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.




The Tactical Ankle Trip

Another look at a tactical alternative to a leg technique, or “foot sweep.”

While they take some practice and sense of timing to master, I am partial to leg techniques/sweeps for several reasons. Some of the primary ones are that they involve minimal commitment of one’s own posture in execution, and minimal entanglement with the subject you are throwing; they are therefore easier to abort without being over-extended when something doesn’t go well.

Many are more likely to keep you on your feet while taking the subject off his own.

Both of these are of greater importance when you may be wearing constricting clothing, instead of training pajamas, and in heavy gear.

This is a tactical ankle trip, or tactical version of judo’s sasae tsuri-komi ashi, my favorite throw. I call it a trip because it is not a sweep, per se, but props the ankle instead. Again these are captures of an actual throw done under live pressure.

This drill is one we use at our dojo frequently. The defender (myself in white) holds a piece of mat space about four mats in size. The attacker (in blue) comes in striking, and tries to hit me, clinch me, and drive me back. My aim to is knock him down, or knock him back and out of the mat space – a la sumo. This is fully resistive, but is not randori/sparring per se as the end state aims for a different goal.

sasae 1 setup 1

My attacker, blue, has crashed in on me. I avoided the initial strikes by covering, and immediately attempting to gain inside control. It is not visible here, but he thwarted me on the left side and I had to take an overhook to control his right arm. As he pulled his left arm back, I had to immediately gain some control/tactile sense of what it was doing (this is important because that hand could hit me repeatedly in the body, he could have a knife in his hand that I am not yet aware of, or he could access a weapon with it). I get an elbow control or elbow tie of his left with my right.

Sasae 1 setup 2

Blue is giving me a lot of pressure. I can feel it and I don’t like the relative head positioning we have, and want to change that. But I also feel two things: his forward pressure and the position of his legs. This is exactly what I look for in the tactical ankle trip.This is all assessed in the moment and I begin the execution of the throw. He has already given me enough forward pressure, but I need to make a hole for him to drop forward into. I take the wide step with my left leg, and note how I am starting to point my foot as I do so. Again, these are all occurring simultaneously – which is why leg techniques take some practice!

sasae 1 3

It happened fast! You can see that I have maintained my tie on the off hand, and here the overhook comes into view. I have already tripped him at his left ankle and he is already going down, but you can see my right foot still in the position it was at the trip.

This throw, done correctly, is a rather surprising drop. Blue is reacting to suddenly  falling and actually starting to place his hand out to block his fall.

sasae 1 4

I continue trying to turn, and look to where I am turning as he goes down.  This one happened quick, and so I am starting to go down with him from momentum. I know that I don’t want to go to the ground with him, so I am in the process of bringing my knees in.

Sasae 1 end

The finish: I brought my knees in and slid one across his hips/low abdomen (knee to belly) and the other across his left bicep. Not an ideal position, but easily adapted, and it kept my knees from hitting the ground and my weight on top of him.

I still have some control over both of his hands. Now, I have the choice to continue to control, to strike, to access my own tools, or get up and away from him.

Or….start hunting for an arm bar in a competitive context.

This is a key point in the combat vs. competition continuum: too often, competition mindset drives folks to want to do something involving a submission here to fulfill their desire to “win.” They want an exclamation point to their dominance, not to retain a position of advantage… but that’s another topic!

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.

The Tactical Back Trip

In previous posts I have discussed alternatives to commonly practiced jujitsu techniques. These proceed from a more tactically sound, versus competitively expedient, standpoint, although many would work just as well in either venue. The reverse is not always true. The point is protecting certain tactical principles and understanding the difference.

To start, I will attempt an elucidation of a simple back trip technique. These are video captures from a live execution of the technique during drilling out our dojo some time back. The gist of the drill is that the man in blue is the defender. He had some one minute in order to escape from the rear grab that I, in white, initiated from behind. If he could not escape, the second man, seen to the side in white over blue with boxing gloves, can enter and begin punching  him as well.This kind of drilling is common in our regular classes, and is not done as a separate training group or specialized class, hence we are wearing our keikogi, or practice uniforms.

Once I made back contact, he was free to use whatever skill and strength he had to escape – and the clock was ticking…

At the start signal, I approached from behind and had taken a back hold.

back trip 1

After several attempts to free his hips from my grip or turn, in which I stayed with him, I was able to step toward his back and begin an outside back trip. This would be similar to a kosoto gari done to the rear, for you  judo-philes.

You will note that there is a considerable size and weight difference between my opponent and I. He is also a BJJ blue belt from a different school.Above I am just making entry for the throw.

back trip 2

Here I begin the off balance and execution of the throw. You can see his posture has been broken as I off balance him with my shoulder and arm, and with a hand controlling and steering his far hip. My left leg is straightened and my foot blocks the back of his left foot.

It is at this point that many jiujitsu schools would teach a variant of the classic tani otoshi, or valley drop throw.

Here is an example of a police officer setting up this throw. It is commonly taught to law enforcement as well:


His finish is to:

“Sit down to drag the suspect to the ground, tripping him over your outstretched leg. He can’t catch his balance because you are blocking his foot from stepping back.

Roll on top of him for the mount.”

From “The Ten Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves Every Cop Should Know.”

I do not advocate doing this, for various reasons I have previously explained.

back trip 3

Blue goes down!  The technique I just performed is no more complicated than the Rear Takedown shown by the officer above. But look at the difference….instead of sitting down and dragging the suspect to the ground (an approach to takedowns I call “sag and drag”), my opponent has gone down and I am still on my feet. Should I choose, I can let go and create space and assess force options.

And I do not have to “roll on top of him for the mount,” while wearing a fully loaded gunbelt, and a full vest or external carrier.

back trip 4

But let’s say for whatever reason I decided to stay with Blue for control on the ground…perhaps in order to effect an arrest, or, I lost my balance and went with him (he is a lot bigger, and momentum may have carried me down as well.

I have still avoided going to the ground, avoided inadvertently having him roll over me in the process, avoided my knees spiking into the ground, and I am on top and driving my chest (trauma plate) into him. I have visual on what his hands are doing (including if they suddenly dive underneath him or to his waistline) and have hands relatively free to start control, or start to access my own tool should I need to.


back trip 5

The takedown is complete. I have based out, careful still not to spike my knees, and not putting them on the ground which will rob me of some of the pressure I can exert on Blue pushing off the ground with my feet – two efficiencies for the price of one. Nothing on my body touched the ground other than my feet and hands throughout the entire takedown.

Blue’s movement and ability to grab me, or to immediately turn and use a weapon are seriously limited by my top control, pressure-heavy position. And I have free hands to begin whatever manual options are necessary in the next moments.

Unfortunately for my opponent, the secondary attacker – a jiujitsu brown belt – is starting to move in for the kill!!

Note: I’ve changed the title and terminology from the awkward “combat alternative” to simply “tactical.”


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.