Ground Survivial for Officers: Part 1

While officers should train to stay on their feet at nearly all costs during a physical confrontation, it is also important they prepare themselves for the likelihood of being taken to the ground by a suspect who possesses excellent ground-fighting skills.

Surviving Takedowns

The first order of business is for officers to learn how to minimize the damage from a violent takedown. This is a crucial aspect of ground survival. If officers were to have their legs suddenly swept out from under them, they must react instantly in order to minimize the effectiveness of the takedown. Otherwise, they risk being injured or knocked unconscious as they make violent contact with the ground.

If officers feel themselves being taken to the ground, they should immediately tuck their chin to their chest. This will prevent the back of their head from being slammed against the ground. If possible, they should also wrap their arms around the suspect’s neck and hold on as though their lives depended on it, making it difficult for the suspect to slam them to the ground without going to the ground himself.

If officers do go to the ground, the impact may not be as great because they will be using the suspect’s body to slow their descent. An added safety measure is for officers to twist left or right while in the air in an attempt to reverse positions and plant the suspect on the ground under them.

The Guard

Once a fight goes to the ground, the immediate advantage usually goes to the person who initiated the takedown, because that person possesses the element of surprise and usually ends up in the top position. Thus, if the takedown is successful, officers must spring into action immediately upon making contact with the ground. How they move will depend upon how they impact the ground.

If the suspect lands on top of them and facing them, officers should immediately “pull Guard.” The Guard can be “open” or “closed”, which means the ankles are either crossed (closed) or uncrossed (open) behind the suspect’s back. While officers should train to fight from both positions, they will typically enjoy more control and assume less risk from the Closed Guard.

To assume the Guard position on the bottom, officers wrap their legs around the suspect’s body (above the hips) immediately upon hitting the ground or, if possible, while they are in the midst of being taken to the ground. The Guard is the safest position for officers while on their back, because it is a position from which they can defend against strikes, execute strikes of their own, reverse positions, and execute control techniques.

When operating from this position, officers should use their hips and legs to control the suspect and create angles, while using their hands and arms to defend against strikes, execute their own strikes, and attack the suspect with control holds.

Officers should be aware that a skilled ground fighter will attempt to “pass” their Guard, which means he / she will try to get around their legs and straddle them or gain some other advantageous position. There are a number of ways for a suspect to pass their Guard, and officers should train to defend against as many of these as possible.

In order to better defend against the pass, officers should turn their hips to one side, preferably onto their gun side. This will limit the suspect’s passing options and make it easier for officers to protect themselves and their firearm.

Defending the pass from the Guard is extremely vital to ground survival, because once a suspect straddles them (known as the Full Mount), officers are in grave danger of sustaining serious bodily injury.

Defending Strikes from the Guard

From the Guard, officers should tuck their chin to their chest to keep the back of their head from making contact with the ground. Being in this “tucked” position will allow them to better absorb a suspect’s strikes. They could sustain serious injuries if a suspect were to land a punch to their face while the back of their head was making contact with the ground.

They should also keep their hands in front of their face while defending from the Guard, because it enables them to more effectively block a suspect’s strikes. If officers reach out to “catch” a suspect’s striking hand, which is a natural but dangerous response that must be rectified in training, they would leave themselves open to additional strikes and they would be susceptible to arm-locks.

If a suspect is punching down at them, officers can avoid these strikes by moving their head from side to side while they “cover up” with their hands. During the attack, they must keep their eyes open so they can see the strikes coming and then execute effective counterstrikes of their own. They can also use their legs and hips to push and pull the suspect off-balance in order to disrupt the timing of his punches. With the suspect off-balance, officers can execute counterstrikes or seize the advantage and reverse positions.

When officers use their legs and hips to pull the suspect off-balance, the suspect may have to place one or both of his hands on the ground to maintain his balance. If this happens, officers can then trap one of his arms and apply a submission hold. Officers can also wrap one arm, such as their left arm, around the suspect’s neck and pull him / her in tight.

They can then tuck their own head against the left side of the suspect’s head and control his / her left arm with their right hand. From this position, officers will be able to remain relatively safe while they work to gain a position of dominance over the suspect.

Executing Strikes from the Guard

While it will be difficult for officers to incorporate their body weight into a punch from the Guard position, they can increase the power of their hand and arm strikes by “pulling and hitting.” Officers accomplish this by grabbing the suspect’s head with one hand and pulling it into a punch or elbow strike that is executed by the opposite hand or arm. However, they must exercise caution when grabbing the suspect’s head, because if they straighten their arm, the suspect could potentially trap it and execute an arm-lock.

Upward elbow strikes, round elbow strikes, straight punches and hook punches can all be effectively launched from the Guard position, as well as hammer-fist strikes. Target areas can include the suspect’s chin, temple, neck and shoulder blades.

When it is not feasible to “pull and hit,” officers can strike out at the suspect by extending their fist or elbow swiftly and violently toward the suspect’s face. They must remember to return the striking limb to its original position as swiftly as they extended it, so the suspect will not be able to grab it and so they can better defend against the suspect’s strikes. They can attack the body of the suspect by delivering hook punches to his ribs, and this is especially effective after slipping a straight punch from the suspect.

Officers can also execute hammer-fist strikes and downward elbow strikes to his shoulder-blades, as well as attacking the back of his legs with heel kicks and his ribs with side knee strikes. If the suspect stands up and attempts to punch down at them, officers can execute upward kicks to the suspect’s face, chest, stomach or groin.

To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of striking from the Guard, and to develop the maximum amount of striking power from this position, officers should train from the Guard on a regular basis, such as two to three times per week. An excellent way for officers to develop sound striking skills from the Guard is to have a partner “mount” them and hold punch mitts for them to strike. Officers can also have their partner strike down at them so they can practice slipping, blocking and using their legs to control their “suspect.”

While officers should train to stay on their feet at nearly all costs during a physical confrontation, it is also important they prepare themselves for the likelihood of being taken to the ground by a suspect who possesses excellent ground-fighting skills. More on that in the next issue.

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

Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2012

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