Personal protection is a broad subject and should encompass a wide range of skills and possibilities. We’ve all heard the cliché “To the person who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Until you’ve actually expanded your training to include other skills and use-of-force options, you’re still just hammering.
Less-lethal options are important for many reasons. The most obvious yet often overlooked one is that many self-defense situations do not justify the use or even the brandishing of a gun. You can’t shoot an aggressive panhandler for tugging on your sleeve or someone who shoves you after you accidentally bump into him. Drawing or even displaying a holstered firearm to scare either of them off can be considered felony menacing and could easily result in legal issues for you instead of for the assailant. If you travel, go to school or work in an environment where concealed carry is prohibited, having alternative weapons and the skills to use them is critical. Travelling, especially internationally, can easily take you out of the areas of reciprocity for your CCW permit. And if you play by the rules and do not carry illegally in environments that prohibit it, you will be without a firearm and will have to rely on other tools and skill sets.
Finally, if you have ever done any realistic close-range shooting or force-on-force training, you’ll know that, when you’re up close, you have to “earn” the ability to draw your gun. If you can’t use empty-hand skills or intermediate weapons to survive long enough to draw your weapon, you won’t get it into the fight.
Many physical altercations do not involve weapons at all. If an argument turns physical or if a belligerent drunk accosts you, you need the ability to respond with an appropriate level of force. For most able-bodied people who are facing an assailant who is not significantly younger, stronger or clearly more proficient, that means having basic empty-hand fighting skills.
Choosing an unarmed self-defense system can be a frustrating and confusing process. Seek out instructors who allow students to focus exclusively on self-defense training and observe a few classes. Look at the techniques being taught, and ask yourself if you could learn them in a reasonable period of time and make them work against a motivated, non-compliant attacker. If what you see doesn’t work for you, keep looking. Your ultimate goal should be a sound, basic set of unarmed skills that you can apply instantly and reflexively in your street clothes. It should also integrate well with your weapon-based skills, employing common body mechanics and giving you the skills to fight your way to weapon deployment.
Pick A Pen
Any object that you can hold in your hand and that is more resilient than flesh and bone can greatly increase the effectiveness of your strikes. Improvised weapons in your environment, like bottles, saltshakers and rocks, can make all the difference in a self-defense situation. But the best way to ensure you have a weapon when you need it is to make it part of your daily carry.
Just about any structurally sound pen or similar writing instrument can transform a simple hammer-fist strike into a bone-breaking focused impact. To make the most of this potential, however, it helps to have a pen that really lends itself to fighting while remaining low-profile. The pen should be large enough to grasp firmly in your hand, textured to prevent slipping on impact, and devoid of any sharp angles or edges that could injure your hand when you strike with it.
Light ’Em Up
A high-quality flashlight offers the same impact-weapon potential of a pen and much more. Since its primary purpose is to emit light, it can be used to search for and identify potential threats before trouble happens. As both a tool and a conscious reminder to be aware of your surroundings, it enables you to not only scan your environment effectively but also send a strong message to anyone who might be sizing you up as a potential target.
If you can’t avoid trouble, a powerful light can also serve as a force multiplier, enabling you to disrupt a potential assailant’s vision before he or she gets too close. If the attacker’s eyes are already adapted to diminished light, a sudden blast of intense illumination can temporarily destroy his or her vision, giving you an opportunity to escape or, if the situation warrants, to hit the attacker while he or she is in a defenseless state.
While many shooters carry flashlights to support their low-light shooting skills, the potential of the handheld light as a defensive weapon goes far beyond just being a headlight for a pistol. It’s also not enough to think that you can just hit the attacker with it. You need to actually develop a sound set of physical skills to use the flashlight effectively, preferably skills that are consistent with the mechanics of your empty-hand tactics. Having broad-based skills means that there’s less to learn and remember under stress, allowing you to easily integrate your tactics into a comprehensive, systematic approach.
Canes And Sticks
As noted, having a weapon in hand is by far the best way to start any defensive action. And one of the tools that works best for this is a cane or walking stick. A solid, 3-foot-long stick can obviously be a potent ally in a self-defense situation. Wielded properly, it can deliver devastating, fight-stopping strikes and do so from a distance that often keeps you safely out of range of your assailant’s weapons. With good tactics, a cane can also be applied just as effectively at close quarters. The keys to success are consistent training and sound, practical tactics. Sadly, many cane systems approach the cane like a martial arts weapon, which is an extension of a highly evolved, very sophisticated set of skills. But in many cases, the physical requirements for using such systems are far beyond the average person’s capabilities, especially if that person actually needs the cane for balance and mobility.
Good cane tactics should make the most of the user’s physique and work within his or her physical limitations. As always, the goal should be to achieve decisive stopping power and create an opportunity for escape. The most practical ways to do this are with two-handed, bayonet-style thrusts to centerline targets (groin, solar plexus, sternum, throat, face) and powerful, hard-to-block strikes to the knees and shins. Also, solid strikes to the lower legs are extremely painful and can easily break bones, destroying the assailant’s mobility and enabling you to create distance and the opportunity for a safe escape.
Like tactical pens, a good defensive cane should possess all the features of a formidable weapon, without appearing to be overtly weaponized. Some design features, including grooves, notches and pointed crooks, can definitely enhance the combat effectiveness of a cane, but if such enhancements make the cane impossible to carry in restricted environments, they defeat its purpose as a self-defense tool. If you do opt for weaponized enhancements, have a good “story” to justify them and learn to deliver it believably. One final note on canes: You don’t have to need a cane to use one. No medical justification is required—you don’t need to fake a limp.
Distance is always your friend in a self-defense situation, and weapons that allow you to address threats from a distance give you a significant advantage. One of the most readily available distance weapons that is legal to carry in most jurisdictions is pepper spray. Exposure to it causes watering of the eyes, coughing, choking and a severe burning sensation of the affected areas.
Pepper spray, or OC, is available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, potencies and delivery formats. Sprays or fogs deliver the OC in a fine mist that covers a large area, but their range is limited and they can be affected easily by wind. Stream, gel and foam-style OC sprays have greater range and buck the wind well, but they require greater accuracy to hit effectively. Other products, like Kimber’s Pepper Blaster, deliver a short, high-pressure stream that offers extended range and hits much faster than a conventional aerosol spray.
When used in appropriate circumstances, OC has a definite debilitating effect on most people. However, like all weapons, it is not a 100 percent guaranteed solution. Some people are less affected by it than others, and many street criminals have learned to shield themselves to mitigate its effects. As with all weapons, to maximize your chances of success, you need to integrate it with your other tactics and skills. If the can is large enough, it can be used as an impact weapon with your tactical pen/flashlight skill set. Some sprays are incorporated into Kubotan-style formats for this exact reason. If your spray is too small to strike with—or you’d prefer not to tangle at contact distance with someone you just painted with OC—the low-line kicks can be used to target an attacker’s knees, shins and ankles to create a mobility kill. Kicks to the groin, if practical, are also a viable option.
The more versatile and adaptable you are, the safer you’ll be.