Teaching BJJ To Police Officers: The Other Side Of The Discussion
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu adds several benefits to an individual’s life. Increased fitness, camaraderie and confidence improvements are some of the advantages that come from training. Still, as with everything else in life, BJJ has its limitations. One of those is that it is unable to solve the glaring issues with police brutality that have existed long before iPhone cameras, Twitter, and the Black Lives Matter movement. To suggest that “all cops should train BJJ” is not only a suggestion that falls short of the true cancer within the criminal justice system but ignores growing issues of racism and fascism within the martial arts industry.
Let us start with what training BJJ or a similar grappling art such as wrestling, or Judo can offer. A high-level practitioner can control and subdue an individual looking to cause harm. There is a variety of examples of wrestlers or BJJ practitioners saving others in ways that did not result in life-threatening injuries to the criminal. Their skills gave them the confidence and the ability to fly into action. Kudos to those stories that reached mainstream status and those that did not, they should be heralded as heroes. Still, those examples are not enough to show that cops training in the grappling arts would stop the police violence that has become all too common place.
What is needed in the police industry is the breaking down of systems that have allowed the over-policing of people of color to become the norm. The for-profit prison system and systemic racism have made communities of color primary targets for police misconduct to go unchecked. Plus, there is the overt racism that some of these police officers believe in which shines through their everyday actions. Some think that mixing those ingredients with the supposed discipline brought on from BJJ and other arts will cure all ills. Unfortunately, that is far from the case.
Where would these police officers train? Many of the largest associations within BJJ have questionable practitioners in leadership positions. Members of the Gracie family have been called out for their social media posts sharing conspiracy theories that widely travel in nationalistic circles. Gordon Ryan, the top-ranked No-Gi competitor in the world, was recently the focal point of a piece by Karim Zidan that labeled his social media activity as racist. Zidan’s work has also highlighted the growing space that alt-right groups have taken in MMA, preparing practitioners for a “race war.” Even Jeff Glover, another high-level competitor and instructor in BJJ was called out for now deleted social media comments in which he called a group of people “primitive” and “white people saved them from playing in the dirt.” If these narratives are this prevalent throughout the martial arts industry, how can the public feel confident that police officers training with them would be able to show restraint when faced with people of color in the communities where they work? The answer is there would not be any confidence at all. Look back at the example of the Chicago police officer who was reprimaned for use of force against a citizen, he turned out to be an active MMA competitor. He showed zero restraint with this individual and it is chilling to watch.
If martial arts academies want to get involved in the better training of police, there are more tools that need to be shared than just those on the mat. Seminars should include more than just chokes and hip throws, but the involvement of professionals trained to teach unconscious biases and other sensitive topics need to take center stage. The training and education needs to not only hit the police officers, but the highest levels of martial arts as well.
Solving for police brutality calls for a multi-pronged solution that includes funding re-allocations, performance transparency, and overall reform. Adding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, wrestling, or some other martial art is not even a band-aid for the problem. In fact, it not only ignores the issues of fascism and racism in the police industry, but it also ignores that those mindsets are very alive and prevalent in martial arts at the same time. The work to set a better example not built in ignorance and hate is needed by the police and martial arts industries alike.