Ground Fighting Training and Law Enforcement

I previously wrote two posts about the importance of defensive tactics training for law enforcement and providing my opinion regarding the best martial art for police to offset their defensive tactics training. There are many factors to consider when seeking training outside of department approved defensive tactics. Some of these factors include reducing training scars from sport related or traditional martial arts that may not be well suited to law enforcement duties. Regardless of what style you choose (and something is better than nothing), the one thing you absolutely cannot neglect is ground fighting. I personally feel any personal martial arts training or law enforcement defensive tactics training that fails to include ground work is negligent. It is just THAT important for police.

I personally love Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and feel it is an excellent martial art for law enforcement to practice. There are however a few very important facts to remember when you train in Jiu-jitsu, Judo or any other martial art that emphasizes ground fighting.

There is a difference between Ground Control and Ground Fighting.

Ground control is when you “take a suspect to the ground” and place him or her in handcuffs. This usually is nothing more than taking the person down and then achieving a position of dominance…usually by achieving one of the 6 handcuffing positions. There may be some struggling and “wrestling” to get control of the suspect’s arms as they actively resist your efforts to place them in handcuffs and haul them off to jail. This is when a suspect is actively or passively resisting through actions such as tightening up, placing their hands under their body and “turtle up,” or generally thrashing and trying to get away. What they aren’t doing is actively trying to hurt you. This is ground control.

When you and the suspect are on the ground and he or she starts to actively try to harm you, it is a ground fight. Make no mistake…if you are a cop or corrections officer and are fighting on the ground with a suspect, you are in a Fight For Your Life!


Introduction of Weapons in a Ground Fight…

The one constant when a law enforcement officer is involved in a physical altercation is the introduction of weapons. Regardless of whether the suspect enters the altercation with weapons, the officer brings a firearm, Taser, OC spray, and usually several knives. If you as the officer can reach them, the suspect can as well. This means any fight on the ground with a suspect is always potentially a matter of life and death.

Environmental hazards in a ground fight can be just as dangerous as the suspect.

There are numerous incidents out there of cops being killed by “unarmed” suspects because they were in a fight on the ground and the officer’s gun, Taser, etc was taken from them and used against them. It is also generally more dangerous regardless. How many UFC fights have ended when one opponent mounts the other and punches them in the face a few times, knocking them out cold. That is in a padded environment in a ring with lots of rules. Try doing this outside in a gravel parking lot or inside a double wide trailer with cat shit, Captain Crunch cereal and meth needles all over the filthy carpet. Environmental hazards in a ground fight can be just as dangerous as the suspect. Having your brains bashed out on a rock in some domestic violence suspect’s front yard would be just as deadly as being shot or stabbed.

Danger of multiple suspects in a ground fight

Another hazard when fighting on the ground is the likelihood of multiple suspects. If you are rolling around on the ground with a suspect, you are NOT in a position to defend yourself from his or her friends or family members. In today’s anti police environment, you also have to worry about bystanders who feel it is a good time to help assault a cop.

Size, strength or skill disparity

Another concern is a disparity in fitness / strength as well as possible skill level. MMA is at an all time high in popularity. It isn’t unusual to come across a suspect who at least THINKS he’s an MMA fighter. It is likely that he has “trained” more than the average cop has if he or she doesn’t train outside the yearly 8 hours of defensive tactics. With shift work, long hours, poor diets and high stress jobs, it is often difficult to remain as fit as possible when working corrections or police work. The suspect doesn’t always have that problem.


The TRUE purpose of ground fighting training for police…

Remember that iconic 1980’s movie the Karate Kid? The whole point of being a lean mean Karate machine was so you don’t have to fight. It’s the same in ground fighting for police. Once you transition from Ground Control to a Ground Fight, you are in a fight for your life…and you MUST have the skills to be able to successfully transition OUT of the fight and go to another tool or technique.

The four priorities of a ground fight…

The very first thing an officer should do when fighting on the ground is to STAND UP. If you suddenly find yourself on the ground with a suspect who is actively fighting you (trying to hurt you) and is exhibiting any form of skill, the alarm bells should be exploding in your head. You need to stand the hell up and disengage from the ground fight. It is time to transition to another tool on the bat belt.

If you aren’t able to stand up, you need to at least SIT UP. Do not be flat on your back flailing around with a suspect on top of you. It only takes a few punches to the face to knock someone unconscious. Especially when your head is impacting the ground each time. Sitting up places you in a better position to then…yup…stand up! Then let the suspect ride the lightning…or if you are REALLY feeling cruel, you can bust out the OC. Honestly, I don’t know why people make a big deal about the Taser. The Taser is a kind and gentle way to briefly incapacitate someone. OC spray is a hellish mist of pain and suffering that lasts HOURS. It should probably be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

If you find yourself unable to either stand up or sit up, then you need to SWEEP. A sweep is a movement to suddenly reverse or alter your position from one of lesser advantage to a position of better advantage. The “Buck and Roll” is an example of this where you go from being flat on your back to rolling the person onto THEIR back with you on top. Typically with you in their guard.

Lastly if the officer is unable to stand up, sit up or sweep…you STALL. The stall is also known as the GUARD. The guard is a good defensive position with plenty of opportunities to attack…when you are in a nice padded gym without wearing 35 pounds of gear around your waist. It is EXTREMELY difficult to do these things when wearing full gear. The STALL position is the last resort. You are either exhausted or in pain or just plain over-matched. If you are fighting with someone who appears to know what they are doing and they are actively trying to harm you, knowing the ins and outs of the “guard” will help you be able to hold a suspect to you and wait. As a cop you aren’t trying to be some kind of MMA fighter. You aren’t seeking a submission or looking to earn points in a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournament. You are trying to SURVIVE and take the suspect into custody with the least amount of force possible.

Remember the end goals…

I feel I make a pretty strong case for the importance of ground training for those in corrections and law enforcement. The important thing is to remember WHY you are training. While it can be a lot of fun (and addicting) to learn that new super inverted rubber guard, flying arm triangle of death…remember the old military adage. KISS. Keep it Simple Stupid! Be sure you have a solid foundation and always keep in mind during training what is something you will be able to do while in full uniform on a gravel parking lot…and what should stay solely in the gym. Make sure whatever training you do seek is as practical as possible and includes sparring. I can’t stress enough the importance of actively sparring with another resisting opponent.

One way to make sure your training is as applicable as possible for law enforcement is to seek out the holy grail of ground fighting training for police. Check out the Gracie Survival Tactics for military and law enforcement. Unfortunately it IS rather expensive, but if you manage to get your department to send you, it is well worth the time and money.

Originally published at So you wanna be a cop?.