Situation Dictates

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Its a tactical arrest of a domestic violence offender…   the suspect is said to be a “karate black belt” and kick boxer. He is also known to love weapons, and has multiple long guns, hand guns, “nunchuks” and knives. After an hours-long barricaded standoff, he comes out in response to police commands, but he is still only semi-compliant, belligerently challenging officers on the arrest team and only reluctantly following verbal directions, though not to the extent that less lethal munitions are used. Sometimes patience is a tactical virtue.

He prones out as directed, and puts his hands out as ordered. The arrest team, consisting of a contact officer, and other officers with lethal cover, less lethal cover, and area cover assignments, approaches and the contact officer takes hold of the suspect’s arm. The suspect immediately tenses up and tries to pull his arm toward his body….

What would you do?

What is your discipline’s answer to this?

Do you just pick up his arm and move it to cuff position like in aikido? Or immediately “take his back, get hooks in, and apply a rear naked choke?”

Go for a “side control” pin and attempt a “head an arm” submission?

Though these may be effective techniques, which are advisable in this situation?

Especially considering working in a team, where other officers have weapons ready for use if lethal (say, the suspect  starts to go for a gun) or less lethal (the suspect starts to get up) force is demanded, and these will need to have a clear target – not obscured by a partner who just lay down on top of the suspect, obstructing  all other force options,  and then put his head right next to the suspect’s.

This particular situation was handled with a straight arm bar combined with a knee ride control to the neck and shoulder. This kept the suspect momentarily pinned in place, and kept his arm from going toward his body – his waistline – and potentially a weapon. He did try to push up with the other hand, but the less lethal officer now had an opportunity to safely utilize his Taser, as no one was laying on top of the suspect or in proximity to the high value, large muscle targets ideal for that tool. The Taser was effective enough that another officer was able to use the same type of arm bar on the off side, and the suspect was cuffed without further incident.

BTW, I was the contact officer, and this suspect was a full foot taller and at least fifty pounds heavier than me.

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How often do we see these positions in competition? How effective would they be?

Recently, a YouTube video circulated amongst my circle of friends and some coworkers. It was independently sent to me by different people in different contexts, each trying to make different points with it.  The “star” of the video called himself a former police officer, now apparently a jiujitsu instructor, and he mimes a technique which implies that “straight arm bars don’t work.” He then shows a serviceable clinch based takedown as an alternative.

Now, I have personally used the straight arm bar takedown successfully multiple times in resistive arrest circumstances. A friend, a near thirty year cop that studied aikido intensively for a number of those years and has used it many times himself, saw the video and pointed out that “if his straight arm bars don’t work, he ain’t doing ’em right.” Another friend, also a long time cop and a student of BJJ, noted that when he was working the streets almost everything he used came instead from his brief, early study of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, and that these all worked “just fine,” keeping him from having to roll around with potentially armed criminal suspects on the ground.

So what gives? How can this make sense. The answer might be that of the three of us, collectively we have probably five times the experience of the former officer in the Arm Bars Don’t Work video, and much more tactical experience. But I don’t think it’s that. I think it comes down to decision making, and adapting to situational dictates.

To be fair, in the situation shown in the Youtube video, a straight arm bar takedown would not work. Under the circumstances portrayed, it would have been foolish to even try, as it would make no sense in that situation. Perhaps its not our star’s technique that doesn’t work, but the tactical decision-making.

And , the friends noted above were also practitioners of grappling methods developed in a training environment that were opposed. They knew what worked in “live” situations on the mat and in the street. For all ’round preparedness, skill developed under live opposition is better than any method that only ever cooperatively or semi-cooperatively goes through kata or drills techniques. You can’t learn to grapple, or “grapple in an armed environment,” without actually grappling. Even when you use the same technique.

But we must be clear that an agonistic context – a comparison of skills and attributes in a closed, controlled environment – is a completely different thing than an open, potentially armed environment working with and amongst others – both friendlies and unfriendlies – under wildly disparate circumstances requiring specific tactical decision making, and with criminal and civil liability an issue.

More often than not, the person you may be dealing with on the street is not going to be a jiujitsuka, American football player, wrestler, or other martial artist or fighter.  Yes, some are, and you must be prepared for that – which may mean full on clinch-takedown-ground control altercations. You may be dealing with people who are high on a cocktail of drugs and/or alcohol, are afflicted with mental illness, or a combination of all three Ds (drunk, drugged, deranged). These can each be their own force multiplier. I have heard that some Brazilian jiujitsu instructors say that when skills are relatively equal, an extra ten pounds on behalf of an opponent is like an extra level in rank. Imagine an opponent that is also on meth, and not feeling any pain, and you are fighting in a gutter, or against a wall, or in a crowded bar. Once I had to take a longshoreman down – again much larger than I – in the street front of his union hall during a union barbecue, with only three other officers to assist, while in a crowd where many other longshoremen were drinking.

And, often you are dealing with people under circumstances where basic controls and come along holds are effective. If this is the case, why would we want to clinch with such a person? Tie up with them? Take them down, even? Removing a belligerent, argumentative person that has just been cut off from a crowded bar – do you really want to take that to the ground I you don’t have to? What if its a 115 lb female and you are a 220 lb male – bouncer, or bar owner or cop? How much damage do you really want to do? What images would you like to see blasted all over the Internet?

If that is the case, it’s better that those images look more like aikido than they do MMA ground and pound, or a rear naked choke.

In every case the tactical situation dictates what applications are both practical and advisable across a variety of concerns, even with a “trained”  or “affected” suspect.



When was the last time these things were practiced in Judo or BJJ or MMA? Would these be seen “in the cage?” Are they useless techniques? 

When I am questioned as to why, after many years of Judo and BJJ and submission grappling, I still find usefulness in elements of the older martial traditions, I say it’s in part because the Old School jujutsu (the original Japanese kind) often addressed exactly these things, built on the same principles used in grappling today. Though current practice in many of these schools may be a pale shadow of what it once was, the purpose of methods for varying tactical situations is plainly obvious: from prisoner taking to preventing being taken prisoner; surprise attack and ambush to surviving such attacks; even group takedowns and restraint.

While some experienced jiujitsu instructors – wannabe tactics or combatives teachers – suggest that they can just “make up” effective techniques and tactics for defensive or tactical applications, it is far better to have some practiced, coherent technique that we can rely on, where others will know what we are doing. We don’t assume that competition firearms instructors can just jump on a SWAT team and make it up as the go along, and we shouldn’t assume that the famous jiujitsu instructor – even the cop – all over Youtube really knows what they are talking about or is aware of better alternatives. It doesn’t work that way.

Jujutsu, prior to the 17th century, was actually more like what we today call “combatives.” Those combatives were based on a platform of live opposition in grappling from the art of sumo, and with that as a platform, used jujutsu for what is today “arrest and control” and “close quarters hand-to-hand combat.” It was only later that jujutsu became primarily an empty handed, soft clothes, agonistic grappling method which eventually gave birth to Judo, which then produced BJJ. And even in Judo they wanted to preserve some of these older combative methods because they knew it wasn’t being practiced in the competitive aspect of the art. It was actually set up that way. 

When we are dismissive of what has come before, sneering at “TMA” (traditional martial arts) and laughing without understanding the variables in tactical contexts and situations for which the techniques were intended, we turn our backs on the depth and variety that our “family history” offers.

As Donn Draeger once wrote:

“To apply the principle of ju, the exponent had to be both mentally and physically capable of adapting himself to whatever situation his adversary might impose on him.”





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