The Ethical Warrior: Defensive tactics training and the Warrior Creed

Overcoming the notion that declaring oneself an Ethical Warrior is somehow ‘uncool’ can be achieved a number of ways — try incorporating this type of scenario training in your DT work


People are attracted to the law enforcement profession for many reasons. Most are motivated by a desire to make a positive difference by protecting and serving their communities. Many are also attracted to the prestige, authority, and respect that come with the profession. They may also want to be part of a close-knit team with high standards and esprit de corps. Some want to stand out among their fellow citizens for accepting sacrifices and facing dangers. Still others may want, for lack of a better word, a “cool” job.

In this series of articles we have explored the concept of the Ethical Warrior, dedicated to protecting the life of self and others — all others, if possible. Ethics are understood as life protecting moral values in action. The law enforcement Ethical Warrior understands that, when force is necessary, it is used to protect life, even if that means taking life to protect self and others. In this article, we would like to explore how the ennobling feeling of being an Ethical Warrior can positively impact your defensive tactics training.

If you read our last two articles, you are now very familiar with the “Warrior Creed.”

Wherever I go,
everyone is a little bit safer because I am there.
Wherever I am,
anyone in need has a friend.
When I return home,
everyone is happy I am there.
It's a better life!"

Even though we get mostly positive feedback on the Warrior Creed, we have had some people call it “soft” or “silly. Saying you want to be ethical is not always easy. It may even feel or sound overly-romantic or naïve. Or “uncool.” The fact is, declaring yourself as an Ethical Warrior takes self-confidence and maturity. You have to really “get” what it is all about at its core.

We hope all law enforcement professionals start out wanting to be Ethical Warrior — even if they don’t specifically use that term. But all too often, after a few years on the job, some see the transformation from idealistic rookie to a more realistic (or jaded) veteran. The original motivations are still there beneath the surface, but the complexities of the real world may lead to a world-weary cynicism. What about the prestige, respect and authority we thought we would acquire? The bond of service with brother and sister officers becomes the primary source of motivation and pride. Distance grows between the officers (“us”) and the people we same officers joined law enforcement and swore to protect (“them”).

An Example Scenario
Cynicism affects more than just our behavior on the street; it can also affect our approach to training — especially defensive tactics training. As we have addressed in previous columns, we believe defensive tactics training is an ideal setting for clarifying and refining the ethical values that keep officers safe and effective. All organizations are different, and you might not identify with the scenario described below, but, many will probably see some distinct similarities with their training experiences.

A typical day of defensive tactics refresher training begins, and the officer-students are less than enthused. There is probably some nervous joking and laughter, maybe driven by the fear of somehow getting embarrassed or hurt. Most are probably not particularly interested in martial arts and think they already know everything they need to know. Their street experiences didn’t look like the simple role-playing scenes that they were taught in the academy gym, anyway.

The instructor appears before this less-than-receptive audience. Not immune from cynicism, the instructor adds his or her own professional baggage to the atmosphere. There is the temptation to make a big impression in order to gain the attention of an unenthusiastic class. Often this impression is a display of toughness, physical strength, and/or technical skill. The physical display can be accompanied by a verbal show of toughness. Toughness can quickly turn into meanness. The emphasis is on damage to the opponent, and restraint is only discussed in terms of legal liability.

If the instructor insists on physically demanding training, the officer-students are likely to either hang back to prevent injury or display excessive aggression to mirror the instructor’s attitude. If, on the other hand, the instructor is concerned that the audience resents the training, physical demands may become lighter and the training less effective. Either way, no one is likely to leave with a positive experience. None experience the noble feeling of being the Ethical Warrior. So what can you do?

An Innovative Drill
Build the others-protecting message right into the training. Practice the physical techniques not only in defense of self but also in defense of others. In our combined five decades of martial arts training, we have been in literally hundreds of martial arts schools and defensive tactics sessions and we have seen thousands of techniques. Reliably, 99.9 percent of these techniques involve the person protecting him or herself. Where is the others protective aspect in this training methodology? We have found that training to protect others is very motivating and damps unproductive competitive urges. Some of us have done personal protection work and we know that learning to protect others can make a positive improvement in the psychological atmosphere of the training.

For those who may be interested in learning and teaching the others-protecting techniques, the approach is simple. Use the same techniques you already know, but set up scenarios in which someone else is (or some others are) attacking a person you are protecting. It is interesting, fun and you can learn a lot about the technicalities of real-life protective actions. Here are a couple of scenarios. Be creative and make up your own.

1.) You and your partner are interviewing a subject. The subject suddenly takes a wild swing at your partner or goes for his or her weapon. How do you protect your partner, keep yourself and your weapon tactically safe, and subdue the subject with just the right level of force?
2.) You and a partner practice breaking up a shoving match between two subjects. Can you manipulate the tactical space through effective maneuver in a way that separates them and lets your partner restrain one person while you restrain the other?

An Important Difference
Here is a guideline that may help you remain true to the Ethical Warrior mindset: The object is not to fight the “bad guy;” rather, focus on protecting everyone involved. It is a subtle difference but an important one.

How else can we bridge the gap between instructor and the instructed, and create the conditions for meaningful training? We suggest that the rest break immediately after physical training is a perfect opportunity to reconnect with those ethical motivations that originally brought everyone to law enforcement. Overcoming the embarrassment of physical contact can break down the cynicism and reluctance to discuss the real purpose of the job. When we activate the idea that our tactical and technical skills serve to protect ourselves and others, all others if possible, we begin to recapture our ethical roots. So, talk about it in a very natural way after the training. Use real life protector stories with emotional impact. We all have these anecdotes. It helps us regain the view of ourselves as warrior-protectors. And that, if you think about it, is a pretty cool job.

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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