Last week’s post, “Step away from dogma and focus on evidence informed principles.”, addressed the dogmatic arguments regarding “the best” pedagogical / teaching model or philosophy for training police professionals. This week I am going to address another area where dogma potentially gets in the way of effective police training and that is around the question, “What is the best system of control tactics or martial arts for police officers?”
The debates over “the best” system of control tactics or “the best” style of martial arts for police officers will likely go on forever. My belief, after being in and around the policing profession for almost 44 years and being involved in police in police training for almost 34 years, is that there is no one system or style that is “the best”. I know that statement will likely upset some long-time martial artists and trainers, and that is ok. Every system of control tactics (defensive tactics) has strengths, weakness, and gaps. Every style of martial arts has strengths, weakness, and gaps. There is a reason for the explosion of Mixed Martial Arts training over the past number of years.
Wally Muller and Ed Dewar were both experienced martial artists from different styles of martial arts, and great trainers, who worked with me in our training unit with the Calgary Police Service. Recruits and in-service officers would often ask them about the best system of martial arts to train in. Their answers were always the same, “Find a school or dojo with great instructors.” Ed and Wally understood that any system or style is only as good as the person or people teaching it.
Training is not “one size fits all” despite people’s efforts to stuff everyone into one box, system, or model. The policing profession is too complex, and the men and women in the profession are too diverse to stuff the training and the people into a one size fits all box. “The best” is usually a hybrid model, which pulls together proven, effective, principles, concepts, and practices from several systems and models to meet the needs of the individual agency and the realistic demands faced by their officers.
Often the bias towards a control tactics system or martial art is based on which one we were exposed to first, or which style we have trained in over time. We are also strongly influenced by the trainers we have encountered over the years, and whether those were positive or negative experiences. Humans are social creatures and therefore also heavily influenced by our friends, peers, those we look up to and the social media influencers we follow, and what system or style they claim is “the best”. That bias is completely natural, but not necessarily helpful.
To best serve the men and women you have the privilege and responsibility to train effectively, you need to step back from your emotionally invested position and ask some hard questions. Some of those questions include:
- What are the strengths and potential weaknesses of this system?
- Where are the gaps in this system?
- How easy is it for people to learn, retain, and apply this system given the training time available?
- Does this work in real world environments when the officer is wearing a full uniform and all their duty gear, including winter gear?
- Is this a system that the average instructor can teach the average officer to control the average offender, and can this be learned within the time constraints you face?
- Does this work when the officer is fatigued?
- What elements of this martial arts system are dojo and tournament friendly, and which are applicable for your officers on the street when they are in full uniform, with all their duty gear and in the real-world environments they must function in?
- Do the techniques taught in this system work against an uncooperative or combative subject?
- Do the techniques taught in this system work for officers of all sizes, both genders and varying levels of fitness?
- Do the techniques taught in this system transfer to the field?
- Is the system based solely on skill acquisition and learning techniques or does it also incorporate critical thinking, decision making and problem solving?
When you are judging the ease of learning and retaining any system beware of the trap of judging it based on people who are long time instructors or instructor trainers in the system, instructors who teach full time, or officers who consistently train multiple times every week.
I have a great deal of respect for people who regularly train on their own time so please keep training in your preferred system and style, but when it comes to training your people keep an open mind and seek to teach principles and concepts, which can be taught, understood, learned, and retained within the time limitations you have for training and applied in a wide range of environments when officers are wearing all their duty gear. That will most likely require you look outside of your system to fill in some of the gaps.
Training in a martial arts Gi is not the same as training in all your duty gear. Be sure to also factor in the weather and other environmental considerations. Consider whether your officers work by themselves or with a partner. Consider the realities of access to and availability of backup for your people. Even if backup is usually readily available there may be situations where an officer cannot get to his or her radio to call for help and the reality may be that no one is coming.
“One sign you haven’t done enough reading is if you find yourself agreeing with whatever book you read last. At first, it’s easy to be swayed by any reasonable argument. Once you’ve read a lot, you can see that even the best arguments have limitations.”
Put the above quote into the context of physical skills training. Expose yourself to as many systems of control tactics and martial arts styles as possible. Attend conferences like ILEETA where there is a wide range of physical skills training sessions offered. Host workshops with competent, professional instructors who are willing to share principles and concepts without the entire workshop being about them showing how good they are, or it being a sales pitch for their program. Most agencies have people with a variety of martial arts backgrounds, and they can be a great resource for you. Have the training done with people wearing their duty gear (with training weapons only) to make the training realistic and to street test the principles and concepts.
If you are forced by some regulatory body to teach a specific system of control tactics then go back to the questions listed earlier in this post, do your research, and find ways to start adding elements from other systems to fill in the gaps and deficiencies. Mandated systems are usually the minimum that must be taught, and not a cap on what you can teach. One agency we helped with their training several years ago was told they could not add anything to their agencies system of officer safety and control tactics. They were however, allowed to run workshops for their officers in addition to the mandated training, so that is exactly what they did to expose their people to training that would fill in the gaps in their agency’s programs.
As trainers what you do is too important to get caught up in dogma and the belief that system X is “the best” for police training and if every police officer trained in this control tactics system or style or martial arts two or three times every week, we would eliminate all excessive and questionable use of force incidents. Keep an open mind. Seek principles and concepts.
Thank you for what you do as trainers. Dogma does not serve the profession or the heroic men and women of the policing profession so keep exploring, training, learning, and adapting.
Winning Mind Training – Providing practical training to law enforcement professionals in the areas of instructor development, Performance Enhancement Imagery, leadership and mindset.