Desensitization training helps officers stay in the fight

People aren’t born with the ability to hit and be hit — they have a sensory inhibition that every officer must learn to overcome

New officers often come to us with little or no training in physical combat, often without ever being involved in a physical fight. They have never experienced a punch or a kick, and equally important, have never punched or kicked anyone themselves. They need experience and they need it fast — prior to hitting the streets as a police officer. They need what we call desensitization training. They need to be desensitized to the trauma of either having to hit another person or being struck by another person. Being “desensitized” allows officers to manage physical trauma so they can “stay in the fight” and win a physical, dragged-out, knocked-down fight.

Desensitization Defined
It is important to understand how this type of training really impacts an officer’s readiness to be on the front lines. The need is based on the concept of “sensory inhibition.” People aren’t born with the ability to hit and be hit. Instead, they have a sensory inhibition from touching or being touched — especially when it comes to hitting or being hit. It is important that an officer learn to overcome this inhibition.

In the past, desensitization was taught in pre-law enforcement combat training that occurred either in the military or in sports like boxing, wrestling, martial arts, and even football or rugby. But over time, these sports became less popular and the level of contact that most people received diminished.

In the law enforcement industry we have now reached a point where “desensitization” is not an option but a necessary part of preparing new officers for the realities of physical confrontations. There is a reason that even in Verbal Judo the officer is referred to a Contact Professional — an officer who has to be able to use both verbal and physical contact to establish and maintain control.

Desensitization is the means by which an officer is prepared to strike and be struck in a confrontation. This concept includes the gradual introduction of physical grappling techniques to get the officer comfortable with simple physical contact. The officer then begins to hit striking shields and be hit while holding them so they get used to physical contact at a low level before graduating to more traumatic training that involves hitting and getting hit while wearing protective gear.

Training such as this is sometimes referred to as “spanking theory” because like a child being threatened with a spanking, officers soon learn that they can survive and prevail in a physical confrontation. So after the first spanking (physical trauma) the officer, like the child, understands that the spanking (being involved in a fight) isn’t so bad. Trainers refer to an officer getting comfortable with delivering strikes and surviving being struck (while continuing to function) as Guided Discovery and Success by Approximation. Officers who participate in these desensitization drills become incrementally better at surviving and winning real confrontations.

This is the type of Stress Inoculation that Lt Col. Dave Grossman talks about in his book, On Killing

How to Train the Desensitization Concept
Desensitization training begins by getting new officers comfortable in grappling with each other. Once they overcome their initial inhibitions to physical contact, students move on to hitting the striking shields. Both officers benefit because the officer hitting the target learns how to hit a body with their personal weapons while the officer holding the striking shield learns how it feels to be hit. They soon learn that they can survive these initial hits and they are more confident in their abilities to survive a fight. This spanking theory helps them expand their comfort zones so a fight becomes affirmation of their abilities and not something to fear.

Wearing protective training gear, including arm guards and thigh guards, can now be used to take this initial desensitization to another level. After you have taught students how to use their person weapons on the striking shield, new officers can start practicing controlled training activities with each other. They are trained in structured desensitization drills to strike each other using fists, elbows, knees, and angle kicks to strategic areas. For this type of training, I strongly recommend the use of RedMan Student Suits. This training is not meant to have your students “beat the living daylights out of each other” but rather to continue desensitizing themselves to the inhibition about hitting and being hit by another person.

The training is conducted in the touch, one-eighth, one-quarter, and one-half speed and power format. Remember that all this training needs to be conducted using moderate force — that is to say force that is meant to be felt but not to injure.

• Overdoing this training will do more harm than good – it will hinder new officers’ ability to win a fight in the duty environment. We want to teach them that they can be effective with their personal weapons while being able to survive being hit during a fight
• Too little impact does nothing to improve their ability and confidence in these abilities while too much impact too soon teaches them that they can’t win a violent confrontation

We need to build winners but these winners need to be slowly developed to maximize confidence while at the same time minimize the chance of destroying their newfound abilities and their confidence in these abilities.

This training emphasizes the use of the forearms and knees to the body guard and knee kicks and angle kicks to thigh guards.

Prior to training, a new officer should be trained how to stand properly with their knees bent to take these strikes safely. This includes taking forearms strikes in the upper peck area, knee strikes to the body in the lower abdominal area, as well as, knee strikes and angle kicks to the front or rear of the legs so as to not kick into the side of the knee area.

Desensitization drills have proven very valuable in increasing the proficiency of new officers for effectively and efficiently striking their targets while markedly improving the confidence of these officers in surviving real confrontations.

Years ago, I heard a veteran sergeant caution a rookie officer not to write the phrase “based on his training and experience” in his report because as of now that rookie had no real experience so he better depend on his training. This sergeant went on to say that the rookie’s training was designed to help him survive until he could get some experience.

The same is true of our defensive tactics training for recruits. If they don’t come to us with experience in surviving a physical encounter, we need to give them as much training as we can — until they can develop their own experiences — so that all our new officers survive and prevail in their duty assignments.

About the author

Experience, expertise and communication skills are the criteria by which a defensive tactics instructor is judged. By these measures, Gary T. Klugiewicz is recognized as one of the nation's leading control systems analysts specializing in the Use of Force.

Gary is the training director for Vistelar (, a global consulting & training firm that addresses the entire spectrum of human conflict. His Verbal Defense & Influence ( training program is used worldwide in a variety of disciplines to teach non-escalation of conflict and reduce the need for de-escalation tactics. Gary specializes in transforming theory (“fire talks”) into reality (“fire drills”) through the use of Emotionally Safe Performance-Driven Instruction.

He retired from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department in 2001 after 25 years of service, during which he rose to the rank of captain. As a former Street Survival® Seminar instructor and internationally known defensive tactics instructor, Gary’s training has impacted literally hundreds of thousands of officers.

Gary developed the Principles of Subject Control (P.O.S.C.®) for Correctional Personnel that have been adopted by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Training & Standards Bureau and Wisconsin Department of Corrections for their correctional training programs. He has been instrumental in the development of Correctional Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) training programs throughout the United States. Gary has revolutionized crisis intervention training through the development of the “First Responder Point-of-Impact Crisis Intervention (PICI) Training Programs for Persons with Special Needs” training program. PICI focuses on keeping people safe through a system of time-tested crisis intervention tactics and the development of Special Needs Strategies.

Gary Klugiewicz has spent more than 30 years as a line officer, supervisor, and a control systems designer. He currently serves as a defensive tactics consultant for numerous police and correctional agencies throughout the United States.

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