When officers conduct firearms training, there should be a deliberate integration of firearms and defensive tactics training. While both are extensions of the other the distraction strike is one perishable skill that every law enforcement officer must know. The way an agency conducts training on close quarters distraction strikes will demonstrate their training philosophy. Your agency should be the one that treats this as a critical skill, not a side note to firearms training.
The distraction strike is a decisive means to regain control of an encounter
If we were to base law enforcement training on statistics in peace officer encounters, learning to use the distraction strike would be high on the list. Unfortunately, the priority of emergency vehicle operation is statistically right up there with it. A large percentage of LEOKA incidents in the past few years occurred from assaults within zero to five feet, either in arrest situations or investigating suspicious persons. Of these felonious incidents, the narratives indicate that many of them are either wrestling matches or disengagements. The officer has already physically touched the suspect and are either now wrestling with them, or attempting to disengage so that an alternate strategy can be used.
Whenever an officer is “hands-on” with a suspect, there is always a danger of the officer being disarmed and the suspect gaining the officer’s firearm. The design of new holsters and appropriate training has reduced the opportunity for a suspect to arm themselves with the officer’s firearm while it is in the holster, but the dynamics of the encounter does not necessarily guarantee the gun will always be in the holster. In some types of engagements the officer may have already drawn the firearm, then holstered it.
Most law enforcement officers can think of several times in their career where the force decision process was very fluid. This is why there is a reasonable officer standard used to accomplish lawful objectives in the course of duty. This reasonableness is not based on the number of “viral videos” a person views. It is based on the facts known at the time, the suspect’s activity, the officer’s training and circumstances that surround the incident.
Law enforcement incidents evolve rapidly and include a degree of uncertainty and split-second judgments. Although the media would have the general public believing differently, fewer than one of every 2,500 calls for service result in any use of force, according to studies by the IACP. The distraction strike must be trained in a manner that allows any officer with any experience to do well.
When some agencies train the distraction strike, the standard is for users to simply thrust a hand out to touch a target, allowing enough of a “distraction” for the officer to draw the handgun. The first part should be learning about targets. We are not talking about the paper ones, but where to strike in order to stop the suspect from their current progress.
The effective area is rather large. On the side of the head, it can run from the temple to the base of the neck. On the front of the head, it can run from the bridge of the nose to the base of the neck, excluding the teeth. (Teeth are hard and therefore generally not a good target.) There are some applications where the forehead can be a target. The striking surface also offers a lot of options. The edge of the arm where the ulna connects to the hand to the tip of the elbow can all connect in a soft tissue strike. The hand can be used as a hammer (base of a clenched fist), punch (knuckles), ridge hand (index finger side of hand), knife hand (edge of hand opposite thumb) or a palm strike. There are many more strike options, but they usually require development of these striking areas.
Keep. It. Simple.
Train to deliver a strike somewhere in the neck area with the edge of the hand or arm. Deliver it quickly and decisively. The distance to the target dictates which part of the hand or arm hits the assailant. In order to produce the desired power and control the delivery, officers must learn the drop step when delivering a strike. This is a lead foot step toward the target that hits the ground in an exaggerated fashion at the same time the strike is delivered. It “locks” or “whips” the musculature for an enhanced blow. On the range, we train to “Get off the X” or “Get off the train” when drawing from the holster.
This is a practice that should be an essential part of holster practice: Draw while moving. When we do any kind of close quarters drill we operate while moving, whether it is creating distance or making oneself a target that’s harder to hit. The distraction strike precedes “Getting off the X:” in order to buy time for a draw, the officer must temporarily freeze the suspect. The more effective the distraction strike, the greater the ability to assess or transition. Sometimes the officer can deliver the strike and go to handcuffs, other times the officer must go to handgun. Bear in mind, the reason we use the distraction strike is because it’s faster than getting out another tool like a gun or baton. Martial Arts Instructor George Rivera once posed a question to me: Which is more important, knowing how to strike or knowing when to strike? The answer has always been “when,” but this is a complex question. We are not just talking about when to apply force, we are also talking about using timing to the officer’s advantage. Many people can do things routinely, but few can process two things at once on different levels, like emotionally and kinesthetically. Rivera demonstrates this by squaring off with a student and asking, “How’s your mom?” The moment of hesitation generated from this question is preceded by a “wham” right in the face. When a person is talking, they are not completely ready.
Train officers on “load up”
Most people will “load up” or have a motion like tensed muscles or positioning that precedes a strike. Officers become adept at recognizing these things and experienced ones learn to preempt the assault. Conversely, both the strike and drop step must be done without loading up, otherwise the move is “telegraphed” to the suspect. The most efficient strike is one that draws a straighter line to the target. Sometimes the actions of officers are questioned; not because they struck someone with no apparent provocation, but because of their inability to articulate pre-assaultive behavior in their reports. Officers can associate the context of pre-assaultive behavior better than the average person.
Clenched fists and tightened muscles, combined with a “target glance” may not mean anything to the average person, but to the officer, it means “time to move.” This is another facet of the reasonable officer standard. Context goes directly to the subconscious, and it is important. Here’s an example: Anyone can recognize a gun in a person’s hand if they are waving it around in the air on a sunny day. The mind recognizes it immediately. However, not everyone would be able to distinguish the difference between that gun and a cell phone tucked into the waistband with enough clarity to respond.
The higher the experience level of the officer, the quicker the response to context. When I walk into my doctor’s office, I know the receptionist by name. She’s always wearing a smock and sitting at her desk. I am expecting to see her. The other day I ran into her in a restaurant. She was wearing a long black dress. I knew I knew her, but recalling her name took an embarrassing second or two—I did not have context. If I saw her several times a week, recalling her name would have been automatic. What if it was a wanted felon I saw on a bulletin who knew me from a previous encounter?
If officers become good at recognizing pre-assaultive behavior, they can respond automatically. Remember, one will always respond to their training. If it is overlapping, redundant, intense training, officers will respond automatically in a correct manner. Even if we respond to pre-assaultive behavior, we must have automated habits. First, we cannot defend ourselves unless our hands are prepositioned. As a rule, keep the level of your hands higher than those of your suspects. This will also reduce the preloading of the officers’ strike. This is emphasized from academy to retirement. The bladed stance and hands in front of the face works just as well while holding a ticket book or just talking.
Sometimes a strike is not appropriate or the most efficient means of freezing an opponent for a moment. The alternative is a drive. It uses the same targets and striking surfaces as a strike, except the arm is driven into the opponent, in a motion that will drive him backwards.
The officer initiates and continues contact. The difference between a drive and a strike is the fact that a drive is designed to physically move an assailant in a prescribed direction. If done correctly, an officer can use the drive in “Hey you are too close” situations. The drive works well when there is something nearby that will assist the officer in neutralizing the suspects attack like a curb, wall, or fence. It can be used in combination with a strike.
You can train all you want but you have to feel what it is like to strike something. Every day, one to two hours before shift, my workout included hitting BOB. This is Century Martial Arts’ Sparring BOB (Body Opponent Bag). This is a realistic looking life sized mannequin used for martial arts training. We had one right alongside the iron pile at the police station.
I do not know of a better martial arts product for strike training. Using your BOB, practice striking and driving from different distances and angles. Each successful strike should be on target, delivered from a stable base for a complete transfer of power. Once the strike is delivered, the officer should be already into the transition-strike and move or strike and shoot.
Our martial arts training group uses a High Gear training suit by Tony Blauer. It is one of the most realistic, durable and versatile investment an agency can use. Unlike a training dummy, the High Gear can give full contact stress inoculation with real time feedback. Officers can use real tactics on an opponent that has real mobility and speed inside a suit that weighs less than eight pounds.
The neat thing about the High Gear suit is the ability for an agency to do realistic scenario training that includes verbal commands, variable distances and real speed in training. With the High Gear Suit, officers should be able to deliver a strike or drive interchangeably.
The trainer in the High Gear suit should attempt to continue the assault. Effective techniques should allow the officer to arrest or shoot. I have emphasized over the years that what we really do is not shooting, but fighting with a gun. I cannot claim this, but Lou Chiodo of Gunfighters Ltd, who told me this years ago, can. If we are doing this, striking and shooting should be integrated.