I think we unwittingly short-change officers by having them spend countless hours attempting to learn complex DT techniques which require a high-degree of skill and extensive practice to do effectively. I strongly believe the majority of time in DT training should be spent on teaching officers to do two things really well. The first is to maintain proper distance. The second is to move properly. Now you just have to do those two things while maintaining proper balance. If you are capable of this simple physical feat, you will be significantly safer.
Getting out of the way is instinctive. As little kids we naturally dodge, duck, and run. Remember playing dodge ball on the playground? We grew up learning how to get out of the way.
Remember one of your first lessons at your academy was action beats reaction? It’s true. As a law enforcement officer, how do you overcome this? We are almost always reacting to a threat. How can we possibly survive? The answer is in two words. Once again, they are DISTANCE and MOVE. If we are standing an appropriate distance (at least a few inches farther than the bad guy can reach with his rear leg), then we give ourselves time to see the attack and respond. Rather than having thousands of possible responses to the attack, which may slow down our reaction time, we will do just one thing and that is move. Move out of the way. We will simply be somewhere else when the attack arrives.
The second thing moving does for us is that we’ve now changed the Action-Reaction equation. What happens to the bad guy when we move and are no longer where he expected us to be? He has to react to our movement. He now has to reposition himself physically and mentally to launch another attack. We are now in control of the encounter because the bad guy is now reacting to our movement rather than vice-versa.
Bruce Lee said good footwork will defeat any attack. What he was saying was if you move effectively, if you get out the way, you can’t be hurt. When I was kick boxing, the one style of fighter I hated to compete against most was the runner; the guy constantly moving. This is true for most fighters. It’s really difficult to fight someone who won’t stay still and constantly moves away from you. It causes you to chase and overextend your strikes in an attempt to catch up to him. The reason you don’t see more of this in competition is because eventually the runner has to stop running and throw some punches and kicks if he has any hope of winning the fight. But if you’re not looking to outpoint the bad guy, if your interest is to survive, then you can move and consistently get out of his way. This is true if you’ve learned to move correctly, which is not that hard. However, your goal is not to dance the night away until the bad guy drops from exhaustion. Eventually you have to make the arrest. And eventually you will get nailed if you just keep dancing around.
As you are moving away from an attack, you will also simultaneously draw an appropriate tool (e.g., pepper spray, TASER, baton, handgun). To summarize your strategy, you maintain at least a minimum safe distance between you and the subject allowing you to see the attack in time to respond. Your initial response is to avoid the attack by moving and, thereby, reversing the Action-Reaction equation. As you continue to move, you draw the appropriate tool and subdue your attacker.
It’s important you don’t get in the mindset of moving out of the way of the initial attack one time and think, “Whew! Glad that’s over.” You must continue to move because the attacker will continue to attack. As you are avoiding the attack, you must draw a weapon and continue to move. Regardless of the weapon you now have in your hand, still move. You’ll be more effective and harder to hurt if you remain a moving target.
Moving out of the way does not require size or strength to be effective. Moving is easy to teach and easy to learn. Moving doesn’t require constant training and repetition to be effective. We move every day of our life. Moving is effective regardless of the type of attack. I may have the best punch, kick, baseball bat swing, ax chop in the world, but if you move out of the way, I can’t hurt you. Even if you are in a worst-case scenario and the bad guy has drawn a handgun, your best strategy is still to move. You become a moving target, which is harder to hit, and you are moving to cover as you draw your weapon.
How do you move? The short answer is move out of the way, any way, and with balance. Most fighting arts list 10 general directions of movement, although the directions you can move are infinite. Some directions of movement are better than others though. For example, I’d never have an officer move straight back. No matter how fast you can move backwards, the bad guy can move forwards a whole lot faster. Also, if you move straight back, you’re not changing the Action-Reaction dynamic. The attacker just needs to move quicker on the attack to reach you. If you move straight back, the attacker doesn’t have to reposition his body to re-engage you.
I’d also choose not to move straight into my attacker. I’m going into his strength where he has all of his personal weapons (and possibly weapons I don’t see) available to him. Even when moving forward to engage, it’s best to move in at an angle. Moving at an angle is a higher concept of footwork used successfully by experienced fighters for centuries. Moving in at an angle puts you in a position of tactical advantage and greater survivability. You don’t want to be too close to your attacker, nor do you want to be directly in front of the attacker. As one of my former DT Instructors used to say, “Never kiss a crook!” It’s a dangerous place to be.
The best way to avoid an attack is to step to the side. The exact angle of the side step I’ll leave up to you, but be aware the most effective method to “get out of the way” is to side- step; either at a 45 degree angle or straight to the side.
I like to use visualization when I practice footwork. Imagine this, you are standing on railroad tracks and a train is coming. Woo woooo — you hear the train’s whistle blow. You don’t want to get hit by the train, so what do you do? The simplest method to avoid getting crushed is to simply step off of the tracks. When a resistor attacks you, simply step out of line of the attack or, off of the tracks.
The side step, at any angle, is the most effective and simplest footwork to move to safety. We side step every day in our life. If you walk down a crowded grocery aisle and someone is pushing a grocery cart your way, you instinctively side step to avoid it. If you are walking down the sidewalk and the person in front of you stops unexpectedly, again you instinctively step to the side to avoid running into them. Almost any sport you can think of that involves moving in an upright position entails stepping to the side. It’s very natural to all of us.
I’ve given countless demonstrations to law enforcement, military, and civilian groups. I spend the majority of teaching time on simply getting out of the way of an attack. As a demonstration, I will attack an assistant instructor with a wide variety of full speed, full power attacks. I haven’t hurt a single assistant instructor yet. This is because they know how to move. As long as they keep moving effectively, they can’t be hurt. If you try this drill, I can tell you when you will get hit. You will get hit the instant you start thinking about a counter attack, or block, or anything other than getting out of the way. It’s exciting to see how even the most inexperienced neophyte can avoid the attacks of highly-skilled fighters by focusing on nothing more than getting out of the way.