Best Martial Arts – for Law Enforcement?

Best Martial Arts?

Can I just say, right at the outset, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a best martial art – however, I’ve noticed that this is a common search question on the web, and it’s certainly one that has exercised many martial artists and prospective students everywhere for a great many years, so I thought that I might try to address it with respect to a range of priorities, with this first one focussing on law enforcement.  For what it is worth, however here are my own views – please remember that these are only my opinions and I am open to being convinced otherwise.

What was the question again?

To begin with, I think it might be useful to refine the generic question of what constitutes best in a martial art?  And the only answer that I think might be useful is to say that ‘best’ is defined by three main variables, namely:

  • Context – in what circumstances are the martial art techniques to be applied i.e. what is your role – are you the target of the attack, are you defending someone less capable/more vulnerable etc., and in what environment are you having to operate –

an opportunity here to present an analogy I was given by Guro Dan Inosanto (for me, probably the world’s best all-round martial arts teacher) in a seminar in London, U.K. hosted by Sifu Nino Bernardo back in the 1980’s.  Mr. Inosanto was trying to explain the concept of appropriateness of technical response; he said, “To be expert with the staff or spear is wonderful, but it won’t do you much good if you’re attacked in a phone-booth!”

  • Personal Attributes?  Are you: young/not young; strong/frail; fast/slow; supple/less than flexible etc. – this will help decide which art fits you best?
  • Physical Environment: is there plenty of room, allowing you to control range through footwork, or are you, as in Sifu Dan’s example, ‘in a phone-booth’; are you sitting, standing still, walking at the moment of perceiving the attack; are you in a restaurant with densely packed furniture or down a dark alleyway?

All of these above elements should help to contextualise what martial arts training would suit you best.  Depending on where you live in the world, you may have more or less access to a range of arts and teachers.  You may, or may not, have an opportunity to ‘try out’ a number of arts before committing to long-term study – more on the significance of this decision in a future post – or you may feel, never having tried any sort of training that you really must study say, Tae Kwon Do, or Shaolin gung-fu, or anything else that may have taken your fancy?

Arresting Dilemmas

Returning to the specifics of the needs of a law enforcement officer, there are still variables to analyse and quantify:

  • Where in the world will you be practicing your profession?
  • What is the regulatory regime governing law enforcement professionals locally?

Does the above vary according to role of specific agencies within the law enforcement framework?

  • What are your likely duties, and what is the likely spectrum of the threat you may encounter in the execution of them?

Thinking of the elements above it is obvious that, depending on role, geographical location, distribution of authority, and specific local culture, you may have more need of particular martial arts skills than others.  For instance, if you are a law officer in the U.S., you may well face a deadly level of threat, represented by guns and other weaponry more routinely than in some other locations in the world.  This might also vary between urban and country areas, or indeed, between intra-urban locations (some parts of any given city being ‘rougher’ than others), or role – highway patrolmen may well have to face the possibility of a suspect wielding a gun, but if you are an undercover officer investigating gang crime, or say, an FBI agent this may be a more ever-present threat.

By contrast, few police officers in the U.K. will ever carry a firearm, but they still may well face a lethal threat from a knife or a broken bottle, and gun-crime is becoming more common in Britain over time.  Then there is the regulatory framework.  In the U.K. it used to be the case that the Home Office authorised a set of permissible arrest techniques – there were about a dozen, as I recall, which may well have changed in recent times (?) – that both Police Officers and Prison Officers were sanctioned to use.  Although these were obviously derived from martial arts – formerly Tomiki-style Aikido, with Ju-jitsu having replaced it in recent years – they were nonetheless a ‘softened’ or ‘watered-down’ version of the originals.  Official training in the U.K is a little problematic, for political and budgetary reasons – not the fault of the instructors within the institutions.

I, and several other instructors I know with a background in Close Protection and its training, or from a law enforcement or prison service background, have given extensive training to officers of the law over the years, and I’d like to recommend some of them and their arts to you. 

Grappling with the needs of the Police

In terms of arts that are effective in arrest situations, you won’t be surprised to hear that grappling arts and weapons arts are probably more helpful than those that emphasise striking – I’ll leave aside the issue that truly traditional karate is probably around 60 -70% trapping, locking and throwing rather than kicking and punching for now, and address that another time.

Judo forms an excellent base – less for actual arrest technique, and more for the ability to maintain one’s own balance in a tussle, while learning ‘kozushi‘ (i.e. placing the opponent in an off-balance position prior to executing the throw), or breaking the balance of someone resisting arrest.  Aikido is also an appropriate art for an officer of the law, emphasising off-balancing, evasion and arm and wrist-locking techniques which function on the level of mechanics and pain-control elements for effective arrest moves.

Recommendations and Contacts

Ju-jitsu, as a comprehensive art, is a good general training, with Aiki-ju-jitsu forms more replete with useful arrest techniques.  Small Circle Ju-jitsu is the most effective I have ever seen, particularly for this purpose – it is not only enormously efficient mechanically, but focusses a great deal on the fine control that allows a law enforcement officer maximum control; especially important in the U.K. as the issue of ‘necessary or reasonable force’ is an acute, but subtle dilemma under our laws.  I have been fortunate to be associated with Prof. Wally Jay – the founder of this art – for many years now, and also with his son and successor, Prof. Leon Jay who is based in Surrey, to the south-west of London.  I can unequivocally recommend training with him!  Leon is also the pre-eminent expert in Kyusho-jitsu (pressure-point striking) and Tuite (pressure-point assisted grappling) in Europe.  He and I have devised a fast-track, intensive training in Small Circle, called Small Circle Concepts, which is currently garnering a great deal of interest. 

Hapkido is also an excellent art for the purposes of arrest technique; as comprehensive as Ju-jitsu, it shares its roots with Aikido in Daito Ryu Aiki-Ju-jitsu, as its founder was a fellow student of Ueshiba Sensei under the headmaster of the Daito Ryu.  As with many arts, authentic Hapki is hard to find, particularly since the demise of a single Korean Hapkido Association, and most of the alleged Hapki available usually turns out to be Tae Kwon Do (an excellent art in itself, but not much use for arrest and control purposes) with a few wrist-locks thrown in!  To be sure of finding the real thing in the U.K. contact Grandmaster Fred Adams, the man who brought the art to the U.K. and established it here.  Fred spent many years as a senior Prison Officer at Norwich Prison, and so as well as being a wonderful technician, he has vast practical experience of applying the art under duress. 

Sifu Gary Stringer is a serving police detective in Derby in the East Midlands, and is one of the most skilled martial artists and teachers I’ve ever known.  Gary has an extensive background in many arts, including a variety of weapon systems, kempo and gung-fu styles, and is expert in the chin-na (‘seizing fist’) grappling techniques of gung-fu.  If you are in that part of the country and you are a law enforcement officer, you really should train with this man – you won’t regret it, and it may save your life.

If your concerns are with defence against impact and bladed weapons, you really should investigate Filipino Martial Arts which emphasise these skills.  These are more commonly available in the U.S. than the U.K., but we do have a number of fine teachers here. 

If you are in the West of England, where I live part of the time, you are welcome to contact me – also in this region along the west of the South Coast is Pat O’Malley, a very talented and experienced teacher with an extremely pragmatic approach and a great resource!  He and his wife, Lucy – herself an advanced and excellent stick-fighter – will be able to give you what you need.

If you are in the South-East coast area of England, Tony Jupp – one of my own students – has an extensive background across all of these skill areas and should be your next port of call. 

If you are London-based, my teacher in Kalis Ilustrisimo Repecticion Orihinal (KIRO), Guro Shamim Haque can fulfil your requirements.  Kalis Ilustrisimo is the most feared blade-fighting system in the Philippines, so if you are a police officer anticipating facing an assailant armed with a knife, and equipped with only an ASP baton, this is a logical choice of training.  If you are based in Spain, or are within practical travelling distance of Madrid, please note the post detailing the forthcoming seminar by Guro Shamim in that city in February, 2011!

©John Mellon M.A., and The Martial Arts University, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to John Mellon M.A. and The Martial Arts University with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About themartialartsuniversity

In daily training in the martial arts for the last 53 years; teaching almost daily for 43 years. Hold teaching ranks in 27 martial arts, Master ranked in 4 arts, Headmaster of 3 systems, the Founder of 2 arts, and the co-Founder of 2 others. Has been the official Technical Advisor to Profs. Wally and Leon Jay of Small Circle Ju-jitsu since the 1990's. Assistant Headmaster of Small Circle Ju-jitsu and the co-founder and joint Headmaster of Small Circle Concepts with Prof. Leon Jay. Has three Bachelor degrees and a Masters Degree in History. Experienced writer - published or featured in all of the UK martial arts magazines and in Inside Kung Fu in US, as well as: Esquire; She; Elle; Woman's Journal; Health and Fitness; Zest; Marie Claire and The Independent (UK national daily newspaper). Has been featured on BBC and ITV news programmes as expert on weapons defence and usage in relation to law enforcement issues. Former CPO (Bodyguard), and still active as a Bodyguard trainer.
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2 Responses to Best Martial Arts – for Law Enforcement?

  1. Martin Forrest says:

    A well structured breakdown of what different styles can contribute to law enforcement needs in a threat situation. It’s obvious that John has a firm grasp of the complexities and unique advantages of a wide range of martial arts. Very informative John I look forward to you next insightful article. Martin Forrest, Ireland

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