S.W.A.T. Magazine ISR Matrix Article
During wartime, the military’s job has been described as to “kill people and break things.”
However, in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the global War on Terror soldiers often find themselves carrying out missions that blur the line between military and law enforcement. This involves tasks like capturing and arresting suspicious people-which often must be accomplished while dealing with angry populations-while retaining the ability to move up the force continuum if necessary.
Here we see parallels to law enforcement officers, who must routinely deal with people violently resisting arrest and must also be able to defend themselves against armed and unarmed attacks from spitting distance. Unarmed attacks from close distance are also the most common threat faced by private citizens. Compare the number of people shot or stabbed to those struck by empty-hand blows, and it becomes apparent that unarmed defensive skills are a must for everyone. Even if the law and circumstances justify the use of a defensive weapon, the defender must first survive the initial onslaught of blows and drive back, maneuver around or temporarily control or incapacitate the attacker enough to allow the defender to access that weapon.
Detailing the physical, tactical and mental techniques, skills and attributes necessary to survive a violent assault is beyond the scope of this single article. however one program, which is being adopted by an increasing number of police agencies and provides indispensable tools to anyone who needs this edge, whether civilian, military or law enforcement, is the ISR Matrix.
The ISR Matrix was developed by veteran police officer Paul Sharp and long-time martial arts instructor Luis Gutierrez. The ISR Matrix draws on Sharp’s extensive background as a street cop, tactical team member, police trainer and bodyguard, along with Gutierrez’ decade of experience as nightclub security in a variety of punk-rock and hardcore establishments, as well as a trainer of bouncers. Both founders share decades of experience in teaching martial arts and combat sports.
ISR stands for Intercept, Stabilize and Resolve. These represent stages of a conflict, along with physical techniques and strategies to employ at each stage in order to dominate the suspect and advance to resolution. Gutierrez points out that, depending on the situation, these stages may be achieved merely by and officer’s presence, without the necessity of physical action. One police department that has adopted the ISR system has even incorporated these stages of the conflict into their report writing.
The first stage of the ISR Matrix is Intercept. This involves entering, closing the distance and acquiring position to initially make physical contact. The interception may be offensive, as it may require taking the initiative, or defensive, as it may involve responding to another’s physical actions or attack. Interception can also mean moving into a safer position to follow up, or moving out of the area if possible in the case of a private citizen who notices something suspicious.
Once the defender has achieved some control over the subject, they have advanced to the Stabilize phase of the conflict. This also means destabilizing the subject, which makes it harder for him to fight and resist. ISR employs several controls and techniques that serve as stabilizers emphasize physical control, it is easy to strike from any of these positions or to move into takedowns.
The final phase of the conflict is Resolve. It may be different depending on the role of the defender, be he a private citizen, military or police. Resolution for a police officer may be arresting a subject, while for the military it may involve taking a prisoner, repulsing a hostile civilian or eliminating and enemy. For civilians, it means surviving an assault by minimizing the damage they sustain while escaping, injuring the attacker sufficiently to end the attack, or gaining the opportunity to access a weapon if needed.
ISR INFLUENCES AND TECHNIQUES
The ISR program draws from a diverse background, including, Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing and Thai boxing. It also incorporates hockey fighting’s methods of grabbing a subjects clothing to use it as handles to control and manipulate him and work him into ISR stabilizers or even strikes.
The ISR Matrix program is indeed a matrix because it is modular, with a relatively small number of techniques that can be used in a variety of circumstances with varying force levels against threats of all levels. Being a modular system means that all components and training methodologies can work in virtually any combination with each other. It also means that the system can be applied to supplement many already existing systems and methods.
The challenge in developing this program was to devise a small number of techniques that were applicable to a wide variety of situations that can be trained with enough repetitions to provide real world usability. Gutierrez always reminds students not to look at anything as just a technique, but as part of an overall strategy. Many people have limited experience in putting hands on people, especially aggressively resisting people, and it is important to get past this if you hope to be able to apply what is taught.
One element that sets ISR apart from most conventional police defensive tactics and arrest and control programs is that it was developed and trained against realistically resisting subjects. Many traditional tactics look good in the academy but break down in the field against non-compliant, resisting and assaultive people. This also applies to a fair portion of the self-defense instruction in the private sector.
People practice against realistic attacks and strikes similar to those encountered in real-life violence, as opposed to choreographed movements that lend themselves to the stylized responses that we see in many martial arts and self defense systems. The drills and techniques are not movement specific, so that they do not depend on an attacker moving or attacking a certain way in order to work.
With this in mind, training is conducted with a progression of drills that increase increase in speed and resistance and include common counters. The students alternate partners to get the feel of dealing with a variety of people in terms of size, strength, body type and movement characteristics.
The pressure during the drills increases progressively until the students must enter and control someone who is actually trying to hit them. Exposure to gradually increasing levels of physical contact is an indispensable component of the ISR Matrix system and is essential to being able to apply the techniques in real life.
Our training reflected this emphasis from the first day, when we were introduced to the basics and were off and running with a variety of drills. By the second day of class, we had to enter and take control of someone who was wearing boxing gloves and trying to sock us in the face. To accomplish this, we used several of the components taught the first day. We generally crashed in using the ISR Helmet technique, using our arms to cover up, then secured an Underhook and Pike to control the aggressor.
From there it depended on how the struggle went. The defender might twist the aggressor down or take their back with ISR’s cross-chest Harness hold. Alternately, the defender might find it necessary to push off with a two-handed Dive if they were not able to secure a hold on the attacker in the first place.
Though the number of techniques is relatively small, detailing all of them along with the responses to attempted counters, would fill a textbook. However, some of those mentioned here will be examined.
is one of the ISR’s primary interceptors and serves to channel the flinch response into a default cover-up against strikes to the head as well as a protected entry to drive into an attacker. To execute a helmet, your lead hand comes back and cups the back of your neck with your elbow pointing forward. The rear arm comes up across the front of your head with your bicep tight against the side of your head. Your forward arm is bent along the side of your head with your upper arm and forearm protecting the side of your head and your jaw, thus guarding your knockout triangle. It is not just a protective cover up, but a protected means of crashing though an attacker like a battering ram with the forward-pointing elbows spearing into his face and chest. Gutierrez said that if he had one thing that he would teach a private citizen, he would choose this technique.
The most important element, Gutierrez stresses, in any situation when you are facing a hostile or suspicious person, is to keep you hands up, be it presenting them in an “interview” stance or holding them up as though to gesture “I don’t want any trouble.” Whether you are a private citizen, military, or peace office, you will not be able to act or react quickly enough if your hands are down at your sides.
consists of a two handed reinforced palm strike with the arms thrusting out while your biceps come up to protect the sides of your face. This palm strike can be used against the face or the upper body, as though you are driving into the attacker. After impact, continue to drive forward with your arms still extended while maintaining contact to force the attacker back, keep him off balance and even slam him into an object. It can also be used to disengage or create distance from an attacker to allow you to access your tools.
THE UNDERHOOK AND PIKE
is the primary stabilizer of the ISR Matrix program. To secure an Underhook, slide your arm under your opponent’s arm and bring it around to grab his shoulder and jerk it down, pulling it close to you 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. This can also be applied as a strike. 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 hand keeps the subject from getting too close, while the Underhook prevents him from getting away. The Underhook and Pike is often used to take someone down by pushing down on their neck and twisting up on their arm while walking around them to exert positional leverage to twist them to the ground. Alternatively, it could be used to temporarily control an attacker while delivering powerful knee strikes.
is part of a takedown, used as a follow-on to an armdrag once you have jerked the person off balance so you can angle behind them to seize control of their back. To execute a Harness, shoot an arm under the subject’s arm and across his chest as you step around and behind him, immediately securing it with your other arm, which comes around from over his shoulder to grasp your hands together in a palm-to-palm grip. As soon as the hold is secure, thrust your pelvis forward to the back of the subject’s hips to break his center of gravity, and follow with an immediate jerk back and downwards to take the subject down.
TRAINING DAYS: THREE TO FIVE
All of these techniques and others were introduced on the first day and heavily ingrained by the third day, which introduced ISR’s take on weapons retention. This was incorporated into subsequent drills so that the training progressions became longer and more complex. The weapon retention techniques are robust and applicable whether standing or on the ground. These techniques are similar in principle and application to ISR’s firearm disarming methods, which leads to a commonality in training, so that practicing one reinforces proficiency with the other.
The ISR system provides transitions along the use of force continuum, including specific ways to trastision to a less-leathal weapon or firearm. We practiced this using duty gear and redguns, which were worn most of the time from the third day onwards. Since this particular course was geared toward the military, Gutierrez covered some lethal unarmed transitions and finishes, as well as ways to control an attacker and apply strikes using ISR techniques.
The forth day expanded methods of removing seated suspects to include automobile extractions, along with a review of everything covered. Once this was completed, there was a sort of gut check, where the students had to face a pantheon of aggressors in rapid succession.
The fifth and final day of the class was mostly teachbacks and evaluations. However, unlike some instructor courses that only require on presentation by the student, teachbacks were employed every day to insure comprehension, as a method of preparing future instructors, and also as a means of cooling down and changing the pace after vigorous drills.
The entire class was dynamic and tiring. This was evident from the cherry red skin of most students’ faces. But more prevalent than redness of the faces were the smiles of the students. This is a sometimes overlooked aspect of training, that while tiring, the activities should be fun. As Gutierrez pointed out, once the fun stops, the learning often stops.
Not everything taught in the ISR class that I attended is relevant for someone not in the military or in law enforcement-such as restraints and arresting techniques-while others, like the Helmet and Dive, have universal applicability. Gutierrez and Sharp recognize this, and have established seperate programs for private citizens and security personnel that focus on the relevant aspects for each specific group.
Check with ISR to find the right program for you. You’ll come away from it invigorated, enlighted and better prepared to face the mean streets.
ISR LE Headquarters
9101 Taft Street
Pembroke Pines, FL 33024
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