Training For LEOs


I’m not a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). This perspective is based on my limited knowledge about the situations LEOs and similar find themselves in and the training I have done. Your experiences may vary. There are individuals who are far more qualified to speak to this subject than myself, so if interested I’d advise reaching out to them.

It has become a popular topic as of late about if LEOs should be required to train in grappling (specially BJJ). What follows is a discussion around the considerations of circumstance for LEOs working in the United States, the cost of training, and an understanding of the limitations.

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Teaching – I Feel Like I Suck At It

Long story, but the result is that I was teaching last night. I feel like I still suck at teaching.

When I’m 1-on-1 with someone I can tailor the lesson/details to their experience and questions. I can feel them perform the technique so I can know what they need to tighten up and help advise with that in mind. I can also elaborate on more points progressively based on what they need to work on.

When I’m in front of a mixed group – ranging in experience from first week to four-stripe blue belt – I just don’t even know where to start. If I show the technique with too many details, won’t the new students be overwhelmed? If I show the technique without enough details, is it really worth the advanced students time? I feel like for most of the students, I didn’t provide enough details. I realized after class a ton of information I should have shared with them, but didn’t – for example, why you turn the leg you do for S-mount and how to use it to keep pressure.

When doing warm-ups, I tried to help one of the students learn them, but I flubbed it. He was able to do what I had described, but my description was clearly lacking. Andrew and Todd helped out by explaining what they think of. The amalgam of explanations wasn’t perfect, but at least he was able to do a couple of correct repetitions before we moved on to the next exercise. I think my solution will be to just do that kind of a warm-up solely for experienced students, and if it’s a mixed group instead jump into technique reps, then do a situational flow drill to address the need to warm-up before we roll.

I think I’d be fine to teach with someone more experienced to be there to fill in the details about what to show. I’m always fine showing a variation in class. I just don’t think I have the confidence or experience yet for teaching on my own.


Purple Belts Quit Because Their Heart Gets Broken

Watching some Chris Haueter videos today, and this stood out to me:

“Blue belts quit because life happens. They get a new job, they move, they get married, whatever it is. Purple belts quit because their heart gets broken – about jits. Somehow… it’s the obstacle belt. It’s the belt where it just doesn’t seem like you’re getting any better…”

There’s a lot of nuggets of wisdom in this video if you start from the beginning. I like his overview of what each belt is about. I disagree with his implication that judo focuses on strength rather than efficiency – sport judo does, but the art of judo doesn’t (judo very much has street, sport, and art components too). Still, overall it’s an excellent video.

To the note of why people quit, I think that’s pretty profound. It’s pretty often that life comes up, gets in the way. You move, you get a new job, you get married, you have a kid. Life is constantly vying for your time. I know I personally have to keep re-evaluating my schedule. How do I get to BJJ and judo enough to progress in each, while still being at home enough to actually see my family? Getting to purple belt takes commitment. By the time you get it, you’ve determined that BJJ is important enough that you’ll make time for it. You’ve probably sacrificed another hobby, hanging out with friends, or even some family events. Training means keeping a schedule.

I’m kind of afraid of having my heart broken. I’ve had a ton of injuries. I remember other times where I desperately cared about the recognition of a rank, or where rank would matter for what I could or couldn’t do. I can’t increase in judo referee rank without getting two more ranks in judo; including learning/performing kata and all the throws of the shodan test, but now having to do so modified for all of my permanent and semi-permanent injuries. Honestly, it’s pretty frustrating. I know that had I delayed the break for the wedding by a couple weeks I’d already by ikkyu rather than nikkyu since so much of it comes down to time in rank. I also know that most of my time away from judo or BJJ has been of my own volition. The clubs have been around – I’ve been the one that’s absent. Still, it’s been awhile since I hit that wall, and I’m pretty sure hitting it after eight years of BJJ would suck so much worse than hitting it after just a couple years.

In Defense of The IJF

It’s easy to bash the IJF. It’s easy to be upset about the rule changes. Still, there are a couple of things which are important to note. First, the IJF does a lot of good and we should give credit where it’s due. Second, the IJF isn’t some cabal of guys hanging out in an underground bunker in Europe – it’s a federation with member organizations which themselves are comprised of clubs and individual members (which probably includes you).

Overall, I think we’d all agree the national governing bodies and the IJF do more good than harm. The IJF is a non-profit organization. They’re not fleecing us out of money for a couple guys to get rich (that I know of). It streams the major judo events for free. In the US, USJI provides insurance to judo and jujitsu clubs, helps pay for athletes as able, and helps connect judoka together. Keeping records of ranks, running tournaments, training referees, and setting guidelines keep us honest about what we’re teaching and learning. Popularizing the sport keeps new people coming in to the club to keep the lights on.

Remember that you as a judoka are (probably) a member of the IJF in some fashion. As you grow in judo you have the option to take on as major or minor a role in the direction of the sport as you’re willing to. You can learn to referee. You can help run tournaments. If you have a regional or local body you can participate in the equivalent of local government and vote on topics and representatives. If you want to help determine the direction of the rules you can work hard at refereeing and eventually get to a place where you’ll probably know the right people to talk with regards to influencing that kind of change. And even if you don’t do that, you can still help determine how your club trains by working hard and becoming an instructor.

I’ll still complain here and there, mind you. The rules tend to drive how clubs practice so losing leg grabs and the lowered emphasis on ground work are things that I think we can point to the IJF for being responsible for. However, sport rules shouldn’t really determine how a club trains, and if you want to train something that’s not competition legal it’s not like the IJF is coming to your club to stop you.

Competition and Background


Teaching grappling techniques is a lot like passing on genetic material. When you show someone a technique, they copy it, but there’s always the risk for some mutations. A lot of the time, those mutations are inconsequential. Sometimes they’re advantageous. Still other times, they’re detrimental.

Mark had this story that stood out to me about this topic. Evan performed this technique that worked pretty well. Mark asked him where he learned it. Evan noted “from you”. Mark laughed because he’d never even seen that variation. Somehow, Evan had changed some of the details Mark had shown and the result was a submission that didn’t even look like the original, but was nevertheless effective. He’d comment on that a lot of times – how he’ll show us his way, but we’re ultimately going to have our own way anyway. I think that’s mostly true, though given enough time training with someone you’ll eventually be able to mimic all of their personal technical details.

Because techniques behave a lot like genetics, I think we can benefit from diversity. Learning a different kimura variation from each of Mark, Justin, Wade, Anders, Thales, Lesley, and Mike, there are different details I’ve acquired from each. My kimura isn’t the result of a single lineage and learning a single way, it’s seven instructors and countless training partners. Just because you know how to defend the setup for Justin’s kimura doesn’t mean you know how to defend mine. Having a diverse background as a grappler can make for a stronger and/or more well-rounded game because you’ve likely been exposed to a lot. It can also be problematic because you may end up learning a lot of variations without mastering any given one of them. Though, in general, I’d say you tend to first pick up the aspects of your instructor’s game that are the strongest simply by virtue of them being able to teach that aspect the best.

For those who learn to mimic only one instructor over the course of their entire grappling career, I feel that competition is important. Competition is a chance to metaphorically cross-pollinate. You get exposure to those other variations and it might even change how you train something. You also get to test what aspects of your game work, and what need help. If your gym has never taught you leg locks, grappling against a leg lock specialist will be an eye-opening experience. If your gym neglects stand-up, the first time a high-level judoka effortlessly throws you can make you question everything you know about how to start a match. Competition can, of course, only test how well your personal style works within the confines of the sporting rules, but it can often be a pretty good test of how well-rounded your game is, and how adaptable you are to different situations.

None of this is to say that if your gym is already pretty diverse competition can’t also be beneficial, but rather that if your gym lacks a diversity of backgrounds – if every student at your gym started under your instructor – competition is one of the only ways to find out if what you’re being taught works in other contexts. Diverse gyms already have the advantage of being able to test a lot of situations.

The Role of Tradition

We were lined up by rank. The person to your left was the same rank or lower. Alex, as the student furthest to the right, would call out in Japanese. We’d come to attention, kneel (always on the left knee first), meditate, bow to the black belts, and then return to standing (always with the right leg first). Mark explained that we should learn the ceremony because if we went to other schools it would be reasonable for them to expect we know it.

When I went to train with the Bujinkan group I learned that what I had learned was a sort of abbreviated form. When I went to study the Kendo Club for an anthropology class I noticed that the abbreviated form was the common core, and that different clubs  and Japanese martial arts had their own traditions based around that ceremony Mark had taught us. Even today in judo, a form of the ceremony is done. We skip the kneeling. We skip the meditation. We still line up by rank and bow to start and end each class though. Even in BJJ, an art which is decidedly less formal than any Japanese martial art I’ve done, the ceremony exists in its own form. Usually just at the end of class, sometimes at the beginning. Often it’s accompanied by a small handful of people belting out an “OSS” as they bow, unaware of what the cry even means or where it came from.


Imposter syndrome is a hot buzzword in software development. More and more people are coming out with articles and conference talks describing that the very best people still feel like they’re hiding that they don’t feel like they know what they’re doing. You probably felt it with your last belt promotion. The way people typically deal with it is by putting up a facade. To hide that they feel insecure about their position they act as they think someone in their position is supposed to act. Tradition is very powerful for that. When you have to lead a class, but you’re not really sure how you want to do it yet, traditions lend to you a format to use that you need not even think about and that no one will question. Line them up, bow them in, do a light warm-up, show a couple techniques, have them drill it, partner them up to roll, line them up again and call it a night. Without even knowing what the bows are there for or what their origin might be they bookend the class and give you a moment to see formal and respected, like you might actually have some fucking clue what you’re doing. Almost all traditions at least start out as facades. We follow along by very virtue of them being traditions, and hopefully at some point along the way we find out why they exist.

The other use I see for tradition is in maintaining culture. I’m not always sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Still, if you want a class to take things a bit more seriously you can have the formal bow in. If you want to have a more sport-oriented class you can establish a tradition of harder, competition style randori. How you teach your students is probably how they’ll teach their students. Getting everyone into the same type of practice establishes and maintains a culture.

If you’re a student looking for a school and they participate in some traditions you don’t like – ask to not participate in them or find a different school. If you’re running a school, participate in the traditions you want. If you’re unsure if a tradition is adding something, try to figure out what it was for – if you’re still not sure, you can usually tell by taking it away and seeing what’s missing.

Modern Day Leglocks

There are a few major systems in the leg lock game these days. Dean Lister’s KATCH system, the Sambo stylings of Steve and Reilly, Rodrgio Cavaca’s Legal Leg Locks, and the system being used by the Danaher Death Squad all come to mind. Recently Island Top Team put up some information on Danaher’s system based on a private the instructor did. It’s controversial as the videos have been asked to be taken down (and have gone up and been taken down a couple times now).

Many will note that what’s being shown in the videos is inexact. He’s lacking fine details and some of the information’s not quite right. I found myself wanting to yell at my computer screen “Control the free leg dummy! You have a free hand!”

Everyone seems to have different terms for different positions. What’s being referred to as “ashi garami” in the ITT video looks a lot like “position 1” from Reilly Bodycomb’s stuff. Though, to be fair, position 1 is on your side. The outside ashi garami is something I’ve seen/done, but I don’t like it as much personally. It’s a nice “oh shit” position for when you’ve failed to advance from ashi garami to the Saddle (modified position 2 or position 3).

As I play with more and more leg control positions, I’m finding some are just more secure, less equal, and just plain work better for me. For me:

Truck < 50/50 guard < outside ashi garami < seated knee-bar position < ashi garami (position 1) < position 2 < Saddle (modified position 3) < position 3 < leg knot (position 4)

I’d much rather get a saddle or a leg knot than try to play from the truck or 50/50 guard where everything’s more or less even. With my legs hidden, controlling both of his legs I can attack one handed. A couple of notes with this: I don’t heel hook. I’ll set the position, and if need be I’ll hold the heel to keep my partner aware that they’re trapped and in a bad position, but I’d much rather fish for a straight ankle lock or toe hold than heel hook. I am able to heel hook, but I don’t like to. These positions are in the order they are in because of my preferences of submissions:

Straight-ankle lock > toe hold > knee bar > calf crush > hip lock > heel hook

That’s just about the order that I feel most comfortable finishing with control which is why it’s my preference. Stuff like the Vaporizer and some of the quick and dirty leg locks from side control or top of guard aren’t even listed here as positions because they’re significantly different from the normal stuff and aren’t in my regular rotation without being a setup for a position or transition.

Last night was too much Saddle and leg locks in general. I need to double down on developing a bottom game for no gi. I want to have a good butterfly guard and half-guard without the jacket so I have somewhere to go that’s not just my safety net leg positions.