Photos courtesy Don Weider and Bill Wright
In the ground-guard position, keep your hands higher than your eyebrows and your chin tucked in to protect your neck.Photos courtesy Don Weider and Bill Wright
Police officers must train for ground encounters.Photos courtesy Don Weider and Bill Wright
Train to perform contact shots, including malfunction drills.Photos courtesy Don Weider and Bill Wright
Officers demonstrate the Slip Knot or Bar Arm technique.Photos courtesy Don Weider and Bill Wright
Officers demonstrate the Front Neck Support technique.Photos courtesy Don Weider and Bill Wright
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One of the most dangerous physical encounters police officers face is being knocked to the ground and having to fight for their lives. When we imagine experiencing survival situations such as this, we must remember Coach Bob Lindsey's advice to think in terms of when/then rather than if/then. Don t ask yourself, What would I do if something bad were to happen (but probably won t)? Instead, ask, When something bad happens, exactly what will I do?
When you get knocked to the ground, what, exactly, will you do? This article will help you formulate a preplanned, practiced response for when you find yourself in a ground-combat situation.
Types of Ground Attacks
Ground attacks fall into three basic types:
Ground and pound attack: The attacker punches you in the beginning of the encounter and will continue striking until you are unconscious;
Muscle-man attack: The attacker uses their strength to hold down and control you; and
Focused attack: The attacker has a preconceived plan to take your weapon or gain control of your arms or legs.
No matter which type of attack you experience, your immediate concerns will be:
How long will this go on? 10 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, three minutes or beyond?
Can I go the distance? and
If physical-control tactics don t allow me to get back into control, will I be able to access control devices, impact weapons or firearms to win the fight?
Train for Real Situations
If you've been training for these types of ground encounters, you've more than likely completed a sport-style self-defense class, jujitsu or other martial arts training. But has your training included all the elements of a real situation? For example, have you trained while wearing your uniform, ballistic vest, duty belt and all of your assigned gear, which will limit your flexibility and restrict your breathing?
This is more difficult that it sounds. Try it. Lie down on the ground in full duty gear, including your uniform and vest. Don't worry about your adversary yet. Simply try to move around on the ground, access your equipment and get up safely and efficiently. Next, have someone lie on top of you and again try to move, access your equipment and escape. You'll see the reality is much different than the fantasy many officers operate under.
Non-Lethal Defense Options
Although you should be able to take the opportunity to knock out your attacker, don't lose the fight trying to give the knockout punch. In life-or-death encounters, you may not have a second chance. Know how to safely escape, get to rest positions and use a range of force options.
Try to disengage quickly, safely and smartly. When the subject has their legs wrapped around you and you are in the front-mount position, use the following escape techniques:
Shield your head by turning it to the side;
Tuck-in your chin to help protect your face and neck;
Kneel with your gun-side foot up and turn your gun-side hip away from the threat;
With your palms down, grab the subject's belt;
Place your elbows into the subject's thigh and knee area and extend your arms and elbows into the contact area, trapping the subject's bottom leg;
Control the subject s upper knee with your free hand; and
Remember to continue to assess the area for additional threats.
If sitting and disengaging doesn't work and the subject is grabbing and punching, you'll have to go into a ground-guard position.
The primary goal of your attacker is to sit high up on your chest, placing their knees high into your shoulder-well. The subject will attempt to raise your elbows higher than your shoulders, which will open your airway and weaken your chest cavity and ribs. This places you in an extremely vulnerable and compromising position, making it difficult to access your firearm and putting you in respiratory distress. You'll have to decide whether to use both hands to protect your face or your firearm, leaving one or the other exposed.
The best thing to do is wiggle in a series of dynamic hip movements. Move them rapidly between the 6 and 12 o clock positions in reference to the rest of your body. Wiggling will displace the balance of the attacker and give you the chance to get into a stable ground-defense position. Keep your hands higher than your eyebrows and your chin tucked in to protect your neck. Bring your elbows tightly into your chest area and make sure both feet are under the knees and flat on the ground. This position will limit the subject s ability to get high up on your chest.
Control takes on new meaning when you're on the ground. Control tactics include restricting the subject s movement, denying the subject a position of advantage, using a submission hold and rendering the subject unconscious.
A shoulder-lock restraint provides an intermediate restraint method to control a combative subject. Align and lock your shoulder underneath the subject's same-side shoulder, then reach around the subject s neckline above their collarbone and secure their arm by grabbing it with your other hand. Apply slight compression for control to allow you to get into an escape position or to handcuff. Apply complete compression for a submission. This tactic will position your face away from any strikes and protect your eyes, throat and neck.
Use a power-lock restraint to restrict the movement of the attacker's limb or body part, using an anchor point and a secure point. This allows you to temporarily control a subject, enabling you to gain access to your weapons.
Deadly Force Options
Police officers are authorized to use deadly force when they feel their life is in imminent danger. Usually, an officer under ground attack has already exhausted all standing efforts. During a high-risk encounter, you ll have little time for a decision-making process about whether to use deadly force. This is especially true for officers who don't keep themselves physically and mentally prepared to handle these encounters. The 30-second rule refers to the amount of time a majority of the officers in your department will have the mental and physical endurance to identify and act with a level of proficiency to survive a physical encounter.
Understanding the techniques covered in your department's deadly-force policy remains crucial to your survival. Your department's policy and training should include accessing and firing your gun, using an edged weapon, striking with the radio, flashlight or impact weapon, using handcuffs to hook into the face of the attacker and using empty-hand tactics.
Primary firearm or backup gun
Conducting a contact shot is the ultimate response to deadly force. Firing into the body of the attacker and controlling your firearm are very important. Keep in mind the following tactics:
Use distractions to keep the subject from observing you drawing your firearm. (Wouldn t you fight with greater intensity if you saw your opponent was going to pull the trigger of a gun?);
Punch your target with your gun, and then pull it back to yourself a few inches before firing (indexing) to avoid a malfunction with the slide mechanism;
Continue firing your weapon until the subject goes limp or lies motionless;
Listen for the weapon to cycle, and expect weapons to jam;
Conduct drills for malfunctions such as a loose or improperly seated magazine, misfire, stove pipe and clothing or skin caught in the barrel and slide. In these circumstances you ll have only one hand to control and fire your weapon. Tap the magazine on the attacker s back or side and then move the slide to the rear by using your rear sights on your belt or holster to clear your weapon;
Watch your safe point of entrance and clear point of exit if you are unable to keep the bullet from exiting the body;
Turn your head to protect your face and shield/close your eyes from blood spray, bone fragments or other debris;
Remain focused on your senses, listening to sounds around you;
Control your breathing by inhaling in your mouth and exhaling out your nose; and
Once the threat is stopped, secure your firearm and safely and quickly escape from the subject. Remember, they could be playing possum, so remain alert and ready for anything.
Many officers today carry a knife, but few could access it in a ground encounter, especially if they carry it in their rear or front pockets, or inside the duty belt. Carry your knife in the center-carry position, high and center on your chest. You can clip the knife to the top of your vest or wear it on a neck lanyard. The center-carry position conceals the knife from outside view and enables access with either hand from a variety of compromising positions.
Seek proper training on the many force options for knife use. For ground encounters and defending a knife encounter, practice the following:
Do not display the knife until you use it;
Practice accessing, drawing, handling and striking with your knife;
Train to operate the knife in both hands equally; and
Remember to protect your airway first if you deploy your knife from a choke.
Maintain awareness of the alternate weapons available to you during a ground attack. Remember, the subject can access them as well. These include your baton, handcuffs, flashlight, radio and writing pen. Use your handcuffs to strike the subject, or use a single strand to puncture the subject's skin or hook into their eyes, ears or nose. Use your open or closed baton to strike at unconventional target areas.
Never assume you'll always have access to your firearm or other weapon. Empty-hand control techniques provide last ditch efforts in a life-or-death struggle when all other force options have failed. Most of us have been told to bite, scratch or do whatever it takes. There are a couple more specific techniques you should know, however.
The Front Neck Support technique uses your weaker (non-gun) hand to support the back of your attacker s neck while your strong hand supports the front of their throat. Grab beneath the jaw line using your index finger and thumb and apply pressure to the throat until the attacker complies or is rendered unconscious. (Do not relax too soon.) Disengage and or stabilize/handcuff the attacker and render aid as appropriate.
A second option, the Slip Knot or Bar Arm technique, is executed by applying pressure to the front of the attacker s throat with one of your forearms and supporting the back of their head with the other.
Practice and rehearse all of these ground-defense tactics so when the time comes to deploy them, you ll be ready. Know your own capabilities well enough to be able to balance the amount of time you can stay in the fight with your ability to access your weapons and re-establish control. Remember: When you fail to have a plan, you plan to fail.