Can Brazilian jiujitsu curb police violence? HBO’s “Real Sports” takes a peek

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People in high pressure jobs often find themselves in dangerous situations. Sometimes this danger manifests itself in emotional exhaustion, mental health problems or bouts of physical aggression. When people spend the majority of their time in a very stressful environment, it is unfortunately far too easy to allow that stress to manifest itself in unsettling ways.

Lawyers know this too well. Most of us know the story of someone who fell into the deep end succumbing to the tension, tension and anxiety that comes with our profession. Whether this distress manifests itself in mental illness, addiction or violence, the propensity to slide into destructive behavior is all too real.

Use of force

However, this razor wire is not reserved for the practice of law. It is also found in many other professions. As a country, we have continually seen examples of law enforcement officials losing their minds and physically injuring civilians. And I’m not even referring to the ridiculous number of police shootings. No, instead, I focus more on cases where suspects have been beaten, smashed – and in some cases killed – when law enforcement has got hold of citizens.

If I play devil’s advocate I would say adrenaline plays a bit in the process as well. If you have a person who is overworked, stressed to the max, tasked with dealing with potential life and death situations day in and day out, this constant tension could be exacerbated by the rush to actually be in a practical situation in which your body is in a hurry. This natural reaction causes your adrenal glands to produce a hormone that literally prepares your muscles for exertion.

Does this make the violence that follows fair? Of course not. Can it be corrected or exploited? It’s possible.

Last month, HBO released a new segment of Real sport with Bryant Gumbel titled “Force for Change”. The play begins with various clips of cops beating up suspects who appear hobbled at best and utterly incapable of defending themselves at worst. It’s hard to watch, but that’s part of the problem: The police are physically injuring these humans, and it has to stop.

This is where members of the first mixed martial arts family, the Gracies, offered to help in the hope that law enforcement training in the family art of Brazilian jiujitsu could bring lasting change. and saving.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Most people are familiar with Brazilian jiujitsu through its use in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other mixed martial arts promotions. However, the roots of art go back much, much further. BJJ has its origins in the early 1920s, when five brothers in Brazil created the art based on their exposure to Japanese judo Kodokan / Kano jiujitsu via Mitsuyo Maeda. The brothers – Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastao Jr., George and Helio Gracie – changed the judo they were taught while focusing more on the ground combat and leverage aspects of the art. This form of self-defense has spread and is now practiced all over the world.

What we colloquially refer to as BJJ is a system of holds, locks, blood chokes, and joint manipulations that can disarm and disable another person. The beauty of BJJ is that it is inherently nonviolent, at least compared to other striking arts. Why is that? Because in BJJ there is no typing.

According to Rener Gracie, this particular martial art “allows a smaller, weaker individual to stand a chance against a taller, more athletic assailant in a violent physical altercation.” Further, “philosophy is absolutely the least amount of force needed to neutralize the aggressor and his threat.” As such, the goal is to give law enforcement the tools and ability to detain a violent and aggressive person without undue force.

Therefore, Rener and his brother Ryron have traveled the country teaching law enforcement BJJ in the hopes that their methods will provide cops with a more efficient and less violent means of apprehending suspects. This practice could be of great benefit, as the segment notes that most law enforcement training focuses on firearms, although very few officers ever shoot their weapons in the line of duty. On the other hand, law enforcement officials generally receive little or no hand-to-hand combat training, even though they have physical contact with civilians at a significantly higher rate.

Aggression or fear?

During the segment, much of the discussion focused on how BJJ can help neutralize a suspect in a “friendly” way. When Rener Gracie was asked if the goal of implementing this martial art in law enforcement was simply to reduce the number of viral videos we all see, his response was actually very poignant. He said the goal is to try to restore trust and relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Obviously, less exposure online and in the news could go a long way towards this goal.

To be fair, however, hand-to-hand combat and martial arts shouldn’t do much when it comes to the police shootings that happen far too often in the United States. Often, when a police officer shoots a suspect, it is more out of fear and lack of training than mere assault. However, when law enforcement uses their bodies to hit, kick or suffocate a civilian, I think it’s easier to differentiate these circumstances as events where the assault is not under control. That adrenaline I mentioned earlier is allowed to set in and fuel what we hope is just aggression.

I have been practicing BJJ for over seven years now. Originally, I started my journey for a relatively basic reason: I wanted a new avenue to pursue my fitness goals. For a very long time, I had relied on running and weight training, but I had started to lose my love for weightlifting. Going to the gym has become a task. It had never been like this before. I haven’t had the satisfaction of pumping iron in previous decades, so I wanted to try something new.

My legal partner suggested that I try my hand at BJJ, and I haven’t looked back. Again, the goal initially was just to find another way to train and stay in shape, but the BJJ has given me so much more than that.

I struggle with the stress of my job as much as anyone else. Often, this stress and anxiety is due to difficult interactions with clients or opposing counsel. Other times it may be something that is entirely out of my hands. Anyone who has practiced standing law and argued cases has seen this occasion when you are right: The facts say you are right, the law says you are right, but the judge says you are wrong. It’s maddening.

I have found that when I have those days in court, however, I don’t have to live with the negative emotions or try to bury them so as not to come home and burden my loved ones. I can go to my gym, shake the hand of one of my training partners, and then release all that energy in a controlled manner in a controlled environment. I’ve never experienced anything like spending five minutes trying to smash another man, while standing up for the same one, then standing up with a smile to shake his hand and say “super roll”.

Everyone in a stressful job needs this opportunity. Negative emotions and energy can turn dangerous aggression too quickly if not controlled and released properly. Hopefully more law enforcement will notice this as well.


Adam Banner

Adam R. Banner is the Founder and Senior Counsel of the Oklahoma Legal Group, a criminal defense law firm in Oklahoma City. His practice focuses solely on state and federal criminal defense. He represents defendants against allegations of sex crimes, violent crimes, drug crimes and white collar crimes.

Studying law is not for everyone, yet its practice and procedure seem to permeate pop culture at an increasing rate. This column deals with the intersection of law and pop culture in an attempt to separate the real from the ridiculous.


This column reflects the views of the author and not those of the ABA Journal or the American Bar Association.


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