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Handling Trouble

Unarmed Defense and Control

Kapap instructor demonstrates self defense techniques against a gun

Based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Basic Use of Force Laws" and the Church Security Guide article "Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force."[1][2][3]

From the Bible

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32:24).

Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place (Deuteronomy 21:19).

But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city (Genesis 19:16).


In church, the "laying -on of hands" can have a dual meaning. In the Old Testament, a person offering a sin offering laid his hands on the animal, symbolizing the passing of his sins to the sacrifice. It also accompanied the anointing of a person selected for an office or a special duty. This second use was followed in the New Testament in the ordination of elders and deacons and with prayers for healing, practices followed today.

When it comes to the Church Safety Team, there is another "laying-on of hands." Sometimes a team member needs to get physical to stop destructive or harmful actions by laying hands on the subject person.

In the News

Knoxville, Tennessee, November 14, 2021 - During the Sunday morning service at First Baptist Concord Church in Knoxville, a man began shouting, cursing, using obscenities, and giving Jesus the finger. When asked to leave, he refused. Police were called, and he still refused to leave. They had to physically carry him out under arrest.[4]

Hollywood, California, August 15, 2022 - A homeless man came into the open-air seating section of a restaurant. He attacked an elderly man sitting at a table, took his wallet and phone, then ran out. He was followed by the restaurant owner, who chased him. The chase ended with the owner tackling the robber on a street corner, then holding him down for nine minutes until police arrived.[5]

Tampa, Florida, January 22, 2023 - A man came into the gym of an apartment complex and attempted to assault a 24-year-old woman. She tried to leave, but hs chased her around the gym, then grabbed her and forced her to the floor. She resisted and kept fighting him off until she got away. Outside the gym she called 911. Police came and arrested him. The whole episode was caught on security camera.[6]

* Note: Being in shape, knowing how to fight back, and not giving up saved the day,

Vanceboro, North Carolina, January 5, 2020 - A man denied entry into Floods Chapel Freewill Baptist Church tried to force his way in. Persons attending the front door barred him, then wrestled him down the two steps to the ground. There they held him down until sheriff's deputies arrived. The deputies had to use a Taser to take him into custody. The incident was caught on surveillance video.

The suspect was high on crystal meth. Before heading to the church, he had assaulted a female relative in her home, then drove off in her vehicle. He was booked with a variety of charges.[7][8]

Los Angeles, California, May 8, 2022 - Encouraged by a radical pro-abortion group, activists tried to disrupt the Mother's Day Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Dressed in red robes and hoods, they stood up just before the Eucharist and began shouting slogans. Parishioners then stood up and started herding the demonstrators toward the door. Responding police officers arrested the activists. Charges included disruption of a religious service (a crime in California).[9]

Augusta, Georgia, December 2017 - The local United Methodist District contacted a security company (of which a church musician was CEO) to teach defensive moves to members of three congregations in the district. Considering attacks on churches, the district wanted members to know what to do in a violent incident.[10]

* Note: The Sutherland Springs shooting was in November of that year.

Videocast and Show Notes

The subject of this article is discussed by Kris Moloney in a Sheepdog Church Security Academy videocast (the audio is in a Church Security Roll Call podcast). Kris's military, law enforcement, and church security experience informs his analysis. Beneath the video screen, in the comments section, is a link to the Show Notes (article summary). These can be printed and attached to messages/emails to share and discuss with others.[11][12]

Having to use your hands to stop disruption begins with a behavioral emergency. The ideal response is to resolve the situation without physical force by using voice (requests, commands, verbal de-escalation). Sometimes voice might not be enough, but it's the best place to start. We have a free download for you, "Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis." Click *HERE* to get it. You'll also receive our monthly newsletter, The Church Guardian.

Keeping the Peace

Police and sheriff's deputies are known as "peace officers" because it's their duty to keep the peace, and that is also a responsibility of Safety Team members. To do this we need to use the least necessary force, not "Shock and Awe."

Knowing what force options are available is the reason for the Continuum of Force. The middle level of the continuum is Empty-Handed Control. This is divided into soft and hard sub-levels, ranging from a light touch to a full fight.

Two kinds of moves are control and self-defense. The distinction is more in the reason than in the move itself. A successful self-defense move results in control.

Hands-on Methods

There are many maneuvers and holds which can be used to fend off an attack and to bring an unruly or uncoöperative person under control. A person specializing in this field can learn and practice most of these, but not all people do, not even many police officers, and certainly not most Church Safety Team members. Therefore it pays to learn a few and learn them well, and to keep them simple.

A writer for Officer Magazine said, "Simplicity of technique is the cornerstone of any good defensive tactics program. The more steps there are to a particular technique or tactic, the greater the probability that something will go wrong."[13.a] Security writers also point out that the difficulty of executing a hold or takedown is greater in a real situation than it is on the practice mat. This is especially true when the subject is high on drugs or alcohol - see how the deputies in Vanceboro, NC, had to use a Taser to subdue a suspect on crystal meth.[7,8]

Here are four hands-on techniques:

Escort Hold

Standing just behind one side of the person, put one hand on the wrist and the other just above the elbow. Guide the person in the direction to go. This is for passive non-compliance. You can sense when the person becomes aggressive and switch to a firmer hold, the wrist lock.[13.b]

Wrist Lock

The wrist lock is a pain-control hold because it extends a joint to the limit. Grab the wrist with the thumb on the inside and the fingers on the back. Pull the wrist to the back and raise to the shoulder blade. Farther than this may overextend the wrist, risking injury, but by this time the pain will cause most persons to submit.

Arm Bar

An arm bar is grabbing the arm, forcing the elbow straight, and threatening to bend it back. This is a problematic hold, especially when standing. It is best done very quickly to throw the subject off balance. When the subject loses his balance there is a good chance of his weight dislocating the elbow or breaking his arm. It is best used when there is a threat of serious bodily harm and worth the risk of breaking the subject's arm or tearing the elbow..

Shoulder Lock

Thrust your arm palm-up under the subject's shoulder, bringing your hand up to the shoulder from behind. Meanwhile, the other hand goes to the back of the subject's head, forcing it down. By this time you're behind the subject.

This is a more complex than some other holds and locks and needs more practice. The most likely injury to the subject is a dislocated shoulder.

Other Moves

There are more moves and variations on moves than can be described here. One site describes 15 of them. Each martial art has its own menu of moves. Many are more effective in sporting matches. One martial art, Krav Maga, was specifically designed for military use, and is therefore widely taught to law enforcement and security services worldwide.


Even with Empty-Handed Control, we still need to be careful not to use excessive force. A weapon is not needed to seriously injure a person. Injured persons are likely to sue, even when physical force was necessary.


When vocal commands and verbal de-escalation do not deter an unarmed person from damaging behavior, you need to know how to defend yourself or control them without using a weapon.

Training Notes

Training in self-defense and/or martial arts is best done in person. It requires conditioning and one-on-one practice with the trainer and with other students. Since these are both motor skills and mental skills, practicing often is best until you know it well. Then practice continues, though not as often - perhaps bi-monthly.

The Safety Director can bring in a self-defense instructor to train the entire team. When asking the instructor to come, stipulate that the course will focus on moves that are used in church security.

Training in other topics is available in the Safety Member Certification program. Every Church Safety Team is encouraged to have all its members trained and certified through this course. It has eight training modules (classes). There are three training formats from which to choose:

Team Certification (church-hosted classes) to train the entire team at once.

Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction) for team members who cannot attend a class or are new to an established team.

Online Events (live Zoom classes) are open to both teams and individuals. Currently, they are held on Sundays at 3:00 pm Central Time. There are two classes left in this school year, but the new season begins in September. A student enrolling now can pick it up then, On the other hand, the course can be completed using Individual Certification.

Color coding:

Related to Article







Training Module


Sep 11

Nov 13

Jan 29

Mar 26

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 18

Nov 20

Feb 5

Apr 2

Active Shooter Response


Sep 25

Dec 4

Feb 12

Apr 16

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 2

Dec 11

Feb 19

Apr 23

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 9

Dec 18

Feb 26

Apr 30

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 16

Jan 8

Mar 5

May 7

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 23

Jan 15

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies

On Deck

The baseball season is in full swing, so instead of saying "Up Next," it will be "On Deck."

The article on deck is "Recruit and Verify" (Protect My Ministry).


  1. Kris Moloney, "Basic Use of Force Laws," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [].
  3. Kris Moloney, "Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [].
  4. Caleb Wethington, "Man arrested, carried out of Knoxville church after disruption," WATE 6 ABC, Posted: November 18, 2021 [].
  5. Pilar Arias, "Hollywood restaurant owner turns good Samaritan by taking down robbery suspect who punched elderly man," Fox News, August 15, 2022 [].
  6. Athina Morris and Trevor Sochocki, "Woman fights off attacker in Tampa gym," WFLA, February 15, 2023, Updated: February 16, 2023 [].
  7. WITN news staff, "DEPUTIES: Man believed to be on crystal meth tasered at church," WITN, January 6, 2020 [].
  8. Snejana Farberov, "Shocking moment North Carolina church members tackle man 'high on crystal meth' as he tried to force his way inside during Sunday service," Daily Mail, January 10, 2020 [].
  9. Writers at LifeSiteNews Europe, "Pro-abortion protesters escorted out of Los Angeles church after disrupting Sunday Mass," LifeSiteNews, May 9, 2022 [].
  10. Un-named Contributor, "Church members learn defensive moves from security company," The Augusta Chronicle, January 4, 2018 [].
  11. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, SoundCloud [].
  12. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Situations," Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [].
  13. Self-Defense and Control Resources:
    1. Frank Borelli (Editorial Director) et al., "Control Holds," (Officer Magazine), March 20, 2008 [].
    2. J. J. Truncale, "Effective Compliance Holds," Law and Order, Volume: 41 Issue: 9 Dated: (September 1993) Pages: 145-148, accessed on U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs [].
    3. Ed Sanow, "Controlled Force: Easy to Remember Defensive Tactics: NCJ Number 189114," Law and Order, Volume: 49 Issue: 5 Dated: June 2001 Pages: 70-73, accessed on U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs [].
    4. Gordon Graham, "Big problems come when officers use holds that are not authorized," Today's Tips, Lexipol, April 18, 2023 [].
    5. Melanie Pinola, "Basic Self-Defense Moves Anyone Can Do (and Everyone Should Know)," LifeHacker, July 28, 2011 [].
    6. Sam Fury, "15+ of the Best Arm Locks in Self-Defense," Survival Fitness Plan Blog, no date [].