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Clinch Survival For Officers

Written by BJ Bourg

        About the worst place for officers to find themselves during a fight is on the ground. While some suspects are content to strike out at officers, other suspects feel more comfortable fighting on the ground and they elect to close the distance and execute takedowns. If officers have not been properly trained to defend against takedowns and fight in the "clinch", they could be quickly overpowered and taken violently to the ground.
        Being slammed to the ground could momentarily stun officers and give the suspect ample time to inflict great bodily harm. Even if officers were to survive the initial takedown they would be at a disadvantage if they encountered a suspect of equal or better ground-fighting abilities, due to being in full uniform and wearing a belt filled with clunky tools. Thus, it is extremely important that they train to stay on their feet during an attack.
        Clinch training is an important aspect of any full-contact fighting system and is especially important for law enforcement, but it is almost never mentioned in law enforcement self-defense manuals or during self-defense training. While mentioning the clinch is a start, it would hardly be sufficient for officer survival.
        Effective techniques and considerations must be introduced and officers must spend a significant amount of time working from the clinch with a training partner. They must become as proficient defending from this position as they are with footwork, striking and blocking techniques. However, before they begin working from the clinch, officers must learn the proper body position to utilize from this fighting range.

Classic Clinches
        There are three classic clinches that are utilized in various fighting systems; the wrestling clinch (or body clinch), the Muay Thai clinch, and the dirty boxing clinch. All of these clinches serve a specific purpose and are extremely effective for their particular fighting style, but none of them fully address the specific needs of law enforcement work, especially with regard to weapon retention. However, it is advisable that officers familiarize themselves with these three clinches, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each, because they may face a suspect who is skilled in the execution of one or more of them.
        With the wrestling clinch, practitioners control the body of their opponent by securing double under-hooks. From this position of control, they could execute a number of takedowns and throws. This is an effective clinch for wrestling, but it is not appropriate for law enforcement work because officers would have to use both hands to control the suspect's body. While both of their hands are busy controlling the suspect's body, they will not have a hand free to protect their firearm or defend against strikes. They will also not be able to deliver punches or other arm strikes of their own should it be necessary.
        With the Muay Thai clinch, practitioners control the head of his /her opponent by wrapping both hands around the back of the opponent's neck. From this position, they could pull and push the opponent off balance while creating angles from which to launch knee strikes and elbow strikes. This type of clinch is extremely effective for kickboxing and mixed martial arts fighting, but it is not completely appropriate for law enforcement work, because, like the wrestling clinch, officers would have to use both hands to control the suspect and this would leave their firearm at risk.
        With the dirty boxing clinch, practitioners control the head or an arm of their opponent with one hand while simultaneously executing punches with their other hand. It is the classic, and illegal, "holding and hitting" boxing technique. Practitioners can execute certain punches, elbow strikes, knee strikes, throws and takedowns from this position, making it an effective self-defense clinch. However, some modifications must be made before this clinch can be suited for law enforcement work.

Law Enforcement Clinch
        The Law Enforcement Clinch is an effective position from which officers can gain and maintain control of a suspect. From the Law Enforcement Clinch, officers can deliver strikes, takedowns and control holds if necessary, while simultaneously securing their firearms. The following paragraphs will detail the proper application of the Law Enforcement Clinch for right-handed officers. Left-handed officers need only reverse the instructions and body positions.
        When a suspect closes the distance, officers should immediately lower their base and widen their fighting stance slightly for maximum balance. Officers must maintain this wide stance as they move around in the clinch, because a narrow stance will leave them susceptible to double-leg takedowns or trips. They must also be certain to keep their strong foot back at an approximate 45-degree angle to the front foot. In addition to keeping their firearm away from the suspect and maintaining proper balance, this will also help protect against double-leg takedowns.
        As they lower their base, officers should immediately take control of the suspect's left arm with their right hands. They can do this by grabbing the suspect's bicep or wrist. This will prevent the suspect from grabbing the officer's firearm and will serve to protect the right side of the officer's face and body from punches and other arm strikes.
        As they take control of the suspect's left arm, officers should force their own left arm into the center of the suspect's chest and slide their left hand upward to clutch the back of his neck. With their hand securely attached to the back of his neck, officers can use a pull-push motion (pull with their hand while pushing with their elbow) to force their left elbow tightly into the center of the suspect's chest. This pull-push motion is important to maintaining control of the suspect's head.
        While in the Law Enforcement Clinch, officers should keep their chin tucked to protect the left side of their face from strikes, and they can use their left elbow and forearm to block strikes to the left side of their body. Officers should also be prepared to use their legs to defend against knee strikes and other leg attacks.

Clinch Considerations
        From the Law Enforcement Clinch, officers can control the suspect's body by pushing or pulling him off balance, and they can then execute necessary strikes or utilize control techniques to take the suspect into custody. However, if a suspect is actively striking at officers, they should not attempt to move into the clinch unless they are able to safely slip to the "inside" of the suspect. If officers attempt to reach out for the suspect's head and left arm as the suspect is striking at them, they will be open to attack.
        While the Law Enforcement Clinch is relatively easy to assume, officers must train with a partner on a regular basis (e.g., three times per week for 10 to 30 minutes) until they can operate effortlessly in this position. During training, the first officer should attempt to assume the Law Enforcement Clinch while the second officer tries to gain control of the first officer. After a prescribed period of time, the officers can reverse roles.
        To enhance this drill, officers can utilize proper safety equipment and practice executing strikes while in the clinch. This will help them develop striking and blocking techniques from this position. Officers should hone their skills until they can operate effectively and instinctively against a "suspect" who is jockeying violently for position.

Defending Takedowns
        The first line of defense against takedowns is a widened and lowered base, as described above. Next is proper footwork. As a suspect attempts a takedown, officers can utilize a number of footwork techniques to avoid being taken to the ground. (See "Footwork for the Full Contact Officer", LAW and ORDER Magazine, August 2011.)
        For instance, as a suspect lunges forward, officers can explosively perform the Back Diagonal Step to avoid the takedown. Immediately afterward, they can perform a Clockwise Pivot to "create an angle," which would require the suspect to readjust his position before reengaging. This type of combination footwork can keep a suspect off-balance and enable officers to avoid multiple takedown attempts as they work toward a position of control.
        In conjunction with footwork techniques, officers can utilize strikes to thwart a suspect's takedown attempts. As he leans forward to execute a takedown, the suspect must reach out with his hands, leaving his head and body vulnerable to counterattacks. Officers can execute well-timed Hook Punches or Uppercuts to the suspect's exposed head, Push Kicks to his / her torso or Vertical Knee Strikes to his /her face. These strikes work best when executed explosively and immediately after creating an angle.
        In order to develop proper timing, officers should participate in reactionary partner drills that entail one officer attempting takedowns and the other officer executing counterstrikes to thwart the takedown. While utilizing protective gear and training equipment (e.g., body shield, punch mitts, Muay Thai pads), officers can effectively and safely hone these crucial counterstriking skills.
        Another effective method for stifling takedowns is the Head Push. As most officers know, where the head goes the body will follow, and the Head Push operates on this principle. If a suspect shoots in to attempt a takedown, officers can push the back of the suspect's head downward with their left hand and force him / her onto his / her face.
        Officers should keep their chin tucked as they execute the Head Push and they should withdraw their left hand as quickly as possible after the suspect is dropped to the ground. Officers should also keep their right hand up in a defensive position in case the suspect changes direction and executes a strike, or if it becomes necessary for officers to execute their own strikes. When utilized in conjunction with proper footwork and strikes, the Head Push is an extremely effective defensive technique that each officer should learn and develop until they can execute it effortlessly against a suspect who is shooting in for a takedown.
        If officers are unable to stop the suspect from reaching them and the suspect wraps his / her arms around their body, they have a number of options. One such option is to gain control of one of the suspect's shoulders. If the suspect's head is positioned on the right side of their torso, officers would control the suspect's right shoulder, and vice versa. Maintaining a low and wide base, officers would quickly insert their left arm between their torso and the suspect's right arm, while controlling the suspect's left arm with their right hand.
        Next, officers would snake their left hand under the suspect's right armpit and onto the suspect's back, lifting their elbow to peel the suspect's right arm away from their body. If necessary, officers can use their right hand to assist in controlling the suspect's shoulder. Once the suspect's arm has been removed from their torso, officers can push the suspect's head away and down with their right hand while continuing to lift their left elbow and pushing down on the suspect's right shoulder. It is sometimes advantageous to execute a Clockwise Pivot to create enough space to drop the suspect to the ground.
        Once the suspect has been forced to the ground, officers can move in to control him /her or disengage and draw one of their weapons. As they attempt this control hold, officers must understand that it will be necessary to utilize proper footwork, because the suspect will not stand still and allow them to apply the hold. It may also be necessary to execute strikes as they work to apply the control hold.
        When training for takedown defense, officers must work with partners who are relentless in their takedown attempts. Aggressive suspects do not attempt single takedowns and then meekly give up. Thus, officers must prepare diligently to defend against a motivated and skilled suspect who would stop at nothing to get them to the ground.

Takedowns for Law Enforcement
        There are countless takedown techniques available from various fighting systems, but not all of them are appropriate for law enforcement work. In evaluating takedown techniques, officers must select those that do not put their weapon at risk, do not leave them vulnerable to strikes, and can be safely executed while wearing their duty gear. Two such takedowns will be presented herein, both of which can be performed from the Law Enforcement Clinch.
        The first takedown can be utilized against a suspect who is standing "squared-up". Officers would use their left hand to shift the suspect's weight to his / her right leg. This is done by pulling the suspect's neck toward the left while using their forearm to shove his / her chest in the same direction. Officers would then quickly hook their left leg behind the suspect's left leg and explosively sweep it out from under him / her, while using their left arm to push the suspect toward the right and onto the ground. Officers should maintain control of the suspect's left arm as they drop him / her to the ground.
        The second takedown can be utilized against a suspect who is mirroring the officer's fighting stance. Officers would use their left hand to shift the suspect's weight to his / her right leg. They would then quickly hook their right leg behind the suspect's left leg and explosively sweep it out from under him / her, using their left arm to push the suspect onto his / her back. As with the first takedown, officers should maintain control of the suspect's left arm as they take him / her to the ground.

Training
        The importance of proper and constant training cannot be overemphasized. While the aforementioned techniques are simple, officers must practice them countless times in order to develop the muscle memory necessary to execute them effectively against motivated and aggressive suspects. It is not enough to be able to execute a scripted technique flawlessly against a willing training partner.
        In order to afford themselves the best opportunity to remain safe, officers must practice these techniques under realistic conditions against a fluid and aggressive training partner. As they develop their clinch fighting skills, officers will learn to flow explosively and smoothly from one technique to the next as they work toward a position of control.


BJ Bourg is the chief investigator for the Lafourche Parish District Attorney's Office. He has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and has served in various capacities, including patrol, investigations, training and special operations. He can be reached at bjbourg@bjbourg.com.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2012

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