From the Mat to the Street

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? 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.

You've got to have a "Plan B"

If you can't remain upright because the suspect has grabbed your legs in such a way as to prevent you from sprawling, pull the suspect in, hold on tight and prepare for impact. Be sure to tuck your chin to your chest to prevent your head from slamming against the ground.

Immediately upon landing, wrap your legs around the suspect and cross your ankles, in what's commonly referred to as the "guard position." Apply pressure to the suspect's floating ribs by squeezing your legs together. This will not only inflict pain, but also tend to interfere with the suspect's breathing, both of which make it more difficult for him to hurt you. Pull his head down to mitigate his strikes. If he rises up to strike, protect your head with your hands and arms. Consider striking the suspect's eyes, throat, or using an improvised weapon.

If the suspect is choking you or attempting to disarm you, use whatever means necessary to establish control. If you can get to your pen, use it to strike the suspect's face or neck (sometimes the pen really is mightier than the sword). You could also use your pepper spray canister as an impact weapon, or even draw your firearm and shoot (bringing your firearm into play from the guard position can be difficult, especially if you've never practiced drawing from there. Additionally, retention is a primary concern when using your firearm while ground fighting).

If the suspect has taken you to the ground and continues to attack, his intentions are clear and your only choice is to respond immediately and aggressively.


Sprawling is a skill that should be in every officer's toolbox. Remember whenever possible, remain standing. If standing is not an option, land on top of the suspect. If you can't land on top, at least get to the guard position. From there, protect your head and transition to a more advantageous position at your earliest opportunity.

Train hard. Stay safe.