Speed, power, and repetition: Successful physical skills training

"I don’t fear the man who knows 10,000 techniques, but rather the man who practices one technique 10,000 times."

Last month, I wrote an article on the importance of mental preparation and visualization techniques to prepare for sudden life and death attacks. While I believe mental training is of utmost importance, officers must also have the proper physical skills to follow through. Here I’ll discuss tried and true tactics for honing those skills.

At first glance, it seems every agency has its own set of physical techniques for every type of situation. The funny thing, however, is that the more time I spend in this business, the more I find that everyone teaches the same thing — just differently.

Endurance training in full riot gear (AP photo)
Endurance training in full riot gear (AP photo)

Less is more
Everyone should know how to do a few locking techniques — wrist locks, arm locks, and shoulder locks. Based on those, you should add two or three common takedowns or grounding techniques, a few stuns and strikes, and then… practice!

An old martial arts adage reads something like, "I don’t fear the man who knows 10,000 techniques, but rather the man who practices one technique 10,000 times."

I’ve been to vendor training where the instructor taught so many techniques, so fast with no real practice that you knew just enough about the techniques to go back to your agency and get someone hurt! I want to address this issue and offer suggestions for giving great use of force physical training while getting the best bang for your buck.

I take the “less is more” approach to organizing my physical skills training. When I say ‘less is more’, I am not speaking in training hours or repetitions, but in the number of learned techniques. I believe that utilizing ways of doing more reps with techniques that flow together is a better way to learn as opposed to doing numerous techniques in a random order with too little repetition to learn the techniques properly. I feel that you are better served to understand the principles of the technique based on a few variations of an attack.

Speed is a consequence of repetition
For example, building on a few common defensive tactics trained in law enforcement, we could drill staff on how to break away or release from a wrist grab.

I will drill the technique with the philosophy that speed is a consequence of repetition, and start slowly building speed with proper practice. I will then flow to having staff utilize a forearm or hammer-fist type strike to aid in breaking away from a strong attacker.

After several repetitions, I will move forward to a control technique — say an arm bar — into a takedown to cuffing position, in case, for whatever reason, the officer is unable to break the grab. You can then work into bent arm locks wrist lock takedowns from the same attack.

In the end, you can drill 30 minutes of techniques that flow together and have common movements and various controls without taking a break. By utilizing this approach, you can help build physical skills for each technique, as well as increase conceptual knowledge and understanding of the principles behind a given drill.

I have found that staff appreciate — and feel a sense of accomplishment — when they do a good block of training they believe will aid in their lifesaving skills when attacked.

The next level
If you really want to have some fun and increase the intensity, use a whistle and get them moving! Of course, it cannot be overstated that this is only realistic if your staff is mentally prepared.

Once this is accomplished, add stress inoculation to your training to further increase abilities to react to a life and death encounter. You can do several things to create this stress, add additional exercise, create force-on-force training, or add time limits to complete training tasks.

As staff adapt to stress inoculation, their heart rate will diminish and their physiological response to stress will be reduced, thus allowing for more appropriate and consistent response to the attack.

Until next time. Stay safe!

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