The Ethical Warrior: More than just the right ingredients

Ethics, tactics, and techniques, when all are taught together in a martial arts training setting, can have a lasting positive impact on your troops


Take water, hops, yeast, and malt. Stir it together in a glass. What you get is...

Well, it’s not beer.

Creating Ethical Warriors or Ethical Police Officers is not the same as brewing beer, obviously. Yet, it could be said that, although many departments provide a fairly robust training curriculum — all of the ingredients — it is not easy to “brew” a great officer.

The Ingredients of Protector Training
Any attempt at conflict resolution by a law enforcement officer involves ethical, tactical, and technical elements. Training is used to prepare officers in each of these areas. Most training focuses on each of these elements in isolation. The hope is that if you have all the right training “ingredients” that somehow these pieces will synergize within the officer, making him a motivated and skillful professional. Sometimes it happens. But experience has shown that superior results may require more than just the right elements — those elements have to be introduced into the training in a certain way.

Basic law enforcement training necessarily focuses on the myriad technical aspects of the job. All of the tools along the conflict resolution spectrum are taught from verbal communication to the use of firearms. Tactical training is introduced after a solid foundation of basic skills is established. Ethical training, which is usually weighted toward legal issues, is typically taught in an academic setting. One learns to shoot on the range, move tactically in a shoot-house, and behave ethically in a classroom. The time devoted to each of these areas follows the same order. The most time is devoted to technical training, less to individual and group tactics, and less still to ethics. This approach tends to reinforce a paradigm that resolves conflict by selecting a technique, adjusting the technique based on tactical considerations, and finally deciding whether the technique is legally permissible.

Many people agree that, under the stress of conflict, one falls back on their training rather than rising to the occasion. It is here where the time and focus on technical training becomes the predominant reference for reaction to conflict. Disaster can occur if the officer fails to also make the tactical and ethical decisions necessary for the protection of self and others. This disconnect between ethics, tactics, and techniques can cause problems at all levels of activity, from a car stop to a major operation.

Ethics Drives Tactics — Tactics Drive Techniques
A famous 1985 incident in a major Eastern city is particularly illustrative of the problem caused by disconnected ethics, tactics, and techniques. A major metropolitan police department was faced with one of the most dangerous situations in law enforcement. A group of armed committed radical activists were refusing to vacate a fortified house. Weapons fire was being exchanged, and efforts to penetrate the barricaded structure with tear gas canisters were ineffective.

Faced with these critical circumstances, those in charge chose to employ an established military technique in a law enforcement situation resulting in the most famous, and perhaps only, use of aerial bombardment in American law enforcement history. Four pounds of high explosives were dropped from a helicopter onto the roof of the house. The intention was to breach the barricaded roof in order to introduce tear gas into the building — the resulting fire caused the death of eleven people and destroyed sixty-five homes.

The political, legal, and personal ramifications of this action reverberated for years. But for our purposes, the key point is that techniques and tactics were employed that were in direct conflict with the ethic of the law enforcement warrior: protect your life and the life of others, all others, even the adversary if possible. The need to break a dangerous stalemate caused leaders to choose a technique with consequences that were not protective of life. The technique drove the tactics which led to the ethical failure.

An alternative model is to approach conflicts from the perspective of the Ethical Warrior. A firm understanding of the Universal Life Value will lead to choosing appropriate tactics to ensure the protection of self and others, and finally to the employment of the most effective techniques. This model also requires a shift in training philosophy. To the greatest extent possible, ethics must be taught during tactical and technical training. This provides an integrated understanding of moral values in action, which is the definition of ethics.

So, how would the training look? Well, it might look quite different from the way it is usually conducted today. In the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP — from which the Ethical Warrior concept was derived) the program is designed as a synergistic program consisting of three main elements:

1.) Character — Ethical Warrior Training
2.) Mental — Military Skills and Mindset Training
3.) Physical — Martial Combatives & Combat Conditioning

Notably, the Ethical Warrior Training is considered to be the core of the Program.

The Activating Ingredient
But we have also learned that it is unproductive to teach ethics in the classroom. The Marines — and police officers — fall asleep! We now know that the best way to integrate ethics into the training is right in the middle of the physical training (tactical and/or technical). Train for a bit, get the juices flowing, and then interject “values-tie-ins” — stories with a strong emotional impact that inspire moral behavior (e.g., The Hunting Story). In other words, do the ethical, tactical and technical training all together!

Martial skills training enhances officer survivability and, when conducted safely and properly, is an excellent conditioning regimen. Most importantly, however, it is a sure-fire way to build camaraderie — as anyone who has shared the bonding feeling of shared adversity can attest to. It is the activating ingredient! It can also be one of the greatest time-savers and force-multipliers at the disposal of a creative leader. The reason is that the bonding that follows the physical training creates the perfect atmosphere for candid discussions of essential subjects, annual training requirements, values-tie-ins, and other important topics such as officer safety, alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, “burn out,” etc. Why waste time moving people to a classroom? Hit them while they are open-minded and energized. It just works better.

About the author

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International and a subject matter expert for the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Bruce J. Gourlie is a Federal Law Enforcement Officer and a former U.S. Army infantry officer.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.

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