How Jiu Jitsu Can Be a Force For Change for Police and Our Community
Police reform remains a hot-button issue, but there are two general premises with which most people agree:
- Police should only use force as a last resort.
- If police are going to use force, it should not be excessive or result in serious injury anyone involved in the incident.
When police do use excessive force, it is more than just a violation of the rights of those who feel the brunt of that force. It also stresses the bonds between the community and the police department. If people believe that any altercation with the police is going to result in violence there is a higher likelihood that they are going to attempt to preempt police violence directed at them by directing violence at the police. This only leads to more violence and less trust between the community and police, especially when departments seem to turn a blind eye to this kind of policing. It is not a sustainable model.
How Can Jiu-Jitsu Help?
Characterized by HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel as the most boring part of any MMA fight, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a form of martial art that places far more emphasis on technique than it does on speed, strength, or size, which means one is not relying on brute force or any physical advantage to subdue an opponent during a match or an aggressor in a street fight. Gumbel added that it’s a time of “no punches, no kicks; just calm control.” However, as Gumbel explores in the below video, it could offer departments a solution.
According to Rener Gracie, a chief instructor at Gracie University and one of the most well-known jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world, “Jiu-jitsu truly enables the smaller, weaker individual to stand a chance against a larger, more athletic aggressor in a violent, physical altercation.” Rener continued, “The philosophy is absolutely: The least amount of force necessary to neutralize the aggressor and their threat to us.”
For officers on the street who aren’t taught any technique on how to subdue someone, especially if that person is more athletic than them, Rener believes that jiu-jitsu can provide them with the tools they need to avoid excessive force. “What we have is a solution that is so desperately needed by every police officer in America right now because this is what we do.”
Current Training Practices
At present, police officers are required to undergo extensive firearm training before they can join the force. Once they do, they have to regularly go to firearm practice and obtain recertification. However, there is little to any continued education and training for scenarios involving a physical altercation.
This is not to say that firearm training is unimportant. What’s at issue is that officers spend a disproportionate amount of time training for a scenario that doesn’t arise very often and virtually no time training for common situations. According to the Major Jake King of the Marietta Police Department, three of the 145 officers in his department have fired their gun in the line of duty. When asked How many have had to physically engage with another person. “Every single one of them.”
Results in Marietta
In 2019, the police department in Marietta, Georgia, came under serious scrutiny after video emerged of four officers struggling to restrain one person. One of the officers even punched the man in the face after tasing him. The public demanded change.
Maj. King spearheaded a program to make jiu-jitsu training more available to officers. Since that time, King saw an almost 60% decline in use of force among officers trained in BJJ. Serious injuries to suspects overall fell by 53%. Individuals who resisted arrest or scuffled with police officers were 200% more likely to be injured by officers with no training than an officer who had been through the Marietta jiu-jitsu training program or independently practiced jiu-jitsu.
King also observed a 48% reduction in officers being injured and notes the department saved $70,000 in workers’ compensation claims in the first year—far less than the costs to train the officers.
In addition to learning the moves that can help them subdue suspects, jiu-jitsu also teaches officers discipline and how to remain composed even in very stressful situations. For officers, this translates into keeping their cool in a crisis scenario where a person may pose a danger to themselves or others. It means not allowing their animal instincts to override their better judgment. It means everyone walks away from the incident alive.
As explored in the above video, Officer Jared Nudi had to chase down a man with a mental illness who was running through neighborhood backyards. Using jiu-jitsu, Nudi was able to bring down and restrain the man without resorting to further violence. “If you train jiu-jitsu and you’re on the ground with somebody, you’re in control,” he said. “At that point, I could relax.”
A Piece of a Larger Puzzle
Jiu-jitsu alone will not solve all of policing’s problems, according to Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and currently both a martial arts practitioner and law professor at the University of South Carolina who also served as a use of force expert at the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was later convicted of the murder of George Floyd. Stoughton does not argue that jiu-jitsu is useless, but rather notes that there needs to be more comprehensive reforms to solve the problem of police brutality. He also expressed worries about scalability and the possibility of correct training.
“In a high-pressure environment, a half-trained officer may not know how far to go and may go way further than they should,” Stoughton said. “If we want officers to have the physical skills that they need, they need to consistently in an appropriate, live training environment and that means, time, manpower, dollars, and those are real constraints in policing.”
Ultimately, jiu-jitsu may be part of a larger solution. “The goal is repaired relationships between communities and the law enforcement agencies that serve them,” Rener said. He added, “Law enforcement has no choice but to get better right now. The alternative is unacceptable.”