Since making a name for itself in the United States, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has quickly become one of the most sought-after martial art systems by military and law officers alike. With its ability to incapacitate a criminal with low risk of causing bodily damage, and its heavy emphasis of groundwork and real-life self-defense, many are turning to the brainchild of the Gracie family to help supplement their law enforcement training.
One such officer is Joe Fiorentino, an officer in the ever dangerous Cook County. A black belt in combative Jiu-Jitsu, Joe has amassed many achievements and awards throughout his impressive career. We spoke with Joe to learn about how Jiu-Jitsu has enriched his life, and what advice he has for other officers that train in the gentle art.
BJJ Legends: Tell me about your job as a Cook County Law Officer. What does your job entail?
Joe Fiorentino: I work as a Deputy Sheriff External Operations unit. My current detail is to watch and escort prisoners at the hospital. One Jiu-Jitsu technique I have used is when an individual was trying to strike me I applied a o-soto-gari takedown and handcuffed the individual.
[social][/social][einset][/einset]BJJL: Tell me about your Jiu-Jitsu background.
JF: I started with Judo in 1977, which you know comes from Jiu-Jitsu. I became interested in throws and takedowns and like the idea of being able to put someone on the ground. I am a member of the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame. Hold a rank of Black belt in Combative Jiu-Jitsu. I am a 12 time NAGA North American Grappling Association Heavyweight Champion and a 3 time Midwest Jiu-Jitsu Tournament Champion. I have about 100 fights. One of my toughest fights was with black belt Angelo Rivera Sr. I am still sore years later. I have fought MMA, Pankration and Grappling tournaments. I owe my success and skills to the great Martial Artists who have trained me. I have trained Shidokan under Sensei Duane Sharp, Takeo-Ryu under Sensei Keith and Jiu-Jitsu under Mike Rashkov who trained under Carlson Gracie Sr.
BJJL: Cook County can be a very dangerous place especially for law enforcement officers. How has Jiu-Jitsu helped you in your career?
JF: Having trained countless hours through technique drills, sparring and live competition has made my response to an assailant instinctive. No one is invincible but you know from experience that the techniques work and what it feels like when someone is actively trying to overcome them. Because of my emphasis on live sparring my transition from training to real life situations is much smoother.
BJJL: In 2010, you were awarded the Cook County Crime Stoppers Award. Tell me about this award, and how it has affected you.
JF: I am very proud of all my awards. The affected it has made is in the community by helping others in need. I have also been awarded The 2009 President`s Volunteer Service Award from President Obama and am currently volunteering with Sensei Keith to teach a 4 week Mother/ Daughter self-defense class at the Berwyn YMCA , my lovely wife Heidi is also taking the class. I also enjoy volunteering to teach the cub scouts Jiu-Jitsu with Sensei Duane.
BJJL: Why is Jiu-Jitsu a good thing for law enforcement officers to learn?
JF: There are two main strengths that Jiu-Jitsu offers for law enforcement officers.
One is the aforementioned emphasis on live sparring; the other is the reason that Jiu-Jitsu is called the “gentle way.”
This does not mean that Jiu-Jitsu’s submissions and pins don’t cause discomfort – to the contrary, they can be excruciating and cause great damage to bones and ligaments.
It does mean that even in the heat of restraining an aggressive assailant, Jiu-Jitsu techniques give officers a higher level of control over their subject through positions and holds without incurring as much damage to the subject or receiving as much themselves as most hand to hand striking or weapons techniques.
BJJL: Do you have any advice for other officers who train Jiu-Jitsu?
JF: Here are three concerns specific to law enforcement officers training Jiu-Jitsu.
A. Weapons protection – learn to modify Jiu-Jitsu techniques to incorporate protecting access to your weapons.
“You fight how you train.”, so remember to train with the idea that you must protect your weapon while countering your opponent.
The adjustments to technique are usually minimal but the results are critical.
B. Takedowns and their counters – “90% of fights go to the ground.” is the mantra of all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools but it is also true that “100% of fights start on your feet.”
Jiu-Jitsu training opens a world of endless ground techniques and counters that can overshadow the critical need to train takedowns and how to stop them.
Make sure that you train how to take an assailant down as often as you train what to do when you get them there.
Training in how to prevent an opponent from putting you on your back can be the difference between life and death so allot your training time accordingly.
C. The Guard – Develop it but do not seek to use it.
There are many effective submissions from “the Guard” position but we train fighting from our back so that we learn how to make the best of a bad situation.
Many Jiu-Jitsu fighters become so confident in their Guard that they seek the position in training and competition. This is not a habit a law enforcement officer practicing Jiu-Jitsu can afford to indulge in.
A law enforcement officer must know how to fight from his back effectively but he should always look for a dominant position when dealing with a subject.
Going back to “You fight how you train.” if you use your guard to practice sweeps that gain a dominant position as quickly as possible then you are making practical use of your training, if you train “playing from your guard” for sport competition you are developing a style that will leave you vulnerable to multiple assailants when you can least afford it.
The job and fighting in tournaments is hard on someone’s family and my lovely wife Heidi has been behind me at all my tournaments and my job as a Deputy Sheriff. I want to say your family is involved as much as the individual fighting or doing the job as an Officer.
This July 2011 in Addison Texas, I will be one of the instructors teaching a Law Enforcement Defense Tactics Instructor Course at The United States Martial Arts Training Camp under Professor Marty Cale and Sensei John Terry.