Who are the Iron Pigs? The newly formed HPD nationally competitive grappling team

Tom Kennedy, Editor
Here we are depicting the results of the Iron Pigs’ first-ever grappling tournament in the North American Grappling Association. The venue was Dallas and the team returned with a number of medals. From left to right. Sgt. James Brooks – BJJ Black Belt, Officer James Brooks – BJJ Blue Belt, Officer Kent Donohue – BJJ White Belt, Officer Luke Crawford – BJJ Brown Belt, Officer Alfonso Garcia – BJJ Blue Belt, Officer Lance Calloway – BJJ White Belt, SPO David Lopez – BJJ Black Belt and Officer Chris Dieterich – BJJ Blue Belt. BJJ is an abbreviation for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

In case you haven’t heard, the Houston Police Department not only has a softball team called the Heat but now has a grappling team known in these parts as the HPD Iron Pigs.

The team has at least 50 members and continues to grow by the week, although only about 10 people, all HPD officers, compete in the Houston area, around Texas and – as planned – soon will have a nationwide schedule of competitions.

Senior Police Officer David Lopez, a defensive tactics instructor at the academy, ranks as the head of this ever-expanding clan and admitted to the Badge & Gun that “my main goal is to gain exposure for the Houston Police Grappling Team, which is a certified 501(c)(3) and specifically to differentiate the grappling team from what I do as a defensive tactics instructor.”

Tactics vs. Grappling

Lopez said he successfully requested permission to organize the team from Police Chief Art Acevedo just more than a year ago, saying the chief was excited about the Department’s participating in grappling matches in a growing number of Houston area communities.

He pointed out that the Iron Pigs often compete with teams with far more individual participants and, as such, does not expect to win very many team trophies. “But we will compete to win individual medals,” Lopez said.

Police departments in Miami, Los Angeles and New York have put together grappling teams and Lopez stood front and center to vow the Iron Pigs will be competitive in this type of league.

But just as he takes care to iron out details in his defensive tactics sessions, he wants to be careful to explain the differences in these techniques and tactics and the practice of “grappling.”

We’ll let Lopez explain:

“Defensive tactics as defined by the HPD,” he explained, “is the techniques and tactics that are taught or used to defend against someone’s actions.  Defensive tactics as defined by the FBI is ‘an integrated system of certain physical and mental confrontation techniques and procedures directed toward the safety of those employed in the enforcement of the law.’

“The need for continuous training in this area is further exemplified by the fact that defensive tactics deals with the most dangerous portion of the law enforcement profession, the taking into control or custody of another human being.”

For the last 10 years at the academy Lopez has put it this way: “I’m teaching cadets how to defend themselves against attackers.”

As such, the DTU “does not teach sport grappling to officers or cadets. The goal of the HPD DTU is to offer training that has a high efficacy rate by using progressive techniques that have become the worldwide standard for police combatives.”

These techniques are specifically chosen to be used in accordance with local, state and federal law which emphasize using the least amount of force necessary to effect an arrest. Lopez said the tactics used are very similar to those taught by the FBI DTU as well as most law enforcement agencies in our country.

“TCOLE,” he said, “has mandated grappling training for decades and recognizes its value as a lifesaving skill set that reduces injuries to both officers and suspects alike.”

That said, here is the difference – again in Lopez’ words – between defensive tactics taught at the academy and what has become known as “sport grappling or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”

“It is very different – the main difference being the application and use of submission techniques.  Grappling for officers utilizes positional controls and positional escapes which increases an officer’s overall situational awareness and distance control and not on techniques that are specific to the sport.”

In other words, at the academy the technique might be referred to as “wrestling without throwing any strikes. Lopez explained, “If we were doing martial arts, we would be throwing strikes and incorporate distraction techniques. We teach our cadets how to control another person using the least amount of force necessary to effect the arrest.”

The Grappling Communities

Once a member of the Iron Pigs takes the mat, however, there will be some strikes thrown – not like those that come across the plate when the Heat takes the softball field.

“Grappling is a sport,” Lopez – sounding like the instructor that he is – said. “In the sport chokes, arm locks and joint locks on the ground or standing are used. We don’t use that in training at the academy.”

Grappling is a generalized term that incorporates Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and American wrestling.


Any HPD officer may join the team but, like we said, only about 10 members go to the competitions.

“We have competed in Florida, Dallas and throughout Houston,” the team captain said before pointing out that “every member who has competed on behalf of the HPD grappling team has medaled, which is a source of pride.”

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community is quite large and incredibly supportive of HPD officers. In fact many BJJ academies across the city have opened their doors to HPD’s grapplers.

Competitors are paired with others with the same size and weight. The winner is decided on a point basis.

“In addition to competing and representing the department in a positive light, we also attend open mats at various academies across the city,” Lopez said. “To date, we have attended open mats and integrated with the public at Grounddwellers, Team Maozinha, Renzo Gracie Houston, W4R Training Center, and have open invitations at 10 or more academies across Houston.”

Lopez also wanted to stress that the HPD grappling team is a 501 (c)(3) official charitable organization.  To raise funds, “we have created team merchandise and fitness apparel that is available for sale with the proceeds going to officers who have been injured in the line of duty, to provide scholarships to fitness centers or martial arts academies for cadets and officers who have shown a desire to train, and to purchase much needed training equipment for the gym at the Houston Police Academy.”

The Iron Pigs have attended various events, aiming to acquaint all they meet with the sport of grappling and the way the team strives toward excellence.

“We have attended public events such as the first annual Assist the Officer Softball Tournament, the Kingwood Vintage car show, and will be hosting submission only events at Grounddwellers in the near future,” Lopez explained.     

For more information please listen to the Redefining Alpha 30 podcast on iTunes and follow the team on Facebook at IronPigsTraining, Instagram @IronPigsTraining and @IronPigsTrainingGear, as well as www.ironpigstraining.com.