The idea of implementing grappling training for law enforcement continues to percolate in the minds of many Jiu-Jitsu competitors and wrestlers around the world. The corollary effect would mean a flood of new players and growth to the sport. But pending moves by legislators remain furtive and the flood of new players remains at bay.
Using grappling in law enforcement training is not a new idea but largely ignored by policing agencies until a recent confrontation with a string of widely publicized cases highlighted inadequacies in some officer’s ability to safely make arrests. The subsequent fallout lowered public perception of policing and ignited calls for action. Now agencies on the hunt for remedies consider regimented Jiu-Jitsu a relevant target.
It’s hard to argue against the efficacy of Jiu-Jitsu for controlling unarmed suspects. Adapted to law enforcement, grappling may offer the best ways to apprehend without significant injury. And officers can put in hours of practice relatively damage-free.
The consensus minimum amount of training required for officers to become proficient probably ranges between 1-4 hours of grappling per week with supplemental training tailored to job-specific needs and policies. But according to Gracie University the average police officer in America receives less than 4 hours per year.
Proponents argue officers who grapple on a regular basis become less reliant on strikes, batons and tasers, and more resistant to triggering a “fight-or-flight” response, also known as an “amygdala hijack.” This response occurs when officers feel they’ve lost control and their lives are in danger. The portion of the brain associated with higher reasoning gives way to a more instinctual modality conducive to rapid escalation and diminished critical thinking.
Training Jiu-Jitsu is known to build a tolerance to the amygdala hijack. Long hours of mat-time breed a familiarity to the stress of close-quarters competition and teaches officers to manage their breathing while fighting for the upper hand. Combined with the reciprocal confidence of knowing how to grapple, officers stay calmer longer.
A handful of studies corroborate these notions and seem to confirm that safer apprehension of suspects follows regimented Jiu-Jitsu training.
One published a few years ago followed a program instituted by the Marrietta Police Department in Marrietta, Georgia, which added weekly Jiu-Jitsu training to all new hires during their 5-month police academy enrolment.
During the first year, use-of-force data showed a 53% reduction in injuries to suspects, a 48% reduction in injuries to officers, a 59% reduction in use-of-force, and a 23% reduction in taser deployments.
Financial savings based on reduced workers’ comp claims were estimated at $66,752. Minus the training investment of $26,000, the department’s net savings was around $40,752. This data was presented to Sen. John Albers, GA district 56, who expressed interest in making training available state-wide but hasn’t so far.
Similar results to the Marrietta study were reported on a St. Paul, MN website published in November of 2021. After St. Paul Police Academy added 80 hours of hybridized Jiu-Jitsu training for new recruits, the data showed an average reduction of 37% in use of force, 68% in use of strikes, 51% in use of chemical irritants, 39% in taser deployments, 44% in injuries to people being arrested and 25% in injuries to officers. They also indicated police misconduct settlements fell to their lowest amount in nearly a decade.
In Michigan, House Bill 4525, sponsored by Representatives Ryan Berman (R), Beau LaFave (R) and Karen Whitsett (D), requires all Michigan police cadets to receive at least a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (1-3 years). The preliminary estimated cost is $300,000 to cover two full-time positions, one to certify and monitor instruction and another to track certification compliance. They also anticipate needing $100,000 for upgrades to software applications. The bill still has yet to pass at the time of the writing of this article.
Tactical Jiu-Jitsu instructor and CEO of LEAD Tactics Inc., Jason Parry, asks a pressing question, ”Why not reduce incidents of unlawful death and excessive force?”
Under the tutelage of Renzo Gracie, LEAD Tactics offers specialized grappling training tailored specifically for law enforcement. They also integrate psychological coaching to address not only the amygdala reaction, but other psychological strains that may occur on the job, such as those stemming from repeated exposure to trauma.
“People want action, and this is a solution. But we’d like to see more recognition by lawmakers of the potential for programs like ours,” said Parry. “We know positive results can be produced, but it has to be a team effort.”
Officer Adam Samaniego (former teammate of mine) is a patrol officer for Schertz Police Department in Schertz, TX. He said his Jiu-Jitsu definitely helps him during arrests, mainly with understanding leverage, positioning and maintaining control. He said even limited training keeps his confidence level raised and thinks it might be the best way to simulate live contact.
“Training Jiu-Jitsu gives you the ability to grapple with different people at different skill levels. You learn to remain calm and not panic. The hand-to-hand grappling gets you as close as you can to real life scenarios,” he said. “Because you can go full speed without causing serious damage to each other.”
He heard about the Marrietta study and said he favored instituting Jiu-Jitsu for police. At his department, aside from what they receive during their field training phase, no specific grappling options are available, the risk of injury often cited as the main concern despite only one injury out of 95 officers over the course of 2600 classes reported in the Marrietta study.
“I only know of one other officer who’s trained Jiu-Jitsu and a few who’ve done some stand-up (boxing or kickboxing.) But I think most don’t train. I feel more officers would attempt to learn if it was offered,” said Samaniego.
His colleague, officer Shawn O’Leary is a seven-year veteran patrol officer who started training Jiu-Jitsu two years ago. He said his training helps him perform his duties better and wishes more officers knew basic Jiu-Jitsu, believing it would not only raise confidence individually but also collectively.
“Training Jiu-Jitsu is so important because you learn how to control your mind and breathing. You learn not to panic when you are in a tough spot, how to think your way out. It gives you other options than using the tools on your duty belt,” said O’Leary.
Working to address the gap in department-funded training on a grassroots level is a nonprofit organization called Adopt-a Cop. They partner with Jiu-Jitsu gyms across the U.S. to provide free or reduced membership fees to police officers. Sponsorship follows each officer until they achieve the rank of blue belt. Affiliate academies agree to allow one officer to train for free and subsequent officers to train at a reduced membership of $50 per month, paid for by Adopt a Cop BJJ.
Jiu-Jitsu seems to be a viable bridge between what police are asked to do and their ability to do it. Maybe instituted training can help mitigate some of the issues currently facing agencies in the U.S. Let’s see what happens in Georgia and Michigan and be ready to ride any waves of opportunity should legislation flood your district with new players.