What is the Best Martial Art for Police Officers?

by Matt on January 26, 2009

To be effective for law enforcement, a martial art must include empty-hand techniques as well as weapons techniques. It must rely upon sound principles that allow a smaller individual to control a larger, stronger opponent. It must provide the officer with the skills needed to control a suspect while minimizing injuries, but at the same time giving the officer the option to inflict serious pain and crippling injuries if the altercation suddenly turns into a deadly force situation.

To fit the above criteria, the martial art has to be built around joint locks, throws and take downs. This immediately eliminates arts based predominately on striking and kicking. Here is a ranked list of martial arts that I recommend for police officers.

1. Filipino martial arts (Arnis de Mano, Doce Pares, Modern Arnis, etc.) – Most Filipino martial arts are comprised of Ju Jitsu, Judo or Aikido techniques to cover joint locks, chokes, throws and take downs.

  • Advantages: They also include offensive and defensive knife fighting and stick fighting, which could save your life if you are one of the many officers attacked with an edged weapon or blunt force object. The Filipinos are unmatched in knife fighting and the sticks are comparable in size to straight police batons. Since the average Filipino person is smaller than the Japanese and Chinese, their techniques have been adapted to work on stronger and larger opponents.
  • Disadvantages: It may be hard to find a qualified instructor. Many instructors may have learned the Filipino martial arts from seminars instead of learning from a school.

2. Traditional Ju Jitsu – These arts are usually based on the Japanese systems of Ju Jitsu that concentrate on joint locks, chokes, throws and take downs. These systems may cover some defensive techniques against weapons.

  • Advantages: There are many qualified instructors and strong schools. There are many tournaments offered across the country to compete and improve your techniques.
  • Disadvantages: These arts do not usually include a comprehensive study of fighting with and against sticks and knives.

3. Judo – This art is all about grappling and throwing. The throws taught in Judo can be devastating when done on a hard surface.

  • Advantages: There are many qualified instructors and strong schools. There are many tournaments offered across the country to compete and improve your techniques. The training allows you to go all out against your opponent, which will get you in great shape for the fights you can find yourself in while on-duty.
  • Disadvantages: Judo originated from Japanese Ju Jitsu. The founder eliminated many of the more dangerous techniques and concentrated on turning the art into a sport.

4. Aikido – Aikido is a Japanese system that is based on using your opponent’s force against him. It covers joint locks, chokes, throws and take downs. Most Aikido schools include defensive techniques for countering weapon attacks.

  • Advantages: There are many qualified instructors and strong schools. Aikido works well for smaller officers because it teaches students to use their opponent’s force against him.
  • Disadvantages: Most Aikido schools do not allow students to apply pressure to their training partners while practicing joint locks and throws. The training partner is taught to throw themselves. This is a dangerous habit that you have to be able to abandon on the street. It may take many years to develop confidence in your Aikido skills under this type of training environment.

5. Hapkido – Hapkido is a Korean martial art that includes joint locks, chokes, throws and take downs. Hapkido also includes most of the kicks found in Tae Kwon Do. Many Hapkido schools include defensive techniques for countering weapon attacks.

  • Advantages: There are many qualified instructors, but finding a quality school may be difficult.
  • Disadvantages: A large portion of the training time may be spent learning kicking techniques that are hard to perform and may prove harder to justify in police work. Beware of schools that claim to teach Hapkido, but turn out to only teach Tae Kwon Do.

6. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – No matter what style of martial art you pick, the ground fighting techniques taught in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu need to be added to your arsenal. In the event that you find yourself pinned on the ground by a larger, stronger attacker, almost all of your stand-up martial arts techniques will be thrown out the window. With the recent popularity of mixed martial arts, a large segment of the young male population is learning how to fight on the ground. Make sure you supplement your training with this martial art.

  • Advantages: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu concentrates on joint locks and chokes performed on the ground, with particular emphasis placed on positional strategy. The system is designed for countering strength with technique and will make you comfortable fighting off of your back. There are many tournaments around the country that offer you the opportunity to compete.
  • Disadvantages: Qualified instructors may be hard to find, but new schools are popping up all of the time. This martial art has been developed as a sport. Most schools concentrate on the sport side of the art. As an officer, the last place you want to end up is on the ground. Since most Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools only cover ground fighting, I cannot recommend it as a primary martial art for police officers

This list is not exhaustive by any means. There are many other martial arts that could be very effective for police officers. This article is meant to offer my opinion based on over 20 years of martial arts experience and over 15 years of police experience. It is not my intention to insult any martial artist out there.

Please share your thoughts on which martial art you think works best for police officers.

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January 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm
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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

michael November 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

ive taken a few martial arts before, found hapkido to be good, also krav maga if u can find a school. but recently i found an army combatives book, that showed proper disarms, throwing, joint locks, and ground fighting, keeping in mind that you have a weapon/weapons on you, and flack jackets and gear. it showed varriations on techniques that other arts do. (for example u have an m9 holstered on your right leg/hip, someone tackles you from the front/side/back, you twist so your right side is facing away from the enemy, and you complete a series of techniques to either subdue the enemy, get on your feet, critically injure your opponent, or kill the opponent)
if you have over a year left to start training in something, look for a ninjutsu school (taijutsu). theyre very rare, however im taking it now, and it is extremely effective after a certain time of practicing how to perform certain actions against attackers, but it is a needed skill if someone is attacking an officer. the only downside is the attacks and moves will critically injure an opponent, but if someone is attacking an officer, theyve rightfully waved the flag for semi lethal force to be executed

Dave Rapp January 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I would suggest that if you are alone with a suspect/perp, then Jiu Jitsu is fine, if you are larger, stronger, or much more experienced than them. However, if there is more than one opponent, you don’t want to go to the ground, due to the fact that once you are down, any of the opponents can stomp-kick you in the cranium, or anywhere else. This would end the fight, and potentially your life. I know Jiu Jitsu is very popular now, and good to know, but not as a primary fighting method. I would suggest Wing Chun Kung Fu, Kali, Marine Corps LINE or MCMAP, Krav Maga, or H2H (Army s.f.) or Judo, They all seem to have enough of a spectrum of different attacks/defenses to be useful. I am always learning and my cup is never more than 1/2 full (figurative cup, not groin protector), and I hope my humble combat instructor experience helps.

Be safe guys & keep up the good work,

Larry Brooks April 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Jujitsu and Judo can be used offensively and defensively (watch the UFC). Nearly every technique in Jujitsu can be used (99 %) at least and without a Gi. One time I choked a guy out with his tshirt. No Gi competition is a good thing to do to test this out. Judo throws can be done offensively as easy as defensively. I have studied these arts both to black belt level. The striking arts are important too. I have enjoyed reading all of the comments about the different arts that you guys study. I learned something that I use from every art that I studied. There is a tendancy for folks say which art is best or worst or what works best based on the experience of the art they study without testing out other arts to a high degree. I noticed that I never know what I will do until I am attacked or need to do an arrest, i usually surprise myself and then ask myself “why in the world did you use that arm bar or strike”? The technique is generated from the situation circumstances, so it confirms what I usually say about regarding all training as useful in some way, but over time it all flows together.

phil June 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’d have to go with Krav Maga. This Israeli method is fast, powerful and puts an opponent down in a hurry.
I’ve practiced assorted martial arts since I was 14 years old and this is the best style yet!

hiisu July 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm

im not a cop but i am a criminal justice major and hope to one day work on the force. i currently practice kuk sool won. ive studied many different arts but personally believe it covers the spectrum nicely. its an amalgamation of traditional korean arts. theres empty hand forms, weapons, and techniques. by 1st degree one will know 6 forms, variety of weapons, and 226 techniques. if anyone out there hasnt heard about it or knows anything about it please check it out. i hope to use this art to help myself when i become an officer. oh, we grapple and spar too.

Dave August 25, 2011 at 8:39 pm

As in everything in life, evolution is a necessity for survival. We are not fighting with muskets and cannons in a single line anymore. I would argue that, although most traditional arts are good, the modern warrior needs to train in a modern environment with modern techniques and tactics. That being said, I belive in the basics for martial arts. Basic boxing, wrestling, control holds all used in conjunction with less-lethal and lethal weapons seem, to me, the best approach. That being said, I have found Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to be a great art that teaches practical techniques and focuses on “the fight” and not tournaments or cages or rings. However, with most officers I know practicing no martial arts beyond DT sessions, some training in something would benefit. My advice? Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or a boxing / MMA class. Food for thought.

Tyler November 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I ran into this web site while putting together a qualitative statistics paper for my CJ degree. I have been a cop and a soldier and will be working in law enforcement again when I graduate. I have been training in martial arts since a very young age. This has become a hobbies of mine that I am passionate about. I have trained in traditional Okinawan (Japanese) Karate, Brazilian JJ, Filipino Kali, Wing chun, Muay Thai, Krav Maga and two Army combatives styles one focusing on BJJ (Army MACP) and one on Kali. I say all of this to preface my opinion. I agree whole heartidly with the authors opinions on this topic. The thing that needs to be looked at is this, how much time and effort you have or are willing to put into learning this portion of your craft. For instance if you are in a management position over seeing cops, and you have only a few weeks or months to dedicate and teach a martial art, it is smart to use a chopped up version of the larger martial arts like Karv, or MACP, or other Line type military martial arts. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these types of martial arts, I am just bringing up the fact that they are designed to teach concepts that usually take years in a short amount of time. They give you the best short term bang for your buck. Because of this they are by nature missing a lot of the correct positioning or details and structure that exist in the original martial arts that they have been taken from. If you look at those military martial art styles and look into what styles they are made up of, and have time to study those styles then I highly suggest you do that instead of doing the get trained quick and less effectively martial arts. If you have time and the dedication or will power to spend and learn multiple martial arts over a longer time frame you will by far have more tools for the tool box and more training to rely upon and fall back on. As officers you will need to know how to handle knives, punching, kicks, sticks, throws, joint lock ups, and ground fighting. Studying punching, and kicking martial arts will help you learn how to handle those punching, and kicking techniques, so don’t leave them out just because you shouldn’t punch or kick offenders as an officer. In my personal opinion, studying just one martial art limits you, and I have yet to see just one martial art that covers every situation that officers can face on the street. If you have an option I suggest using a traditional martial art like Aikido, Judo, Okenawan Karate, BJJ, or Muay Thy in order to have a foundation in movement and an understanding of the basics. Then build your ground game with BJJ because if miss applied or if you meet your match it always can go to the ground. I also think every cop should study Kali because of the things they will learn about how to handle knives and sticks. However if I had to only do one of the martial arts I would choose Filipino Kali, because of the way it directly handles knives and sticks and because of its quick pick up by the student and effectiveness when it comes to only using a few moves to lock up or finish the problem. In closing if you have time to study then pick a traditional martial art, Kali with knife and stick and ground fighting. If you don’t have time use a military martial art like Krav that is made up of the above mentioned martial arts techniques. My two cents for what they are worth.

JD November 24, 2011 at 2:12 am

I think there is a problem with the basic premise of studying martial arts for real world defense. The problem comes from the word ‘art’, as too many of these are focused on repetitive learning of techniques or forms that have no real place in a real world engagement.
I have been a big fan of true combat krav maga, as it was developed not as an art, but based on effectiveness. However, it can be tough to find qualified instruction, since a lot of it has been watered down to the same strip mall McDojo stuff taught at traditional martial arts studios.
I also generally applaud programs which are moving towards practicality, like the Army Combatives program.
I don’t mean to be offensive to any art form that many people have dedicated sometimes decades of their life to, but I think the mysticism involved in a lot of martial arts along with Hollywood have perpetrated a massive fraud on people studying it primarily for self-defense. I think the large majority of it has little practical use in a real world defense scenario, save for some joint locks, ground fighting, grappling, and striking which can be more effectively taught and performed without much of the structure that goes along with traditional martial arts.
Look at MMA and the evolution it has undergone since becoming a sport. It may only be a sport, but it has already taken martial arts further in the last 20 years than it had come in the previous 2000 years combined. That is largely because as a sport not confined to techniques, athletes would learn and grow based on what is effective, not what is tradition. I’d like to see law enforcement learn a lesson from that.

Douglas December 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I’ve trained in Boxing, Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon-Do, Ju Jitsu and the school of hard knocks on the street as a police officer and member of a tactical firearms team. There’s no one magic solution – there are so many different scenarios that present themselves. Police officers (and everyone else that wants to act legally) have to operate within use of force guidelines. Ju Jitsu is probably the most common skill I’ve used on the street coupled with MMA training. You want to stay up on your feet where possible – but in the event you go down, learning how to disable the attacker rapidly is key and getting back up quickly – especially if there are multiple opponents. Main advice I’d give is to train with your work equipment on where possible. It is very different to move in a gi as opposed to shirts, pants and body armour. Also, it’s necessary to train against opponents wearing t-shirts, hoodies, even body armour to get the feel for how different techniques work or don’t work in certain situations. I was fortunate to meet a Ju Jitsu instructor that developed his style to accommodate his work environment as a jail guard. He developed a style that worked in very restrictive spaces where traditional movements failed. Stay safe!

Tarek Kaplan January 19, 2012 at 8:56 am

i read a new martial arts system which is build from a turkish master. it should be very real with the movements. they say, this should be special build for police, swat and force team. i can’t link the clip officially, because there is a copyright on the site, but not for the main page which is http://www.amarok.net . you can find in the menu the clip. it looks impressive.

H.WALLACE SOLO DENNIS March 5, 2012 at 6:48 am

I am a president of a local martial arts club and a law enforcement of [police], I kindly ned some information from your organization to assist
me enhance the performance of my duty.

randhellion June 2, 2012 at 2:14 am

Nothing tops the Martial Art of Surprise. If you can pick your nose, you can win in a fight, no matter who is fighting you, if, you surprise them. See what they do, how they move, kick them in the balls, stomp on their toe, pull out their tongue, belly bump them to the ground and sit on their head, the choice is yours. As long as you time it right. Fighting is about timing. Not about fancy moves.

ggraves June 11, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Keep mind. anything you use (D.T.) you must protect yourself using the force continum. Libility! Very hard to do using some of the MA listed here. What is the answer. Practice, practice, practice. so you are the expert in any court situation. Justifiy with force continum.Just saying.

Larry G. Brooks July 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Correctional officers have the same problems that officers do but have no weapons usually. I am working now as one to learn that side of the fence. Your need for unarmed combat is high. You should be studying constantly outside of the facility in some form of martial art, one with lots of free style fighting type training. I think some karate is real good, and lots of brazilian jiu jitsu. This jiu jitsu is thought of as a sport only but was not taught that way in the beginning, its focus is on all forms of fighting from the standup to the ground and back up again. If you learn brazilian “Gracie” jiu jitsu from a black belt that understands it as an art rather than a sport, you will learn quite a bit. As a deputy I stayed on my feet with multiple attackers and sought tools like O.C. spray and maybe sometimes my weapon. Most of the time I took suspects down and handcuffed them (jiu jitsu). When i taught at an academy it always took more than one guy to handcuff another that was truly resisting (out of 1000 students). But with lots of good training you can do it by yourself, its not easy when they are really fighting you. I shy away from striking people especially with batons (don’t carry one) because of how it looks to the public. Take downs with cuffing works fine. Training should be set up by looking at the needs of the job, then trace backwards to find the right techniques to accomplish it. Many cops are learning techniques and studying arts that teach a lot of stuff then trying to plug it in (backwards). Try to find a good cop with BJJ training to learn from. Casey Banes in Athens Ga., Brooks Weaver in Royston Ga. are a few. Make sure they are cops. Beware of the non-cop, single martial art instructors that promise solutions to your training needs, they may not even know what they are lacking in to help you and make it up as they go along, this will get you hurt. I have seen karate instructors teaching cops how to grab and disarm others with knives, this will get you carved like a Christmas turkey. If someone shows you a knife, show them your gun. Be careful everyone and train hard.

Larry G. Brooks July 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

MMA is a lot of techniques skimmed off of actual martial arts. Its pretty cool training and makes sense for cops since it takes less time to learn how to monkey stomp someone because you are practicing less technique with high repetition. However if you take the time to specialize in multiple martial arts and do the MMA type training at the same time you will most likely monkey stomp the MMA fighters, it all depends on how much time you want to invest in it. Ability plays a big role in training, some people can do much better than others with just a little training due to this. I use a range of fighting going from kicking, kneeing, punching, elbows, throwing and ground and pound to armbars and so forth depending on how serious my attacker is. Then I get a #2 pencil and sit down and articulate it all afterwards for my ever supportive superiors. There are three main ways for a department to get sued, retention of officers that screw up, poorly trained officers, and unsupervised officers. This means that your head is on the chopping block to be sacrificed if things get bad for your department. So make sure to use your supervisor, get documented training, and be able to explain your actions and maybe they will retain you when a lawsuit is filed against your department. An old supervisor told me once that i am a kind of “break in time of war” type officer and he enjoyed having me around when fighting broke out. I am still thinking about that one? I have had some great officers help me with great backup during some incidents and appreciated it and have others that were worthless and could not beat their way out of a wet paper bag.

Terry March 11, 2013 at 12:07 am

-13 years LE. 15 b.j.j, 4 wrestling, and maybe two years worth of muay thai . There is some great info in this thread and I enjoyed reading it. I would add a few things. Many officers think of joint locks as wrist locks, the moves they learned in the academy but never worked that great. Joint locks in jujitsu are much more aggressive and work against stronger people, unlike the wrist locks we use for handcuffing and passive aggressive. Grappling arts also teach you good stand up, foot work and how to get up. Often times I hear “you are just good from your back.” We train this a lot but we don’t necessarily want to be here. Officers should also fight to stay on their feet! Brazilian jujitsu or similar arts are very poor at dealing with multiple attackers and adjusting to environments (no mat, tight spaces, belt). One thing about the ground though is that it’s an equalizer. Technique is much more relevant grappling than standing. The example I like to use is fighting in the ocean, you’re an OK swimmer your opponent is a free diver… Size stupid mattering as much. But there is no silver bullet as fighting has way to many variables. My grandfather bet up three thugs who cussed out grandma, he used a aluminum trash can.

Rasmus April 3, 2013 at 12:34 am

SPK/ROS (Self Pro Krav/Real Operational System) is probably the best bet for a police officer, as ROS is designed specifically for that. Information can be found here: Académie Jacques Levinet http://www.academielevinet.com/

Lew April 30, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I was a deputy sheriff who relied onmy Aikido training to control people, yet limit civil liability. Strength is not required. If you do not have martial arts background, please give Aikido a try. It also trains you to deal with multiple perps.

Richard May 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm


I know, people laugh, but once I flip them over my head a few times they tend to shut up. As a teenager, using only Aikido, I flipped a 350-lb boxer (more than twice my weight) over my head twice, while I had an active knee injury. The key is form: with poor form, you will get hurt. If you find yourself on the ground, there is a relatively small pool of techniques that can be employed to pull your opponent down, and use that energy and momentum to pull yourself back up. That really makes them mad.

Using only a few quick, simple, circular motions, the aikidoka can translate the linear energy and momentum of their opponent into rotational energy and momentum, which can be used to stop the opponent or bring them down. Disarming techniques end with the weapon in your hand, not on the ground where someone else could pick it up.

Bonus: being purely defensive with an emphasis on not injuring yourself or your opponent, you can never get in trouble using Aikido; as long as you don’t go above the fifth tier for most opponents. The fifth tier is reserved for those using weapons, in a group, or who simply refuse to give up.

If you really need a weapon I’d choose the manriki-kusari: it’s small (11-15in total), light, fast, versatile, medium-ranged, and if your opponent gets hold of it chances are they willll hurt themselves more than they will hurt you. Double bonus: when handled right it can deflect bullets (but the larger manriki or kusarifundo (up to 20ft is considered a “practical” length) is better for this). The whacky-stick is impractical, you can’t really extend and strike in one motion; which is critical for quick close combat. The manriki-kusari can be extended, used, and retracted in one motion, making it a much better choice. Triple bonus: you can take your colleague’s whacky-sticks away with it, which tends to make them mad.

Comm. Sgt.
Yes, this is my main art. I find it . . . preserves intelligence.

Henry Brettrager August 22, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I’m a 35 year Martial Arts practitioner with over 20 experience as a Police D/T instructor and founder of the Sudden Assault Response System Police Combative Control System (S.A.R.S) Please forgive me I’m not trying to give my resume, everything I’ve read on this post is for the most part accurate, but if you ask me whats the best Martial Art for Law Enforcement . “the one you practice”

john wong April 4, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I would say you need a few different styles because of the different
people you as a LEO handle everyday; it could be a 200 lb guy or
a 120 lb thin person running. Pay attention to the police magazines
like S.W.A.T., they will give you the latest training information on
where perps are heading towards.

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