Are U.S. Police Trained in Martial Arts? Police Training Q&A


There is a long history of martial arts and the techniques used by these disciplines being implemented by police forces around the world. As the country with the third-largest police force globally, the U.S. police undergo training to prepare them for situations where these techniques come into play. 

United States police officers are not fully trained in martial arts through their academy. Police officers are instead taught various Defensive Tactics that are designed to subdue an uncooperative suspect lawfully. However, many police officers do learn elements of martial arts such as Krav Maga, Judo, and Jiu-Jitsu to supplement their training

Read on to learn more about the training that police officers undergo and how they can supplement that training with specific martial arts to bolster their capabilities without resorting to firearms.

What is Defensive Tactical Training for Police?

In the police academy or on the job when necessary, police officers are trained in Defensive tactics. Police Defensive Tactics(DT) are a collection of self defense techniques that are specifically designed to be utilized by police officers in the areas of arrest. DT also covers control tactics and techniques, intermediate weapons, and defense against sudden attacks, including being assaulted with any edged weapons. That being said Police officers are trained to apply these defensive tactics lawfully.

Police officers do not undergo extensive martial art training such as Karate or BJJ on the job nor in the police academy unless each police officer decides to take martial art classes independently outside of their work.

The following video is an example of Police Defensive Tactics technique.

How Do Police Officers Start Training?

Police training occurs in the often referenced police academies that exist throughout the United States at both a federal and a state level. Every state in the country has an agency that reviews police academies and the programs associated with them and certifies academies accordingly. 

Most states have specific requirements for the physical and academic prowess of applicants that need to be completed before entry into the academy, and some states require additional certifications on top of that to qualify. Some states allow for open enrollment in police academies. Still, many more require that cadets need to be hired directly by a pre-existing police department for them to be allowed to attend training. 

State certification agencies or departments may also require applicants to pass psychological evaluations, background checks, drug screenings, polygraph exams, firearms qualifications, and driving capability demonstrations as prerequisites as well. Notably, physical combat training and martial arts are absent from many police departments and academies’ requirements.

How Long Are Police Officers Trained?

With the list of qualifications varying heavily between states and at a federal level, it is worth noting that the academy training at these levels differs significantly as well. According to police training, officers in Los Angeles receive approximately 960 hours of training before working the streets, and New York police officers receive around 700 hours of training.

Conversely, some states, including Tennessee, Nevada, and South Carolina, only require their officers to receive around 480 hours of basic training, based on information collected by the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform. Many states allow officers to work for their departments before completing basic training has even been completed.

This wide variety of educational timeframes has raised questions of whether there should be a federal set of minimum standards that each state should undergo. However, many believe that police requirement should differ based on community, on the understanding that those officers know their community’s needs best.

What Are Police Taught During Training?

Police officers undergo many different forms of training. While the specific details of each training regimen differ from state to state and at a federal level, some subjects are universal across the board.

To use the United States Capitol Police as an example, trainees undergo twelve weeks of generalized police training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. These twelve weeks consist of some of the following areas of study, according to the USCP website.

  • Officer Safety and Survival
  • Terrorism
  • Communications and Interviewing
  • VIP Protection
  • Constitutional and Federal Law
  • Physical Security
  • Criminal Law
  • Firearms
  • Arrest Techniques
  • Tactics for Fighting Unarmed
  • Defensive Tactics
  • Driver Training
  • Drugs of Abuse
  • Physical Fitness

Capitol police officers are given another thirteen weeks of specialized training through the United States Capitol Police Training Academy in Cheltenham, Maryland. Graduates are then appointed to work with experienced training officers, to develop their skills further on the job.

Police Training Environment

Note that the above list does not necessarily cover every skill and training subject covered by each individual state and local police force. Additionally, many basic training programs have immense variability between the stress levels presented during training. 

A 2011-2013 study of the recruits’ training environments show a wide variance in the stress levels presented to recruits through their basic training. 

  • 23% of recruits experienced an “all or mostly stress” environment.
  • 25% of recruits experienced a “slightly more stress than non-stress” environment.
  • 34% of recruits experienced a “balanced stress and non-stress” environment.
  • 11% of recruits experienced a “slightly more non-stress than stress” environment.
  • 7% of recruits experienced an “all or mostly non-stress” environment.

This discrepancy in the training environment that new officers undergo is highlighted further through a study that notes that officers without additional martial arts training experience higher anxiety levels than officers who undergo this training. 

This study also notes that the results showed that ongoing martial arts training performed better under high anxiety situations than officers who do not have that experience. However, even with additional martial arts training, the officers performed worse under high-anxiety conditions than they did under low-anxiety conditions. 

Nevertheless, there are enormous potential benefits for officers to study martial arts before and during their time in the police force, and the critical consideration is to determine which martial art is the best suited to assist officers in police work.

What Martial Art Is Best For Police?

There are so many martial disciplines available for study today, and with a growing number of gyms and dojos that teach martial arts, there is no lack of variety. However, determining the best martial art for police to use requires an analysis of the aspects that benefit police officers, the situations in which martial art would be helpful, and the benefits each martial art specialization provides.

The first step in this process is to take a look at the specific needs that a police officer has in martial arts over a general practitioner.

  1. Police officers have to be able to subdue a criminal suspect without causing physical harm by striking them. This difference means that martial arts that place a heavier emphasis on grappling are more effective because of the control they can provide the practitioner.
  2. Many martial arts are proven to be less effective when the opponent is carrying a weapon. For police officers, who may need to subdue an individual holding a knife or a firearm, this is a crucial consideration.
  3. Any martial arts that a police offer learns needs to be within the regulations and policies that their department mandates. While martial arts are unquestionably helpful for police officers to learn, many aspects of those martial arts fall outside of the legal capabilities that police officers have.

This list is not an exhaustive account of the requirements police officers have of a martial arts discipline, but it is an excellent starting point to determine the best choices for officers to learn. Based on these criteria, the best options of martial art for officers to learn are Krav Maga, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Danzan Ryu Jujitsu.

Krav Maga

Krav Maga originated as a military self-defense and combat technique developed for the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli Security Forces by Imi Lichtenfeld in the 1930s. Lichtenfeld created Krav Maga as a hybrid martial art that sources techniques from Boxing, Judo, Aikido, Karate, and Wrestling. The concept was to take all of the most effective, simple, and practical strategies from these martial arts and make them easy to teach to military conscripts rapidly.

Unlike many martial arts that have a focus on sport, competition, and spirituality in addition to combative techniques, Krav Maga is focused entirely on real-world situations and teaches efficient and frequently brutal techniques.

Like most martial arts, teachers of Krav Maga instruct students to avoid physical confrontation whenever possible. However, if a situation proves impossible to de-escalate, Krav Maga promotes finishing a fight as aggressively and quickly as possible by aiming attacks at the most vulnerable parts of the body. Training does not limit practitioners that avoid severe injury, and in fact, many of the techniques learned through Krav Maga can cause permanent damage or even death to opponents.

These principles provide many benefits to police officers, but they come with a variety of drawbacks as well. The historically military use of Krav Maga has advantages by teaching a very practical and efficient system of combat that provides police officers the ability to deal with combat situations quickly and with little harm to themselves or civilians.

Conversely, Krav Maga can be a problematic martial art for police officers because of the potential to cause serious harm to their opponents. Many of the techniques learned through Krav Maga are illegal even inside of an MMA ring. Therefore, they can easily violate the policies that officers need to abide by regarding the use of excessive force.

Ultimately, Krav Maga can be a very effective martial art for police officers to learn, as long as they adapt it to avoid causing significant harm to the individuals they need to restrain. This restraint can be introduced by training in other martial arts disciplines to reduce the potential for fatalities to occur.

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Judo

Unlike Krav Maga, Judo has a competitive sport element deeply entrenched within it. In Judo competitions, the objective is generally to either take down or throw an opponent against the ground, subdue an opponent through the use of pinning, or force them to submit through a choke or joint lock. Outside of the purely competitive environments, Judo contains elements of striking with both hands and feet and the use of weapons, but these are not allowed in competitions or sparring.

Judo places an emphasis not only on the use of combative techniques but also on the mental and emotional fortitude that can help with the de-escalation of dangerous situations as well as preventing fear and anxiety from taking over in high-stress cases. 

Since police officers need as much mental fortitude as physical to overcome those stressful situations that happen when they respond to calls, the discipline that Judo provides is beneficial. When combined with the focus that Judo provides on controlling and throwing opponents, Judo can be ideal for police officers to learn how to prevent a situation from getting out of control and how to quickly resolve it if it does.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Of all the martial arts available to learn today, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is quickly growing as one of the most commonly practiced martial arts techniques by law enforcement in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and other countries as well. BJJ revolves around the idea that a smaller and weaker person can successfully defend themselves from an opponent who is bigger, heavier, and stronger than them through the use of leverage and weight distribution.

Many street fights inevitably devolve into ground-based fighting, which is the primary location where BJJ thrives. Unlike most of the other martial arts on this list and practiced worldwide, BJJ gives police officers and the individuals they apprehend the ability to emerge from the conflict with the least amount of physical harm to every party involved. By rendering an opponent harmless by taking them to the ground and reaching a point where they must submit, police officers can control the conflict and reach a less harmful resolution.

The primary downside to BJJ when it comes to law enforcement is that BJJ is essentially only effective when used against one opponent at a time. In a real-world situation in which a police officer or other practitioner needs to deal with multiple assailants at once, BJJ will not necessarily be adequate to handle situations like that. However, in terms of the vast majority of cases in which a police officer needs to restrain an individual, BJJ will be the most effective way to prevent all parties from being injured while effectively locking down a danger. 

Additionally, the Gracie school of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is more suitable than traditional sport versions of Jiu-Jitsu because they focus more on the self-defense aspects than the competitive sport elements. Furthermore, there are a tremendous number of BJJ instructors and gyms throughout the United States, so acquiring training in this martial art is often easier than some of the rarer techniques mentioned.

Danzan Ryu Jujitsu

Unlike the other martial arts on this list, Danzan Ryu Jujitsu is based on several centuries-old techniques. Originally this martial art was taught as a defense system when a warrior lost his weapon in battle. A combination of control holds throws, takedowns, and nerve stimulation techniques are taught as part of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu.

When a situation devolves into a street brawl, Danzan Ryu Jujitsu provides the ability not only to take down opponents of larger sizes but it allows practitioners the ability to escape from many situations that would be difficult to manage without additional training. As Danzan Ryu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu incorporate many similar techniques, practitioners will have the same ability to handle ground-based fights and street brawls that make Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so effective.

The non-lethal holds and methods of restraining and controlling opponents showcase how effective Danzan Ryu Jujitsu can be for police officers to handle violent situations. Unfortunately, Danzan Ryu and other Japanese Jujitsu styles are significantly less common than their Brazilian counterpart, so it may be challenging to acquire skilled training than it would be for other martial arts.

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The Best Martial Art For Police Officers To Learn

Each of the above martial arts provides many advantages and disadvantages for police officers. It is impossible to state that one is better than the rest for use by law enforcement, but learning at least one martial art is exceptional for police officers to learn for the following reasons.

  • Martial arts provide many non-lethal methods for police officers to restrain criminals and other problematic individuals. This capability helps prevent lethal methods like firearms from being used and provides more excellent self-defense for officers to ensure that they escape from situations unscathed.
  • Regular training in martial arts provides excellent physical health benefits and ensures that practitioners are in peak physical condition, which helps all police work elements.
  • The majority of martial arts teach mental discipline, which can ensure police officers are more capable of dealing with stressful situations than they would be otherwise. This self-control is vital to ensure police officers remain in control of dangerous situations and that no harm comes to civilians or themselves.
Quick Note: Did you know that growing number of Law Enforcement Officers(LEO) are receiving Gracie Jiujitsu training in the police academy to prevent excessive use of force? What is Gracie Jiujitsu? article explains everything you need to know about Gracie Jiujitsu to find out if it's right for you.

Conclusion

Martial arts are undoubtedly one of the best practices that police officers can undergo to give themselves all of the necessary advantages when dealing with law enforcement situations. Whether an officer can devote the time to practice a single martial art or combine techniques and practices from other martial arts to understand physical combat better, the advantages that these disciplines provide are more than worth the effort. 

Police training is unquestionably lacking in terms of providing the necessary physical and mental techniques to allow officers to handle tense situations. Since official training is insufficient, the onus is on police officers to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, as that education may be the difference between losing and preserving life. Ultimately, police officers are the first responders to many emergencies, and that role requires excellent decision-making and physical prowess, things that martial arts will provide.

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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