BJJ wasn’t much known globally until 1993, when Royce Gracie gave a devastating exhibition to all other martial arts. One by one he was taking on martial artists, mostly much bigger than him, choking or submitting them. I was just a kid back then, and was training in Karate and Aikido at the time. My mind was blown by the performance I saw on the VHS tape my friend lent me.
When I grew up, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies started popping up in my area I could not resist and enrolled straight away. It was just a few months before I started my military service, and little did I know that I’ll have the chance to actually use some elements of it pretty soon. I got drafted to be an MP and was stationed in several posts among civilians, hostile environments, and in prison too. During our training we practiced a lot of Krav Maga, but didn’t touch grappling much.
When I keep in touch with friends who’ve made a career in the police,military police or the prison system, I get a much different picture now. There is a great emphasis on grappling, mostly BJJ based in training.
The main reason is that when you deal with civilians, you can’t just pull out your weapon and use it freely, and that goes for pepper spray and tasers too, and as a protector and civil servant, you don’t want that as well. This leads you to enhanced close contact encounters with violent people, criminal, and mentally unstable individuals or groups. Even though keeping a safe distance is most advised, it’s more of a luxury than practicality.
Many times I had to face civilians, without the ability to use any kind of force if I wasn’t threatened. And when I say threatened, I mean that the attacker had to answer a checklist written by some attorneys somewhere. So I could only respond if the attacker was about a foot away from me, and already established some physical contact with me or my partners, and was asked to calm down. Even when we were under direct threat, we had to make it look nice on the CCTV (no smartphones back then), and I’m pretty sure that almost all of these altercations started at close quarter distance.
I also learned first hand that BJJ in the gym, wearing comfortable BJJ rash guard and gear, in a controlled, fun environment with rubber mats. Here are a few key differences I found that are important to understand when training in BJJ for law enforcement:
- Get distance when you can! As a law enforcement officer, in any state or country, you’ll be carrying weapons (hand gun, pepper spray, taser, baton, etc.), or items that can be utilized as weapons (handcuffs, flashlight, walkie talkie, etc.). As I said, getting distance is sometimes a privilege but if you can take it, do it and guard your weapons. In training you should be focusing on taking control while getting away, and not striving for close contact. Forget about sacrifice techniques like Tomoe nage or Sumi Gaeshi, a single leg or whatever exposes your lower back for easy weapon snatching. Learn how to maintain control while standing up as long as you can, as it can make the difference between life and death.
- Alway try to be on top! One of the most powerful positions in BJJ is the guard, may it be closed guard, spider guard, open guard and so on. But playing bottom on a cemented floor, while wearing boots and a protective vest highly restricts your movement and your ability to escape or control your opponent from under. It’s much easier and less painful to maintain control from top positions, applying downward pressure to neutralize the situation as peacefully as possible. Any berimbolo artist that begs to differ can try rolling in full protective gear and see themselves. Also being on top allows you to use your peripheral vision to spot other potential threats and assailants.
- Learn how to escape and stand up again! Not always you’ll be the one to choose to go down, and you will be put on your back. Choking your attacker sounds like an optimal solution right? In my opinion, if you were caught by surprise, your ability to assess the situation is very limited, and you should establish control of the whole scene, not only of your opponent. He might have friends, a knife or any other weapon. You really want to get back on your feet and start again. Kicking and pushing with your feet and doing a tactical get up will be frowned upon in any BJJ academy, but is actually the smart thing to do when a civilian got you on your back.
These are the main principles I found during my time on the force, that you should keep in mind while training in BJJ for law enforcement. Another interesting point from my years in service, is to learn martial arts that specialize in realistic weapons training, and in my experience, Krav Maga and Filipino Martial Arts do just that. A Jiu-Jitsu black doesn’t necessarily know how to defend against weapons, or the dynamics of a knife or a baseball bat. Learning these together with Law Enforcement oriented BJJ will give you a very strong base, allowing you to take control of most situations keeping you and your partners safe.
Dan Barmatz is an IDF veteran, with 20 years of experience in several martial arts: BJJ, Aikido, Krav Maga, Arnis, Boxing, Karate, and Muay Thai.