Doing ‘Whatever it Takes’ To Survive Confrontations

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?

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.[PAGEBREAK]

Rapid Assault Tactics

The Rapid Assault Tactics program teaches students about the four ranges of fighting: kicking, punching, trapping, and grappling. To end a fight quickly one must get into the hand-on or trapping range.  From this position, opponents can be struck in the face or groin with knees, elbows, and headbutts.  These are the most devastating personal "empty hand" techniques, and dramatically demonstrate the ability to immediately eliminate a threat.

In order to get into trapping range, students are taught two methods.  One method is a hand flick to the eye or a snap kick to the groin.  Each is a quick and unexpected move that causes pain and distraction, and is immediately followed-up with the "straight-blast."

The "straight-blast" was considered by Bruce Lee as the pivotal maneuver in his street fighting strategy.  It is the rapid succession of punches placed down the center line (face area0 of a person while simultaneously applying pressure by moving abruptly toward your opponent.  This technique drives the suspect backwards rendering him off balance, confused, and in a defensive posture.  This advancement allows you to get into the trapping range, where you can grasp the back of a suspect's neck and utilize a combination of knees, elbows, and headbutts. 

The second method is used when the opponent displays some skill in fighting and may already have his hands up offensively or is attempting to punch or kick you.  By positioning an elbow or knee in the path of an incoming strike you are able to cause immense pain to the subject's leg or fist.  This facilitates a transition into trapping range and the application of knees, elbows, and headbutts.  Such use of your elbows and knees is referred to as a "destruction" tactic and is often associated with the Filipino Martial Art of Kali.

Despite one's best intentions, sometimes fights go to the ground.  The Rapid Assault Tactics program teaches officers basic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves in combination with the use of knees, elbows, and headbutts (K/E/H).  Again, the goal is to get to a stand-up position, where the best hand-to-hand combat techniques (K/E/H) can be utilized, and where you can defend against multiple attackers.  Most officers have neither the time nor desire to become a skilled grappler, however by learning basic groundfighting moves, coupled with the little known art of Kina Mutai (eye gouging and biting), officers now have the ability to survive violent ground engagements.

This specific martial arts technique, when done properly, can be devastating to an opponent.  Remember these are street fights, and the difference between life and death for an officer can hedge on his knowledge and ability to end a confrontation quickly before becoming injured, rendered defenseless, and or killed.

Kina Mutai not only is a tactic but also speaks to the psychology of fighting, as illustrated by the infamous Holyfield-Tyson fight.  Holyfield a strong, well-trained professional fighter, despite taking punches from arguably the world's hardest hitter, continued to fight and remain a threat to Tyson.  Then came the bite.  Holyfield immediately quit fighting, placed his hands (once used to punch) over his injured ear, screamed and jumped around the ring, and went from aggressor to victim, just like that.

To many viewers it was a cheap shot, and in a sport no doubt; but in the realm of street fighting, consider its effects.  The biting technique not only stopped the physical assaults but psychologically took Holyfield out of his element of boxing-wherein he was himself capably defending against attack, while at once a calculating menace to Tyson-to street fighting, wherein he was unsuspecting and momentarily defenseless.

It is important to remember that the police officers are not participants in a sporting event, but law enforcers who must prevail in violent physical altercations.

Besides the appreciation of over-reliance on any one discipline, Vunak's program also emphasizes the importance of confident transition from one fight forum to the next.  This "ability to flow" concept is a key aspect in understanding the anatomy of a street fight.  What is the world's best knife fighter without a knife, a ground fighter outnumbered, a boxer with a bitten ear?  Each is out of his element.

Their "way" (discipline) works against them, strength becomes weakness, confidence collapses into panic, and dependence on a preferred venue is revealed and then abruptly and involuntarily changed.  Real fights go from standup to the ground and perhaps back again, to sticks, to knives, to guns, and so on.

The Rapid Assault Tactics program addresses this venue-to-venue concept giving the officers the confidence to survive such transitions.

Stick-fighting, knife-fighting, and multiple-subject fighting are integral components of the program instruction.  This multi-disciplinary approach gives officers a fighting chance in those situations when what you do know (your weakness) can cost you everything.  The principles and techniques can be valuable to officers of all physical sizes and combat skill levels.


By the very nature of their responsibilities, law enforcement officers find themselves in violent situations where training, or lack thereof, can be the difference between life or death.  Police are called upon to intervene in volatile situations that are unpredictable, engaging suspects who are intent on resisting, escaping, assaulting, and even killing an officer.

Defensive tactics designed to quell minor resistance is very important and in most cases will suffice, but past violent and tragic lessons have demonstrated a need for proficiency in street fighting tactics.  Preparing officers to physically and psychologically respond in such altercations can increase their chances of survival.

There are many reasons why police may have to use empty-hand techniques designed to end a confrontation quickly.  Besides empowering the officer with a means for survival, the techniques of the Rapid Assault Tactics program may also be a means to resolve an incident prior to it escalating into a lethal resolution against a citizen-aggressor.

Without this type of reality-based training, officers will have few, if any viable options to adequately defend themselves in those "Do Whatever It Takes" street fights to the finish.

Capt. Fourkiller is a special enforcement team commander and a certified instructor of defensive tactics, less-lethal weaponry and civil disturbance control.  He is also an adjunct faculty instructor at Indiana University in Kokomo.

Capt. Holsapple, is a drug task force commander, a state and nationally certified instructor and is on the adjunct for Indiana University at Kokomo.

This is their first contribution to POLICE.

Paul Vunak, Progressive Fighting Systems founder and an instructor for Navy SEAL Teams, the FBI, DEA, and CIA, contributed to this report.  He lives in Capistrano Beach, Calif.

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