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Departments : The Winning Edge

MMA is Not the Biggest Threat

Don't believe all the hype. The right training and mindset are all you need to take on subjects using mixed martial arts.

October 05, 2010  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

If you've trained for real-life situations, you'll be ready to react appropriately, even from the ground.

Takedowns, holds, and poundings, oh my!

Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain, Dorothy; you're not in Kansas anymore. The man behind the curtain in this case represents all those who support the notion that MMA's grappling poses one of the biggest threats to officer safety in law enforcement.

Just as the person behind the curtain in "The Wizard of Oz" proved to be a normal man who created the illusion of being a great and all-powerful wizard, so, too, has the mixed martial arts (MMA) been elevated to the same all-powerful status. Over the past decade, these mighty MMA wizards have promoted the belief that every fight ends up on the ground so you might as well just throw yourself on your back at the start of your shift and get it over with.

But as the great wizard's power was eventually put into perspective, I hope to do the same by presenting a more balanced view of MMA. Let's be clear, I have nothing but respect for anyone who dedicates time and energy toward training. However, it's our failure to train properly that gets us into trouble. The threat we face in law enforcement today is not from MMA or anything like it. The biggest threat we face is ourselves.

A Reality Check

Guys like me remember the rise in U.S. martial arts popularity. Though its schools started appearing in the 1950s, martial arts didn't take hold until the mid-1960s. While karate tournament legends like Chuck Norris, Lewis Mullins, Victor Moore, and Joe Lewis helped foster respect for martial arts, its role in the entertainment industry was what kicked things into high gear.

With Bruce Lee leading the way, and other cultural icons such as David Carridine's Kwai Chang Caine in "Kung Fu" and Tom Laughlin's eponymous Billy Jack supporting the cause, it wasn't long before chains of martial arts schools dotted the international landscape.

Fast forward to today. Evident interest in the martial arts hasn't waned but intensified. Newer arts might be the current flavor of the month, but older, more traditional styles are still going strong.

In fact, media sources have estimated between 12 and 20 million people practice some type of fighting art in this country. With numbers like that, coupled with the diversity of fighting arts available, we should not be worried about any one single fighting style let alone one aspect of it.

What MMA is and is Not

Martial sport is not Martial art. It's important we acknowledge the difference because it impacts our training. Martial sport has rules for participants. It has strikes you can't use, referees, nearby medical, and matches that get stopped when necessary. Martial art, which means military art, was born from battlefield combat. Its effectiveness was measured in life and death and not by how many people sign up for pay per view.

In law enforcement we have our own form of battlefield. We have rules and the criminals do not. Like warriors of old, we have the potential to fight in life and death combat. Bottom line, there is no sport in what we do. Would I like to get punched by an MMA fighter? No, but then again I wouldn't want to be punched by anyone-and that's my point.

We have focused on the popularity of MMA so much that we can no longer see the forest for the trees. Marketing and hype may have led some to believe MMA is new; it's not. The grappling in MMA, which seems to be most people's focus, comes from several sources, all of which have already been practiced in this country for more than 50 years.

Aficionados tend to think Brazilian jujitsu is the discipline that started it all. I liken that view to that of a young person hearing what he thinks is a new song but in reality is a remake of an older tune: There is nothing new in martial arts, just a resurgence of the old.

For example, Brazilian jujitsu is mostly a highly refined form of judo. Open any judo book and you will find submission holds and takedowns used in MMA. I was doing them in junior high school Judo back in the early '70s. Any junior high wrestler was doing similar takedowns and holds as well. I have yet to see any police magazine article suggesting we face a serious threat from judokas or wrestlers. MMA has developed into a popular sport but there are a lot of other fighting arts still out there. Be careful how you interchange popularity with threat.


The Impact of MMA

I have been a cop for 23 years, 20 of which have been on the street. The only time I went to the ground was when I took someone there myself with a takedown or strike. If you ask around your agency, you might find similar results. I would love to meet the guy that has everyone thinking that most fights end up on the ground. Maybe he has been taken to the ground most of the time and is in serious need of reconsidering his training.

The main reason cops end up on the ground is they have no overall strategy, use poor tactics, and have little to no combative skills. Look at the videos we show in training. They consistently demonstrate an officer's penchant for gross errors and a lack of skill. It's very seldom that a clip shows an officer simply being overwhelmed by an aggressor of superior skill. If an officer doesn't have any combative sense and just holds on for dear life, of course he or she is going to get knocked down. That's a training issue, not the result of MMA.

And yet marketing, hype, and viewer popularity have been so pervasive with MMA that fear of it has impacted all types of law enforcement agencies. I can deal with that as long as the focus of our training remains on core skills that avoid being taken down in the first place. The MMA influence has a dangerous aura that screams that it's not only all right to go to the ground, but inevitable. Such training reflects the biggest knee-jerk reaction in law enforcement combatives history.

What Should Your Focus Be?

Your training should focus on fact and not speculation. It should be based on real world conditions. For example, how often does your agency conduct combatives training-specifically ground defense-in full uniform and gear? If the answer is rarely or never, you should be asking yourself why, because no one patrols in a T-shirt and sweat pants. As a minimum, consider wearing tactical pants, a ballistic vest, and your full duty belt with some type of plastic replica gun.

Psychological aspects also need to be considered, as every encounter starts and ends with our minds. Your focus should revolve around the physiological changes that occur under high stress. You need to understand how to use gross motor skills and mental toughness to your advantage. Find ways to maximize your techniques while conserving energy.

Luckily, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Subject matter experts like Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, Loren Christensen, Michael J. Asken, Lt. Kevin Dillon, Tony Blauer, Gavin DeBecker, and the folks at the Force Science Institute work extensively on related subjects. References like "The Warrior Mindset," "On Combat," "Finding Your Zone," "The Gift of Fear," "Fighting Science, and "Unleash the Warrior Within" are must reads. Programs like Fight Science, Fight Quest, and Human Weapon that illustrate body mechanics and different fighting styles are a must see. If none of these concepts and references sounds familiar, the least of your worries is MMA.

Thoughts on Experience

With all of the training I have done in Asian martial arts over the past 37 years, I have been exposed to hundreds of individual techniques that can easily create thousands of possible combinations. As an officer, however, I tend to use a straight and reverse punch, the palm heel, elbow and knee strikes, the front kick, and a low roundhouse the most. Typically, one of these techniques leads me to a throw, arm bar takedown, or leg sweep. That's less than 10 techniques over 23 years.

I've practiced these few techniques to the point of unconscious competence. That's what you should be looking for when training to control aggression and combat violence. It's where you should spend the majority of your training time. It's better to have a handful of techniques you know well than a bagful you don't.

As a combatives instructor, I do not advocate police officers participating in martial sport. The reason is quite clear: How you train is how you perform. Unfortunately, this phrase has become so commonplace that people ignore its wisdom. Under real world conditions, you will default back to what you've done the most.

I have seen grapplers and wrestlers at in-service training do flawless takedowns only to shoot for a submission hold instead of going into a handcuffing position where they could assess the situation and look out for multiple attackers. They go for the grappling hold over and over, even after being corrected. Their unconscious competence in martial sport has set them up for disaster.

Closing Thoughts

Ground defense should be included in our training but grappling should never be a main focus. We need to focus on obtaining control while on our feet and staying there. Our danger is not from martial sport or martial art. Our biggest danger comes from ourselves because we fail to maximize the few skills we have. We can no longer afford to ignore core skills that are born out of our psychological and physiological responses under stress. Don't let the wizards of hype and marketing guide your training.

Amaury Murgado is a road patrol lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired Master Sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 23 years of law enforcement experience, and has been involved with martial arts for 37 years.

Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

wolfva @ 10/5/2010 9:58 PM

Good article; I know every time I've gone to the ground it's been because I screwed up. If I face off with a suspect who immediately leaps on his back to ground fight MMA style, I'll just capstun him. You don't see that in to many cage matches, do you?

MikeW @ 11/13/2010 9:07 AM

Great article. I agree with most of the what was said espcially about training for sport. What we need to understand is that in order to prevail against a determined attacker there is a need to be well rounded. You can learn or train "ground survival" but in order to overcome a skilled determined attacker you yourself need to be just as skilled. If your attacker, or the person your trying to arrest has 6 months of BJJ training or 4 years of high school wrestling, that is what they are going to resort to in a fight. Just because you wont, and shouldn't, go for an arm bar doesn't mean they wont. The same goes for fighting with a striker. If your facing an attacker who trains in boxing, you had better know how to avoid being hit. I agree that grappling is not all you should be training in, but you should be training in it. Grappling is more than fighting on the ground. Its controling the standup, executing takedowns, defending takedowns, keeping someone on the ground, and getting up from the ground. In order to understand all of these things you need to train in the fundamentals and the basics. You need to understand fighting at its core and train routinley. I think we in Law Enforcement have a false sense that taking a seminar here or there prepares us. Mentallity is crucial but so is skill. Im not knocking the above comment, but if someone on the street pulls guard on you and pepper spray him what makes you think he will give up? what if he dosn't. What if he holds guard. What if he goes for your strong side arm and breaks it. Even worse what if he goes for a choke? Is submission defense something you train in? Does having a working knowledge of submission help you avoid this situuation? Of course it does. We train to dominate and to effect arrest. What if we are dominated at the on set? Can you fight your way out? Can you not only survive but prevail? Do you train to fight your way out of the worst case situation?

AVW @ 1/17/2011 4:47 PM

There are some good points here on the proper mindset that should be cultivated in training, but really, compared to ego free articles like this , it's really more of a head in the sand piece than a realistic assessment of what MMA is or isn't.

How many MMA guys are you really expecting to use butt-scooting at you as a go to move anyways?

Luke Green @ 11/27/2013 1:38 PM

While I agree with the majority of your posting, I personally believe , however, that ignoring the fact that MMA / Wrestling and all other combat sports has gained a significant following in recent years because of the rise in popularity of MMA type events could be negligible. Moreover, most " traditional " police defensive tactics / training do not cover basic defense for ground fighting / clinch type events. I believe we are selling our officers short by not at least covering the basics of defending grappling type attacks and recovering if taken to the ground.
I am also a police officer / instructor on the job for 20 years.

Jacob @ 1/3/2014 7:37 AM

You certainly should have at least basic ground training. I can assure you, if you engage with someone who has good takedown skills, you WILL be taken down.

Brad @ 3/4/2014 9:07 AM

Most instructors these days don't have as much experience in martial arts as you do. I am currently taking Krav Maga and it is really easy to learn and very effective. It has been used in Israel for many many years. I believe with the popularity of MMA the general population fighting experience has risen dramatically and law enforcement detac has remained the same. A good example is the Kansas City Off Duty Officer who had to shoot and kill the Kansas City Fire Fighter because the fire fighter knew how to gain control of the officers upper body and then smash his face in. Being a cop for 15 years I ve never seen or heard of that happening. With Cross Fit popularity also a lot of people are doing this too. So fighting experience has risen and conditioning also. Officers need to step it up and start physical training like we did before the academy and during the academy.

Mike @ 10/7/2015 3:54 AM

As a Defensive Tactics Instructor, Fmr Officer, and 27 Year Martial Artist, I will simply add that Mixed Martial Arts is NOT Martial Arts, nor can we as Officers gain anything by learning any form of MMA! Also, while I agree that the basic D.T. Program needs to have more Ground Survival Tactics included, and clinch type tactics, the overall objective of D.T. is to constantly keep current with what's happening with the criminal element. Simply speaking, we need to keep current on what the criminal is using and how to counter those!

David @ 12/5/2016 2:49 PM

So, I have 0 law enforcement training, but a lot of MMA experience. This is my 2 cents. First off, there is too much emphasis on Royce Gracie style MMA here. Most MMA fighters are excellent strikers, and can fight you in the ground or punching. The main threat I'd see to a officer is that MMA trains proper blocking, countering, and striking technique AS WELL as psychological conditioning. We're a hard lot to control. You won't get compliance till we've lost the fight. So you have to be confident and skilled enough to last punch for drawn out punch. We also know what pain feels like, so won't react to it. It's all about dominance and toughness. No psychology or mindset will beat a determined MMA fighter. Only dominating the fight. Don't back down, don't let us dictate the fight. Challenge everything we throw and don't respond to being challenged and you'll do a hell of a lot better.

Jamie @ 12/17/2016 11:36 PM

I'm a former Military Police, Civilian Police, and Correctional Officer. I was a high school wrestler and now practice bjj and boxing. I agree with some of what you say. However too often MMA and TMA folks stick to their ways and think their way is the best. There are many considerations both in the ring and on the job. MMA has a lot to offer and so does TMA. The difference is that MMA contains many fighting styles that you are able to complete using full ranges of motion and against an actively resisting opponent. With striking, you practice with focus mits, bags, pads, and sparring. With grappling, you drill and you roll real time. These methods of training allow you to gain 100% complete and efficient muscle memory. However, they often do not focus on Law Enforcement specifics like weapon and tool belt retention, edged weapons, handcuffing, and total situational awareness. That's where I believe some TMA's have an advantage. But MMA and TMA need to see the value of each other.

Rob warner @ 1/2/2017 11:14 PM

this blog is kind of crazy. Please tell me I am not the only person who sees that??

Matt J @ 1/28/2017 2:20 PM

@ Rob Warner...Yes, I agree with you, this blog IS kind of crazy. It's writer makes a few very valid points, and I agree with SOME of what he says, but it is very obvious that he does not have a very good idea of what MMA is, and I doubt he has ever had to take on a determined suspect with real training & skill in Mixed Martial Arts. Maybe with some backup assisting him..but never totally alone and on his own. Most police officers, unless they themselves train like that, would not be able to subdue a skilled and determined MMA fighter. The MMA fighter simply has superior training and conditioning that is next to impossible to match if the officer does not have that same training. The officer would be forced to use the tools on his gunbelt to deal with the situation. And that is only IF he is able to get to those tools. In a close hand to hand combat situation, those tools would also be available to the suspect he is fighting as well.

Roger @ 10/11/2017 12:46 PM


There's a story in a small circle of Army Special Forces veterans that I will anonymously confirm. Believe it if you want--but I'm sure the story will come out in a book someday. This individual, first initial T, who has already been named in one book (written by a Special Forces General) for his key part in the hunt for Pablo Escobar. I'm not naming the retired operator by name because he wouldn't be very happy with me if I did--but there's only so many books written by former SF Generals that talk about the hunt for Escobar, if you're so interested. At any rate, this particular operator from the unit, who also happened to be a lethal martial artist, took down 16 attackers--armed attackers, mind you--using a broom handle. The operator grabbed a broom handle while escaping a building. The engagement didn't last more than 10 seconds before it was over and all the bodies were on the ground. *Call for backup, if you have to drop them, learn to swing a sturdy stick to their legs.

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