Jiu-jitsu is being promoted more and more as a valuable tool for law enforcement officers these days, and for good reason: the martial art is extremely practical in dangerous situations and can help both the officer and suspect make it out of dangerous altercations alive. Best of all, you don’t even need to be an expert to make it work for you.
BJJ white belt and Loveland, CO police officer Dylan Copello found this out firsthand last Friday when he was called to a local McDonald’s over someone “acting crazy” in the men’s bathroom. When he arrived, the staff said that they hadn’t been the ones to call, so Copello went into the bathroom to check out the situation for himself. That’s when things started to get intense.
“When I go in, I confront a male in the bathroom stall,” recalls Copello. “He comes out with a pair of scissors, and when I tell him to drop them, he starts yelling at me. He ends up throwing them across the bathroom and starts charging towards me. I did a body fold takedown on him, and we go to the ground. He ends up getting back up, and I did another one. While we were on the ground a second time, I feel him pulling on my gun. I twist my hips out, and his hand comes off. In doing so, he stands back up, and I do a third takedown. At that time, I just decide to go knee to belly until more cops arrive.”
The Jiu-Jitsu Times independently confirmed Copello’s account of the incident with the Loveland Police Department.
The officer’s technique and quick thinking may have very well saved both his life and the suspect’s. He says that after the scramble, the suspect, who was allegedly under the influence of drugs, told the responding officers that he had planned on killing Copello and then himself.
Despite the fact that the situation went relatively well considering all the other potential outcomes, Copello says that if he had to do it all over again, he would’ve taken a different route.
“If I could go back, I would just maintain control and wait for units rather than try to handcuff right off the bat. I couldn’t pull my gun out because I felt that we were too close in the bathroom and I wouldn’t have had enough distance to disengage.”
While some may think that the ability to control a dangerous suspect like this can only happen after years and years of intense training, Copello says that he’s only been training for a little over a year and is currently a two-stripe white belt. He currently trains under Matt Shoup at Northern Colorado Jiu-Jitsu Academy (NOCO), and he credits the academy’s specialized law enforcement class with teaching him the technique that may have saved his life.
“A few weeks ago, Matt had a few of us cops in training and was just showing us the body fold takedown (that we nickname the NOCO takedown),” he says. “It worked great because it wasn’t super complex and it saved my knees.”
Shoup says that he places a lot of emphasis on law enforcement training in his BJJ classes, and Copello certainly believes in his instructor’s push for police officers to train. “I always tell other cops that not only is it super important for us to train for our job, but it’s incredibly fun,” says Copello. “I’ve been in law enforcement now for eleven years and I’ve noticed that cops seem to think that lifting weights is the best way to protect themselves on the street. It’s important to strength train, but you need to know how to fight. You also need to have good cardio, and BJJ is a great cardio workout.”
Copello notes, however, that the gameplan for a match in sport-based jiu-jitsu can be wildly different from a strategy used in a street fight. “My coach is big on knee-on-belly, because when you’re on the street, you have to be contentiously conscious about your surroundings. If you have a good mount or side control, then you are probably leaving yourself exposed to attacks from friends of the suspect,” he says. “Another reason why it’s important to have control before you take handcuffs out and try to arrest. I didn’t do a good job of that at the beginning of my situation. That’s why I had to resort to three takedowns before I realized I should just control until more cops arrived to help handcuff.”
Copello’s experience proves that even a year’s worth of grappling experience can be extremely helpful or even lifesaving when law enforcement personnel are faced with aggressive suspects. While jiu-jitsu isn’t the be-all-end-all for defending yourself in a street fight, it can significantly increase your chances of getting out of there alive.