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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

This Northern Kentucky Martial Arts Studio is helping area police to "sharpen the saw"

Fort Thomas Police Lieutenant Chris Carpenter practices martial arts techniques at the Northern Kentucky Martial Arts Academy.

Orangetheory Fitness, Newport Pavilion. 

by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Fort Thomas Police Lieutenant Chris Carpenter lays out a scenario: What if you spent four weeks learning how to play the piano. You received intensive training for those few weeks, but that was all the training you received. Yet, at any time throughout the rest of your career, at a moment’s notice, you could be asked to give a concert — and if the concert went badly, it’s not “boos” from the audience you would have to worry about. Instead, it could be your career or even your life or the lives of others in your care.

That is a pointed way to illustrate the situation many police officers face when it comes to martial arts or hand-to-hand skills. In Kentucky, officers are required to attend police academy where they receive weeks of focused training in these skills — but, unfortunately, many find themselves with no program, support or plan for practicing or keeping up with this training once they return to their home departments.

The confidence and ability to use these skills can make a difference in many tense situations and even lead to a safer outcome for the officer, the suspect and the general public. A police officer who has support and access to continued training in these skills can feel more confident and capable of using them as an alternative to reaching straight away for more lethal options.

Fort Thomas finds value in ongoing training

Carpenter, who has been practicing martial arts skills since he was 16 years old, brought his concerns to Fort Thomas Police Chief Casey Kilgore. The chief agreed that some ongoing hand-to-hand or martial arts practice and training would be extremely beneficial to the department.

When an opportunity arose for affordable training through the nearby Northern Kentucky Martial Arts Academy, the chief found the funding to support sending four officers to training there, two through a special twice monthly option and another two for regular memberships in the club. Those involved are training officers who share what they’ve learned with their fellow officers.

Scott Smith, co-owner of the martial arts studio, is also the chief of police for Ludlow, Kentucky, as well as acting city administrator for the city. He started his business about two-and-a-half years ago with the goal of providing ongoing training and practice space for his fellow officers throughout Northern Kentucky as well as for the community at large, he said.

Encouraging martial arts training for officers and the community

Smith said he first became interested in the martial arts in 1996. While serving in the army, he was asked to take training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. "I had a wrestling background, and I fell in love with it," he said. "I believe in it, and I do hope to encourage all sorts of people to do this."

His goal for the studio is to provide training in hand-to-hand techniques and self defense for fellow officers, but also for any interested men, women and children of all ages.

About his clientele, he said, "People come from all walks of life. They don’t fit any mold. I have accountants, engineers, teachers...I have taught a 71-year-old woman and about the youngest I would teach is six years old."

He emphasized a family atmosphere. His college-age daughter has been taking classes for years, and his wife is in the studio’s self-defense class. He provides classes for students in wrestling and other school sports as well as general self-defense for kids.

"I want your grandma, your wife, your kids to come and feel comfortable. That’s the demeanor and vibe of our gym. We have rules: no politics, no religion, no sexual preferences...Everybody is equal here."

A wide array of options available 


Wilder Police Chief Chad Martin (behind) takes advantage of the local training in martial arts.

In addition to jiu jitsu, the studio provides training in self defense, wrestling, grappling, boxing, kickboxing and an Israeli military self-defense and fighting system known as krav maga. Smith has a black belt in jiu jitsu and his business partner, Mark Hoffman, has a purple belt.

Hoffman, the father of triplets, teaches an anti-bullying class for kids. In total, the studio has seven martial arts instructors and two wrestling coaches. One name local sports enthusiasts will recognize is Aaron Pryor, Jr., who serves as the boxing instructor.

COVID-19 presented challenges for the studio, but Smith said extensive cleaning routines were in place long before the pandemic started. Fortunately, he also took over space that was used for a dance studio next door, allowing more room for social distancing. Having small group instruction helps as well, but he said those taking classes do have to consider the risk and sign a waiver.

Providing more options can increase safety for all

Knowing that police departments have funding challenges, Smith and Hoffman devised a special rate for police officers, but Smith said he has been surprised that only a handful of area departments have taken advantage of his offer.

Smith speculated that funding is one issue. Some departments are stretched so thin they worry about covering shifts for officers who might get injured while training. Still others, he said, have been resistant to change.

He said he wants every Northern Kentucky police officer to become comfortable and familiar with these techniques so they become a natural part of their response options in any situation. Both he and Carpenter said reaching for your gun should be a last resort, not a first choice.

When asked about the ongoing discussion today about police use of force and efforts at reform, they both agreed that providing hand-to-hand training could provide an alternative in many situations.

Pulling out a gun or taser should be the last things you do, said Smith. He wants officers to be comfortable in their personal space and even able to use that space to their advantage. While it won’t work in every situation, he said, the right training can lead to much better and safer decisions.

Carpenter agreed, "The stakes can be very high...anytime you mix with someone under stress, it could go bad in several ways." With training you are better able to respond quickly and appropriately.

As he approaches his 20th year with the department, Carpenter said he is happy that both Officer Brandon Laffin and Sergeant Derek Faught began training at the martial arts academy this past July and are quick studies. He said he is proud that Chief Kilgore and the Fort Thomas community have been supportive and forward thinking in providing this training. 
The Northern Kentucky Martial Arts Academy is located at  869 Oak Street in Ludlow.

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