The famous Japanese swordsman Myomoto Musashi wrote: "To learn the sword play the guitar." That's an odd sounding recommendation, but one that apparently sustained Musashi through hundreds of duels. Musashi's training tip is one way of stating the basic principle that one discipline can translate to another.
But is that true of martial arts and true street combat?
Mixed martial arts or MMA, submission grappling, and jiu-jitsu are sports with rules, time periods, and officials governing the action. And generally speaking, no one is going to shoot or stab you during such bouts. So they should not be confused with the real-life combat situations that you face daily as law enforcement officers.
There are, however, principles from combat sports that can be implemented in on-duty combat situations. Among the most fundamental fighting basics to carry with you from the arena to the job are stance, range, and proper control of your opponent.
As a mixed martial arts fighter, the number one rule I learned from my teachers Eddie Yoshimura and Duane Sharp is that in combat sports you "protect yourself at all times."
A good fighting stance is important when dealing with the public, as well. Whenever you encounter someone with even the slightest possibility of violent behavior, assume basic foot and hand positions.
Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, with your lead foot pointed at your prospective opponent. Your rear foot should point away from your opponent at a 45-degree angle and with your big toe even with the heel of your lead foot. Your rear foot should be the same side that is your strong side. So if you are right handed, your right foot should be the rear foot in your stance.
In sport fighting this strong side/rear side arrangement is to maximize power when striking or attempting a takedown. Keeping your strong side away from an opponent is even more important in law enforcement since that is where your sidearm will be. Keeping your knees slightly bent can prevent them from being locked and allow you to squat slightly to change levels quickly if necessary.
Whether you are actively engaged or merely having a discussion with a person of interest, always move the foot that is in the direction of your movement first. If you move backward, move your rear foot first. If you are moving to the right, move the right foot first. Sounds simple doesn't it?
Yet most of the knockdowns in professional fighting result when one of the combatants strays from this basic principle. The fighters crossed their feet, had too narrow or too wide a stance, or turned both feet away form their opponents. The reason these are the foot positions of almost every fighting sport is because they maximize your balance and power for both defensive and offensive movements.
Watch Your Hands
A corollary to protecting yourself is the old adage "always keep your hands up." Whether striking, going for a takedown, or on the ground defending against submissions, the optimal hand and arm positions are the same.
Your elbows should be tucked along your ribcage to protect your body. Your hands should be up in front of your face, high enough to protect your neck and jaw but low enough to allow you to see clearly. This classic guard up position is effective, but not subtle.
It's relatively easy to move your feet into a good combat position without overtly declaring that you are preparing for a fight. Obviously you can't walk up to every encounter that hasn't turned overtly violent in a "put up your dukes" position. What you can do is talk with your hands.
The moment that you feel at all unsure about the direction an interview will go, raise your hands and gesture with them at about chin height to put them in a fight-ready position without being unduly threatening. Then if the "sucker punch" comes, you are ready for it.