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Trainer Talk

Martial Arts and Law Enforcement Part Two: Choose the Right type of Training

Martial Arts and Law Enforcement Part Two: Choose the Right type of Training

In part one of this series, we covered five pieces of basic advice for officers who want to add martial arts to their training regimen:

  • Find a school you like
  • Train consistently
  • Don’t make training inconvenient
  • Be well rounded
  • Be safe

Now we’ll dig a little deeper into some things to consider when choosing a specific martial arts discipline.

Every state has either a POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) council—or a similar board or body that governs what officers are to be taught. This covers firearms qualification, baton, handcuffing, escapes from attack holds, pepper spray, Taser/ECD, riot control, empty hand control and more. That last one—empty hand control—divides the DT world like a fault line. Ask ten training professionals about how best to develop these skills, and you’ll get five… or ten… answers. What we all agree on, though, is that the training you choose should complement your career choice and the real-world scenarios that come with it.

Here are two important questions to ask as you consider which martial art(s) might benefit you on the job:

Does the art give you realistic skills you can use to protect yourself?

First and foremost, an officer must look after his or her own safety. The ability to overcome attacks—whether they are empty-hand or weapon attacks—is critical. Does the art teach realistic escapes from attacks that are simple to recall under pressure? Safe, controlled sparring is the best way to pressure test your technique, but it needs to be in a law enforcement context. That means fully geared up, with different force options available. Not many martial arts schools train this way, but your police academy should.

Is the art simple?

Is your fighting discipline composed of complex techniques that require hours of private lessons to master the basics? Can it be recalled under stress? Look for training that keeps it short, focused and simple. Bruce Lee famously said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” When my fellow Trainers and I teach the ASP Instructor Certification (AIC) curriculum, we follow this principle by using the weapon side baton strike, as it is the strike  that’s most commonly used. It is a simple technique, but all ASP Trainers continuously train to master and refine it.

I have trained for many years, and it’s safe to say the martial arts played a big role in my ability to do the job in a tough city. Here are my quick thoughts on two arts that I believe are a great fit for the realities of our business.


Boxing—in a quality gym—sets a foundation that all other arts can be built upon. Balance, footwork and movement are fundamental to this discipline. You will also learn distance control, power generation, and fear management; all things that will transfer well to other skills. Movement, of the kind learned and practiced in boxing, is a critical skill that can’t be over-emphasized.

If there is a ”con” to boxing, it’s that hard sparring can lead to concussions, broken noses and cuts. You can minimize these risks by doing more technical sparring and using quality gear.

Submission grappling arts

Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have dominated the MMA world, and the skills they focus on translate well to law enforcement. As an Officer, being able to control a resistive subject on the ground  is a capability well worth mastering. Learning to escape a bad position, and getting up to your feet are skills every police department should be teaching. Grappling teaches a great many things—including learning to be comfortable when things are uncomfortable—that will go a long way in your career.

The ”cons” of grappling arts are potential injuries to the back, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers. Reduce this exposure by knowing when to tap, and doing more technical rolling with good training partners.

At the end of the day, there is inherent risk in any style of martial art; after all, it’s physical combat. But for a professional who runs the very real risk of fighting every day on the job, the benefits of martial arts training far outweigh the risks. I have found that the styles mentioned here teach skills that transition extremely well to police work, but they are by no means the only ones. Others—such as judo, muay thai or kyokushin—are also worth exploring. The point is to be as well rounded a police officer as you can be. The more you train, the better you will be under pressure, and the more successful and safe your time on the job will be.

Jim Klauba

Chicago Police Department (Ret.)

ASP Trainer since 2011