*Submitted by BBO member and active police officer, ‘The Sarge’*
It goes without saying that 2020 was a bad year for everyone; but this is arguably more true for those of us in law enforcement than just about anyone. Unlike Covid and all the problems that came with it though, there is no vaccine or stimulus that we can look forward to. Veteran cops seem to uniformly agree that these are some of the worst times that our profession has ever faced, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication of the tide turning in the foreseeable future. While the protests have largely subsided (for now), the sentiments that fueled them remain. It has seemed, at several times over the last year, that we have few, if any, allies left – with vitriol spewing not just from the angry mobs, but from politicians, celebrities, athletes, and even teachers, from the cities to the suburbs, from coast to coast and everywhere in between. That is why it is so important that we recognize those allies who remain and foster those relationships.
I am grateful to have discovered one such ally during the summer of 2020 and it has changed my life for the better. So much so, in fact, that my family and friends took notice, and and one of them (Mike Burke) suggested that I share it with my brothers and sisters in this article.
Last summer saw the height of nationwide anti-police protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, with businesses across the country refusing service to uniformed officers and posting hateful messages to social media directed at law enforcement. Enter Prof. George Sernack and his crew at Team Renzo Gracie Denville ( www.RenzoGracieDenville.com ) – a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) academy in north Jersey under the famed Gracie family. Like many BJJ practitioners, Prof. Sernack saw many controversial police incidents and recognized what most of us on the job already know – that the incidents may have gone differently if the officers had moire and better training, which the majority of us need and want. As a lifetime martial artist (he holds black belts in BJJ, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, has an extensive kickboxing background, and has too many medals and championships to list) he understands what most arm chair commandos and Monday morning quarterbacks can’t – that sometimes violence is necessary, unavoidable even, and that it is never pretty but training makes all the difference. Fortunately, Prof. Sernack is a believer in the principle of “actions not words.” While many people were talking about these issues, he saw an opportunity to DO something rather than just talk about it, and as he has said to me many times since we met, “its never a bad time to do the right thing.”
At a time when it seemed all the world was turning their backs on us, Prof. Sernack and Team Renzo Gracie Denville stepped up in a HUGE way. They extended an offer to ANY active law enforcement officers in northern NJ to come train for FREE for one year, with the idea being that a dedicated student could get to the level of blue belt within a year and that level of proficiency for an officer would be a game changer. Now, some schools offer discounts for first responders and military, which is honorable and much appreciated. Some have even gone so far as to offer a few months free, in hopes that officers will see the value in training and commit to paying for it, which is fantastic. Prof. Sernack went way above and beyond in an act of true benevolence. Further, he did this at a time when his business, like many, was struggling to stay afloat under the tremendous strain of Covid and the many government imposed restrictions. Further still, in doing so he publicly declared his unwavering support for the men and women of law enforcement – a bold move in this day and age.
I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of the offer, along with over 20 other LEOs from agencies throughout north Jersey. The experience has been tremendous and the benefits have been more than what I anticipated.
The obvious benefit is the defensive tactics advantage. As a Marine Corps DT instructor (MCMAP for my fellow Leathernecks) and somebody who has trained consistently over the course of my career, I was fairly confident in my ability to handle violent encounters on the street. But there is a shift in focus these days from what is “lawful” to what is “necessary” and the demands of the public and our political leaders are changing whether we like it or not. I have had several encounters since I started training that previously would have been resolved with lawful strikes that likely would have resulted in the actor being hospitalized. Instead, I was able to resolve the situations by controlling the actor and getting them cuffed quickly and with no injuries to them, myself, or any other officers. Had anyone observed/videoed the interactions, there would be no protests. Whats more, these experiences are not anecdotal or unique. Agencies across the country are beginning to embrace BJJ for their DT training and they are consistently seeing decreases in injuries to actors and officers, decreases in complaints, decreases in overall use of force incidents.
The advantages do go beyond the obvious DT applications though. Fitness, which is an issue of considerable concern for those of us in LE, especially as we advance in our careers, is another great benefit of training BJJ. Its a great full body workout, intense but fun, and good for cardio too. It’s also a fantastic form of stress relief. It goes without saying that stress and depression are serious problems for cops. Those who train BJJ see stress levels decrease and tend to be happier in general, not just on the mats. Another benefit that I have seen, and I hear the same from my friends who train, is that you meet some amazing people in the BJJ community. All those who I have had the pleasure of training with at Team Renzo Gracie Denville are kind, genuine, humble, great people; its also great to have added another 20+ cops to my network.
Whether you are a rookie right out of the academy, or a 20 year vet – I urge you to consider this training for its many benefits, but most of all because it might just save your life (if not your career). If you are concerned about the cost, check out Adopt-A-Cop-BJJ (https://adoptacopbjj.org/) a great charity that reimburses cops $50/month towards training at any BJJ school of their choice.
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