The Jet Li Maneuver: Beretta Disassembly at Gunpoint

In Lethal Wespon IV, Jet Li’s character is caught at gunpoint by Mel Gibson’s character…until he turns the tables by stripping the slide right off Gibson’s Beretta 92FS. I wonder how feasible that really is? Also, I wonder if perhaps Jet Li’s character was not the first to do it? What is there was a different gun even better suited to this trick?


  1. Hahahaaaa… both entertaining and educational. Bravo!

    Just realizing one thing. Many pistol makers consider it to be of bonus if a pistol during disassembly doesn’t have to be cocked (slide strips forward). I do not se a point to it…. other than having stolen slide. 🙂

    Lesson received: every ‘solution’ is causing problem somewhere else.

      • That’s right. Anyone certified to pistol ownership should know the steps to safe-proof the gun before disassembly. Otherwise, he/ she is exactly as you said.

        • Yeah, but if someone’s pointing it at your head and you figure you’re about to be shot anyway, it’s probably worth taking a chance. I’d rather go down fighting than stand there and be shot like a dog just waiting for it.

    • One more on Beretta 92. Last year I had the opportunity to shoot the gun, first time. I am not a good pistol shot so I leave comment on results aside. But, as I offered myself to clean it (hade it available for couple of days), I discovered some interesting things. One is that (this is visible in pictures too but you can best appreciate it by feel) the barrel is guided in aluminum T-groove guide, which appears to be inserted into frame. It is also possible that this is in fact one piece with frame and in that case I do onto see any other method of making it other than die-cast (there in no visible tool run-out). In any case, there is lots of clearance between it and barrel, most visibly detriment to proper guidance. With P38 being master to this gun (frame is steel) I consider it a cheap replica.

      My interest after this finding was considerably lessened. Yeah, seeing (and feeling) is believing. But then, some think M92 is ‘accurate’; that’s all right, I take it.

      • Have a 92 and can not hit anything with it. Much better with a Glock. Consider myself an average shot but the 92, brand new at that, is not an easy gun to get on target.

        Don’t bust your stones, it might not be you that is all that bad.

        • I have large hands, and to me the 92’s grip diameter is still entirely too large. If feels like pointing a brick. I can’t imagine how people with smaller hands deal with them. I’m not a big fan of high cap pistol magazines, I feel like they encourage spray-n-pray when one well aimed shot would do.

  2. Let’s be fair to the martial artist and the gun men. Whenever a gun is stuck in someone’s face, the user expects his victim to comply with orders. “If I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead.” Nobody expects the victim to grab the gun. At that point, if the martial artist goes after the gun man by smacking the gun aside and grappling that gun man, the gun is nearly useless! I don’t think anyone would be dumb enough to literally jab a pistol muzzle into a black belt in mixed martial arts and expect the latter to cry mommy. I wonder if Daweo could add to this. Just don’t try stripping the gun during the fight. Not enough time unless you rip it off the owner, and even then a simpler move would be knocking the owner in the face and then turning the gun on him! Did I mess up?

    • Very good point. I was one time involved in MA training and my master (7th dan in aikido) told us how he was examined, just recently. One of tests was to wrestle out handgun from attacker. There were several different positions (front, back, side…) to do it from. Also, anyone with SMG or rifle is NOT in any great advantage, if he gets too close. You never know who is the other guy – until you find out.

    • No, you didn’t mess up.

      I’m a feature film screenwriter always looking for new ideas. I’ve always loved the Lethal Weapon franchise and its action/comedy sub-genre (although I write action late-20th Century historical fiction — stories based on actual events, typically events the government doesn’t want folks to know about — so I strive for realism).

      The Jet-Li maneuver in Lethal Weapon 4 caught my attention. Thus I was very interested in Ian’s analysis. Jet-Li is not using Mixed Martial Arts; he’s using a Thai martial art refined for close-quarter military use in China. Martin Riggs uses degraded (for story purposes) Krav Maga supplemented with some Systema techniques that he would have been taught at Camp Perry given his spec ops history in Operation Phoenix and his (implausible) work as a sniper in Laos as described in the first film in the series.

      [I was in Laos working for a multi-national with a contract to provide aviation support services to Air America. Trained at “the Farm” (Camp Perry) and SOCOM (then located in Panama), I — like all other Americans, whether CIA or private contractors — was “sheep-dipped” (all evidence and documentation of U.S. citizenship removed and a pseudonym assigned) in Bangkok. No way would Riggs have gotten in with a special forces tatoo. Yes, marksmanship was part of the training, but shots at 1000 yds with a strong crosswind? No way.]

      Ian says the disassembly lever was already down and the recoil spring probably removed prior to shooting. He’s probably correct, although after watching his video I went back and reviewed the scene repeatedly and could not confirm the disassembly lever was down. This was surprising. Usually a frame-by-frame analysis is sufficient to reveal such tricks, but if you have to analyze the move in hundreths of a second — the case here — you really can’t tell.

      But you’re right. If the Jet-Li character could grab Rigg’s weapon at all, he would have conventionally disarmed him by wrenching Rigg’s wrist counter-clockwise. He would not have left Riggs with half a gun, itself a lethal weapon.

      If Ian had showed a longer clip from the film to put the move in context, you would have seen Jet-Li, Riggs and Murtaugh, all armed, in a circular stand-off. Although the angles are tough to judge, it seems that while Jet-Li was outnumbered neither Riggs nor Murtaugh could fire without risk of hitting each other with rounds that — at 3 feet — would pass through Jet-Li.

      Jet-Li breaks the standoff with the maneuver in question, disarming Riggs. Jet-Li then focuses on Murtaugh. This is where the weapon disassembly scene falls apart. A split second after disarming Riggs (and leaving him with a pound or 2 of receiver in his hand), he TURNS HIS BACK TO RIGGS to take on Murtaugh.

      A screenwriter who needed all the characters to survive would have had Riggs hit Jet-Li over the head with the butt of the Beretta and taken it from there. In real life, Riggs would have struck Jet-Li upward at the base of the skull just above C2 and likely would have killed him, particularly with the mass of the Beretta receiver behind the strike.

      That moment passes, Jet-Li temporarily disables Murtaugh and then (implausibly) temporarily disables Riggs with an — admittedly cinematic — high spin kick to the side of the head. The kick is implausible because it is neither fatal nor disabling for either a long period or permanently. A straight kick to the bottom of the nose but aimed at the center of the skull would have pushed the ethmoid bone into the brain. That’s fatal. A kick to either patella or a pelvis/leg joint would have been seriously disabling.

      But this is Hollywood, and comedic Hollywood at that.

      The real take-away: if you have a gun, don’t get within about 7 feet of an opponent. A trained opponent will just take it from you. The opponent won’t need to disassemble it to do so.

  3. The Star Super A in 9 x 23 Largo can be “speed-stripped” in this way more easily that the Beretta, because its takedown lever has no friction spring detent.

    Once you push on the release button on the right side, the lever on the left is easily swung down by the thumb (in fact, it almost falls open of its own accord), and the slide group including recoil spring assembly comes right off the front of the frame.

    I used this in one story, in which a young lady being used as a human shield by a criminal armed with a Super A popped the slide off with her left hand and then hit him in the forehead with the (very hard) back end of it in an over-the-shoulder face strike.

    Yes, I tested it with a real Super A (unloaded, of course) before committing it to paper.



  4. Also add Steyr 1908 and others following its way of take down like, Le Francais, JoLoAr, Beretta 950 and on.

  5. For what it is worth, there was a law enforcement alert put out back in the 1990s that warned of this issue, and which claimed that inmates in California prisons had been observed teaching and training this disarm technique. It was credible enough that some trainers in the Army were told to brief this issue as a part of marksmanship training with the Beretta to ensure that users of the pistol did not allow themselves to get within arms reach of any potential threats. Supposedly, Russian Spetsnatz troops were also being trained on this vulnerability…

    I’ve seen the technique demonstrated by SF close-quarters combat instructors, as well. The technique shown, however, was not “grab slide from front” as Jet Li did it. It was more of a grapple/rotation move that left the instructor with his back to the shooter, the slide flung away, and the instructor left positioned to either perform an arm lock or throw the shooter over the instructors back. The iteration of this that I witnessed put a cocky, well-designed young MP up against a crusty old SF guy that ended with the MP on the ground, a Beretta disassembled, and a knee drop that would have thoroughly crushed the MP’s throat.

    I agree that this is a pretty theatric sort of thing, but I still warned about it in training, and instructed that you shot anyone who insisted on getting within arms reach of your pistol as a matter of policy.

  6. Human reaction time is generally considered to be about a quarter of a second (250 milliseconds) for a visual stimulus. In other words, Mel Gibson might tack a quarter of a second to even make the decision to shoot after he sees Jet Li moving.

    So Jet Li has perhaps a quarter of a second from when he starts moving to when he needs to have started the separation of the slide – enough that the gun won’t fire.

    I say: Needs science!

    • “I say: Needs science!”
      Can we just say that movie actions have alternative law of physics and other things?

      • Or let’s just think! Assuming the gun man (who is a cop according to script) wants the martial artist alive, he does not point at the martial artist with intent to kill or he would have shot the latter several times already! The martial artist knows that cops get in trouble for unnecessary killing and uses the hesitation to rob the policeman of his weapon! I could be wrong.

    • A quarter of second? That is probably for whole ‘cycle’ starting with initial sensory input, neuro-muscular mobilisation, conduct and finish.

      When comes to nervous response to impulse, say mechanical or electric, it is much shorter. I was surprised, when exposed couple of years ago to neurological test (I had damage to nerve as result of elbow injury). The recorded time from electro-impulse to measured/ sensed reaction was in order of milliseconds. It is not much different than say with an electro-mechanical device such as sensor/ switch.

      • A quarter second is from the start of a visual stimuli to when your motor reaction starts. You can try it by having someone hold a ruler hanging straight down between your hands or fingers. They drop it and you catch it which requires only an inch of movement by you. You can see where on the ruler you caught it to see how far it fell and use acceleration due to gravity to figure out how long it took .you.

    • I had a friend who was taking martial arts classes, who asked me to assist him in practicing disarming an attacker. Lacking a blue gun, I removed the cylinder from my Smith Model 19. Starting at 6-8 feet away, I would draw or present the gun and try to click off a shot at him before he could get ahold of it. We both found it somewhat distressing that even after several hours of this play-acting, our results still hovered around the 50/50 mark.

  7. I remember reading in some pulp fiction pot boilers several years ago of an incident involving a Lahti pistol. In the plot the hero when confronted with this pistol has the presence of mind to push the barrel back just as the hammer drops and is rewarded with a click. Not having handled a Lahti, I cannot comment on whether this is grade A guff or pure unadulterated BS. Perhaps someone out there can enlighten me

    • Actually pushing back the barrel/slide would put many pistols out of battery, and the safety mechanisms would stop them from being fired (no need to wait for the hammer to start dropping). The usefulness of that, would depend on too many other factors.

      It is said that the criminal “el Lute”, in Spain, did that to a cop one of the times he was being arrested, disabling the cop’s pistol (probably an Star B, given the period). Of course, it could be just an exageration that arrived to “popular culture” due to tales and the movies about him.

  8. A Navy vet told me that you can stop a 1911 from firing by pushing back on the muzzle and slide. Seems possible if you’re willing to risk it, don’t know if the shooter just steps back to free the gun from you. Explains that strange Honor Guard pistol with the frame extending forward from the muzzle to supposedly facilitate contact shooting.

    Though time and time again I hear: if you’re touching them with your gun, you’re too close, because they can move before you can shoot. Some martial arts friends tried this with water pistols and seemed to prove it.

    Jet Li, unlike Jackie Chan, was a genuine champion martial artist before becoming an actor, and if anyone could pull this off genuinely, he might.

    • Pushing straight on the muzzle/slide of a 1911 will put it out of battery, and if the disconnector safety is working it will not fire.

      That is assuming the guy with the gun just stands there. But maybe it would buy a moment of time.

    • Pushing back on the muzzle of a Browning type pistol simply rams your hand into the barrel’s own muzzle. Locked-breech or blowback fixed-barrel, it makes no difference.

      To put a Browning type automatic out of battery, you need to move the slide, so grabbing the front of same and pushing it back, rather than shoving your hand against the muzzle, is the correct procedure.

      It’s also the one that doesn’t end with a nasty hole in your hand.



  9. If you push the slide back out of battery first the pistol cannot fire. There is an east European pistol – I can’t remember which one – which has a small extension on the front frame to prevent the slide from being pushed back if you push the pistol up against someone (e.g. into their back).

      • Short recoil pistols with double action triggers and stretch type of trigger bars with integral disconnecting lugs like CZ75 and WaltherP99, still retain their hammer or stiker falling conditions when the slide being pressed back out of battery, since their disconnector notches under the slide being arranged for single action trigger pulls requiring more backward room for that integral disconnecting lugs to travel inside. However, while the hammer guns would not permit firing by cause of their punch would not reach to the separate firing pin through the slightly got back slide, the striker types might allow firing at that situation. The sole prevention for those guns might come from the slightly lessened compression of their mainsprings inside the bacwardly pressed slide.

        • With all automatics having a slide, shoving the slide back all the way prevents firing, both by opening the breech and by tripping the disconnector. It also ejects the chambered round in almost every such design, the old Beretta Tomcat with no extractor being one of the few exceptions.

          Shoving the slide back far enough to unlock a Colt-Browning type will do this as well, because among other things as the barrel drops out of lockup with the slide the casehead of the chambered round is dropped enough to move the primer out of alignment with the firing pin even if the extractor isn’t starting it out of the chamber (for whatever reason). And yes, this was a deliberate “last-ditch” safety feature of the design.



        • A typical feature of ALL firearms is that the firing pin will not reach primer if not in fully locked condition. It does not need much since the typical F/P protrusion is less than 1mm. This is condition applies regardless to other devices such as did-connectors. This is true for both locked and unlocked handguns.

          Further, in hammer fired pistols you may not be able to strike firing pin with full impact being obstructed with slide cocking hump. But most of these considerations are hypothetical, I realize that.

          • Pistols with their extractors still engaging the live round, or without extractors but a slightly upward canted muzzle would able to deliver a discharge even having a tilted barrel lock in battery off situation. Even a twelve o,clock firing pin strike can cause discharging and in some cases, hang fire.

  10. I read somewhere (Roy Jinks book?) that Smith & Wesson had received a letter from a policeman reporting he had been disarmed by a crook who unlatched his topbreak revolve when they struggled. This may have been one of the reasons that the S&W .38 Perfected had a side latch as well as a top latch. Still funny repeat with a different handgun.

    • Why do you think Smith & Wesson switched over to the swing-out framed revolvers? The cylinder-release sits behind the cylinder and thus cannot be tripped by a crook held at gun-point!

      That aside, I recall one somewhat humorous attempt to circumvent this stick-up problem. During the Battle of Crete, an old Cretan farmer and his wife saw a Fallschirmjager land on their field (he was blown way off-course and was therefore separated from his unit). Rather than allow the German paratrooper the opportunity to hold them at gun point or use their farm as a makeshift command post, the couple sneaked up barefoot behind him, each carrying a huge rock. At the very last moment, the German realized that he wasn’t alone, pulled a 180 degree turn, drew his side-arm, and was promptly shot through the back of his head by a Greek soldier hiding in ambush. The Greek then proceeded to mutilate the German’s cadaver with two more rifle bullets point-blank and then with his bayonet before allowing the Cretan farmer to strip the dead German of his boots. Yes, you heard me correctly. The old Cretan and his wife were about to bash a paratrooper over the head with huge rocks just to get the paratrooper’s shiny new boots!! How’s that for ridiculous?

        • True, the farmer was treating his lack of footwear as a great impediment to his livelihood. But it would have been humiliating for a professional soldier to be bashed to death by civilians with huge rocks.

  11. As I recall LA County had a issue with this with a motorcycle gang either disarming a officer or caught training this maneuver in lockup. It was the reason Beretta offered a upgrade to the disassembly lever.

  12. I’ve seen a previous discussion of this scene and the move is pure Hollywood since the disassembly lever had already been opened before they started filming, so Jet Li simply grabbed the slide and pulled. He did not manipulate the take down lever and then remove the slide.

    • I’m sure the reason for this was because nobody wanted to try the move for real. No matter how many times you practice, it’s hard to get someone to stand still long enough to allow Li to mess with the take-down lever and then yank the slide without the side effect of having the gun man look stupid in the process.

  13. Checking my G27 Glock, it takes a slide movement of 0.110″/2.81mm to activate the disconnector to render the gun safe from firing. BTW, pushing the muzzle against a HARD surface won’t do it, as the recoil spring guide stops slide movement before reaching that critical distance. However, against body parts, such as the palm, or arm/leg, does allow enough movement to disable the gun from firing.

    NOT comfortable doing this test!

    The Colt 1911/Browning type pivoting/swinging barrel guns will also act the same. I don’t have one handy to measure at the moment, but It doestn’t take much movement to activate the disconnector. IIRC, it was about 1/8″, which is nearly the same as this Glock.

  14. I carried the m9 pistol in the service and shot it extensively. I think it is a fine, rugged, reliable and accurate weapon.

  15. If anyone can find the video from President Ford’s visit to CA where a Manson family member tried to shoot him, the Secret Service guy uses the heel of his hand to slam the slide while simultaneously grabbing the rear of the grip to disable the weapon. It was a 1911. In the original, you could hear the shooter repeating “it didn’t fire, it didn’t fire” in a totally bewildered tone of voice.

    Also of note, in the video, the Secret Service agent immediately stepped in front of the gun. That takes a pair so big you need dump trucks to haul them around.

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