Utah Martial Arts Feeds
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The ability to fight through pain is critical to winning a violent encounter
- Richard Nance
- 2009 Apr 13
“Everybody’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”
— Mike Tyson
Police officers should get hit during defensive tactics training. I know administrators everywhere are cringing at the thought of actually having their officers struck “on purpose” during training. After all, we lose enough officers to injury as it is, right? While I can’t argue that contact during training carries with it some inherent risks of injury, when appropriate safety protocol is in place, the pros of training to be hit far outweigh the cons. Officers need to know what its like to get hit. They need to experience the physiological changes in their body after taking a stiff right to the “snot locker.” Overcoming the shock and pain of being hit is critical to winning a violent encounter.
Why is getting hit so important?
Getting hit sucks. From a physical standpoint, it hurts. But, the pain associated with being hit is often ample motivation for the trainee to block or evade the next blow or better yet, to make the “suspect” deal with their strikes. As such, being hit in training teaches officers that a proactive response (aggression) is better than a reactive response (defense). After all, no matter how skilled an officer may be, blocking is no way to gain control of the suspect or the situation. As my karate instructor would say, “If you’re only defending, you’re barely surviving.”
As hard as it is to believe, there are officers who have never been in a fight in their entire lives. I certainly wouldn’t want the first time someone ever hit me to be when I was on the job. Being hit in training will give “Officer Friendly” a taste of what it’s like to be in a fight. The good news is it’s in a controlled environment where he or she won’t be beaten half to death and disarmed if they screw up.
Even for more experienced officers, being punched in the face can be a hell of a wake up call! Being hit is likely to trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response. When this occurs, you typically experience one or more of the following phenomena:
- Increased heart rate
- “Tunnel” vision
- Auditory impairment
- Difficulty reasoning
- Loss of coordination
- Increased strength
- Increased pain tolerance
These physiological effects of fighting with a suspect can be replicated through realistic force-on-force drills. It’s important for officers to engage in training scenarios that require them to overcome pain. What the officer can do under ideal conditions is irrelevant. An officer has to know what he or she is capable of accomplishing under situations that simulate actual combat.
How to get hit “safely”?
Using officers as punching bags for an overzealous defensive tactics cadre is not an intelligent training technique. There’s more to training to take a hit than standing still and having your teeth knocked out. Not only is this approach likely to needlessly injure officers, it is counter-productive in that it robs officers of their confidence and could lead to them “shutting down” when they get hit for real.
To get the most out of this type of training, both the role-player and trainee should wear appropriate protective gear for the scenario. Assuming the role-player intends to punch the trainee if the face, the role-player would need to wear gloves to protect his hands (and the trainee’s head). The trainee should wear headgear that protects the entire head and is designed for force-on-force training. All headgear is not created equal! Do the research and spend the money for quality headgear. Due to the dynamic nature of force-on-force training, full protective suits are recommended.
The training environment should be checked for any potential safety hazards and any deficiencies corrected. There should be a safety officer who closely monitors the training and is prepared to stop the scenario if necessary. A phrase such as “stop scenario” should be used when anyone observes a potential safety issue. Of course, if real or simulated weapons are to be used, all protocol must be followed to ensure a live weapon or live round is not accidentally introduced into the training environment.
Keep in mind that training to get hit is not the goal. Training to overcome being hit and win the encounter is the goal. The training evolution should challenge the trainee but never end with the trainee being overwhelmed or defeated. Whether the trainee performs adequately or not, debrief their performance. If the trainee did not meet the minimum standard, have them remediate. Always end this type of training on a high note!
Focus on your objective — not on pain
In his excellent book, Mindsighting, Mental Toughness Skills for Police Officers in High Stress Situations , Michael J. Asken, Ph.D. points out that self-talk can be a very effective strategy during an acute high stress response. However, he suggests that “you always phrase your self-talk positively in terms of what you should do, not what you should not do. Telling yourself not to do something puts your focus on the very thing you want to avoid doing.” Therefore, instead of telling yourself to not think about the pain of being struck, tell yourself that you will do whatever it takes to win the encounter!
Reflecting back on the years I studied karate, I vividly recall using Shinai , a split-shaft bamboo sword, to practice blocking techniques. Although designed specifically not to injure the practitioner, when the Shinai struck you at full force, you definitely knew you were hit! When the Shinai was swung at you, you blocked and immediately countered with a combination of strikes and/or kicks to stop the attack. Interestingly, the more aggressively you hit the Shinai , the less it seemed to hurt. Training with the Shinai not only improved a student’s blocking ability; it conditioned the student to overcome pain en route to achieving victory.
“Pain don’t hurt.”
– Dalton (Patrick Swayze’s character in Road House)
Always have a Plan B and never give up!
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