The Tactical Gift Wrap

I found some old footage of my teacher, Tim Cartmell, demonstrating the Gift Wrap and will address it here:

In competition jujitsu, the Gift Wrap is generally used as a set up for either taking an arm bar or taking the back. I will address it instead in tactical terms, where can be an end state in and of itself.


Here is the basic idea. The position is entered (by Blue) from a knee to belly position (uki gatame in Japanese terms), or a mount position. The arm that crosses White’s face (in this case his right) is captured or it is pushed acros from the top position. It is placed across White’s face, and controlled by pressure from Blue’s chest behind the shoulder. From there (in this case Blue’s left) hand is brought behind White’s head and neck to grasp the hand or wrist.

Blue’s right hand is used to control White’s left hand on the ground. The foot in front of the abdomen is placed sole on the ground.


Here Blue can extend his arm and exert pressure. This allows a relatively upright position, the foot on the ground can take weight and take pressure off the other knee, which may be on a hard surface.  Blue can exert quite a bit of pressure simply by extending his left arm, or his posture with his center into White’s rib cage. (Note that Blue can also use the knee to belly  here to cause even more pressure, and neither knee is on the ground).

Also, Blue can use more chest pressure, or place  his right knee on White’s grounded left arm, to free up his right hand for other options.

And at any time Blue can stand and disengage.

Additional pressures can be exerted thusly:


Blue transitions his right hand grip to  grasp his own wrist. Both of White’s hands are controlled, though now Blue has tied up both of his own hands as well, so this must be a conscious decision in light of the totality of circumstances Blue can observe in the particular situation.


Here Blue can exert pressure on White’s neck. This is a pain compliance component, added to achieve greater postural and positional control only. Generally, pain compliance techniques are not very effective against violently resisting subjects, who often may be drunk, drugged, or disturbed  – in fact they often cause greater resistance. This is particularly true when postural and positional control are not otherwise achieved. Pain does not equal control.

With postural and positional control, pain compliance can be a force multiplier toward shutting White’s resistance down completely, not because it hurts, but because he cannot move and cannot mount any resistance to begin with. The pain furthers the control.

Incidentally, this is the set up for a straight arm bar, juji gatame, where Blue would bring his left leg around and lay on his back. That is the tactic performed in the Gracie Breakdown – leaving this position, performing the arm bar, then returning to this position for  eventual cuffing. 

This is superfluous from a tactical standpoint,  actually giving up a perfectly good, and strong, position of advantage – already a cuffing position – in order to attempt a submission.

Instead, staying here in the Gift Wrap, Blue assesses his options: restrain the subject until help arrives (cover officers or the police), disengage for other options (escape or other tools), or, take the subject into custody himself.


The Communication Scar


Earlier today I watched a video – of a situation that sadly ended with the death of an officer. In it, I saw – or rather heard – something that rears it’s head on a routine basis in survival and tactical situations. A fixation with the radio.

It’s most obvious in some of the “cop gets beat down” videos. An officer being pummeled and instead of defending him or herself, they are on the radio screaming for help. Or, the minute shots are fired, the screams into the radio “shots fired!”

In the video I watched it occurred not once, but twice. A shot is fired, and someone is yelling “shots fired!” Then more shots, and again, “shots fired!”


Training, and repetition, of course. Early on, officers are taught that the radio is their “life line,” which it is, of sorts. And then over a career of a few or many years, they are constantly on the radio giving updates on location and status, letting everyone else know what is going on… It becomes a powerful habit, and officers are actually downgraded in training for failing to update properly through the radio.

A communication training scar.

This turns out to be counter-productive in the critical moments of a survival encounter, in particular a shooting engagement. Time spent transmitting is time spent dwelling in a task not related to stopping the threat right now. When rounds can be sent in your direction in a fraction of a second, that second on the radio equates to multiple rounds…

The problem can be exacerbated by the habits of the officer in wearing the radio. Some old school folks still pull the whole hand-held out and talk. More frequently, officers wear a lapel mic. But many officers choose the wear the mic in this manner:

cop transmitting

This is a problem.

This officer must turn his entire head in order to transmit clearly. In day to day contacts, when the subject being talked to is typically in front of  the officer, this officer – like many others, actually places his head in a perfect position for a sucker-punch knockout. He takes his eyes off the subject, and won’t see anything coming from his left side.

Now, in a lethal threat encounter, when the officer will instinctively be orienting his body toward the threat – he still must turn away to get out that “shot fired” call… so a powerful, ingrained habit of getting on the radio while placing one’s body in a very bad fighting position is coupled with extreme stress at a time when it is least affordable.

I train newbies to put their mic centerline, either in the lapel of their duty shirt above the vest, or now with the external carrier being more common, in the center of the top edge of the vest. I’ve even placed a zip tie on a couple of my vests and I just clip the mic there.

That way, I can face my subject, when I transmit I actually have to keep my neck straight, bring my chin down, and key the mic with my hand close to my chin. A much more defensible position. Even when keying up at the radio and not the mic, my head and neck are in a much stronger position.

This doesn’t change the fact that I should not be on the radio when shots are being fired. I should be dealing with the threat.

First things First.

It’s Shoot, Move, Communicate. Or better yet, Shoot, Move, and then Communicate.

Much better to be able to relay “shots fired, subject down, all officers are okay. Send medical code 3” in calm, even tones (once you’ve taken a couple breaths, than to scream that shots are being fired multiple times, while the gunfight is still going on.




Embracing Warriorship

We may be seeing a new tack on the whole “Warrior Problem” issue, this from one of the Blue Courage founders, Aurora Illinois Chief Kristen Ziman.

She even subtly references the Art of War…

Remember, the Guardian vs. Warriors “debate” is founded on a false premise. Plato envisioned soldier guardians and ruler guardians….the soldier guardians defended society from enemies without and enforced its laws within.


Embrace Warriorship

*A letter to the officers of the Aurora Police Department:


I attended training in Bloomington-Normal this week put on by the Illinois Law-Enforcement Training and Standards Board Executive Institute. On the 2nd day of the conference, I sat on a Chief’s panel and was asked a question about police perception and if police actually need to improve or if we simply need to work at altering the public’s perception of us.

The answer is both. There is a reason we are getting slammed in the headlines and although the media is slanted in the anti-police direction (understatement), there are officers out there who are making all of us look bad. Period.

The Aurora Police Department is not in the news. Our excellent training division incorporates deescalation and restraint into mandatory training and because “you play like you practice”, we don’t have officers shooting people in the back as they run away.

We as a profession have to be able to police ourselves and sometimes that means looking at the actions of other police officers and acknowledging that a bad outcome was the result of poor decision-making. Policing is as much of an art as it is a science. That means using all the tools given to you (including your human influence) to achieve the best possible outcome. Identifying and predicting human behavior patterns and choosing a course of action within the confines of the United States Constitution is not easy. It’s the opposite of easy. But you do it with excellence every day.

Despite the Aurora Police Department not making the headlines, we are still painted with a broad brush and the actions of one bad cop tarnishes all of our badges. Although it is unfair, the negative perception is real so we must commit to building trust with our citizens one contact at a time. You didn’t cause this mess, but you have the power to change hearts and minds by engaging our citizens.

There is a big debate going on in law enforcement about guardians versus warriors and how the latter adds to the negative public perception. I was asked about it on the panel and want to share my viewpoint with you.

You will spend the majority of your shift acting as guardians to the City of Aurora. You will solve problems and you will enforce laws so there is order in our neighborhoods and our citizens can live peacefully. Most of you have learned by now that it’s a waste of time and energy to demand respect and instead have figured out that by giving respect freely, you earn it naturally. Respect is earned by looking at people and not down on them.

Throughout your tour of duty, there is no doubt that you will show empathy and compassion to many individuals and those acts of altruism will never make headlines. But you will do it anyway.

So make no mistake — you are guardians.

However, there will be moments where you will have no choice but to transform into a warrior. You are the first line of defense in our city and when there is someone who threatens the peace and safety of our citizens, you must embrace the warrior mindset and run towards the gunfire. You will put yourself in harm’s way and risk your own life because you are police officer.

The warrior mindset is what sets you apart from those who don’t wear a uniform and without it, there would be no one to fight the evil that exists. Being a warrior is not a bad thing as long as those skills are applied with good purpose. We cannot shy away from the notion that there will be times where we have to use force to subdue a person whose intent is to harm others. As long as force is applied within the parameters of the law and without excess, you won’t find yourself standing alone.

A true warrior fights only to protect and the greatest skill of all is to subdue the offender without violence. That should always be our goal. But I refuse to pander to the negative perception of warriorship and deny that side of us because there have to be people willing to go where others will not.

The answer is that we are both guardians and warriors so embrace and hone the skills of both.

Boyd’s Be or Do


In teaching others, especially the trainees I sometimes share a car with, I consistently revisit this from John Boyd, as it is applicable to law enforcement as in the military.

Here following biographer Robert Coram and as quoted at Art of Manliness..

Boyd said (emphasis mine):

“one day you will come to a fork in the road…

And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go..If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.

Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do someting. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.

To Be or to Do?

Which way will you go?”

Recently I had the pleasure of training with a man who exemplified this. As he told his story, I reflected on an experience of mine that was similar, but his – and his decision – was more final, asking more of him than what mine did of me.

These are the people I consider leaders. Rank has nothing to do with leadership – it may require deference, but it cannot command respect. What you do – consistently, over many years and under repeated tests – defines who you are far more than any position or promotion.

“Save the Life You Can, When You Can”


I’m indebted to Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter for inspiring some of the formative concepts of this piece…

When we discuss the concept of Warriorship or Warrior Mindset in the law enforcement context we must begin with the Priority of Life. In short, this idea – codified and practiced in formal training – places the life of the responding officer beneath the lives of citizens and hostages in any situation where there is an imminent threat to life. The life of the officer is in turn held in higher regard than that of a violent suspect threatening the lives of others.

This is at the core the reason warriorship must be inculcated in law enforcement officers, and not just tactical officers. When an active threat (active shooter). hostage taking. or immediate threat-to-life situation occurs, it is the first responding officers who run to the problem, and are best positioned to deal with it as necessary. The time to be considering one’s own mortality, or second guessing  deadly force response decisions from the point of view of fear of administrative sanction or public opinion is not in the face of a murderous act in the moment it is happening. They must be analyzed, devloped, inculcated, and practiced as core values before they happen in real time.

Unfortunately, perhaps more so now that at any time in the recent past, elements within law enforcement management have lost sight of this view: that the primary role of LE is being prepared for going into harm’s way to protect others. Unable to articulate the tenets of proper warriorship in the face of political and public pressure, many executives have  instead chosen to acquiesce to a skewed narrative and embraced a misconstrued philosophy that tells cops NOT to be warriors.

This is unworkable and impractical. It is inconsistent in concept and application with the Priority of Life, and can breed only one thing for the responding officer: hesitation.

Under circumstances of imminent or immediate threat, time does not take sides; no problem will solve itself if only given more time. Some problems get far worse. Too often simply waiting and talking is nothing but hesitating and gambling with the lives of citizens, hostages, and officers in the hope that “things will turn out okay.” This is in direct conflict with the Priority of Life, and places the life of the suspect in higher regard than that of officers or victims.

That it frequently does turn out in the end does not make it a morally or tactically defensible approach. This is where the fundamental misunderstanding lies.

Because when it doesn’t, that life allowed to hang in the balance could be lost. And though not averse to risking my life, I prefer to be the one making the wager with my own rather than someone else.

One wonders how all of this could have been so easily forgotten. It partly lies in lack of experience: most police executives end up with little time “on the road,” and research has shown that as humans we often forget where we have come from while at the same time remember ourselves as better than we actually were. When those proclaiming new philosophies as workable have been retired for some time, and before that spent more than twenty five years of thirty in administrative careers, perhaps its not a wonder after all.

Warriorship is honed through being there, doing that, and learning from experience.

So, yeah….Not a wonder after all.





Combative vs. Competitive Jujitsu

Grounded vs standing

As competition (sport) jujitsu has increasingly overshadowed the art’s self-defense roots, there has been discussion within the Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) community about getting back to self defense. It is a testament to the flexibility and adaptability of the fundamental concept of “ju” () that there even is such a discussion; and that there is room for so many different expressions of the art – even within BJJ.

There are, however, key differences between using jujitsu for defensive or tactical applications – handling violent assailants under uncontrolled circumstances (i.e. “the street”) – and when using it in controlled, technically regulated matches. These start with the ways in which we fundamentally think about the tactics and technical choices we make.

For example:

Q: What percentage of total practice is conducted standing up?

A: If the answer is that standing practice is anything less than 50% of the total aggregate, you are not approaching jujitsu with a tactical – or practical – mindset.

And yes, practicing this way is altering how the body is wired for combative action, to equate fighting with willingly going to,  and remaining on the ground, as the default.

You fight the way you train.

Q: When practicing throws, how often do you go to the ground with or before your opponent, rather than staying on your feet?

A: Staying on your feet should be a prime motivation in throwing. You stay standing, they go down.

I know, I know, especially with skilled opponents this might not happen much, but you should be practicing with the view that you stay up, the opponent goes down, and then you choose your next move: create space and disengage, top control immediately from the throw, or standing pass to top control.

Wait – we’re talking jujitsu, not Judo, right?

Yes. Because both are Basically Just Jujitsu…

Q: Do you believe that pins “do not count in real fighting,” or that they are inconsequential to a self defense or combative encounter?

A:  This is not only a competition mindset, it’s rules-specific. Some grappling arts allow pins as winning or scoring techniques.

Pins very much do matter in actual combatives. If I got pinned in a match for ten or twenty minutes, with little or no freedom of movement, and then somehow in the end squeaked out a lucky submission, I’d consider that a loss, or at best a draw.

Someone dominating my movement in a situation where they can strike me at will, access a weapon, or use the environment against me (pounding my head onto the concrete), or have their friends come and help, will not be solved by my waiting for them to get tired or for me to get lucky.

Q: Are submissions a better indicator of combative effectiveness? Are submission-only tournaments more “realistic?”

A: Another rules-specific competition mindset.* (see note) In fact, it is entirely feasible, and in many cases more practical and more tactically sound, to practice a combative approach to jujitsu with no submissions at all.

Many limb-submissions may matter little in actual combatives – where opponents may have levels of motivation and pain tolerance far surpassing normal due to drugs or derangement.

Others limit our ability to escape or respond to sudden changes because the limbs and focus are tied up with the opponent.

Sometimes this will be situation-specific (I know of a fight ended with a foot lock -from standing – for instance, and I have personally done so with arm locks, but only because the offender gave up mentally and/or physically), and a fast strangle that does not tie up with an attacker can be golden in an real situation.

But by and large if you are hunting for arm bars or clothing strangles while on your back, or taking the back, getting hooks in, and going for a rear naked choke, you are playing jujitsu versus fighting with jujitsu.

Not all that fun to watch from a competitive standpoint. Submission-only jujitsu showcases one thing well – skill at submissions, which is important for the art and sport of jujitsu, but less so for a comprehensive approach to combatives.


japanesewoodcutsmall (1)

Positional Dominance 

An important concept in competitive grappling, the idea of Positional Dominance, has been adopted into the tactical lexicon by some instructors. Unfortunately this glosses important differences between what are advisable positions in a tactical or defensive situation and what works under academy or competitive conditions.

To differentiate I prefer the term Position of Advantage…I’ll call it P of A.

P of A, as I see it,  includes commonly accepted Dominant Positions, yet excludes others. Not all dominant positions are positions of advantage, and not all positions of advantage are dominant positions. In some cases the crossover is direct. In others, more tactically advisable positions are not the same as those predicated on a “finish” in competition. In these latter cases, P of A may not be equated with Positional Dominance.

Position of Advantage is found in retaining initiative and mobility, that is, the ability to maneuver free of the opponent.

Positional advantage therefore is often transient and rapidly changing, and rather than tying up and vying for superiority based on a submission – P of A may simply be frustrating an adversary’s efforts by refusing to engage in a standard way, which he is unable to control.

Take for example, the clinch in boxing. Clinching is known as a tool to limit the damage a superior boxer can do, and limit their ability to move and strike freely. It is regulated in boxing and fighters are separated when it happens.

Similarly, in grappling, continuously refusing to grip and preventing an opponent from coming to grips, or, in ground fighting continuously disengaging and backing away to make the other fighter stand up, or holding a position and “doing nothing,”  is regulated.

Similarly, it is not customary to train boxing specializing in clinching to avoid ….boxing. Or in grappling to avoid actually coming to grips and thus…grappling. It’s considered “stalling,” and worse. This “negative ” approach would likely considered unsportsman-like in a boxing gym, judo dojo or jujitsu academy.  It is regulated by the rules and frowned up because it prevents skilled people from actually using their skills.

Turn that on it’s head, and think of it from a defensive perspective. Things that make you go hmmmm…..


Notes –

*There is a notion that rules somehow don’t matter, or are inconsequential, when it comes to pass that there are no rules, and that someone that cannot be beaten under a set of rules is therefore not able to be defeated under others, or when there are no rules.

Think about that for a minute.

Modern jujitsu’s history provides the best example of this not being the case with the torturous demands over rules in challenge matches in the early days – when it was then simply an offshoot of Kodokan Judo. Robert Drysdale addressed this in a recent article that I blogged about here.