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The Trouble With Trifles: Law Enforcement Certification

by Jeff Cholewinski

In law enforcement an adage says; “If it is not written down, it did not happen.” Normally we associate this concept with report writing. In the context of describing and justifying the action of a law enforcement officer (LEO) the practice should be considered an officer’s dictum.

I have been an LEO for sixteen years. I’ve spent ten of those years as a police trainer specializing in use of force and tactics. It seems to me the reporting writing adage has carried into the realm of training, causing much confusion regarding the qualification of LEO instructors.

Everyone has a system, technique, or tool to sell. Everything comes with a ‘certification’. If it’s ‘certified’ it has to be good, right? Wrong!

When I look for training courses to attend I focus on the instructor. Who is he, what is his background, how did he attain his expertise? Don’t be fooled by the pretenders among us. Choose to use your training dollars wisely. Stop buying systems; develop your instructors. This is more time consuming but more rewarding.

If you expect to develop your instructors in a three or five-day course do you really think you do the officers on your department justice or are you giving them a false sense of security? Take ‘defensive tactics’ as an example, a true instructor should be a lifelong student of unarmed combat.

When you develop in-house training programs you need to decide what you want the program to achieve. Do you require ongoing training and personnel development, do your officers require one system to deal with a wide range of applications, do you want to incorporate many tools and techniques under one homogenous system?

In an industry where pre-packaged systems, end-user and instructor certifications abound, Taiho Jutsu offers solutions. Taiho Jutsu arose out of need for the Japanese police to develop a system of arrest and control following the ban of martial arts during occupation after the Second World War.

Taiho Jutsu, as practiced by the United States Taiho Jutsu Federation, still offers solutions for law enforcement today. But remember check out the instructor, there are pretenders among us! The Federation offers LEO Instructor Certification.

The surest way to competency is to follow the law enforcement curriculum along with continuing study of the art. The process begins with attendance of the 18-hour Law Enforcement I Defensive Tactics course. Law Enforcement II Advanced Defensive Tactics totals 21 hours. Continuing study of the art is critical to develop the skills learned in these two courses.


A student should attend class at least twice a week for sessions of at least two hours. If your student is dedicated to develop as a competent instructor he should expect his study to last a career.

After three years experience in defensive tactics and completion of LEO I, and II a student is eligible to attend Certified Defensive Tactics Instructor, a 24-hour course. Successful completion of this course results in certification by USTJF as a Law Enforcement Instructor. If you think you’re done because you have a certificate to hang on your wall you may want to re-think your competency!

After completion of “Defensive Tactics Instructor” and a total of seven years ‘defensive tactics experience an instructor is eligible to attend the 30-hour Certified Defensive Tactics Instructor/ Trainer course. Continuing education, study of the art, and instructor development does not stop here. Only by teaching while studying do skills refine and improve. Learning the art of Taiho Jutsu is a career in itself.

Check out credentials. If your instructor doesn’t believe in the study of an art you may not be getting what you are bargaining for. Certifications are not worth the paper they are written on if representing nothing more than attendance for limited hours.

The process of instructor development is a career. The measure of an instructor is not in his wallpaper, it is in his dedication. The things we don’t see printed in black and white are more important than the ink.

Put this in a perspective we understand as LE Trainers, the courtroom. You are subpoenaed and arrive with your file full of manufacturer and system certifications as proof of competency. The plaintiff’s attorney thinks it quite impressive but knows from deposition that you don’t understand how to teach what you know. More importantly he understands your knowledge is limited by your experience, most gained in the few hours appearing on your certification. It’s not about how much you’ve done; it’s all about how much you’ve learned.

Don’t fall in the ‘industry trap’. Select dedicated people, develop them as students and instructors, implement a concept-based program at your police department. Instructors who enjoy the pursuit of certification over the development of skill deliver injustice to their students. Remember, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

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