40 l LAW OFFICER MAGAZINE l March 2007 Subscribe at www.lawofficermagazine.com
ne of the most dangerous physical encounters
police officers face is being knocked to the ground
and having to fight for their lives. When we
imagine experiencing survival situations such as
this, we must remember Coach Bob Lindsey’s advice to think
in terms of when/then rather than if/then. Don’t ask yourself,
“What would I do if something bad were to happen (but prob-
ably won’t)?” Instead, ask, “When something bad happens,
exactly what will I do?”
When you get knocked to the ground, what, exactly, will
you do? This article will help you formulate a preplanned,
practiced response for when you find yourself in a ground-
TYPES OF GROUND ATTACKS
Ground attacks fall into three basic types:
• Ground and pound attack: The attacker punches you in
the beginning of the encounter and will continue striking
until you are unconscious;
• Muscle-man attack: The attacker uses their strength to
SURVIVALTactics for prevailing when you’re down on the ground
BY DAVE YOUNG
Subscribe at www.lawofficermagazine.com March 2007 l LAW OFFICER MAGAZINE l 41
hold down and control you; and
• Focused attack: The attacker has a preconceived plan to
take your weapon or gain control of your arms or legs.
No matter which type of attack you experience, your
immediate concerns will be:
• How long will this go on? 10 seconds, 30 seconds, one
minute, three minutes or beyond?
• Can I go the distance? and
• If physical-control tactics don’t allow me to get back into
control, will I be able to access control devices, impact
weapons or firearms to win the fight?
TRAIN FOR REAL SITUATIONS
If you’ve been training for these types of ground encounters,
you’ve more than likely completed a sport-style self-defense
class, jujitsu or other martial arts training. But has your
training included all the elements of a real situation? For
example, have you trained while wearing your uniform, bal-
listic vest, duty belt and all of your assigned gear, which will
limit your flexibility and restrict your breathing?
This is more difficult that it sounds. Try it. Lie down on the
ground in full duty gear, including your uniform and vest.
Don’t worry about your adversary yet. Simply try to move
around on the ground, access your equipment and get up
safely and efficiently. Next, have someone lie on top of you
and again try to move, access your equipment and escape.
You’ll see the reality is much different than the fantasy many
officers operate under.
NON-LETHAL DEFENSE OPTIONS
Although you should be able to take the opportunity to knock
out your attacker, don’t lose the fight trying to give the knock-
out punch. In life-or-death encounters, you may not have a
second chance. Know how to safely escape, get to rest positions
and use a range of force options.
Try to disengage quickly, safely and smartly. When the subject
has their legs wrapped around you and you are in the front-
mount position, use the following escape techniques:
• Shield your head by turning it to the side;
• Tuck-in your chin to help protect your face and neck;
• Kneel with your gun-side foot up and turn your gun-side
hip away from the threat;
• With your palms down, grab the subject’s belt;
• Place your elbows into the subject’s thigh and
knee area and extend your arms and elbows
into the contact area, trapping the subject’s
• Control the subject’s upper knee with your free
Remember to continue to assess the area for addi-
If sitting and disengaging doesn’t work and the subject
is grabbing and punching, you’ll have to go into a
The primary goal of your attacker is to sit high up on your
chest, placing their knees high into your shoulder-well. The
subject will attempt to raise your elbows higher than your
shoulders, which will open your airway and weaken your
chest cavity and ribs. This places you in an extremely vulner-
able and compromising position, making it difficult to access
your firearm and putting you in respiratory distress. You’ll
have to decide whether to use both hands to protect your face
or your firearm, leaving one or the other exposed.
The best thing to do is wiggle in a series of dynamic hip
movements. Move them rapidly between the 6 and 12 o’clock
positions in reference to the rest of your body. Wiggling will
displace the balance of the attacker and give you the chance to
get into a stable ground-defense position. Keep your hands
higher than your eyebrows and your chin tucked in to protect
your neck. Bring your elbows tightly into your chest area and
make sure both feet are under the knees and flat on the
ground. This position will limit the subject’s ability to get high
up on your chest.
Control takes on new meaning
when you’re on the ground.
Control tactics include restrict-
ing the subject’s movement,
denying the subject a position of
advantage, using a submission
hold and rendering the
subject unconscious. ➔➔
In the ground-guard position, keep your hands higher than
your eyebrows and your chin tucked in to protect your neck.
Police officers must train for
42 l LAW OFFICER MAGAZINE l March 2007 Subscribe at www.lawofficermagazine.com
A shoulder-lock restraint provides an intermediate
restraint method to control a combative subject.Align and lock
your shoulder underneath the subject’s same-side shoulder,
then reach around the subject’s neckline above their collar-
bone and secure their arm by grabbing it with your other
hand. Apply slight compression for control to allow you to get
into an escape position or to handcuff. Apply complete com-
pression for a submission. This tactic will position your face
away from any strikes and protect your eyes, throat and neck.
Use a power-lock restraint to restrict the movement of the
attacker’s limb or body part, using an anchor point and a
secure point. This allows you to temporarily control a subject,
enabling you to gain access to your weapons.
DEADLY FORCE OPTIONS
Police officers are authorized to use deadly force when they
feel their life is in imminent danger. Usually, an officer under
ground attack has already exhausted all standing efforts.
During a high-risk encounter, you’ll have little time for a deci-
sion-making process about whether to use deadly force. This
is especially true for officers who don’t keep themselves phys-
ically and mentally prepared to handle these encounters. The
“30-second rule” refers to the amount of time a majority of the
officers in your department will have the mental and physi-
cal endurance to identify and act with a level of proficiency to
survive a physical encounter.
Understanding the techniques covered in your department’s
deadly-force policy remains crucial to your survival. Your
department’s policy and training should include accessing and
firing your gun, using an edged weapon, striking with the
radio, flashlight or impact weapon, using handcuffs to hook
into the face of the attacker and using empty-hand tactics.
Primary firearm or backup gun
Conducting a contact shot is the ultimate response to
deadly force. Firing into the body of the attacker and con-
trolling your firearm are very important. Keep in mind the
• Use distractions to keep the subject from observing
you drawing your firearm. (Wouldn’t you fight with
greater intensity if you saw your opponent was going
to pull the trigger of a gun?);
• Punch your target with your gun, and then pull it
back to yourself a few inches before firing (indexing)
to avoid a malfunction with the slide mechanism;
• Continue firing your weapon until the subject goes
limp or lies motionless;
• Listen for the weapon to cycle, and expect weapons
• Conduct drills for malfunctions such as a loose or
improperly seated magazine, misfire, stove pipe and
clothing or skin caught in the barrel and slide. In
these circumstances you’ll have only one hand to con-
trol and fire your weapon. Tap the magazine on the
attacker’s back or side and then move the slide to the
rear by using your rear sights on your belt or holster to
clear your weapon;
• Watch your safe point of entrance and clear point of
exit if you are unable to keep the bullet from exiting
• Turn your head to protect your face and shield/close
your eyes from blood spray, bone fragments or other
• Remain focused on your senses, listening to sounds
• Control your breathing by inhaling in your mouth
and exhaling out your nose; and
• Once the threat is stopped, secure your firearm and
safely and quickly escape from the subject. Remember,
they could be playing possum, so remain alert and
ready for anything.
Many officers today carry a knife, but few could access it in a
ground encounter, especially if they carry it in their rear or
front pockets, or inside the duty belt. Carry your knife in the
center-carry position, high and center on your chest. You can
clip the knife to the top of your vest or wear it on a neck lan-
yard. The center-carry position conceals the knife from out-
side view and enables access with either hand from a variety
of compromising positions.
Seek proper training on the many force options for knife
use. For ground encounters and defending a knife encounter,
practice the following:
• Do not display the knife until you use it;
• Practice accessing, drawing, handling and striking
with your knife;
• Train to operate the knife in both hands equally; and
• Remember to protect your airway first if you deploy
your knife from a choke.
Maintain awareness of the alternate weapons available to
you during a ground attack. Remember, the subject can
access them as well. These include your baton, handcuffs,
Train to perform contact shots, including malfunction drills.
When you get knocked
to the ground, what,
exactly, will you do?
Subscribe at www.lawofficermagazine.com March 2007 l LAW OFFICER MAGAZINE l 43
flashlight, radio and writing pen. Use your handcuffs to
strike the subject, or use a single strand to puncture the
subject’s skin or hook into their eyes, ears or nose. Use
your open or closed baton to strike at unconventional tar-
Never assume you’ll always have access to your firearm or
other weapon. Empty-hand control techniques provide last
ditch efforts in a life-or-death struggle when all other force
options have failed. Most of us have been told to bite,
scratch or do whatever it takes. There are a couple more
specific techniques you should know, however.
The Front Neck Support technique uses your weaker
(non-gun) hand to support the back of your attacker’s neck
while your strong hand supports the front of their throat.
Grab beneath the jaw line using your index finger and
thumb and apply pressure to the throat until the attacker
complies or is rendered unconscious. (Do not relax too
soon.) Disengage and or stabilize/handcuff the attacker and
render aid as appropriate.
A second option, the Slip Knot or Bar Arm technique, is
executed by applying pressure to the front of the attacker’s
throat with one of your forearms and supporting the back
of their head with the other.
Practice and rehearse all of these ground-defense tactics so
when the time comes to deploy them, you’ll be ready. Know
your own capabilities well enough to be able to balance the
amount of time you can stay in the fight with your ability to
access your weapons and re-establish control. Remember:
When you fail to have a plan, you plan to fail.
DAVE YOUNG has more than 20 years of combined civilian and military law
enforcement and training experience and is recognized as one of the
nation’s leading defensive tactics instructors. He is currently the director of
specialized programs for Northcentral Technical College and training director
for RedMan Training Gear.
Officers demonstrate the Slip Knot or Bar Arm technique
(left), and the Front Neck Support technique (right).