Law enforcement officers (including police officers, sheriffs, state troopers, corrections officers, deputies and more) have an incredibly difficult job.
Part of that job is the possibility of physical confrontations with aggressive individuals or groups.
Very broadly physical confrontations can be divided into two categories…
- Controlling someone who doesn’t want he or she is being instructed to do, or
- Defending yourself against someone who is actively attacking you.
Each of these categories contains within it a spectrum of possibilities.
For example, someone who is resisting you might simply need some hands-on guidance in order to be convinced to walk over to a patrol vehicle, or might be flailing wildly to avoid being taken down to the ground and handcuffed. Or someone who is attacking you might simply give you a shove, or might be trying to gouge your eyes out of your head or bite your nose off.
And of course resistance can escalate into attack within seconds as a switch flips and seemingly normal people turn super-aggressive and even violent.
Somehow, even with all that uncertainty, law enforcement personnel still have to restraining aggressive people while trying to stay as safe as they can.
Unfortunately most agencies don’t have unlimited time and budget to provide their officers with the training they may need to do their job safely and effectively. Additionally many of the techniques taught to control, detain and arrest an aggressively resisting opponent just don’t work in the real world with high levels of adrenaline and a size discrepancy.
This article will share some of the problems with the most commonly taught arresting and controlling protocols, and then move into some proven defense and control methods that have been proven in numerous combat sports (modified for the street environment of course).
Table of Contents
The Problem with Most Law Enforcement Control Techniques
Somebody has to come out and say it…
Many of the commonly taught restraint techniques taught to law enforcement personnel are crap. At least they almost never work if the person using them doesn’t have a large size and strength advantage.
Here’s a video I shot with Rory Van Vliet breaking down exactly what’s wrong with the typical law enforcement defensive tactics and control techniques.
Rory is a corrections officer who has also spent a ton of time bouncing in bars and doing security work. And he’s also a BJJ back belt so you know that he’s pressure tested everything that he’s talking about!
Now it’s true that if someone is passively resisting and just needs a little nudge in the right direction that you might be able to control them with the standard wristlock control, especially if you’re larger and stronger than they are.
But this changes as soon as they’re adrenalised and in full fight or flight mode.
Techniques that DON’T work reliably against adrenalised active resistance include the armbar takedown, wristlock controls, and pain compliance manoeuvres that come from traditional martial arts and have been imported into law enforcement.
Although they may feel effective against a compliant training partner, in real life they’re not reliable for a number of reasons…
- The technique uses pain compliance, which is very unreliable against a highly adrenalised opponent.
- The move requires perfect fine motor skills (which go to hell in the chaos of a real confrontation)
- The technique is so biomechanically deficient that it requires you to be much larger or stronger than your opponent
- The restraint leaves you in terrible position to defend against strikes if it fails
- And more…
That leaves you with a move that probably won’t work against a tough guy, a situation where the officer can get severely injured if the perpetrator spins out and decks him, and a hard faceplant to the pavement (and accompanying lawsuit) if by some fluke the technique works as advertised.
My friend Rory Van Vliet is a corrections officer who has also worked as a bouncer, loss prevention agent, and security guard. So he has confronted a lot of bad guys.
He’s also a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with a strong background in other martial arts like Muay Thai and traditional jujutsu systems.
When we released the video called Law Enforcement & Security Techniques That Just Don’t Work we upset a lot of people because we show the exact techniques taught at police academies and security guard training courses around the world and break down why they fail against a resisting opponent.
There have been two basic categories of response to our statements…
First there have been a lot of police officers, jail guards and security professionals who’ve basically said, ‘Thank you for putting this out. I’ve had doubts about this material for years and I’m not in a position to change how things work in my home department.’
But there have also been indignant martial artists protesting that, ‘I’ve been teaching this material for 30 years and it can’t be wrong.’
(Sadly just because something has been taught for years doesn’t make it right. Intelligent people no longer think the earth is flat, and doctors no longer use leeches to treat fevers.)
Anyway, if you do nothing else after reading this please make sure you watch the video at the top of this article (here’s a link to the video on Youtube) and pass it on to someone who might need that info too.
Now that we’ve covered what you shouldn’t do let’s take a look at some solutions that actually work against a bigger, stronger, motivated opponent…
Using the Arm Drag to Get Behind Someone in a Confrontation
One of the easiest, most efficient ways to get to someone’s back, standing or on the ground, is a move called the arm drag.
The armdrag is literally used at the highest levels of BJJ and wrestling competition, and even occasionally shows up in MMA. If a move has been pressure tested by the best grapplers in the world time after time then you can have some real confidence in it (as opposed to what some combatives instructor is telling you who might only have ever been in a shoving match or two).
The best part is that the armdrag, unlike complicated throws and takedowns, requires relatively little strength and athleticism, at least if you pay attention to a couple of basic points.
In this video BJJ black belt Rory Van Vliet shows us exactly how he’s used the armdrag in a prison setting, doing security work, and bouncing at bars.
Now this isn’t a move you’re going to use if punches have started flying. Under these circumstances the armdrag is still possible but a lot harder to pull off – you have to preceed it with a clinching setup first.
The typical time to use it is during the initial stages of a confrontation – the other guy is agitated, has his hands up. and you’ve decided that you’re going to control him before things deteriorate any further.
The steps are broken down in the video above, but for quick reference here they are in written form too…
- Grip the back of his right hand from the outside with your left hand to slightly bend his wrist – this makes it harder for him to grab you)
- Circle his right hand down (clockwise) and push it into his hip – this flares his elbow out and gives you access to his inside space
- Reach your right arm through his elbow and grip the back of his triceps with a monkey grip (no thumb)
- Pull his arm across your centerline and step in deep between his legs (or directly behind him) with your right leg
- Once his arm crosses your centerline go around his back and grab his far hipbone with your left hand
- Have your chest tight to him to eliminate space and begin to establish rotational control
- Control him with the seatbelt or rear bearhug grip (which we’ll cover in the next video and email)
This is a super-versatile move. You can use variations of it from the two on one grip, the handshake grip, or even against someone crossing their arms and puffing out their chest.
Anyhow, the armdrag is a move that everyone, everyone, everyone should have in their repertoire, regardless of whether they’re wearing a badge, competing in jiu-jitsu, or just interested in getting an edge in a self defense situation.
How to Safely Control Someone from the Back
Not every confrontation is an all out MMA-style brawl.
Law enforcement officers and bouncers have to move resisting people all the time while trying to keep both themselves and the perpetrator safe. And it’s easy to imagine situations where civilians might need to do this too (for example if Uncle Fred gets drunk and aggressive at the family BBQ. Again!).
Let’s assume that you’ve got to keep someone under control and escort them somewhere. Furthermore let’s assume that you want to stay on your feet – maybe there are too many other people around to take things to the ground for example.
Here’s a video showing you exactly how to control and move an aggressive person while keeping yourself as safe (and lawsuit free) as possible…
We’ll look at the specific techniques in a second but there are a couple of super important concepts to understand first…
This is a concept that shows up all the time in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but it applies both standing and on the ground.
Essentially you want to use your grips to glue yourself to his back so that you’re always behind him where he has the least chance of hurting you (all of his natural weapons are facing forwards at this point).
If he turns then you turn with him, or – if you’re strong enough – you can maybe prevent him from turning at all.
Another important concept is to continuously work to break your opponent’s alignment so that he can’t put himself into a position to strike effectively, get out of your grips, or turn and face you.
Alignment consists of three things…
- Base – his connection with the ground allowing him to generate force and resist force
- Posture – the correct alignment of his spine, from his neck down to his lower back
- Structure – the correct positioning of his limbs so that he can use them effectively
(If you’re interested in going deeper into this concept then here’s a detailed breakdown of base, posture and structure in the context of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The examples are all from the ground but the concepts all apply equally to standing situations as well).
Bottomline: whenever you’re trying to control someone you want to take away their alignment by continuously disrupting their base, posture and structure, no matter what method of actual method of control you’re using.
Methods of Control
There are multiple ways to effectively control someone from behind, and you should be familiar with them all. No one method will work for everyone, against every kind of opponent, under all circumstances. so it’s important that you learn different ways to do it.
There are 3 primary methods and a couple of variations…
Control Method 1, Seatbelt Control
This is a classic control method used extensively in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu when establishing rearmount or attacking the turtle (download a PDF breaking down these positions for free here).
The seatbelt control in itself is NOT a choke, but BJJ practitioners prefer it because it allows them to easily transition into chokes, most frequently the rear naked choke or the RNC.
Unlike the sport of BJJ moving directly into the choke isn’t appropriate in every situation. You’ll have to judge the legality and optics of applying the choke for yourself, based on the situation and the rules governing how you can escalate up the use of force continuum.
The basic seatbelt control looks like this…
- One arm comes over his shoulder, your other arm comes through his armpit
- Connect hands in the middle of his chest
- Your top hand makes a fist and your bottom hand grips the top hand to hide the top hand (to preserve the option of moving to a vascular neck restraint – a choke – if the situation warrants it)
- Your chest connects to his back
- Your head is tight to his body and your eyes are looking down to protect from eye gouges and punches
Control Method 2, The Gable Grip
The Gable grip control is similar to the seatbelt control, but increases your rotational control at the expense of making it more difficult to apply the choke if necessary.
In the Gable grip your top arm comes across your opponent’s chest, which gives you some additional ability to manipulate the shoulders. But a canny opponent (and pretty much anyone trained in BJJ, Judo or MMA) will immediately grab that arm and pull it down.
Him pulling our arm down isn’t a bad thing necessarily – he can’t use them to grab a weapon and you now know exactly where they are – but if you open your grip to move to the neck he could get free of your control. It’s a tradeoff that you’ll have to make for yourself.
- One arm comes over his shoulder, your other arm comes through his armpit (as with the Seatbelt Control)
- Unlike the Seatbelt Control your hands are off to the side using a palm to palm grip at one shoulder
- Your elbow is controlling the other shoulder allowing your the ability to rotate your opponent
- Your forearm comes across the front of his chest
Control Method 3, The Rear Body Lock
Both the seatbelt and the Gable grip require you to come over one shoulder.
If the person is too tall and you can’t break them down backwards to your height, then you might be looking at using the rear body lock.
You might be concerned about getting elbowed in the face from this position but it’s not that big a hazard.
First of all by closing the distance and taking away space he won’t be able to generate much force. He will also typically be hitting you with his triceps, not the pointy part of his elbow, which further reduces the damage. And also you’re not going to hang out here for very long – you’ll be working actively to disrupt his alignment, move him around, and take him down to the ground if required.
Key points about the rear body lock include…
- Position yourself at 45 degree angle to his back
- One arm goes in front of his hips
- Your hands connect using an S grip, Gable grip, or even gripping your own elbows (to control someone very small)
- Your shoulder is in the small of the back pushing forward
- Your head is also against his back, eyes facing down to take them out of the line of fire
Other Control Methods
The three methods of control covered above are effective but not exhaustive.
There are other options available to you as well, including a neck grip (not quite a choke but still, check with your use of force regulations) and an around the chest with a far lat grip control positions…
In both cases you want to keep the guy off-balanced and amplify the alignment break by pushing his hips forward with your free arm.
How to Take Someone Down When You Have Back Control
Despite the fact that Rory and I are both BJJ black belts, neither of us advocates that every fight should be taken to the ground. Sometimes it’s much safer to stay on your feet, especially if there are a lot of people around.
But when you really need to control someone dangerous, or put a resisting person into handcuffs, your best option just might be to take them to ground (click here for 5 Reasons to Grapple in a Streetfight).
The problem is that many takedowns from Judo, Sambo and Wrestling are highly technical, requiring thousands of repetitions to learn and then additional training to keep sharp.
So you’re not going to be Judo-flipping anyone anytime soon. A person can easily die if his head smashes into the pavement at high speed which could easily happen if you hoist someone onto your shoulders and slam them into the ground. And even if they ‘just’ break an arm from the throw the resultant litigational nightmare might make you wish you hadn’t been quite so dynamic in your takedown.
What we’re looking for are relatively simple, relatively safe ways to take a suspect or resisting opponent to the ground, preferably ones that doesn’t require a ton of training to learn and remember.
In the next video we’ll show you two of the best options to do just that from the back position…
Takedown 1: Rear Bodylock Takedown
The basic takedown from the rear bodylock has been used and proven in a wide variety of combat sports. It is very similar to the Judo throw called ‘Tani Otoshi’ but variations of it exist in Sambo, Wrestling and MMA.
Basically you’re dragging your opponent down to the ground backwards while blocking his foot. If you watch the video above you’ll pick up a couple of cool pointers that aren’t commonly taught which make the takedown even more effective.
Here are the steps…
- Start by controlling his hips with the rear body lock, ideally with one of his arms trapped but that’s not 100% neccesary
- If his legs are narrow then use the bodylock to shake him around until he plants his feet further apart
- Step one of your feet right behind his same side foot
- Bring your other foot behind his left heel to stop him from stepping back
- Kick one leg straight like a baseball slide
- Loosen your bodylock control, fall back, then pull him beside you
- Tuck your elbow so that it doesn’t hit the ground, instead roll over your shoulder
- Come to the top and control your opponent
You might have some legitimate concerns about dragging someone down on top of you, especially if you suffer from claustrophobia while grappling (click here for Dealing with Claustrophobia in Grappling and BJJ).
In an ideal world you DON’T pull him on top of you; instead you pull him to your side and come up on top in what BJJ people call ‘Side Control.’
Or, better yet, progress from Side Control to an even more dominant position like the Giftwrap.
But if worst comes to worst and you pull him backwards on top of you the important thing is not to panic!
Just like on your feet, being behind your opponent on the ground is a very good place to be so long as you have some basic jiu-jitsu. You’re behind your opponent where it’s harder for him to hurt you, you can use your legs to help control your opponent and then transition to another position or possibly escalate up the force continuum to apply a choke.
Takedown 2: Sitdown from the Seatbelt
If you have seatbelt control (as opposed to the rear bodylock control) then your typical takedown is going to be a little different.
The goal here is to drive his shoulders backwards faster than his feet can compensate.
This is a very slow, very controlled takedown that’s safe for you AND your opponent – just because he’s been an idiot at the bar doesn’t mean he deserves to have his face smashed into the pavement.
Some of the key points are…
- Start in the seatbelt, your hands linked in the center of his chest with one arm coming over his shoulder and the other through his armpit
- Drive your hips forward and pull at his shoulders to bend him backwards
- Remove your hips from his, step back and drop down to one knee, depositing him on his butt
- Keep your seatbelt once he’s sitting down – it puts you into a great bargaining position and may allow you to talk some sense into the guy
How to Defend Against Punches with the Front Bodylock
Neither Rory nor I are advocating that grappling is always the right course of action. If you can withdraw from a situation and use pepper spray, a taser, a handgun, or wait for backup then that’s often what you should do.
However you DO need to have close quarter solutions in your toolkit because there are many potential scenarios where it may not be possible to disengage from a violent attacker, draw a weapon, or wait for backup. For example…
- Maybe you’re a police officer interviewing a suspect who suddenly decides to take a swing at you…
- Or maybe you’re a bouncer working in a crowded bar and a drunk starts flailing at you at close quarters…
- Or maybe you’re working at a hospital dealing and don’t have the option soak elderly dementia patients in capsicum spray.
So let’s give you an option for protecting yourself against strikes and regaining control of a situation using the front bodylock.
Here’s a video for when you need to move in and control your opponent….
Punch Defense Part 1 – Closing the Distance
The basic idea of defending against strikes is that you either want to be too far away from your opponent or too close for them to hit you with much force.
A punch is strongest when it’s at full extension…
The logic of getting closer to a violent attacker comes down to one simple fact – it’s a lot harder for someone to knock you out when you’re really close to them.
When you close the distance you want to minimise the amount of time you spend in the danger zone.
Your chances of getting hurt by a punch on the way in decrease significantly if you do these 3 things…
- Close the distance at with conviction and at maximum speed
- Slightly drop your elevation as you close (known as ‘level changing’)
- Shield your head by folding your your forearms around it (a position known as the ‘helmet’)
Punch Defense Part 2 – Establishing the Front Bodylock
Earlier in this article we made a strong case for you wanting to be behind your opponent.
Sadly that’s not always possible, but you can still establish a strong control over him from the front that still breaks his alignment and minimises the amount of power he can put into any strike).
The primary goal here is to establish a control position known as the front bodylock…
Here are some key points for the front bodylock…
- After you crash in don’t stay right in front of your opponent; ideally try to get to 45 degrees off centerline.
- When your elbows make contact one arm goes around his low back
- Connect your hands, either in a Gable grip or a monkey grip
- Connect your head to his chest, top of your head under his jaw, so that he can’t bite you
- Keep your legs wide for base
- Pull his hips forward with your arms and drive his upper body backwards using your shoulder and your head
In the front bodylock you’re relatively safe. It’s very hard for him to punch or knee you with any power, your head and neck are below the level of his teeth, and if he goes for a headlock or a guillotine choke he opens up a route to his back and the rear bodylock.
The front bodylock is definitely a position you should practice because it’s very common to end up here instinctively if you get blitzed by an attacker.
Better to be comfortable here and know how to use it to your advantage than trying to figure it out for the first time when the pressure is on!
From here maybe you can just stall for a while and wait for a partner to jump in, or maybe you need to take things to the ground to establish some control or handcuff the guy. We’ll look at how to do that next…
Punch Defense Part 3 – The Folding Takedown
A simple way to take someone down from the front bodylock is with the folding takedown.
Basically you’re going to keep on pulling his hips forward and driving his upper body backwards until his base can no longer support him.
At that point the only thing holding him up is you, so let go of him and post your hands on the ground. Don’t maintain the bodylock because you’re actually stopping him from falling (and you could hurt your hands or arms if they’re under his body when he falls).
As he falls move into a control position. Depending on the way he falls, how he reacts, and his level of training you may be able to move into the mount, side control, or a different control position.
These videos and techniques are based on a ton of personal experience accumulated both in thousands of hours of training against resistance and also being in potentially dangerous situations in real life.
We hope you have enjoyed this material and found it useful,
Rory and Stephan
More from Rory Van Vliet
Rory is a BJJ black belt with Island Top Team. You can click here to check out his Youtube channel or click here to check out BJJConcepts.net which is a cutting edge instructional site he runs together with Rob Biernacki.
Rory and I have also worked together on a BJJ instructional called ‘The Guard Retention Formula.’
This a very detailed and comprehensive tutorial on how to make it much, much, much harder for your opponent to get past your legs when you’re in a defensive position on the ground!
It’s really good. Check out the trailer for this instructional below…
More Stephan Kesting on Social Media
If you’re not sick of me yet then here are some of my social media links…
And, most importantly, good luck with your training!