police Judo is to train our students on how to safely take into custody those who have little regard for themselves or the officers lawfully depriving them of their liberty. As with any difficult job, you can get it done in a more efficient and professional manner if you have the right tools. We credit our well-stocked tactical tool box for having maximal effect while using minimal effort and destructiveness to affect our purpose.

No officer is beyond the touch of evil but if one follows good tactics, has great technique and stays focused, the job can be a relatively low-risk profession (at least in Canada, where there is far less gun play!).

{Street smarts}

There is ‘dojo smart’ and ‘street smart’ private training available for police before and after they graduate. Realistic (non-sport) training is rather uncommon. Many non-police martial arts instructors haven’t had to deal with the tough and crazy people who routinely confront officers.

As police, we have all experienced hairy situations and many of us are still alive – and even sport all of our teeth! We have all had our share of lucky breaks but the rest comes from using superior tactics and techniques. Sadly, some of our brothers and sisters never live to tell their tales. There’s not much you can do if a bullet has your name on it. You can, and we say must, deal with the ones marked “To whom it may concern.” This is accomplished through diligent, long-term and realistic training.

We began shunning traditional clubs as we grew in experience as beat cops, preferring to look for critical innovations and practical applications within the various martial arts we were involved in. Police Judo is not a martial art that requires the student to adapt classical dojo technique for use in the midst of a street brawl.

We have made the modifications for you. We found ourselves tripping over traditionalism, convention and impracticality, much inbred by the rules of sport and taught by instructors who hadn’t regularly dealt with violent offenders within the guidelines of the National Use of Force Framework. They could surmise or extrapolate about the nature of street violence but few had ever tested their skills and techniques on sweaty, bloody, dirty, infectious, chemically-crazed, mentally ill, street-wise, hardened criminals – or even angry drunks, for that matter.

Few have had to deal with drug-addicted people who had little to lose by biting off a piece of flesh, pushing you down stairs or knifing or shooting you just because you were doing your job. Fewer still have had to justify their use of force later in a court of law.

{Realism vs idealism}

So how does that single one-shot, one-kill, punch to the head work again after you’ve broken a tooth with your now-busted knuckles, possibly rendering your hand incapable of manipulating your desperately needed gun out of its level-three security holster?

How painful is that infectious bite to your forearm when you have a suspect in a head lock? How debilitating is it when an unseen buddy bottles your head from behind while in that dark and unfriendly laneway? How badly do you “blow a chip” when you get spat on while loading a drunk into the wagon? How does it feel to be shot through a door, swarmed by assailants or get run over by a car because some criminals had outstanding warrants or were doing something illegal that would see them jailed?

Maybe you lose teeth from a head butt that you never saw coming or break a leg when pushed in front of a moving car by a person in handcuffs. Over and above surviving, for those engaging in physical training, how does your current martial arts schooling or fitness regimen get you closer to putting handcuffs on a tough guy?

More questions worth pondering should include how ‘dojo smarts’ (and the consequences of ‘losing’) stack up against the ugly realities encountered on the street. How has your training prepared you to deal with the adrenalin rush, get you back into the fight when injured or stare down and handle the ugly face of unfettered (and at times, unimaginable) violence? What drill is the ‘reptilian brain’ screaming at you to do under high stress? What happened to your fine and complex motors skills when you needed them the most – to save your own life or that of a hapless victim?

The world of sport is a fantastic pursuit for those not putting themselves in harm’s way on the street. We are advising trainers to consider preparing police recruits and officers for the projected and guaranteed violent eventualities. Functional and tactically sound techniques and drills, not ‘art’ and ‘sport’ forms of fighting, are the much-needed remedies for violence.

Teaching ‘sport fighting’ and then insisting that students somehow make the requisite adaptations to gain physical control over criminal suspects may leave them a little unprepared to enter the law enforcement arena. In reality, hard arrests are often done under extreme stress and hopefully within the bounds, or legal parameters, of the Criminal Code.

Police need street-proven combative and controlling forms of pugilism steeped in practicality and legal reasonableness. Tools forged from the fires of reality-based practical training allow officers the best chance of ethically handling the situations that they will likely encounter on the street. It’s easy to be ethical when you are in control.

{No ref, no rules}

The difference between sport and street is huge. Some say that the Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) is tantamount to a street fight. Although the players are extremely fit and often talented individuals, these modern gladiators rely on rules and referees to enforce them for their ‘survival’ in the ring. There are currently 31 rules and faults in UFC matches prohibiting eye gouging, biting, head butting and fish-hooking, not to mention requiring the wearing of protective gloves, adhering to weight classes and only permitting one-on-one contests.

None of these rules apply to a true street fight, where an offender’s objective may very well be to kill or grievously injure an officer or civilian. Deadly force may be used in these cases to stop such a lethal threat. If there were no enforceable rules in the UFC then few would want to enter what could essentially be a death match.

Street fights are not determined by those who accumulate the most ‘points’ or on decisions by referees (or judges). The outcome is the result of one party conceding defeat (which may not guarantee the fight ends) or both parties withdrawing (which still may not ensure the fight is done if others wish to get involved). Often a fight ends when one party cannot defend through injury, incompetence or intervention by other parties (friends, concerned citizens or persons in authority like the police). Some fights end because one or both parties are killed, especially when weapons are introduced into the fracas.

Every single day police officers collectively enter a ruthless arena where opponents may respect no rules of morality nor adhere to any kind of ethical use-of-force guidelines. Police (and some criminals) wear body armour to help minimize the deadly threats posed to their vital organs by knives and firearms. Police officers must carry weapons and use back-up officers, if available, to help control extremely violent offenders. They must use reasonable force under very stressful do-or-die conditions requiring split-second critical analyses and action.

Physical altercations are subject to long microscopic dissections in criminal and civil courts and internal reviews and seemingly endless one-sided media hype. What type of force was used and was it done in good faith? Is the amount of force used objectively reasonable, subjectively justifiable and obviously necessary? Officers can be sent to jail for their actions so articulating how and why force was used is extremely important.

{Role of sport}

We know that functional fitness and physical literacy is critical to develop basic movements. A foundation in traditional judo basics and movement (or sport and athleticism in general) will assist with the layering of Police Judo tactics and techniques. However, it is important to recognize that the purpose of a sport-based model (often focused on competition) is different than a training-based model like Police Judo (focused on preparing students to use force as a part of their job). However, these are not mutually exclusive domains, and the law enforcement officer with a classical background in traditional judo can easily adopt and implement a recreational Police Judo program for training.

We find it helpful when teaching to distinguish between a sport and a law enforcement technique. If we are to believe that an individual will perform under pressure as they train, we want to ensure that we provide students with blueprinting available and accessible under stress. Techniques, drills and the training program need to be regularly reviewed to ensure the correct balance between developing basic movement and judo skills. The added ability to fuse force options techniques and carry the training through to an arrest and control conclusion is a major strength of our style.

Without the requisite non-competitive judo skill development, breakfall competency and basic movement proficiency, one runs the risk of creating a “fight club” environment where injuries will probably occur and membership will likely shrink. A regular canvassing of students involved with Police Judo training finds that fitness is one of the top priorities, and as a result, the workouts need to be physically challenging while keeping the training environment at low-risk for injury. Developing a strong judo base will reduce injuries in training and on the street.

{Mutual welfare and benefit}

Police Judo emphasizes Kano’s philosophy of “mutual welfare and benefit” (respect) by caring for one’s partner in training. As the student’s judo skills develop, respective tactical skills will be more surely acquired and reasonably applied.

A strong foundation in judo also helps provide a template for belt grading and promotion within the style. This kind of extrinsic motivator helps retain students over and above reaping the obvious benefits of developing a functional form of fitness. Indeed, establishing a healthy martial arts-based lifestyle is very desirable for the law enforcement officer for a multitude of reasons, including keeping fighting fit.

One can assume that there are no rules when training in Police Judo but we do respect the obvious limitations of not hurting your training partner. For an extra dose of realism, you can stick your fingers into your training partner’s eyes but don’t push them in too far and be extra careful with those wearing contacts!). Pull that pony tail! Watch out for biters!

The streets can be too unforgiving to be careless about how you ‘do the drill’ even with something as simple as standing up in a tactical manner. Focus on developing training which will allow you to take the least risky, most effective and ethically correct actions that can be done under dire circumstances. Showing each other’s failures on the mat will pay off when techniques are executed effectively on the street. Complacency in training, or a lack of street-proofing, could cost you or someone else their life.

{Functional fitness}

It has been said that the best educated person is the one who knows the most about the world in which they live. Many post-secondary institutions are churning out graduate after graduate in Criminology and Police Studies programs with little to no emphasis on developing basic physical literacy relating to use of force. Functional fitness and developing skills one can draw on during the adrenalin rush in the heat of battle demands proper training.

Police Judo should not be regarded only as a certification course but rather a lifestyle. By introducing training early, developing it as a low risk and life-long recreational training program, our hope is to expand the reach of Kano’s philosophy of mutual benefit and welfare into the world of law enforcement, pre-career, on the job and even into retirement.

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