The sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has joined the TeamPolice family, as a new member within the Judo, Weightlifting and Wrestling section. It’s one of the fastest growing sports globally, and with many police officers and staff already practising the sport, TeamPolice BJJ has quickly established
links across forces.

BJJ is a style of submission grappling which uses body position and leverage to control an opponent and achieve submission. It’s been called the ‘gentle art’, and was developed in Brazil from traditional Japanese Jiu jitsu. The growth of UFC in the 1990s launched mixed martial arts (MMA) internationally. BJJ techniques forms a core element of MMA, leading to a surge of interest across the globe. BJJ has now established itself as a sport in its own right.

Thousands train and compete in BJJ in the UK, with several world-ranked BJJ athletes here. TeamPolice BJJ is a member of the UK BJJ Association, which provides a recognised structure of governance and standards for training, coaching, and competition, including insurance. There is a system of ‘belts’ to recognise differing levels of skill and experience, weight groups, and both ‘gi’ and ‘no-gi’ options (with/without traditional jiu jitsu uniforms). BJJ is in many ways a great sport for police. It develops general fitness of course, but while strength can be a big advantage, it’s much more about skill. These skills are readily transferable into selfdefence and personal safety. ‘Rolling’ on the mat in a safe environment allows officers to gain experience of how to gain control and minimise risk.

Ian Keery is a firearms instructor in Thames Valley Police, having retired as an officer after 33 years’ service. “As a serving officer I was disillusioned by the lack of defensive training we were taught’  he says. “I found some jiu jitsu techniques were more useful in the reality of daily policing, and many have now made their way into the current PST syllabus. The big challenge is the limited training time for officers”. In 2017 Ian opened the BJJ club at the Thames Valley District Training College near Reading. “A lot of officers were already training in BJJ at various clubs. By coming together we saw it as an opportunity to open officers’ eyes to the practicality, confidence and mental wellbeing that BJJ offers”. The club is ideally placed to allow new recruits to train after their classes. “The uptake has been very positive and now with the drive from Team Police BJJ, I expect it to get even better.”

Ian emphasises BJJ is not a replacement for PST/OST. “By giving officers the opportunity to practice BJJ, I believe they will gain confidence in dealing with both physical and mental pressures that policing conflict can bring,” says Ian. “TeamPolice BJJ can now promote that across the whole Service, allowing officers from different Forces and backgrounds to train together and exchange ideas and stories.”

Tom Wilson has been a Metropolitan Police officer since 2003, and is a founding member of TeamPolice BJJ. He’s proud of the team effort to create the first UK Police BJJ association. “Our strategic mission is simply to get as many officers training in BJJ as possible. Our motto, ‘By Police,
For Police, With Police’ will really direct what we do and how we do it.” Despite the challenges of COVID-19, TeamPolice BJJ has continued to grow during the past year, using the time to build the committee and develop ambitious and exciting plans as soon as training and competition is allowed again. “We want to ensure TeamPolice BJJ training sessions and seminars will be a mainstay of the Police Sport calendar as we try to encourage officers to embrace fitness and wellbeing through sport”, says Tom.

‘Wellbeing through sport’ is very important for Tom. “BJJ was an absolute tonic to help me mentally deal with the experiences that came with working on the frontline in a challenging London borough”, he says. “Progression in BJJ comes through exposing yourself to risk and challenge under a pressure-tested environment – all the while ensuring the safety of your partner and yourself. BJJ helps you ‘reframe’ your experiences, learn from them and how to move forward”.

Tom points out that a similar ‘reframing’ approach is used to help deal with trauma. “Training BJJ and passing on the benefits of BJJ has been a vision I am passionate about”, says Tom. “I am proud to have been able to play my part in bringing to life a new Police Sport association and paving the way for future officers to benefit.”

Many of those who practice BJJ are passionate about their sport. Tom’s love for BJJ began over 20 years ago, when the sport was new to the UK. When he joined the Police he found there was little understanding of BJJ, and it was difficult to gain official support to set up a new Police club. A lot of progress has been made since. National police BJJ championships have been held since 2010, and the number of entrants and forces represented has steadily grown. TeamPolice BJJ aim to hold the largest ever national championships as soon as Covid restrictions permit, spanning both gi and no-gi, and with weight and belt and male/female categories. A masterclass training camp will be held in September (date to follow), led by one of the leading experts in the UK, and internationally at the very top of the sort, namely by Braulio Estima.

TeamPolice BJJ has formed links with clubs in the armed forces and emergency services and has had excellent help and advice from the REORG charity which provides mental wellbeing support through BJJ to armed forces and emergency services workers, and it is hoped that these links will lead to further opportunities for training and representative competition. TeamPolice BJJ has over 1200 followers on Instagram, and there is clearly a huge level of interest to tap into. “We know there are still officers and staff out there who are practising BJJ but are not aware there is a police BJJ structure available for them,” says Tom. “We also want to help them gain recognition within their force, as we find they often have little knowledge of what support is available and how to establish a new sports section. Being part of the TEAM POLICE (PSUK) structure should help build that base and get more people involved”.

Article written by Ian Wiggett, retired officer from Cheshire Constabulary