To Tap or Not To Tap

To tap or not to tap, that is the question.

Storytime… Many moons ago, I was what I liked to call, a bar security professional, a.k.a. a bouncer. One fine Saturday evening, like most Saturday evenings at the bar, a fight broke out. As my team attempted to de-escalate the situation, verbally and physically, I ended up in a physical confrontation myself that ended with me having a person on the floor, in a prone position (on their stomach) ready to be handcuffed. Thinking I was aware of my surroundings and this being a safe place and time to put on said handcuffs, I was proven wrong.

It was at this moment somebody from the crowd decided to take the opportunity, come up from behind me, and attempted to put me in some version of a rear naked choke hold. I instinctually brought my hands up to theirs and began to pull their arm down, allowing myself to breathe and for blood to still make it to my brain. When I remembered something a friend told me that worked for him in the past. So I added the motion of tapping very hard on my assailant’s upper arm and shoulder. He let go.

My reaction to the choke was instinctual. I had practiced being choked in the past, so I knew what the process was to, first keep my airway open, and then how to get out of said choke. My assailant’s response was also instinctual. Because like in many martial arts classes, when you practice chokes, or locks, or anything that creates pain against your partner, the partner taps and you let go. So when I tapped, my assailant let go.

What did this teach me? This taught me a great lesson, that the old adage “what you do in training, you do in real,” was absolutely TRUE! 

Some of you may have heard this story. I was told it was true, I was even told the names of the officers involved. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the city, the department, or the officer’s names, but this has definitely become one of the stories of urban legend because I have heard many different versions of the story. Sometimes I question if the story I was told was the real version. The department changes, the city changes, and sometimes, well most of the time, the story is so general, those details are left out. However, it is also a story where the moral is, what you do in training, you do in real.

The story goes, two police officers end up face-to-face with a bad guy. The bad guy has his gun aimed at one of the officers. That police officer is able to disarm the bad guy, and then promptly hands the firearm back to him. With the gun back in his hands, the bad guy takes the opportunity and points the gun back at the police officer. The officer then disarms again and surprisingly hands the gun back to the bad guy. This happens a couple more times, forcing the second officer to shoot the bad guy.

The reason the officer kept handing the gun to the bad guy after disarming him, was because that is what he did in training. He would disarm his partner and then promptly hand the gun back to the partner so he could practice the disarm again. You hear the story, whether you believe it or not, because it is a little bit unbelievable, and you think “Oh, I would never do that. I know what to do in a real-life situation.” Until it happens to you. 

Because of my real-life situation where even if I had tapped out of instinct, I would have gotten out anyway, I modified my training and how I taught. I did not want to be on the other end where someone tapped and I released out of instinct and then have my ass handed to me. At first, this change did not make some of the people I trained with very happy, including one of my instructors, but they got used to it. Especially after I told them of my experience.

My modification was to still put the choke, the lock, etc. on my partner, but when they tapped, I would loosen my hold, but I would not let go. This allowed me to still remain in contact with my partner, and as I like to say in class, “If they get froggy, you can just put the lock back on.” You don’t have to start from scratch. You are already there. Once you gain control, you want to keep it.

When it comes to tools training (stick, knife, and gun) if there is a disarm involved, and I end up with the tool, I will place it on the ground and make the partner pick it up. I expect this of my partner as well. This gets us out of the habit of just handing it back to the person. As a side note, and might become a blog post on its own, as time has gone on and the longer I train, I believe disarming, especially a bladed tool, is more fantasy than reality.

I know I am not the first person to have thought up this practice of loosening versus letting go. I have heard of other groups who do the same as I do. Probably because one of them, or their instructor may have had a similar real-life experience as I had. But there are still groups that tap and release. These are the groups where I believe none of the practitioners, nor the instructors have had those real-life experiences.

So to answer the question… Do not give into the tap.