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Defending Against a Ground Attack

Using the trap and roll, you can reverse the position of you and any attacker who is on top of you on the ground.

February 27, 2014  |  by Michael Schlosser and Jack McVicker

Photo courtesy of Michael Schlosser
Photo courtesy of Michael Schlosser

One of the worst-case scenarios for officers is to be on the ground with assailants sitting on top of them punching or choking them. Though officers train to avoid this scenario, it is still a possibility.

In order to train for this worst-case scenario, your tactics need to be simple and effective. The most practical technique involves a basic jujitsu maneuver called the "trap and roll." This is a technique that can be learned with a few repetitions. However, as with any defensive tactic, the more it is practiced, the more effective it will be when you need it.

The Attack

If you find yourself in a position of disadvantage with someone on top of you who is choking or punching you, you need to act quickly and efficiently. But as with all use-of-force encounters, the force you use must be based on the "reasonable officer" criteria, considering your perception at the moment and the "totality of the circumstances."

Your perception is important in this particular scenario because, depending on the actual encounter, the suspect could be assaulting you or trying to kill you. Therefore, it is important for you to know that if it is your perception that you are in danger of death or great bodily harm, then there is nothing you can't do to stop this threat, including firing your handgun.

This being said, by reacting quickly with the trap and roll technique you may quickly reverse positions with the assailant and escape to a better position before the situation escalates to a deadly force encounter.

The Trap

If you find yourself pinned to the ground by someone choking you, you need to react quickly by trapping the assailant's arm and leg on the same side of the body. By trapping both the assailant's wrist and triceps you prevent the assailant from pulling his or her arm free and stopping you from reversing the situation.

You can also trap the assailant's leg at the ankle. This will prevent the assailant from freeing his or her leg and using it to defend against your attempt to reverse positions.

Once the attacker's leg is trapped, thrust your hips upward, throwing him or her over your left shoulder. It is important to always take the assailant toward the trapped side.

Going on the Offensive

Once you have successfully reversed positions with the assailant and you are in the top position, it's time for you to go on the attack. Some of your best options include fist strikes to the groin (when fighting a male) and palm heel strikes to the head.

When the opportunity arises, disengage and create distance between you and the attacker. This will give you a chance to retrieve an appropriate use-of-force tool such as a TASER, OC spray, or even a handgun, depending on the level of force required.

Distance also gives you a chance to order the attacker to comply with your verbal orders. Order him to stay down. If the suspect complies, you can get him proned out and order him into a cuffing position. You should not be in a hurry to cuff the suspect. Continue to talk to him, call for backup, and if possible, wait for backup.

Always try to avoid a situation where you could be taken down by a suspect. Awareness of the suspect's demeanor and body language can go a long way toward keeping you out of this situation. As you approach a suspect, keep a safe distance between you and him, position your weapon side away from him, and maintain constant communications with him. All of these measures can prevent you from ending up in the "worst-case scenario" of being on the ground with an attacker on top of you.

Still, you may find yourself in this situation, and you must be able to respond quickly to stay safe. The trap and roll is a very basic jujitsu technique that is effective and simple.

Repetition is the key to becoming proficient at this, or any, technique. Under stress you will resort to what you know and what you have practiced. Learning one technique that can save your life and practicing that technique is recommended over learning numerous techniques for each attack.

The trap and roll can be applied whether the suspect is strangling you with his or her hands, choking you with his or her forearms, or punching you. Simply trap the same side arm and leg, raise your hips up, and roll the suspect over the trapped side. 

Dr. Michael Schlosser is a retired lieutenant with the Rantoul (Ill.) Police Department, director of the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, and the Institute's lead control and arrest tactics instructor.

Jack McVicker is a world-renowned jujitsu practitioner and instructor. He is the owner of and lead instructor for McVicker's Martial Arts.

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