Arresting Thoughts

I’ve noticed that many of the people who come to view my blog do so as a result of a web-search on arrest technique, or what martial arts police officers use, or the ‘best martial art for law enforcement’?

Now I personally would favour training that was as comprehensive as possible, given the range of situations law enforcement operatives may face, and I would want that training to include a good proportion of effective grappling and locking techniques.  I should stress however, that I am not, nor ever have been, a member of the law enforcement community, so I’m not sure that I have the right to make any pronouncements, merely put forward some ideas, which I’m sure many others more qualified than I will be able to evaluate fairly.

Just a couple of thoughts on the art of arrest technique, triggered by watching one of my favourite American law enforcement series, “Numbers”, which led to musing on the dangers law enforcement officers in the UK and the US face, and some of the lessons I’ve learned from my training with great martial artists.

During the drama I was watching a raid was conducted by the police on a street gang, some of whom were chased down into an alley, and then held at gunpoint while being searched for weapons.  The police officers then instructed the gang members to place their hands on the wall they were facing and spread their feet, before proceeding to pat them down.

Now as a layman I have no way of knowing how authentic this practice is, and I haven’t taught any courses to law enforcement personnel for a few years, so I’m going to assume that the weakness of this method I’m about to point out is known to certainly most police officers in the U.S., where criminals carrying guns and knives are a routine occurrence, as is not necessarily the case here in the U.K.  This method carries the danger that, as the officer is patting down the suspect he or she is forced to bend at the waist as they check the suspect’s lower extremities, and at this point they are vulnerable to being countered with a number of possible attacks.  In the drama, the police officers each placed a hand on the suspects’ necks while their other hands checked their clothing.  Using a monitoring hand in this way would be an excellent way to receive an immediate warning of the suspect making a move, but wouldn’t guarantee being able to check that motion in time.

One technique I used to teach to American law enforcement officers was to stay further back from the suspect initially and instruct them to first bring their hands behind their backs and interlock the fingers.  The next instruction is to have the suspects place their foreheads on the wall they are facing, and then to spread their feet and, crucially, to bring them back slowly by increments.  Once the suspect’s feet are far enough from the wall to necessitate being on the balls of the feet or ideally tiptoe, it is safe for the officer to collect the suspect’s interlocked fingers in one hand and to begin the search.  The advantage of this technique, even before the interlocked fingers are grasped, is that it is an unusually gifted athlete who can move quickly in moving themselves off the wall – there just isn’t the leverage; try it yourself and you will see.

Any aggressive move thereafter is easy to counter using the grip on the interlocked fingers; squeezing and rotating towards the spine effectively gives you a multiple finger-lock, and any resistance is easily countered by a dragging motion following the line of the spine, dropping the suspect to their knees.

The first part of this technique is predicated on a knowledge of human anatomy and body mechanics combined with basic physics.  Kozushi, or the art of off-balancing, is a core skill in jujutsu and Judo, and in Prof. Jay’s Small Circle Ju-jitsu I believe it has reached its zenith; the art contains so many subtle ways to take the opponent’s balance and then to keep them off-balance, that it seems an ideal art for the police officer.

Still thinking about arrest technique, I was reminded of a personal experience of perhaps twenty years ago.  At the time I lived in Covent Garden at the heart of London’s West End, and as I was walking to the Tube station one Saturday morning, I came across a fairly chaotic scene.  Five police officers were attempting to restrain an extremely large man who, whether drunk or abusing some other substance, was apparently strong enough to periodically throw off two or three of the officers at a time.  I asked if I could assist – I am a small individual and plainly one of the officers took my offer as sarcasm and made an appropriate retort.

There was an older sergeant amongst the officers and, while still continuing his attempt to restrain the wildly resisting man, he admonished the young officer who had spoken and asked if I really thought I could help?  I said certainly, and if he would just allow me to get a grip on one of their assailant’s wrists, I was sure we could at least get him handcuffed.  The officers by this time had the man on his front, though he was steadfastly refusing to stay pinned to the pavement.  The policemen and one policewoman were trying to keep his limbs from threshing around and his arms bent behind his back, but due to the man’s prodigious strength they were having mixed success.

I keep my thumbnails clipped to a sharp, chisel shaped point for precisely this kind of situation, and as the sergeant kept one wrist still, I drove the point into the cuticle of one thumb and told him firmly but calmly to give me his other wrist, which by this time he had gotten free of another officer, and to interlock the fingers.  Plainly he was winning what had turned into a contest of strength, remarkable though it was given how outnumbered he was, but the highly focused and excruciating pain the cuticle press induces apparently took him by surprise both physically and psychologically.

Having interlocked his fingers, I was able to use the method mentioned earlier to drag him into position sitting back on his haunches, and the police sergeant quickly applied the handcuffs and was able to take him firmly under control.  I have to give credit to where this technique – or rather combined technique – came from.  One of my mentors is a wonderful man named Fred Adams; Grandmaster Fred introduced and established Hapkido in the U.K. – all authentic Hapkido – certainly up until a few years ago – in Britain derived ultimately from Fred and the first two Korean masters he brought across to the country.  I make this last point because it is an unfortunate truth that much of the ‘Hapkido’ available world-wide turns out to be offered by otherwise excellent Tae Kwon Do stylists, who add some wrist-locks and throws to their arsenal when they become too old to manage the admittedly impressively athletic Korean kicking specialism, and then relabel the art.

Grandmaster Fred spent more than twenty years as a prison officer in a high-security prison and had an extensive martial arts background prior even to his involvement in Hapkido, one of the most comprehensive of arts.  The clipping of the thumbnails – an old practice derived from White Crane stylists who kept the nails of the second and third fingers sharpened also – came from Fred, as did the interlocking of the fingers and bunching them together in the grip, while the additional down the spine rotation and drag came from Small Circle principles.

It may well be that any police officer reading this is already familiar with any or all of these techniques, or indeed might constructively criticise them – as I said earlier I am not a police officer, nor am I as current as I would like to be on the subject.  I merely offer these descriptions in the hope that they may be of use, or at least interest, to those individuals who risk their lives everyday on behalf of law-abiding citizens.  Good luck to you all in your endeavours and stay safe!

©John Mellon M.A., and The Martial Arts University, 2012.  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.

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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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