If you are not currently training, there is zero chance you are performing as well as you could or that you are as prepared as you would be if you chose to train. Training is not simply lifting or conditioning. It is hands-on defending and applications of force with a resistive partner.
Many officers don’t know where to start with combatives training. They worry about not knowing enough, about getting hurt, about being made to feel stupid or inadequate. Many would like to get started but don’t know how. Other officers already train and love it. A key way to make training productive to both new officers and experienced officers is to control the pace of the training, thus controlling injury and encouraging learning. This article will explain how to successfully do this.
The key to performance
Mechanics, consistency and aggression (MCA). This is a general training formula that boosts students’ performance in training and retention of what is trained.
Using principles and concepts to improve technique, consistently practicing and applying those mechanics each time I train and controlling training pace ensures growth, safety, performance and retention of what is trained. Let’s break down each part of the formula to enhance your training experience.
Mechanics are the principles, concepts and techniques that we choose to train. These mechanics could be for weapons, empty hand, striking, grappling, team tactics, use of force, effective de-escalation, physical fitness, communication, emotional and mental fitness, etc. You need to be renowned as being the “how” and “why” guy. What you do (what techniques) is not important in the long run and could vary from officer to officer. How you do something, the mechanics of the move and why it works or fails must be trained and must be understood for proficiency and retention for the student. Once an officer understands how and why something works, they are far more likely to apply what is being taught and retain it later. By basing mechanics on principles, concepts and fundamentals, instructors and officers can evaluate whether a technique will serve the officer in an actual conflict. Even if a technique seems amazing, if it violates principles that are likely to lead to a high percentage of success, instructors and officers should avoid it. By focusing on proper mechanics, students can maximize training time by training stuff “that works.” Mechanically, these are almost always fundamental answers to the problem and not some “advanced” technique. To be elite, focus on doing common things uncommonly well.
Consistency in our training is a key to gaining proficiency and retention. Consistency in my focus and effort during my actual training sessions are invaluable for personal growth and retention. “Perfect practice” doesn’t make perfect because there is no perfect practice. Practice does not make perfect, but it does make permanent. The reps you do and how you do them are something you will retain later. While I may not do “perfect” reps, if I do focused and intentional reps, those will lead to improvement and better performance on calls as far as retention is concerned. So my consistency within my training sessions is vitally important.
It is also vitally important that I am consistent in actually training on a regular basis. I often ask students how often a Major League Baseball player should practice hitting to be elite and remain in the game. Most students say every day. I also ask them how long the offseason should be. Can a professional baseball player take the “offseason” off? Universally, the officers say, “No they have to train and work out if they want to be successful and be a high-level pro.” Students eventually come to the conclusion that the pros must train three to five times per week, every week, for the length of their career to be successful. I ask the officers if the players could go to training camp and then annual training thereafter and maintain an elite level. Everyone agrees that to maintain a high level of performance, regular and consistent training is a must. The officers have identified an absolute key to achieving and maintaining a high level of performance. If you want to be a pro, you have to train consistently over time.
To encourage officers to train consistently over time, I use the “rule of three” formula. When we look at nature, if your airway gets blocked for more than three minutes and you cannot breathe, you are going to die. If you lose more than three pints of blood, you are probably going to die. If you go out into the desert in the summer with no shelter or water for three days, you are going to die.
Equating the rule of three to training, I tell myself if I have a three-day period with no training, then I am “dying.” Training can occur in several ways (physical, law or policy review, watching relevant videos, working out, blue gun work, etc.). Training can occur at a gym, with teammates or alone. It can also occur while reviewing relevant law or policy, watching associated videos, taking a class or reading an article for 10 minutes prior to your shift. The where, when, how long and with whom are not important. Consistent training is the key. Training must produce an elevated heart rate and combine the physical with the mental to effectively translate to the field and be retained. Some of the regular training must be physical in nature against resistive opponents. Rather than focus on the sheer question of “What should I train?”, simply commit to training consistently over time. Every time you train, your three-day clock starts. Commit that, as a pro, you will not have a gap greater than three days in your personal training regimen, and remember, there is no offseason. In short, train a little a lot.
The final part of our training formula of MCA is aggression. I like to think of aggression as pace or energy as we train. For LEOs, it is common to hear “crawl, walk and run” as a training methodology to control pace. I agree with controlling pace to enhance safety and promote learning during training. I use another methodology in both teaching and training on my own. Have you ever taught a child to drive? Even if the answer is “no,” think about when you learned to drive. When learning to drive, we don’t go to the freeway and jump right in. Why? Speed kills. Prior to a young driver getting comfortable, the speed and basics of driving would be overwhelming. So where do we start?
Parking lot speed. We start beginners off in an empty parking lot at low speeds. We work on fundamentals that will be used at actual driving speeds that can be experienced later. Even the parking lot training we do could be in different lots so that we could work on different fundamental skills.
Neighborhood streets. Once students are competent in the parking lot, they can graduate to neighboring streets. The fundamentals are similar, but the speeds at which students apply them are faster. Students might also face more decision-making in the street than in a lot, so this causes growth as they apply the fundamentals. This speed change often occurs during training after the fundamentals have been learned at a lower speed.
As students show competency and safe performance on the neighborhood streets, they graduate to main/major thoroughfares. Remember: More cars, more problems. It’s important for the driver to have the ability to safely manage multiple routine driving performance obstacles without becoming overwhelmed or losing control. As an instructor, I am watching for students to show similar abilities in combatives without being reckless or crashing out of control. Just like a driver, how can we expect officers to do this on actual calls if they don’t do it in training? Can you imagine thinking it is unsafe to do a practice drive with your child on the main roads, but then just giving them keys and saying, “Hey, go drive, even though I don’t feel safe doing it with you”? I feel we have a tough legal road to go down if we say restraint procedures are safe for the public in general, but it is far too dangerous for us to train regularly.
Freeway speeds. “Opening it up” can be a valuable tool, but it needs to be restricted and controlled to limit injury. Only drivers who show competency should be allowed freeway-speed access. Even if speeds are increased, the freeway has rules, and so does training. Make sure that those who are competent and allowed to train at higher speeds stay within stated and clearly identified training outcomes. The speed and pressure of higher speeds can be beneficial for growth. Training time at freeway speeds should be limited to prohibit the likelihood of injury that can exist if we train here often.
As an experienced and regular combatives coach and athlete, I use these training speeds weekly as I train. Even as an “advanced practitioner,” someone may show me a new way to do something, and I may initially drill it at a parking lot pace in order to be comfortable with the changes. Due to my training and experience, I may quickly graduate to training the new option at higher speeds, but I rarely practice anything at full speed. Beyond injuries, growth rarely occurs when I go “full out.” If I teach a new fundamental skill and then have officers drill it, if they jump right to freeway speeds, they will only get reps and practice at what they already know or do. New skills are not gained at full speed. I have been very successful teaching and training using a defined way to control pace. Officers and athletes need to be given physical training if we hope that they will actually be successful in physical events in the street, but controlling the aggression at which they train enhances safety and retention/learning.
As officers gain mechanics and consistently train, they can increase aggression and intensity over time. Mastering MCA in a training environment will make “fast become familiar” to the officers once they are on the street and on live calls, resulting in improved performance. Make sure to consistently apply MCA over time in your training sessions and become the pros we know you are! As always, thanks for your service, and stay safe.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length and clarity. It originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of LVPPA Vegas Beat, the official publication of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.