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Departments : The Winning Edge

Ground Fighting: How to Win

When a subject has you down and at a disadvantage, you have to turn the tables quickly.

August 16, 2011  |  by Mark Rich

So why don't they teach this at the academy? Generally speaking most academy programs only provide students with the bare basics of a multitude of topics, be it criminal law or firearms training. Such training is not sufficient for many real-world practical applications in the field.

Is It Legal?

In this situation, the officer on the ground about to have his head pounded in, should be clearly able to properly articulate the need for deadly force.

Let's break it down. As an officer you are an authority of law and as such have the authority to command someone to obey your verbal directives, as long as you are giving a lawful command. It's not open for discussion on the street. If a subject disagrees, he or she should come to court and allow the person who gets paid big bucks to wear a black robe and make decisions render a judgment.

Second, you have enough goodies on your "Batman" belt that any attacker can potentially take them from you and seriously injure or kill you. That means you are justified in using any level of force necessary up to deadly force to end such an attack. Just be ready in court to truthfully articulate your reasonable belief that you were in serious danger.

Let's return to our Officer Smith scenario for a moment. He's down, and his attacker is on top of him, punching him in the face. If Officer Smith is hit enough in the head, he can easily be rendered incapable of functioning in any capacity, thereby giving the bad guy free access to all of the weapons on his belt. That's not good for Officer Smith or for the public that he serves.


What are the liabilities associated with using deadly force to end a ground attack? Well, it's like anything else you may learn during your career as a law enforcement officer. If you maliciously misuse your tools and techniques, then of course you will be opening yourself and your agency up to serious financial problems. And there is a possibility that you may be criminally prosecuted. However, if you are justified in the use of deadly force, based upon rulings set forth in Graham v. Connor and other judicial decisions, the tool or method that causes death or serious injury is irrelevant.

Some agencies have policies against using certain tools or techniques in all but the most dire circumstances. That's policy. But understand if you find yourself in the Officer Smith situation, then you are in dire circumstances and policy is the least of your concerns.

For example, if I carry a knife on my person and can get to it and can gut a bad guy who is on top of me and is likely to seriously injure or kill me, then my action is justified even if my agency says I should not use a knife as a weapon. If I use some type of choke hold and the bad guy dies because in my attempt to save myself from serious harm or death I misapply the maneuver and crush his trachea, I'm still covered. Wow! I just broke a golden rule in law enforcement administration standards, I used the words "choke" and "hold" in the same sentence. Remember, no holds are barred in a life-and-death confrontation.

How long should you apply the technique? When the bad guy submits to arrest and stops his assault or he is rendered unconscious, you stop. Once your attacker is no longer a threat, secure him, call for assistance, and check him for specific injuries. For example, when applying the shoulder pin, lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), or any other triangle choke-type maneuver, you run the risk of damage to the throat area that restricts the airway. Make sure the subject is inhaling air and exhaling air. If not, follow protocol for respiratory distress and administer CPR as necessary until EMS and backup arrives.

Be Prepared

So what is survival ground fighting in the law enforcement world? It's simply real-world techniques for fighting your way out of a very bad situation while grounded in a position of extreme disadvantage.

The only way to win this war is to be prepared to fight it. Find a qualified instructor, learn some techniques, get the mats out, and practice until you are proficient in the techniques. Work on escape and disengagement techniques as well.

Remember, ground fighting in the real world isn't a competition where the winner gets a belt or trophy. Winning is survival. Your ability to perform these techniques can have a direct bearing on whether you go home at night or the rest of us get out our class A uniforms yet again.

Don't wait for this training to be brought to you, go get it for yourself. Your very life may depend on it.

Mark Rich is a 24-year veteran officer now serving with the Midway (Ga.) Police Department. He is a POST-certified senior instructor trainer with specialized instructor certifications in defensive tactics, Firearms, and SWAT.

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Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

gatactical @ 8/23/2011 4:54 AM

Mark and I have been friends for a long time and he is on the money here. I'll probably make soemone mad with the next statement - We (trainers) should emphasize the need to stay erect instead of purposely going to the ground to fight. If we go down, we need to stress getting up as quickly as possible, re-seize the advantage and win the fight.

Garrett Goldsberry @ 10/5/2011 6:27 PM

I actually taught this move at my academy all last month. It was our Submission of the Month. I have been trying for years to get all my local depts to train with me at my academy for this exact reason. 95% of my 16yr old kids are more proficient on the ground there our local civil servants. I currently train about 7 officers in my county. Every single of one of the can contest to hoe important BJJ is in there line of work. I offer law enforcement discounts and am available for seminars and private lessons. Check out my academy and give us a call to get started ASAP 973-300-0508 also it is a tax write off for police offers as continued education. See you me on the mats.
Your humble Jiu Jitsu Servant,
Garrett Goldsberry
Owner/Chief Instructor
[email protected]

Sid Kramer @ 11/14/2011 7:48 PM

Great Story. I have seen that done on UFC. I also need to brush up on my Signal/10 Codes. Any new helpful studies out there?

Random @ 4/9/2012 2:58 AM

I have been thinking of defense on the ground issue for a while. The people that use takedowns well enough to get an officer down train more than most officers’ think is reasonable. I love training, but not very many officers do. Teaching to avoid the take down better sounds more practical. I have seen a new invention that looks like something close to a solution. The Tazer Gauntlet. (I have provided an Internet address),r:1,s:0,i:74&tx=121&ty=62

Random @ 4/9/2012 3:38 AM

To sum up, I like the device because it keeps officers hands free. The device was invented for use against animals. When dogs’ trey to bight the teeth wont damage his arm. If an officer is downed, his natural cover the face instinct aligns the electrodes with the attacker. I feel it needs to modify to allow for putdowns without getting stuck with a syringe. I also feel that 3lbs is too heavy for the comfort of most officers

Randome @ 4/9/2012 3:42 AM

Sorry, that was Pat-down. I hate Word automatic selling correction.

Jaden Michael @ 10/21/2016 9:49 PM

@gatactical I'm glad the word is starting to spread out there among us instructors! I find the officers I teach are MUCH more receptive to ground survival training when put in context that they need to know how to get OUT of a fight on the ground and transition to another weapon. I recently wrote a post about it (and a few more DT related articles) at Should check it out and let me know what you think!

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