Minimum force, maximum control

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Unique training program works to keep Beaufort police officers and suspects safe

By Mindy Lucas

An innovative partnership between the Beaufort Police Department and a local self-defense instructor is using a unique training program to keep both officers and suspects safe during potentially combative situations.

Known as Gracie Survival Tactics, or GST, the program uses Jiu Jitsu techniques in an attempt to de-escalate confrontational situations.

As Cesar Clavijo who is leading the instruction explains, GST uses the minimal force necessary when trying to gain control over a situation or a suspect.

It also differs from other forms of Jiu Jitsu, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in that it is not a combat sport designed for competition and is specifically designed for law enforcement officers.

“Gracie Survival Tactics is designed to empower officers in ambush scenarios,” Clavijo said. “There is an entirely different set of skills involved.”

Owner of The Stillness Gym in Beaufort, Clavijo has volunteered to teach Beaufort’s police officers the techniques over the past few weeks and is conducting the program free of charge.

A former Marine who was stationed at Parris Island, Clavijo has trained other law enforcement officers on how to use the techniques.

While it might be somewhat unique in the way it’s being used presently, Gracie Jiu Jitsu has actually been around for some time. It was started in the 1920s by the Gracies, a famous, multi-generational martial arts family based in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

“It’s not a new thing,” department spokesperson Captain George Erdel said. “I just think it’s come to the forefront in light of recent events.”

Recent events include high-profile cases in which deadly force was used by police officers or, in the case of George Floyd, where a Minneapolis officer kneeling on his neck caused Floyd’s death. That officer has since been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers who were on the scene are facing related charges.

Because of those cases, law enforcement agencies across the country and their Use of Force policies have come under increased scrutiny.

In July, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office announced it was banning the use of chokeholds except as a last resort when all other defensive measures have been exhausted, as many law enforcement agencies across the country have done recently.

In the City of Beaufort, Erdel says chokeholds have not been part of the Beaufort Police Department’s Use of Force policy for at least a decade or more.

In addition, a grassroots task force made up of civic leaders from the community was formed in Beaufort earlier this spring with the mission of improving the accountability and transparency of local law enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, GST, which uses passive or defensive resistance, is becoming more widely used by law enforcement agencies in an attempt to keep both officers and suspects safe, Erdel said.

“What we’re trying to do is build confidence,” he said. “If you can control a person’s body as opposed to fighting their limbs without having to resort to kinetic things like knee strikes, if we can prevent getting to that point and keep everyone safe in the process, that is what this is designed for.”

It’s also something that officers in the program said is going to be a tremendous addition to their overall training.

“It’s another tool in (an officer’s) toolbox,” officer Bill Wadman said after completing his second class with Clavijo.

A patrolman for 11 years with the City of Beaufort, Wadman said he liked that the techniques could help officers diffuse situations easier and with minimal force.

“What he’s trying to teach us is an alternative … to basically slow things down, even if it’s happening fast, so that we are able to reassess everything and get to a safe position.”

Above: Officers with the Beaufort Police Department recently received personal instruction from Cesar Clavijo (center), owner of Beaufort’s The Stillness Gym, in the technique of Gracie Survival Tactics, a defensive technique designed to use the minimum force necessary in a combative situation. Pictured left to right are officers Sean Flomer, Seth Jones, Bill Wadman (back) and Trish Brubaker. Photo by Mindy Lucas.