When your job is to keep the public safe amid ever-mounting pressure to be perfect 100% of the time, any skill that can help achieve that goal is a welcome one.
As law enforcement agencies across the state and country come under increased pressure to adapt and reform, whether it be public or political pressure, many officers are looking to add whatever they can to their skill set in hopes of increasing the odds that they and those they encounter on a shift go home safe.
While martial arts training is nothing new to the law enforcement world, many officers are now training in the hottest discipline of martial arts that’s known more for its propensity to produce professional fighters than patrol officers: Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ).
That trend is also prevalent locally, as Grays Harbor Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy recently teamed up with the Adopt A Cop BJJ nonprofit organization to offer classes to the Harbor’s finest.
Adopt A Cop BJJ is a 501(c)3 organization that “allows active duty patrolling police officers around the country to train at any Adopt A Cop BJJ affiliated academy and will pay 100% of the officer’s membership until they reach the rank of blue belt.”
According to Grays Harbor BJJ Academy owner Joe Marchie, that amounts to approximately one to two years of training and a $1,200 value.
Marchie said while he currently trains several local law enforcement and corrections officers, he didn’t know about the program until one of his students brought it to his attention.
“The program started (locally) just under two months ago,” he said. “Hoquiam Police Department officer Rob Verboomen trains with me, and he has been very vocal about getting his guys to come in and train.”
Verboomen said he heard of the program on a podcast by its founder — a former Navy SEAL and current MMA fighter — and brought the idea to Marchie.
“I knew about (Adopt A Cop) from Mitch Aguilar, he’s the one who started the program for getting trained in BJJ for law enforcement officers because it’s such a great tool for self defense,” said Verboomen, who started training at the academy in Aberdeen in October 2020. “I mentioned it to Joe and he literally signed up the next day.”
Marchie’s BJJ studio was quickly accepted as one of several hundred Adopt A Cop affiliated gyms across the country, but is the only such academy west of Tacoma.
According to Marchie, the two main roadblocks preventing law enforcement officers from taking jiu-jitsu classes are the same reasons preventing most civilians from engaging in extra-curricular activites: money and time.
By becoming an Adopt A Cop gym, Marchie is attempting to remove both of those excuses.
“A lot of (officers) say they don’t have the time or the money. Those are the two biggest reasons I hear from both civilians and officers. So I try to remove those barriers,” he said, adding that his gym is open seven days a week and holds BJJ classes at 5:30 a.m., noon and 6:30 p.m.
“They pay for everything, the administration costs, they pay your tuition, they pay for everything until the rank of blue belt,” Verboomen said. “So it takes away the money aspect and just gets the officers in there to train.”
Marchie, a BJJ black belt who has been training for 13 years, said that BJJ is “the chess of the martial-arts world,” meaning it is a slow-progressing art that takes an average 12-18 months to advance to the rank of blue belt.
He added that the lessons of BJJ are just as mental as they are physical and are suited to what law enforcement officers deal with in their daily duties.
“A lot goes into it. It’s not so much two people fighting for position to achieve dominance or a submission hold, but it teaches not only these officers but anybody that does jiu-jitsu to be comfortable while being uncomfortable,” he said.
“They are going to be able to make proper decisions when they are in a dire circumstance because in jiu-jitsu someone is on top of you trying to choke you or possibly break your arm. … It’s tough and a lot of people panic. They don’t know how to escape. For some people it’s a life-altering experience when they step on the mat for the first time and they can’t get another human being off of them, no matter what they try to do. If that happens to an officer, that’s life and death for them and possibly a lot of other people. So we give them the tools that if they do end up on their back with someone on top of them, they know what to do in that position and to remain calm and act accordingly.”
While most equate Brazilian jiu-jitsu with arm bars, triangle-chokes and various submission finishers seen in UFC and Bellator MMA promotions, the officers at Grays Harbor BJJ use the skill in a more practical application for their needs.
“You’re not getting arm bars or going for leg locks,” said Verboomen, who is Hoquiam PD’s Defensive Tactics Officer. “If it comes down to that situation where you are on your back, I’m going to use the skills I have to get out of those situations.”
Verboomen added that using the non-striking martial art is more about control and confidence in a law-enforcement scenario.
“In those situations where you have to use force, you’re not trying to escalate or use force where you are trying to hurt somebody or hurt yourself,” he said. “With jiu-jitsu, you feel confident in yourself and confident that if you are in a situation where if you get tackled or thrown down to the ground that you’d be able to get distance or into a situation where you could get out, to take care of yourself on the street.
“It’s a big confidence builder and I think every officer should have that confidence. It’s a mindset of training and continuing to hone your craft because complacency isn’t a good thing in this profession, so you have to always be trying to do your best and get better. That’s something Adopt A Cop is trying to do, to make every officer better.”
Though data on the subject is scarce, there is evidence that there are multiple benefits to having officers trained in BJJ.
According to an article posted on the jiujitsutimes.com website, the Marietta (Georgia) Police Department began sponsoring its officers for off-duty jiu-jitsu training after dealing with backlash over a use of force video went viral over two years ago. The department has reported that since it began training officers in BJJ, it has seen a 23% reduction in the use of Tasers by its BJJ-trained officers, a 48% decrease in officer injuries across the entire department, a 53% reduction in civilian injuries and a 59% overall decrease in the use of force by BJJ-trained officers.
“I know (use of) force is a polarizing subject in law enforcement, so we want to be able to take people into custody using the least amount of force as possible,” said David Tarrence, a 10-year veteran patrol officer with the Aberdeen Police Department and one of two Adopt A Cop students at Grays Harbor BJJ. “So if you have developed a skill by coming to classes like this, you are going to be able to use less force when taking someone into custody.”
Tarrence, who has attended approximately 30 BJJ classes in two months, said the martial art “helps you not to panic” and to “stay calm when in unfamiliar territory,” both useful skills for a law enforcement officer.
“You find as you are going through this, you can still talk to people,” he said. “You can be in any of these different positions and give them commands, trying to deescalate just verbally while you are in the midst of something so high stress. People that don’t have this kind of training wouldn’t have the thought of having that conversation. … I think the ultimate goal is being able to help people as effectively as possible. I think jiu-jitsu better prepares you for those serious incidents.”
For more information on the Adopt A Cop BJJ program, visit adoptacopbjj.org.
For more information on Grays Harbor Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, call 360-310-3023, visit gh-bjj.com, or email email@example.com.