of Non-lethal Combatives, Nov 2001
An Introduction to Police Defensive Tactics
By Bernie Lau
Copyright © Bernard Lau 2001. All rights reserved.
Police defensive tactics are NOT the same as self-defense. The role
of defensive tactics in law enforcement and corrections is to assist
officer in performance of arrest and restraint, and to increase the
of safety for both the officer and the suspect. Defensive tactics
the officer with protecting others as well as themselves. The
of "defend" as used here is neither punitive nor passive, but instead
repel danger or harm while serving and protecting." Meanwhile,
encompasses any and all means of protecting oneself. Self-defense
are not meant to apprehend an assailant. Indeed, there is no regard for
the safety of the attacker whatsoever. So obviously self-defense and
tactics are not synonymous.
Defensive tactics are not martial arts, either. While martial arts
a technical basis for defensive tactics, they are generally not
for use on the street. That said, martial arts training offers many
to officers, including fitness, strength and agility, balance and
stress reduction, recreation, etc. Indeed, the benefits for
inherent in long-term practice are enormous. Therefore, without denying
that martial arts training can benefit officers, it is not necessary.
On the other hand, training in defensive tactics is more than simply
issuing officers a nightstick and saying, "Don’t hit anybody in the
It only takes a few seconds to be issued a tool, but learning to use it
is a never-ending process.
Furthermore, you don’t always have the right tool in your hand. It
be on your belt or in your car, and while it just takes a few seconds
get it, that may be more than you have. Therefore another purpose of
tactics training is to give you a few seconds. You can use those
to get a tool or to plan a better response or simply to breathe and
regain mind control.
Finally, once you learn the techniques, you can’t forget to bring
with you, either. Sure, you can lose the skills if you panic, or if you
refuse to practice them, but there is no way anyone can take them away
from you short of rendering you unconscious.
Learning Defensive Tactics
The body is slow to learn a new skill, but once it has learned
practice, the skill becomes almost instinctive. Experts claim that it
between 200 and 800 repetitions to become really proficient at a new
skill. So, as defensive tactics are a physical skill, don’t stop
until you have done your 800 repetitions!
As noted above, there are a couple rules for officers to follow when
using defensive tactics. The first is KIS: Keep It Simple. The second
to maintain mental control. During high stress situations, maintaining
mental control is not an easy accomplishment: people are angry, crying,
or hysterical, and this affects everyone around them. Yet if your mind
is out of control, your body will follow suit. Steps that help you
control include the following.
In defensive tactics, the least violent response is generally the most
appropriate. Therefore it is convenient to view levels of force using
Controlling your breathing. The ability to control your
relates directly to your ability to correctly assess the situation and
to maintain a clear mind. You should be aware of your breathing
If it is fast, slow it down.
Assessing the situation. Throughout your life, and
career in law enforcement, you will be confronted with situations that
will test your ability to react properly. Experience plays an important
part in how you will react but having a clear mind plays an even more
role. Breathe; avoid panic; and mentally step back and assess the
Once you’re in a fight, it’s too late to think, but a little planning
can prevent the fight, or at least mitigate its repercussions.
Be flexible! You must not depend on just one favorite
Instead you must have the ability to react to any situation with an
technique. You must also be able to change techniques when the
requires. Keep an open mind, react to the situation rather than the
and go with the flow. Realistic rehearsals and force-on-force training
are useful for developing flexibility.
What is most important and significant is that the force be appropriate
to the situation. If you are in mental control, then the appropriate
of force is often at least one level lower than if you are not.
Minimum force involves the use of verbal techniques. The
of minimum force is no physical injuries to anyone.
Intermediate force involves the use of unarmed defensive
or armed techniques involving chemical weapons, batons, stun guns, and
similar less-lethal weapons. The object of intermediate force is no
or life-threatening injury to anyone.
Maximum force involves the use of lethal weapons such as
and knives. The object of maximum force is death.
Whatever level of force you use, certain techniques can help you.
include distraction, body language, and verbal techniques.
Since verbal techniques are so important, some further explanation is
There are at least three kinds of messages that you can expect to
during verbal communications. They are content, feelings, and
Content is what you get from listening to lectures in school, or what
Friday wanted when he used to say, "The facts, ma’am, just the facts."
Assuming you and the other person speak the same language and are not
to deceive one another, then content can be passed fairly consistently.
Feelings are emotions such as anger, fear, hurt, trust, and concern.
are often discernible even without understanding a word of what the
person is saying. Behavior and response is where things get tricky.
people are trying to deceive you, and sometimes people are
trying to manipulate your emotions. Nonetheless, you need to make a
interpretation of the observed behaviors and then make an appropriate
Distraction. The purpose of distraction is to take the
mind away from the technique that you propose to use. Distraction can
oral. ("Look, it’s Halley’s Comet!" said a child in a famous TV ad,
as he swiped the other kid’s food.) It can be tactile – pinching prior
to escaping a lock or kicking to the groin prior to attempting a
are tactile distractions. Or it can be throwing a flashlight through
window prior to breaking down the door. No matter how it is done, the
of distraction is to surprise the subject. Remember, though, that while
distraction can work for you, it can also be used against you.
Body language. Body language is non-verbal communication.
are four parts of body language: facial expressions, gestures, posture,
and the space occupied in relation to other people. Observation of
four elements can help you anticipate intent. Be careful, though, as
body language is culturally specific. Also, your own body language
the same signals to the other person. The bottom-line? Protect
and don’t antagonize others.
Verbal techniques. Command voice, verbal judo, oral
them what you will, verbal techniques represent the highest level of
as a victory without fighting is the supreme accomplishment. To be
at oral control, you may need to learn street psychology , and you must
remember that what is appropriate in one context or environment may be
entirely inappropriate in another.
To make this happen, you must act with authority. Even if you don’t
feel like you’re in charge, pretend that you are. At the same time, be
tactful. Be fair. Listen. Be courteous. And most importantly, control
emotions. Even if the situation escalates to where you need to use
your ability to communicate effectively is still critical to gaining
subject’s cooperation. If you just inflict pain and give no directions
or instructions, then of course the subject will fight back, and most
you’ll be accused of brutality, too. So talk to the subject after
a technique. Tell him what you want him to do. And keep it simple. One
step at a time, that’s the key.
Elements of Physical Confrontation
A Sequence of Events
Space. What distances are involved?
Time. Is a response required instantly, or can it be
backup arrives? If instantly, is the attack itself to be fast or slow –
both can work.
Line of attack. Is the primary threat overhead, lateral, in
behind? And where are the secondary dangers?
Posture or stance. Physical, mental, and spiritual work
to provide a stance. Physically, it is best to stand diagonally to an
with the weapon back, so it can be protected. Mentally, you need to be
alert for movement around you, aware of your physical surroundings, and
thinking about their limitations and advantages. Spiritually, you need
to maintain a calm, professional attitude. The reason is that you will
react more appropriately if calm than if you are emotional or angry.
Avoid the attack. The first rule is to avoid getting hit. If
impossible, then try to avoid being hit hard. How? Get off the line of
Breathe. It’s amazing how often we forget to do this.
Take control of the momentum – go with it! How? Take the
Even if you must temporarily defend or retreat, think about how to get
back on the offensive. An offensive mindset is essential.
Use distraction. Pinch, punch, pull hair, butt heads, stomp
Remember – these are distractions, not finishing moves.
Apply a technique. Sample techniques include finger locks
Talk to the subject. Tell him what you want him to do in
All of the following are intended as distractions rather than
and are to be used to make an opening for some other technique. These
must not be relied upon for pain compliance or used for punishment.
Pinching. Only pinch a small amount of skin, don’t be
targets include the triceps, inner thigh, lower back, and pectorals.
Strikes. Use an open hand to the face or to other vulnerable
such as the spine or diaphragm. Use a fist against a soft area such as
the stomach. Use feet only against the legs, never above the belt.
Hair. Hair grabs can be useful for initiating takedowns. Try
grip with the palm rather than the fingers, rather as if holding a
Be careful about causing rotary injuries to the neck, and don’t be
if you discover all you’re holding is a hairpiece or wig.
Fingers. The outer two fingers are weak, and especially
to being bent or twisted. Two fingers gives the best grip and are less
likely to break than one.
Head. While you should avoid striking the face and head,
that the body goes where the head goes. So if the suspect’s head is
or pulled backwards, then his balance is disrupted and takedown by
means becomes simpler.
Feet. Step on the suspect’s foot. This can also help with
during restraint or break balance.
For Additional Information
Be professional and treat everyone with respect.
Have an open mind. Breathe. Stay mentally calm.
Watch fellow officers, and learn from their mistakes.
Pay attention to body language. Read the suspect or interview subject,
and be aware of your own.
Pay attention to foot placement, both yours and the suspect’s.
There is a safety zone between you and the suspect. It varies depending
on individual. What’s yours?
Be aware of the physical surroundings. This includes the people.
Be decisive – don’t equivocate or bluff.
Action is faster than reaction, so have a plan. Keep it simple.
Your strength is in front of you. So is the suspect’s.
Advantage is on the weak side of the suspect. Generally, this is his
if he’s right-handed, and his right if he’s left-handed.
Inflict pain for compliance, not for punishment.
Don’t expect pain to work on everyone.
Talk to a suspect. If possible, get him to cooperate without force. If
force is necessary, then after applying a technique, tell him in very
terms what you want him to do.
No matter what your size, think of yourself as big.
Use your big against their small. For example, even a small hand is
than a big finger.
For a biographical article about Bernie Lau, see "Seattle
Aikijujutsu Pioneer Bernie Lau" at the Journal of Combative Sport.
If interested in organizing a seminar with Bernie Lau, contact Neil
Yamamoto at email@example.com
Lau also has the following professionally produced videos available
Cost is US $39.95 per tape. Washington State residents, please add
tax (8.6%, or $3.45, per tape). If ordering all eight, the cost is
Washington State residents please add sales tax (8.6%, or $24.00).
of number ordered, shipping and handling is $5.50 (North
Dynamic Techniques of Aikijujutsu. Starts out with
responding to a disturbance call, then plunges the viewer into an armed
robbery involving a sawed-off shotgun. The viewer then enters a
dojo and the instructional portion of the video begins. Covers finger
wrist and elbow locks, entering throws, escapes, and knife defenses.
Aikijujutsu Complete I. Covers locks, strikes,
nerve centers, projection throws, 26" baton, telescopic baton, iron
and 4’ staff.
Aikijujutsu Complete II. Describes techniques needed
rankings between white (novice) and black (intermediate) belts.
Aikijujutsu Hiden. Features Fredrick J. Lovret.
Danzan Ryu Jujitsu. Rare historical footage filmed in
that shows senior students of Seishiro "Henry" Okazaki performing 148
Ryu techniques in normal and slow speed.
Advanced Aikijujutsu. Features Wally Jay
Circle Jujitsu, James DeMile showing how to do Bruce Lee’s one and
inch punches, and Bernie Lau describing the theory and concepts of
Also includes footage of Morihei Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei.
Explosive Aikijujutsu. Street survival techniques for
and women. Features Bernie Lau, Roy Goldberg, Miguel Ibarra, Diane
and Mike Belzer.
Police Weaponless Defense. Footage from the previous
compiled into a specialized video. Includes hair control techniques,
finger locks, pistol and knife defenses, and fear control.
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