Police Academy Training – Defensive Tactics


Before police officers actually hit the streets to begin making arrests, directing traffic, responding to domestic complaints, and investigating murders, they must attend a basic police academy to receive their certifications as police officers. The time spent at a police academy varies. Some basic classes last for as little as twelve weeks while others may last in excess of five or six months. Police academy training is quite similar to military basic training.

Some academies require police officer recruits to live on-site during their training, such as the Virginia State Police Academy pictured above. The VSP academy is a full-service operation, complete with dormatories, an indoor pool, and cafeteria facilities.

Police academy training is similar to basic training

Other locales require their police candidates to attend public police academies, such as the ones taught in some local community colleges. These officer candidates must pay for their own training before they can apply for a job with the prospective police agency.

Basic training consists of many aspects of law-enforcement, but perhaps the most memorable course – the one course that sticks in the minds of all police officers – is Defensive Tactics. Recruits refer to this week in the academy as Hell Week.

During Hell Week recruits learn how to defend themselves from weapon wielding attackers, weapon retention, weapon disarming, handcuffing, baton use, Taser and stun gun use, and the use of pepper spray. They’re also required to excercise and run. Lots of excercising and running. And when they’ve finished all that excercising and running, they run and excercise some more. I probably still have blisters on my feet from the weeks I spent running through the grounds of the VSP academy.

The training is intense, very painful, and exhausting.

Recruits learn to control and handcuff combative suspects by using pain compliance techniques – wrist locks and joint control. These techniques are based on the techniques used by martial artists. Aikido and Chin-Na are two of the styles of martial arts used to develop these hghly effective techniques.


         Aikido                      Morihei Ueshiba – Aikido founder


Aikido uses the attacker’s own force against him.

A wrist turnout applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist, forcing the suspect off balance.

Proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique. To complete the technique the officer maintains his grasp, rotates the suspect’s hand up and to the rear in a counter-clockwise motion while simultaneously stepping back with his (the officer) left leg. The suspect ends up on the floor on his back (see picture below). Any resistance inflcts excrutiating pain in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

Combative suspects are normally forced the ground for handcuffing. From this position, a quick turn of the suspect’s wrist and arm will force him to roll over on his stomach. Any resistance causes extreme pain and could severely injure the controlled wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

To effectively control the wrist, the elbow must be stationary. From this position, the suspect is easily handcuffed.


This wrist lock can cause intense pain in the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Forward and downward pressure forces the suspect to the ground.

– My thanks to the martial artists in the photos – Chris Fowler and Jesse Allen. Also, a big thanks to Stephani Fowler for snapping the pics. Stephani is currently working on her first book.

* I was a police academy instructor and instructor trainer for many years. I taught basic, advanced, and in-service classes in defensive tactics, officer survival, and firearms. I also trained, certified, and re-certified police academy instructors. Outside the academy, I taught classes in rape-prevention and self defense as well as classes for executive bodyguards. I trained others in stick (tambo) and knife fighting. Throughout my career I maintained the rank of Master Defensive Tactics Intructor/Aikido and Chin-Na Black Belt.

9 replies
  1. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    Hubby’s PA department required DT as part of their in-service training and that also included the use of batons and flashlights for defense. Yes, ‘we’ would practice when he came home. I never asked him to take it easy on me, I figured whatever I learned could save my life some day.

    Those muscles that are in different places now, did they shift more to your center? 😉

  2. Elena
    Elena says:

    Thanks all – I know the training isn’t fun, but about a month ago I got to watch three cops try to take a teen in a front yard. No weapons involved, but two of the cops were not in great shape, and one looked as though they might be calling an ambulance for him. All that got me to thinking about, how in spite of the time it takes, in service physical training seemed wothwhile to me.

    I did teach yoga for a couple of years as part of an extensive, but voluntary, gym program for the city police. The guys and gals who participated had nothing but positive comments, but it was dropped because it “cost” too much.

    Me thinks it cost too much not to.

    Sorry about the hair loss, Lee (giggle)

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    The only departments I’m aware of that require regular physicals do it because of insurance requirements, not for physical fitness reasons.

    Most departments do forbid the use of tobacco products, but that’s also for insurance reasons.

    Thanks, Joyce. That’s pretty much the way it is everywhere.

    On the other side of the coin, there are many departments that have in-house gyms and weight rooms and many officers make use of the equipment. It’s no fun to put your hands on someone to make an arrest only to have them get free because you’re too weak to handle the situation.

    I worked out regularly – still do (I was serious about bench pressing over 300 lbs. It was 400lbs before I got old and my hair started falling out) and so did nearly everyone in all the surrounding departments. We did not eat donuts!

    I have to admit, my workouts aren’t as effective as they once were. And the muscles seem to be in different places now. And they hurt. I seem to experiencing pain and no gain.

  4. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    As far as I know, in PA, there are no fitness requirements after an officer is hired. They recently made the physical requirements to get the job in the first place much harder, but after that–nothing. Not even annual physicals.

  5. Terry
    Terry says:

    Thanks but no thanks, Lee. When things were slow at a convention job I used to have, the off-duty cop who was providing security showed me a couple of ways to get free if someone grabbed my arms/wrists. I showed it to my husband, who insisted on trying over and over, holding me tighter, until I explained that it didn’t matter how hard he grabbed me. Of course, I sported bruises from his experiments. Once I showed him what I was doing, he accepted that I knew something he didn’t (which is very rare).

    My TKD daughter went as far as black belt but is now too busy training for a Team in Training triathalon. Don’t ask where she got those genes.

    One thing I wondered about was follow up to basic fitness, much less defense training. Anyone who’s seen a photo of our Sheriff has to wonder what he’d do if he was face to face with a bad guy. But so many of the deputies also have gone to ‘pot’. When I did my ridealong, the deputy said they had annual physicals. I don’t think they have to pass any fitness stuff, though.

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Good idea, Terry. Hands on is the best approach. So, why don’t you just let them toss you around a bit so you really get the feel of things.

    Joyce – I knew you were a black belt. Why do think I’m always so nice to you?

    I’m very familiar with the “chicken wing” or “turkey wing.” However, I was taught a long time ago not to use those nicknames. My sensei forbid us from using the term. We did it anyway when we were out of earshot because that’s what the darn thing looks like. Funny, though, when I eventually opened my own school I never used the nicknames.

    Pain is the name of the game, huh, Joyce!

    Elena – I don’t know of any police department that requires defensive tactics as part of their in-service training. It’s usually taken as an elective, but after officers make it through basic training, they’re not too keen on going back for more. Some do, and they’re wise.

    Joyce, how about Pa.? Is DT required as part of in-service training?

  7. Elena
    Elena says:

    Police Academy Training is comprehensive and terrific – I’ve heard very positive comments from various officers over the years, and certainly enjoyed the little bit of it I had to take.

    However, I’ve always wondered about in service continuing ed classes for Defensive Tactics. It’s my impression that everything else covered in training comes up repeatedly, but the physical aspect seems to be spotty.

    What I’ve come across is – nothing – an annual test of physical prowess without any refresher classes – a complete gym with required and optional classes. This is quite a range. Is there a national thought on continuing ed for defensive tactics?

  8. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    I have a second degree black belt in taekwondo, although I haven’t practiced for about 8 or 9 years. My favorite classes were the joint locks, ground fighting and pressure points.

    Here’s one of my favorite maneuvers: Someone grabs you from behind and puts you in a headlock. You reach back with your hand and press your middle finger under his nose and up. Keep following through and applying pressure. This spins him around and you now have him in a headlock. While you still have the element of surprise you sweep his feet out from under him and slam him to the ground. Lots of fun to practice.

    I also liked a joint lock we called “chicken wing” because that’s exactly what it looked like. It hurt like hell.

  9. Terry
    Terry says:

    Great post, as always. One of my daughters is into ju-jitsu, the other did Tae Kwon Do. I let them choreograph the fight scenes I need for my books.

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