From the Mat to the Street

Sprawling could help get you home at the end of your shift


Police officers aren't geared to be ground fighters

For police officers, fighting from the ground is a very dangerous proposition. When you take into account the unforgiving surfaces we work on, including asphalt, concrete, and gravel as well as the possibility of facing more than one suspect, the idea of fighting on the ground is less than appealing. Add to the mix, a ballistic vest and a duty belt containing 25 lbs. of gear to significantly limit your mobility, while affording the suspect access to your firearm, TASER, knife, pepper spray, etc. and you've got a recipe for disaster.

In recent years, much attention has been given to ground fighting for police officers--and rightfully so. It's important that officers have a plan should they be taken to the ground. However, officers shouldn't be encouraged to go to the ground unless it's for the sole purpose of establishing prone control to facilitate handcuffing. Intentionally fighting on or from the ground is an ill-advised tactic.

Generally speaking, the longer you're on the ground the more likely it is that something bad will happen.

Let's recap some of the inherent problems when police officers become ground fighters:

  • You could be injured upon impact with the ground
  • Your mobility is severely limited by your gear
  • You are at a much greater risk of being disarmed, since your weapons are more accessible to the suspect
  • You are more susceptible to being significantly injured by punches or elbows because your head may be braced against the ground
  • You are extremely vulnerable against multiple suspects for obvious reasons

Hopefully, by now I've convinced you that ground fighting isn't all it's cracked up to be and you're eager to learn how to avoid it, if possible. Well, wrestlers and martial artists have been training for years in a simple, effective tactic to prevent being taken to the ground. With a little practice, this tactic could help get you home at the end of your shift someday.

What is sprawling?

Wikedpedia.com defines the term sprawl as follows:

A sprawl is a martial arts and especially wrestling term for a defensive technique that is done in response to certain takedown attempts, typically double or single leg takedown attempts. The sprawl is performed by scooting the legs backwards, so as to land on the upper back of the opponent attempting the takedown. The resultant position is also known as a sprawl or sprawling position.

When the suspect shoots for a single leg takedown, double leg takedown, or even a tackle (you probably won't recognize which), use the outer portion of your forearms to strike his shoulders, while simultaneously scooting your legs back so that they are wider than shoulder width apart. Stay on the balls of your feet and keep your knees off the ground. This will place more of your weight on the suspect and hinder his ability to drive forward. Arch your back and drive your hips downward onto the suspect's head and upper back. At this point, even if the suspect has managed to grab your legs, you are working the largest and strongest muscles in your body (your legs and hips) against the suspect's arms.

When the suspect is in a prone position, use your weight to keep him there until you decide to handcuff him. It's a good idea to spin while maintaining chest-to-back contact with the suspect so that you are perpendicular to him, with your gun side closest to his feet. This "T" position makes it difficult for the suspect to see, much less disarm your firearm. Also, it enables you to more easily transition to a standing position, when appropriate.

As an alternative, if as you're sprawling, the suspect's head is to one side or the other, wrap your arm over his head and grasp his chin. With your other arm, wrap underneath the suspect's opposite side shoulder in what's commonly referred to as an "underhook." Pull the suspect's chin in the direction of the arm that's holding his head while raising your opposite shoulder. Step off-line, creating a "void" for the suspect to fall into. Although this version is slightly more complex, it allows you to remain standing as the suspect falls, which is a definite advantage.

This content continues onto the next page...
  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.