How Germany’s Police Handle Law-Enforcement Defensive Tactics Training

The art of policing doesn’t change much from one country to another. When citizens commit crimes, the police respond and arrest them; and if a suspect resists arrest, force is frequently used. What changes a lot is how much force may be applied under the law and which martial arts techniques officers are permitted to use. The Federal Republic of Germany prides itself on having a modern, professional police force schooled in the latest martial arts techniques. The buzzword there is einsatz training, which translates as “tactics training.” It doesn’t describe an original martial art derived from an ancient Asian tradition; rather, it refers to a system that incorporates several Far Eastern fighting disciplines, modern firearms skills, police tactics and control methods. The following is a brief history of its origin and development.

The History of German Law Enforcement Training

Prior to World War I, Asian martial arts were virtually unknown in Europe, as well as in the rest of the Western world. Then, just before the outbreak of World War II, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II observed a jujutsu demonstration given by members of the Japanese navy. He was so impressed by the fact that the smaller Japanese sailors could control their larger German adversaries that he ordered his police force to learn the grappling art. The police combined their pre-existing martial arts training—namely in boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling—with jujutsu and called the new system polizei griffe, or “police holds.” To facilitate the permitted the West German parliament to form the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Patrol), which was essentially the country’s first post-war army. It was tasked with protecting the borders from communist infiltrators and slowing down any invasion that might take place. Shortly thereafter, Germany instituted the Landespolizei, or Federal State Police. Then in the late 1950s, it formed the Bundeswehr, or Federal Armed Forces, to defend the country. The police had no standardized martial arts program until 1969, when the German Ju-Jutsu System was formed. Developed by the German Judo Federation, it was designed for law enforcement and incorporated the most effective judo, karate and aikido techniques. In 1974 Germany’s defensive-tactics trainers received a wake-up call. During the Olympic Games in Munich, Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered nine Israeli athletes. The German police realized they were ill-equipped and poorly trained to deal with terrorist tactics. In response, the government formed the Grenzschutzgruppe 9, or GSG9. It quickly made a name for itself and still exists on the cutting edge of counterterrorism. In the ensuing years, it would serve as a model for numerous SWAT teams around the world. By 1991 the honeymoon between police practitioners and the German Judo Federation was over. The police had concluded that jujutsu was not receiving the representation it deserved. After a heated political battle, some leaders decided to break away and form the German Ju-Jutsu Federation, which included police training within its curriculum. The federation is now one of the largest jujutsu organizations in the world, boasting in excess of 50,000 members. In 1993 the German Ju-Jutsu Federation created the German Police Ju-Jutsu Championship, the only official connection between the cops and the physical handling of lawbreakers, it emphasized wrist locks, armbars, takedowns and come-along techniques. Members compete every other year, giving them ample reason to keep their skills sharp. When the competition was created, participants wore thick gloves and were allowed to use virtually any technique except elbow and knee strikes. To the chagrin of many, more restrictive rules were instituted in 1999.

How Germans Incorporate Martial Arts Techniques Into Their Law-Enforcement Training

In Germany today, no specific martial art is used exclusively by the police. However, the systems that are taught are quite similar to their counterparts in America, England and Israel in that they incorporate martial arts techniques that have been determined to be best-suited to law enforcement no matter where they come from. Moves must be simple, easy to learn and within the government’s use-of-force policies. Although the Federal Border Patrol and GSG9 usually set the standard on a national level, every department has its own training bureau and is free to teach what it wants. For motivated patrol officers, the most widely studied art in Germany is jujutsu. Kali is now being introduced into some curriculums, and there’s a renewed interest in Western boxing. Among the SWAT teams, wing chun kung fu, which is headed by Keith Kernspecht under the guidance of the renowned Leung Ting, is popular. By law, police officers in Germany are required to receive two hours of defensive-tactics instruction a week while they participate in basic training. Unlike American police academies, which conduct classes for 21 weeks to 25 weeks, German schools train their officers for two and a half years. That gives them plenty of time to master the martial arts component of the curriculum. Once a student graduates and is assigned to a permanent duty station, he’s required to undergo two hours of defensive-tactics training every month. Unfortunately, not every station offers its personnel high-quality instruction. Some have programs that merely go through the motions—mostly for liability reasons. Others, however, teach state-of-the-art methods that include ground tactics, knife defense, task-related physical conditioning and scenario training. Almost all defensive-tactics courses are taught by personnel who have reached the rank of sergeant. All techniques and tactics must be approved by someone at the level of commander. Anything that’s out of the ordinary must be submitted to the Ministry of Interior for review. Of course, nothing prevents police officers from seeking their own martial arts training during off-duty hours. In fact, that’s probably the most common way for new martial arts techniques to make their way into the police system.

The Future of Law-Enforcement Training in Germany

In the art of policing, German officers are generally the equals of American officers. However, when it comes to defensive tactics, many Germans believe they’re about five years behind the Americans. (German SWAT teams are the exception; they’re at par with American teams.) In the future, it’s doubtful that defensive tactics will become a top priority in Germany because the country has a lower violent-crime rate and stricter gun-control laws and because the public is still leery of giving too much power to the police. There’s a concerted effort by the government to prevent the cops from becoming, as they see it, too much like “Rambo.” Unfortunately, that attitude—which, by the way, prevails throughout most of Western Europe—means that many valuable martial arts techniques and law-enforcement training methods are not being integrated into their system. Change may be in store, however. Germany’s current defensive-tactics instructors are more willing to experiment with a wider variety of martial arts and are no longer limited to judo and jujutsu. They read publications like Black Belt, buy the latest videos and attend seminars—and remain acutely aware of the need to evolve. (Jim Wagner is a police and military defensive-tactics instructor and a contributing editor for Black Belt. He has taught several German police units and participated in various German police courses.)
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