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Doing ‘Whatever it Takes’ To Survive Confrontations

‘Reality-based training’ is essential in a street fight to the finish, according to the author.

August 01, 2000  |  by Capts. Larkin Fourkiller and Michael Holsapple

The situation: An individual is confronted by one or more subjects.  At least one of the participants has a gun, and some form of physical confrontation is imminent.  This "street fight" call for service would invoke an immediate police response.  Such a scenario would undoubtedly be any citizen's worst nightmare; however, the possibility of this type of encounter is not uncommon for the men and women of law enforcement.

Think about it.  We sometimes underestimate the seriousness of police-suspect engagements.  It is important to remember that in any police-suspect confrontation, there is at least one weapon present-the officer's gun.

As we are all sadly reminded, many officers are injured and killed with or in spite of this force option.

Consider that since 1994, more than 280,000 law enforcement officers have been assaulted or injured and more than 840 killed in the line of duty.  We should ask one another whether some of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented.  Are police officers really trained in the best methods to survive "street fight" encounters?  Do we ask officers to play touch in a tackle football game, to rely on luck, or avoid offensive techniques in order to promote the "officer friendly" image and, at least indirectly, also encourage a misguided perception that police are able to resolve every hostile contact without violence and injury?

Perhaps we also need to be reminded that perception, in spite of arguably well-intended political correctness, which often fosters it, is not reality.

Reality can be deadly, and despite the chances of citizen complaints and threats of civil action, and a rather ironic predisposition of American police to cater to perceptions, police officers need the skills to survive violent hand-to-hand altercations.  Many officers are reluctant to use hard empty-hand techniques, batons, and even firearms, though some circumstances clearly justify such use.

Lack of political, public and departmental support, disciplinary action, special interest group pressure, civil liability, and citizen complaints can all be contributing factors in not only the way police protect (and fail to protect) themselves, but just as importantly, the training (and ineffectual training) officers receive.

For some officers, fear of the above-mentioned consequences can often out-weigh personal safety concerns.  A resultant hesitation to act (possibly a consequence of a professional predisposition) or lack of a defensive countermeasure (probably a consequence of ineffectual training), may cause an officer to miss his "window of opportunity" to end a confrontation, instead, allowing it to escalate beyond control.


Contemporary standard police training intends to address police use-of-force issues through classroom lecture, firearms qualifications, impact weapon and chemical agent certification, and basic instructions in self-defense

Most officers receive only a limited amount of defensive tactics training, usually a 40-hour block of instruction, and thereafter, periodic refresher sessions of even shorter duration.  Often the focus is on techniques designed to control individuals who offer minimal resistance.  Principles and techniques such as positioning, balance displacement, joint-locks, and pressure point applications.

In most cases, this type of control is appropriate, however there are those circumstances where these basic techniques are ineffective or unrealistic.  Police officers are frequently placed in violent and dangerous situations, where the threat of physical confrontation may result in injury or death.  Often out-numbered, occasionally over-matched, and always with a weapon involved, many officers find themselves ill-prepared to deal with these types of common "street fight" encounters.

Need for Supplemental Training

Weapon malfunction, inability to secure weapon due to being pinned or surprised, attacks by multiple suspect, knife threats, being grounded, injury or exhaustion, inability to deploy discriminate fire, unavailability of backup, correctional environments, off-duty and unarmed, undercover and unarmed, close-quarters (SWAT), investigators with no less-lethal option, are just some of the potentially serious confrontational scenarios where specialized close-contact fighting skills are appropriate.

Some officers are taken to the ground and injured, some are killed with their own weapons, and others just hang on and pray that backup arrives quickly..  the lack of viable counter-measures for such circumstances demonstrates the limitations of traditional defensive tactics programs.  When questions arise, either in training classrooms or in the field, pertaining to more serious types of hand-to-hand encounters, officers often are given the ambiguous suggestion of "Do Whatever It Takes."

New Fighting System

A fighting system that substantively teaches police officers those "Do Whatever It Takes" techniques is the Rapid Assault Tactics program.  This instruction complements the basic law enforcement defensive tactics curriculum by focusing on techniques and tactics designed to decisively end violent and life-threatening altercations.

This course teaches students not only the physical skills to survive a street fight, bit also the important fighting philosophies and methodologies necessary to employ the physical skills successfully.

This comprehensive fighting protocol is the product of world-renowned martial artist Paul Vunak, founder of Progressive Fighting Systems, is considered a leading authority on street fighting instruction, and his reality-based teachings have been utilized by the Navy SEALs, SWAT and Elite Assault teams world-wide, and most recently by several well-respected law enforcement organizations.

The Rapid Assault tactics program is a "cocktail" of various fighting disciplines that have been translated into simple, retainable, and realistic techniques, which empower officers to terminate threats quickly.  Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do concepts, Filipino stick-and-knife fighting arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the little known art of Kina Mutai make up this effective and developing fighting curriculum.

Besides empty-hand and weapon (baton and knife) techniques, students are given a straightforward insight into street-fighting dynamics and mentality.  For instance, grappling-or groundfighting-has recently found some favor within the police defensive tactics community.  And although there has always been a need for such training, its recent popularity most likely has been spawned by commercially successful pay-for-view events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

Some officers have become very skilled in this discipline, and not only feel confident if a fight should go to the ground, but actually prefer this "venue."  However, unless the forum is a sporting event, this is not the most advantageous position for a serious survival-minded officer-made-combat.

This point is best illustrated by one of Paul Vunak's adventures.

While on a training assignment with an elite military team, three of its members asked Vunak and his friend to accompany them on an extracurricular night operation.  Vunak's first impression was right-20-plus motorcycles out front, did equate to a traditional tough biker bar.  Vunak's hosts were not only huge but had a passion for groundfighting.  Vunak's friend, besides a martial artist, was also a pool shark, and it was during one of his many table runs that hostiles began to erupt.  And when they finally did, although severely outnumbered (20-5), Vunak's team had the three biggest players, and at that point he thought, a fighting chance.  That was until the melee began, and as Vunak so adamantly stated, "And do you know what those three huge groundfighters did?  That's right, each of them took one guy to the ground, leaving the two of us with...well, you can do the math."

Besides being just a little angry, and spending a few days in the hospital, Vunak was able to use this real-life experience in teaching the limitations of relying too much on any one fight-survival discipline.

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