The ISR Matrix
Defensive Program for Law Enforcement Offers Valuable Lessons for Civilians
by E. Lawrence
“You need to have been hit. You need to have been put under the pressure of someone trying to tear your head off and know that you can deal with it and it’s not gonna kill you.”
These are the words of veteran police officer and Straight Blast Gym coach Paul Sharp. He, along with Straight Blast Gym VP Luis Gutierrez, spent years developing the ultimate physical control and self defense program for law enforcement, private security, military personel, and civilians. Called the ISR Matrix, it draws on Sharp’s time as a street cop, tactical team member, police trainer, and bodyguard, along with Gutierrez’ decade of experience in nightclub security for a variety of punk rock establishments.
ISR stands for intercept, stabilize, and resolve. Those three actions represent stages of a physical conflict, along with the techniques and strategies to employ at each stage in order to dominate the assailant and advance to resolution.
The first stage of the ISR Matrix is the Intercept stage. It involves entering, closing the distance, and acquiring position to make first contact. The interception may be offensive (taking the initiative) or defensive (responding to another’s physical actions or attack). Interception can also mean moving to a safer position to execute a follow up.
Once you have achieved some control over your opponent, you’re in the stabilization phase of the conflict. It also entails destabilizing him, which makes it harder for him to fight back. To achieve these goals ISR teaches several controls and techniques that serve as stabilizers. While they emphasize physical control, you can easily strike from them if necessary.
The final phase is resolution. It differs depending on whether you’re a private citizen, soldier, police officer, bodyguard, or security guard. For a cop it might involve arresting a subject, while for members of the military it focus on eliminating an enemy. If you’re a private citizen, you’ll probably be concerned with inflicting enough damage to facilitate your escape.
Devising a limited set of techniques that would apply in a variety of situations was a challenge to the creators of the ISR Matrix. It was deemed essential, though, because most police, security guards, and even civilians have a limited amount of time to train. Sharp and Gutierrez settled on a small number of moves that can provide real-world utility against threats of all levels, hence the “matrix” in the name.
Being modular, the system is built from components and training methodologies that can work in virtually any combination. It draws from wrestling, judo, and boxing, and to spice things up, it includes the type of fighting used at hockey games, which fine-tunes its methods for grabbin an opponent’s clothing and using it to control him.
To get a better grasp of the ISR Matrix, I attended one of its law enforcement courses in Pembrook Pines, Florida. The training was rigorous--exhausting at times but not beyond the capacity of the average healthy adult. Students were told they’re free to stop at any time. But none did. The attendees ranged in age from their mid-20s to their late 50s.. Some were out of shape, while others, including a pro boxer, were fit to fight. Most were involved in law enforcement or the military, and two were Straight Blast Gym coaches from Canada who plan to introduce the program to their country.
The ISR law enforcement system is geared for dealing with a variety of situations and threats, from come-alongs and compliance techniques needed for lightly resisting subjects to counters to violent assaults intended to stop the meanest thugs, both with and without weapons. The tools and techniques that make it up were developed to meet the specific needs of surviving, controlling, and arresting resisting subjects. They’re not fancy moves that work only in the studio. They evolved from an analysis of the clinch and of what happens in the clinch and on the street. Much of the program involves grappling, which is necessary because police officers are often forced to cuff suspects--and that almost always means laying hands on them.
Sharp and Gutierrez developed the system in accordance with several underlying principals they found lacking in other defensive tactics programs. It was born out of the loud noises and flashing strobe lights of nightclubs, which make unattached striking extremely difficult.
One element that sets the ISR Matrix apart from most conventional defensive-tactics programs is that it was designed to function against realistically resisting subjects. Many traditional tactics that seem good in the academy break down in the field against non-cooperative and assaultive people.
Training is conducted with a progression of drills that increase in speed and resistance and that include counters to realistic attacks. The students alternate partners to get used to dealing with a variety of body sizes, strength levels, body types, and movement patterns.
The pressure during the drills increases progressively until the students are able to enter and control someone who is actually trying to hit them hard. Exposure to gradually increasing levels of physical contact is an indispensable component of the Matrix. The drills and techniques are not movement specific; consequently, they don’t depend on an opponent moving in a certain direction or an attack that’s delivered in a certain way.
Tools and Techniques
Among the most useful ISR methods for achieving victory in a violent encounter are the following.
One of the primary interceptors of the Matrix, it’s their trained flinch-response, a type of default cover-up against strikes to the head. Gutierrez claims that if you practice something that’s very simple, it can become your flinch response--your primary interceptor--when confronted with sudden violence.
The Helmet involves using your arms to cover the sides of the jaw, the ears, the back of head and your temples--an area Gutierrez calls the “knockout triangle.” The move serves as a shield against strikes to either side of the head as well as a protected entry to crash in against a striker. Thus, it can be used either defensively or offensively.
To execute it, bend your forward arm until you can cup the back of your neck with your hand. Raise your rear arm across the front of your head. comes back and cups the back of your neck as though you were brushing your hair back. The rear arm comes up across the front of your head. The upper upper part of your forward arm protects the side of your head and your jaw. Your forward elbow, which is pointed at the attacker, can be used to spear him as you drive into him. Your rear arm protects the other side of your head and jaw, and the positioning of that forearm higher than eyebrow level will protect the face. Your chin down on your chest and you are observing the attacker by looking forward under your guarding arm. As you do this, you should drop your level and drive into the attacker. From there you can generate powerful strikes and knock him off balance if you so desire.
ISR students spend a lot of time practicing the helmet from various positions designed to simulate a situation gone bad. That reflects the high regard Gutierrez has for this move, which he calls the single most important technique of the program.
This technique is a more aggressive interceptor. It consists of a: a two handed reinforced palm strike in which your arms thrust out to full extension and one hand covers the other. It can target the face, head, shoulder, or chest. Follow up the impact by immediately driving forward at a run while maintaining contact, thus forcing the attacker back and keeping him off balance. As you thrust your arms at him, your biceps rise to protect the sides of your face. Before launching the technique, you should drop levels if there is time and push forward at an upward angle to break his balance.
It’s a method for seizing your assailant’s arm and jerking him away from the path he wants to follow, thus creating an opening for you to gain a better position by moving to his side or back.. Originating from wrestling, the technique can be used immediately after landing a strike.
Underhook and Pike
This is the primary stabilizer of the ISR matrix. To get an underhook slide your facing side arm under your opponent’s arm and snakeit around to grab his shoulder. Then jerk it down and pull him close as you step to his side. Your other hand creates a pike by pushing against the side of his neck to keep him at a distance. The piking arm must always be locked so you are not relying on muscle strength alone. The traction of these two opposing forces provides control: The piking arm keeps him from getting too close, while the underhook prevents him from getting away. Once you achieve control using tactile sensitivity, you can divert your eyes to scan for other threats.
Keeping an assailant from getting too close is essential for a police officer’s safety because chances are he’ll be carrying potentially dangerous items on his duty belt--anything from a baton to pepper spray to handcuffs. Sharp says that many officers develop a high degree of sidearm awareness but they sometimes forget to protect the other items that they carry.
When you apply the underhook and pike, you can use it to jerk your opponent off-balance and spin him around. This principle of spinning is derived from the Thai-boxing clinch. You can transition into a takedown by pushing down on his neck and twisting up on his arm while you move around him to exert positional leverage.
It’s often used after the armdrag has jerked the aggressor off balance and you’re able to angle behind him to seize control of his back. To execute it, shoot an arm under his arm and across his chest as you step around and behind him, then secure it with your other arm, which wraps over his shoulder so you can effect a palm-to-palm grip. This is a transitionary position for all but the most docile subjects.
The Harness is usually the first part of a takedown. As soon as the hold is secure, you thrust you pelvis forward against the back of the opponent’s hips to break his center of gravity. Then you yank him backward and downward until he falls. Like all ISR Matrix takedowns, this move is street-safe--that is you do not place your knee on the ground while performing it.
Once your opponent is down, you can grab his arm and turn him onto his side as you transition to the S-position. ISR techniques like the underhook and pike already give you control of one of his arms which makes an excellent segue into the S-position. The position involves taking him down and placing one knee on his body and the other on his shoulder while maintaining control of his arm. If necessary you can use you leg to apply pressure to his neck. The S-position enables you to remain upright and observe your surroundings--to control your attacker while being on the lookout for additional threats.
Embodied in these six techniques is a level of street effectiveness most students of self-defense would die for. Learning how to execute them doesn’t mean you have to abandon your previous training because, as Gutierrez and Sharp advise, you should always have a backup in case things don’t work out as planned.
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