Tag Archive for: defensive tactics

It was on a cold Christmas night, several years ago, when my wife Denene decided that she’d like to ride along with me during my shift so we could at least spend a part of the evening together. It would be her first and last first-hand experience of what I did for a living.

I was the officer in charge of operations, the OIC, that night so it wasn’t as if I’d be responding to calls, meaning I thought the danger level for her would be extremely low. And I was right, the first part of the evening shift was fairly quiet with a few of the typical pushing and shoving drunks, a couple of thefts, a drunk driver or two, a peeping Tom, a disorderly customer at a convenience store, etc. Nothing major.

I took Denene on a tour of parts of the city she’d never seen, and to a few she had but only during the daytime. Believe me, some typically normal neighborhoods totally transform once the sun is down and all the “creepies” come out to play. It’s the time when neon lights replace sunshine, and when alleyways come alive with feral animals, and people who pay for quickie sex behind dented dumpsters overflowing with restaurant waste and wet, slimy butcher shop cardboard and paper.

These are the streets and neighborhoods where wispy tendrils of sewer steam rise from storm drains to twist and writhe their way toward the night sky, floating and undulating until they melt into nothingness. Potholes are deep and overturned garbage cans pour out their innards for all to see. Front yards are bare dirt and sofas and used kitchen chairs sit on front porches featuring leaning posts and broken railings. At the curb at either side of the streets are empty beer cans, broken bottles and used needles and condoms mixed with dry, crispy leaves.

In the area sometimes called “The Bottom,” prostitutes displayed their wares in barely-there outfits while local businessmen, average Joes and sometimes Janes, and even a city official or two drove along the dark streets comparing the “merchandise.”

Zombie-like addicts marched and stumbled aimlessly along cold concrete walks and streets until they finally decided upon a random landing spot in a storefront entrance where they smoked, consumed rotgut liquor, or shot poison into their arms or legs. Then they slept awhile before setting off on another mindless quest for the next high.

Drug runners, the low-level, bottom of the narcotics-selling chain, the vendors of crack, meth, heroin, fentanyl, and Oxy, were at nearly every corner in the “hot” neighborhoods. They often damaged the corner street lamps by throwing rocks at the bulbs, or by shooting them out, so they could operate under the cover of darkness.

Runners stood alone or in small groups of three or so with each holding only a small amount of dope so not much would be lost should they be nabbed by cops. Users cruised the areas in their cars, driving slowly. When the runner spotted a likely customer he’d approach the vehicle. The driver handed over cash ($20 for a single crack rock) and the runner subsequently offered the drug. Sometimes the runner held the foil or plastic-wrapped rock in his mouth so he could easily swallow it in case the “customer” turned out to be a cop. When they were certain all was well they’d spit the wrapped rock into their hand to exchange for the cash.

When the runners sold out of merchandise they’d head back to the dealers to “re-up.” The process repeated hour after hour, night after night after night. The runners were always at ready to take off should an officer approach. It’s a cat and mouse game that’s played again and again—officers got out of our cars and they’d run. Officers chased after them. They’d drop the dope and an occasional gun. Officers picked up “the stuff” and maybe catch the guy or maybe not. Then the process began again with the next runner.

So after showing Denene enough of the rot of the city, I drove to areas where officers were on the scenes of various calls/complaints, making sure all was well. Then the radio crackled with an “officer needs assistance” call. She’d stopped a car for drunk driving and the driver refused to get out of his vehicle. She’d struggled with him a bit, through the car window, but had no luck. In fact, he’d spit at her and attempted to bite her. He’d struck her arms with his fist and tried to punch her face.

So off I went to see the trouble for myself. Other officers were also on the way to assist. When Denene and I arrived two officers were at the driver’s window grabbing and tugging the man and informing him that the use of  pepper spray had become an option. A third officer stood at the passenger window preparing to break the glass. I shifted the car into park and told Denene I’d be right back (the equivalent to “Hold my Beer”). I stepped out of my car and walked over to the action.

Since I was a DOJ master defensive tactics instructor/instructor-trainer who’d trained each of the on-scene officers during their time at the police academy, and the fact that I and Denene owned our own gym and martial arts school, and because I was the ranking officer on the scene, well, they’d assumed that I’d handle this situation. So they parted to allow me access to the driver.

I politely informed the very large, wild and drunken man that he had two options. One, remove his seat belt and get out of the car on his on. Two, I’d cause him intense pain while removing him from the car, through the window. When he spit  at me it was my conclusion that he’d opted for choice number two.

A few seconds later, after inflicting quite a bit of pain (I knew this because he was squealing and squawking like an angry parrot), I pulled him through the seatbelt and through the window (with his helpful assistance since he wanted the pain to stop sooner than asap), pulled him to the ground, spun him around and over using a wrist-turn-out. I then cuffed his hands behind his back.

I told the female officer who’d initially stopped the car to place my handcuffs in the mailbox outside my office door when she’d cleared from processing the man. I then turned and walked back to my car where I nonchalantly asked Denene if she’d like to grab a cup of coffee. Only a minute or two had passed since I first stepped out of my unmarked car.

She said, “How can you be so calm after such a violent event? And how in the world did you get that big man to fit through that window and all so quickly?”

I, like every officer out there, didn’t think twice about it. It’s what we/they are sometimes forced to do, those sorts of things—pulling grown men through car windows and the like. It’s part of the job, like editing is to a writer.

Yes, it was Christmas and Denene and I were together. But she never again rode with me.

She eventually stopped listening the police scanner we had at the house. She switched it off one night, for the final time, after hearing me tell other officers that “I’d go in first.”

Yeah, she’s much happier since writing about this stuff is a WHOLE lot safer …


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 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.


Fighting Dinosaurs

Graduating from the police academy is an experience all its own. And, after many weeks of what some recruits equate to a brief period of time spent in hell on earth, receiving the paper that makes it official, that you are indeed a bona-fide law enforcement officer is nothing short of a warm and fuzzy kind of moment.

There’s a huge amount of pride attached to the actual ceremony, as well as a great sense of accomplishment. Make no mistake about it, police academy training, while fun at times, can be extremely stressful, and taxing on muscles and mind. Therefore, when you’re finally holding paper in-hand and a shiny badge tightly pinned to your shirt, all you want to do is Par-Tay! And that’s exactly what I and my fellow recruits had in mind the night of our academy graduation. Unfortunately, my celebration was to be short-lived.

My boss, a gruff, no-nonsense sheriff, attended the ceremony along with his wife, who was also a no-nonsense gruff and never-smiling person. The sheriff sat beside me during the banquet, with his charming wife to his right, and we enjoyed a very pleasant conversation between bites of some pretty tasty food. Midway through the meal, during my suave and fascinating conversation, the high-sheriff, while alternating between shoveling forkfuls of red meat meat and potatoes into the opening in his face that sat squarely between a pair of sagging jowls, turned toward me to ask, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Which department do you work for?”

After letting his surprising comments sink in for a quick moment, I realized he had no idea that I worked for him. I was one of his deputies. The latest model, actually. Freshly trained and well-exercised, and as eager to get to work as they come.

When I explained to my new boss that he was, in fact, my boss, he half-heartedly pretended that the whole thing had been a joke. Obviously, it was not. But I didn’t intend to waste the situation. Not at all.  Nope, I had his attention and I planned to make the most of it.

In fact, II took the opportunity to discuss my future—when I’d begin my field training program (upon completion of academy training officers then receive on-the-job, hands-on training while riding with a certified field training officer), how long before I’d make detective and/or possibly the second in command of the entire department, etc.

Well, he matter-of-factly brushed aside my lofty aspirations, gulped a big ole shot of straight bourbon, and calmly retrieved a folded sheet of paper from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He then handed the paper—a copy of the patrol schedule—to me while reloading his beefy jowls with heaping forkfuls of red velvet cake.

The patrol schedule was the monthly assignment for the law enforcement deputies within his department—the police officers. All other deputies worked in the jail, courts, serving civil process, etc.. Then, between a couple of lip-smacking chews and another swallow of liquor, he said, “You’re working midnights, starting tonight.” I was both shocked and elated to learn that I’d hit the streets so quickly.

Everyone knows that midnight shift is normally considered the kiss of death. However, to a brand new rookie, even a graveyard shift assignment is as welcome and almost as exciting as a weekend at the Writers’ Police Academy. After all, you’re absolutely itching to bust the largest criminal enterprise known to cops worldwide.

But reality set in as I glanced at the clock on the wall, noticing that it was already nearly 10 p.m., and I hadn’t had any sleep. Didn’t matter, though. I was excited. Then the sheriff delivered even more “good” news. I’d be working the entire county, alone. A.L.O.N.E.

“What about my field training?” I said.

“No time. I’m short-handed,” he said. “If you run into any trouble call the state police. They’ll help out. Just don’t do anything stupid.”

The sheriff then stood, shook my hand, looked toward Mrs. Sheriff and nodded at the door. In another second they were gone, leaving me standing there holding the schedule in my hand. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be celebrating with my friends, but excited about going to work. But mostly, though, I was as nervous as a June bug at a chicken convention.

Two hours later I stood before a group of midnight shift dispatchers, jailers, and office staff. In all their years working there they’d never seen a “kid” fresh out of the academy hit the streets alone his first night out. I saw the fear in their eyes. I sensed the trepidation. I was flattered, of course, thinking they were worried about me, until I realized their concern was actually for the citizens of the county. I was their only defense against the evils of the world. And, as the sheriff’s office chain of command structure went, the ranking patrol deputy was in charge of the entire shift, jail included.

So yeah, I, on the job for only a matter of minutes, was in charge.

So I bid farewell to each of them and headed out into the dark and stormy night. Actually, it was a nice and bright late summer night. To me, though, it seemed as if I were a character in a bad novel with a really bad opening hook. “The deputy pushed open the door, determined to rid his county of evil zombies, mobsters, werewolves, and serial killers. Yes, he alone would save the world from death, doom, and destruction.”

My excitement was brimming over as I cruised the lonely, dark county roads, occasionally driving through well-lit parking lots, waving to night-shift clerks. I stopped in a few places to chat with employees and customers, but mostly my goal was to allow people to see me in my brand new uniform while driving my brand new patrol car with a brand new badge and name tag pinned to my chest. It was fun. I even played with the lights and siren a few times when I was on long, deserted stretches of roadway where I was sure no one was around to see or hear.

Then it happened. Two hours into my first shift, just when I felt as if I was riding on a cloud, I received my first call. “Fight in progress at Tommy Terrible’s Truck Stop. Weapons involved.” The fun melted from my face as quickly as a Kardashian can post an image to Instagram. It was lights and siren time for real.

So, as they say, I activated my emergency equipment (lights and siren) for real and soon turned into the truck stop parking lot where I saw what appeared (to me) to be two rather large dinosaurs going at it—fists swinging from every angle possible, and connecting with what appeared to be the force of the pile drivers used to construct bridges.

I sat there for a second with the engine idling, re-living the past several weeks of training. Hostage situation…check. Robberies…check. Kidnapping…check. Pursuit driving…check. Shooting range…check. Stepping between two monsters who’re engaged in the worst fight I’ve ever seen. Hmm … no class for that one.

I decided to drive my car as close to the pair as I could get, after calling the state police for assistance. (The closest trooper was twenty minutes away). Then I let off a nice blast from my siren. It worked. They stopped fighting and looked my way, so I stepped out of my car on legs that were quivering like a heaping mound of Jello during a California earthquake.

I attempted to talk to the two gentlemen since, at this point in my hours-long career, I had no clue if I should, or even could arrest either of them. So, and to protect my body from receiving a large number of painful injuries, I did the next best thing. I let one go inside the truck stop to have a cup of coffee, and I drove the other guy home.

On the way, I learned that it was his birthday and that he’d had a little too much to drink (duh). Being the quick thinker that I am, I jumped on the opportunity and told him that I’d let him off this time only because it was his birthday. However, the next time, well, I’d have to take him to jail. Sounded good to me, right? He didn’t need to know I was winging my way through this thing.

When I pulled up in front of the man’s modest trailer home, he shook my hand (his right hand, the equivalent of a giant oven mitt made of steel, gristle, and rhino hide, easily wrapped around mine) and thanked me for the ride and for not making him spend his birthday night in jail.

I waited as he worked his way around a variety of obstacles—rusted bicycles, an engine from a car that was nowhere to seen, home made plywood yard ornaments—a chubby woman bending over in the garden, a duck in a pole whose wings spun wildly in the wind, a life-size silhouette of a cowboy smoking a pipe—, an engine from a car that was nowhere to be seen, and a three-legged mixed breed dog attached to the mobile home by a logging chain.

He, the man, not the dog, used the back of a meaty fist to pound on the aluminum front door until the porch light, a yellow anti-bug lamp, switched on. A woman wearing a three-sizes-too-big NASCAR RULES t-shirt pushed open the door and immediately began to curse, between, of course, puffs on the unfiltered cigarette that dangled from her lips. I was amazed at how the cigarette clung to her lower lip even as she opened her mouth to yell. Finally, he gave her a slight shove and they both disappeared inside the metal box they called home. I exhaled, and then spent the next few hours patrolling the county while thinking of various defensive tactics techniques and drawing the mace container from my gun belt.

Probably not the prettiest conclusion to my first call, but it was a solution that actually paid off for me many times in the years to follow. You see, the guy I took home (I didn’t know it at the time) was an exceptionally good street fighter, a sort of legend in that area among the local police because it normally took four or five officers to handcuff and arrest him. At the time, I did not know how lucky I’d been.

Since that night, I’d been called to numerous fight scenes where this fellow had pummeled his opponents, smashing their bloody faces into barroom floors, walls, and tables all across the county and city. He’d sent a few police officers to the emergency room for various cuts, bruises, and broken body parts. He’d even tossed one rather large bouncer through a glass door. But, whenever I showed up he simply stopped fighting and walked to my car where he’d have a seat, ready for the drive to the county jail.

I guess the big man felt as if he owed me for not arresting him on his birthday. However, those easy-going feelings later changed, and that night, when he decided quite forcefully to not allow me to arrest him, was the night I introduced his forehead to my metal flashlight.

So that was my first night on the job. How was yours?

Officer I. Gowj is on foot patrol in the lower east side of Deathtrap, Texas, where the rowdiest of all bars are located. The area there near the docks and strip joints is well known for its drug traffic and gang activity, and there’d been a number of assaults on police officers in recent weeks. So Officer Gowj is already on high alert as he passes a suspicious young man hanging out at the intersection of Kick and My Butt. The two exchange eye contact and, after mumbling a few words to himself, the cross-eyed beefy guy falls in step behind the officer.

Sensing danger, Officer Gowj moves to the side of the walkway and turns his back to the brick storefront of Slim’s House of Pawn, Porn, and Collectible Thimbles.

The large man stopped directly in front of the wary patrol officer. Unsure of the focus of the suspicious man’s gaze Officer Gowj prepared to defend himself and, as the officer suspected, the man attacked, delivering numerous punches and kicks to the officer’s head and body.

Is Officer I. Gowj expected, by law, to fight a fair fight? Must he stand there and exchange punches and kicks with the thug until the best brawler is left standing? No, of course not. Police officers are expected to win every single encounter. They should never lose a battle. Not ever. Their goal is to arrest all suspects and bring them in to stand trial.

But, suppose the attacker is bigger and stronger? What if there’s more than one attacker? If the bad guy is a better fighter, what then?

Well, all of the above are the reasons officers operate under the “1-Plus Rule of Thumb,” which simply means that officers, under normal circumstances, are allowed to use one level of force above the amount of force used by the suspect/attacker/adversary.

What about an encounter such as the one Officer Gowj was faced with in the paragraphs above? The man was unarmed and he began his attack at close range. What is Officer Gowj allowed to do to defend himself?

Well, if the officer feels that his life is in danger he is permitted to use deadly force. But in Gowj’s case he probably wouldn’t have the time or opportunity to reach one of the weapons on his duty belt. Not at first, anyway.

So here are some options officers may want to consider when faced with deadly force encounters while empty handed. The same tactics could be used by citizens to defend themselves against an attack.

Empty-Hand Defensive Tactics

Eye Gouge – Use your palms to guide the thumbs to the eyes, and always use the thumbs when applying this technique. Never a finger. Thumbs are capable of delivering more force than fingers. Besides, fingers break easily as opposed to the sturdier thumbs. But you can use the fingers to grip the head, which helps to provide even more force from the thumbs. A properly applied eye gouge almost always results in the suspect releasing his grip on you.

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Knee Strike – A knee strike to the groin, gut, or the large muscle of the thigh, can be a devastating blow. A huge amount of force is generated by this technique, and that force translates into lots of pain to your attacker.

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The Head Twist – This one’s a little tricky because you could actually kill your suspect if you’re not careful. BUT, if the officer is fighting for her life, then so be it.


Kick To The Knee – It’s very easy to break a knee, therefore a good kick to it can put your attacker out of commission in a hurry. After all, it’s tough to fight while standing on one leg. It’s also difficult to escape custody with a broken knee. Not many suspects are able to successfully hop their way to freedom.


Palm-Heel Strike To The Ear – This one is quite painful. Makes ’em see stars and bright white lights. It could also make them release the choke hold they have on you.

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Remember, these are NOT the techniques police use to control suspects—arm bars, wrist locks, and come-alongs. These are empty-handed tactics and techniques used when fighting for survival. Officers should ONLY use the amount of force necessary to control a suspect/situation. Never use deadly force in a non life-threatening situation.

Hell Week

Basic police officer academy training consists of many aspects of law-enforcement. But perhaps the most memorable course is the one our recruits often referred to as Hell Week.

During Hell Week recruits learn how to defend themselves from weapon wielding attackers, and they learn various techniques such as weapon retention, weapon disarming, handcuffing, baton use, how to effectively arrest combative and non-combative suspects, and the proper and safe use of chemical sprays and Taser deployment.

They’re also required to exercise and run. Actually, lots and lots of exercising and running. And when they’ve finished all that exercising and running, they run and exercise some more.

The training is intense, painful, and exhausting. Did I mention … PAINFUL!

Recruits learn to control and handcuff combative suspects by using pain-compliance techniques—wrist-locks and joint control. The tactics taught to police are based on the techniques used by martial artists. Aikido, founded byO-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, and Chin-Na, are two of the martial arts our academy used as a foundation for these highly-effective techniques.

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Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei, “The Great Teacher”).

Sticking to O-Sensei’s original teachings, Yoshinkan Aikido was first taught to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in the early 1960’s. The Tokyo Riot Police receives Yoshinkan Aikido instruction to this day. Aikido techniques in American police academies are a bit less intensive, but are still extremely effective.

Aikido (The Art of Peace) uses the attacker’s own force against him.

The purpose of police defense tactics training is actually threefold—to protect the officer, make a safe arrest, and protect the attacker/assailant from harm.


I served as a police academy instructor and instructor-trainer for many years, teaching basic, advanced, and in-service classes such as, Defensive Tactics, Officer Survival, CPR, Interview and Interrogation, Homicide Investigation, Drug Recognition, and Firearms. I also trained, certified, and re-certified police academy instructors.

Outside the academy, my wife Denene, and I, owned our own school/gym where I taught classes in rape-prevention, personal self-defense and self-defense for women, and advanced training for executive bodyguards. I trained others in stick (tambo) and knife fighting. The training at our school/dojo was extremely intense and designed for personal survival and the protection of others. It was not typical police training.

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Throughout my law enforcement career I maintained the rank of Master Defensive Tactics Intructor/Aikido and a black belt in Chin-Na, and Master Defensive Tactics Instructor/Instructor-Trainer.

As I stated above, the defensive tactics I and our other instructors taught to police recruits and to officers completing their mandatory in-service training was based upon Aikido techniques.

Basic Aikido For Law Enforcement

1. Develop a keen sense of awareness. Learn to observe the entire picture. No rear attacks!

2. Being able to quickly move forward, backward, side-to-side, and diagonally… all without losing your balance.

3. Verbally calm down any potential aggressor.

4. Knowing the right time to arrest or detain a suspect. Avoid any escalation of violent behavior.

5. Having the tools to cause pain without causing injury—use of pressure points to safely effect the arrest.

6. Always use the minimum amount of force necessary to make the arrest.


– Unbalancing the suspect is key to reducing their resistance.

– Control the head and the body will follow.

– Move the suspect into a position where their chance of reaching you with an attack is greatly reduced—controlling their arms, wrists, elbows or shoulders.

Officers are taught a variety of techniques, such as:

A wrist turnout, for example, applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist while forcing the suspect off balance. The proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique is pictured below.

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.

Chinese Chin Na can be categorized in five general areas. They are:

Fen Chin – techniques which tear apart an opponent’s muscles or tendons. Techniques in this category of Chin Na is illegal in all competitive sports.

Ts’o Ku, translated loosely, means misplacing the bone. These techniques are used to position bones in unnatrual positions by manipulating  and applying pressure to joints.

Pi Ch’i, “sealing the breath,” refers to techniques that prevents an opponent’s ability to inhale.

Tien Mai are the techniques used for sealing or striking blood vessels.

Keep in mind, the last four techniques listed above are NOT taught to law enforcement officers. Nor are they permitted as part of arrest and control situations. However, in a life or death situation anything goes, including the use of deadly force.

To see a demonstration of a few techniques taught to law enforcement, please click to start the video below.