You know who doesn’t need any more lethal weaponry at their disposal? America’s killer cops, that’s who. And I’m not just talking about guns.
In the days and weeks following George Floyd’s death, which, according to an independent medical examiner was caused by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure” due to violent and unnecessary use of force by bad cop Derek Chauvin and three others, the rhetoric in the streets has focused on defunding police departments and reform. The City Council of Minneapolis has already voted to dismantle its force, and there’s a potential sea change and radical tidal shift looming across America, so leave it to some idiots to suggest that teaching cops Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a path towards reform. It isn’t.
Developed and modified from its Japanese origins in the 1920s by the Gracies, Jiu Jitsu’s royal family, BJJ is a beautiful martial art predicated on giving a smaller fighter the chance to compete with, and eventually subdue, a larger opponent. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate underdog martial art, which is exactly why the Gracie family called on diminutive son Royce to represent the family at the inaugural UFC event in 1993.
There was a logic behind booking Royce, who was far less experienced than his brothers Rorion and Rickson, to compete at UFC 1. If the world could see the 180-pound Royce tap out men — world class boxers, submission wrestlers, and Savate savages — twice his size, it would be a landmark moment for the martial art that has since become synonymous with chokes and hyperextending joints. The experiment was a success, and in the 27 years since the UFC launched, the world has fallen in love with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Cornerstone in any dojo or martial arts gym is the concept of respect. Students learn to respect themselves, their opponents, their sensei (Japanese for teacher or mentor), and the world around them. Part of that training involves learning the appropriate time to resort to using martial arts skills, which is not necessarily the same thing as resorting to violence. In fact, it’s the opposite of violence because at its core, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an effective way to subdue an attacker … and George Floyd was no attacker.
For years, American Police forces have resorted to using chokeholds — blood chokes that cut off flow to the Carotid Artery, causing victims to lose consciousness — at inappropriate moments, and with various levels of proper technique. Sure, these blood chokes (rear naked chokes being the most common) are an effective way to submit suspects, but it’s clear that, for decades, American police forces have been using the techniques improperly, and at the wrong times, which is why blood chokes have already been (temporarily) outlawed by the LAPD, with more forces around the country following suit.
Looking at officer Chauvin and the other three officers (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao): they ganged up on Floyd, with Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, as the victim gasped for air, unable to breathe. And these are men with institutional, Police Academy training. Imagine if they actually knew how to use Jiu Jitsu properly. George Floyd may have not even lasted a minute with his hands cuffed and in that position.
In actuality, many in U.S. law enforcement train in some sort of Jiu Jitsu on the side. Even famed UFC referee, “Big” John McCarthy, who now works as a color commentator for the Bellator MMA promotion, is a former LAPD officer. However, McCarthy, a Gracie disciple, also educates the world on proper technique and use of force at his C.O.M.M.A.N.D. academy that trains MMA judges and referees.
Effective training definitely makes a difference in the application of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the real world, but there’s a major contrast between rolling on the mats in the dojo with a referee present and using these techniques on a suspect, who may, or may not, be guilty. And, giving police the ability to implement BJJ techniques in the street — rear naked chokes, guillotine chokes, arm triangles, and the like — is just another way to arm them with lethal force.
Back when the Gracie family gave the world its gift of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, they imagined situations where smaller competitors, like family patriarch Helio, could compete with bigger opponents, leveling the playing field between the powerful and the powerless. They did not modify Jiu Jitsu into its Brazilian form so that armed police officers could have another tool at their disposal to use against unarmed suspects.
So, do cops need proper Jiu Jitsu training? Do our tax dollars need to be used to teach the police how to submit citizens who have not been convicted or even charged? Absolutely not. If anything, the cops need a lesson in civil rights, history, and oppression. They need education, awareness, and situational training on how to diffuse and de-escalate tense situations, anything but more combat training that have lethal consequences.