Forever Armed

Improvised Weapons Use In Personal Defense

A large plastic ice scraper with snow brush makes a great improvised
weapon and is easily stored right next to the driver’s seat of your car.
It provides both impact and limited edged-weapon potential in a
very innocuous package.

Although the concept of using improvised weapons for personal protection is far from new, it has taken on a whole new meaning during the past few years. After the tragic events of September 11th and incidents like the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the carry of purpose-designed weapons has become much more restricted and the number of “nonpermissive” environments — where weapons are totally forbidden — has increased tremendously.

From a functional standpoint, we all know that these prohibitions have no real effect on stopping violent crimes. Laws only affect the law abiding. If a criminal or terrorist chooses to bring a weapon into an environment where they are forbidden, he becomes the only one in that environment who is armed and the rest of us are forced to operate at a serious disadvantage.

Fortunately, like beauty, weaponry is in the eye of the beholder. The ability to recognize and apply practical, functional improvised weapons can ensure that you always have a capable defensive tool available no matter where you are.

One of the greatest challenges in improvised-weapon tactics is separating
MacGuyveresque myth from reality. Commonly taught tactics like the keys-
between-the-fingers trick sound good — until you actually hit something hard.

A magic marker — especially Cold Steel’s unbreakable “Sharkie” — makes an
excellent improvised weapon and can be used to strike or apply painful pressure.
Carried on a daily basis, it can be a very welcome constant companion.

There are a number of very sophisticated “tactical” pens on the market.
Any stout, well-constructed pen can make a formidable improvised weapon —
without suggesting any evil intent on your part.

Here a miniature souvenir is compared to a purpose-designed push dagger.
Beauty — and weapon function — is in the eye of the beholder.

Basic Concepts

The first step in understanding the selection and use of improvised weapons is understanding and accepting the fact that the real goal of self-defense is to physically disable your attacker or hurt him badly enough to make him stop trying to hurt you — stopping power. You also need to accept that tactics and actions that do not authoritatively support this goal are a waste of time and are at best distractions, not fight-stopping techniques. As such, separating effective, reliable tactics from misguided, ineffective ones is a key element of effective improvised weapon use.

If I may go off on a bit of a rant here, this aspect of improvised weapon use is rife with misinformation. There are countless self-defense books and videos that recommend MacGuyveresque tactics from lacing your car keys between your fingers to hosing your attacker’s eyes with hairspray. In reality, it is far more likely that you will simply grab whatever tool you have handy, ball it tightly in your fist, and whack your attacker as hard, fast and frequently as you can until he stops trying to hurt you. If you are close enough to slash at him with the sharpened corner of your specially prepared credit card, you are probably better off mashing his face with your fist — or the ash tray, hair brush, or coffee mug you manage to shove into your fist on short notice. To put it simply, leave the James Bond stuff to the movies and grab solid objects that you know you can use to hit with full force, causing maximum damage to him without endangering your own hand.

Another key element of the effective use of improvised weapons is having a simple set of body mechanics to wield your weapon. Ideally those body mechanics should be common to the application of a number of improvised weapons to make them easy to learn and apply under stress. Esoteric skill sets — like turning your belt into a bullwhip — require a lot of practice to use effectively and are probably not the best way to spend your training time.

Finally, you need to accept that improvised-weapon tactics alone may not be enough to end a fight. Using a ballpoint pen to put a few holes in your attacker’s hide may be a great start, but it may not be enough to make him really cease and desist. However, if at the moment he is “contemplating” his new pen-made orifices you seize the opportunity to blow out his knee with a solid kick, you’ve now got a true fight-stopper. Similarly, if you are carrying a capable purpose-designed weapon, you can use the improvised weapon (which can be carried innocuously in your hand or in open view) as a bridging weapon to create the opportunity to draw your real weapon.

“Hybrid” improvised weapons are those that can serve multiple functions.
For example, a frying pan works great as both a shield and a striking weapon.

Two of these do not look like weapons — however, all three work like brass knuckles.

A traditional flat sap compared to an improvised version. Even in non-permissive
environments, a handkerchief and a small padlock would not be restricted. Five
seconds of handiwork and you’ve got a “prepared” weapon that’s just as functional
as its purpose-designed counterpart.

Categories Of Weapons

Once you’ve grasped the fundamental concepts of improvised weapon use, the next step is to understand the basic categories of weapons. These include:

Weapons of Opportunity – Items that you find in your environment that can be adapted to weapon use, like a beer bottle, a mop, or a trash can lid.

Personal-Carry Items – Items that you can easily carry on your person that can be used as weapons, like a flashlight or a ballpoint pen.

Prepared Weapons – Items that in their basic form are not capable weapons, but with a little preparation can have weapon potential. For example, a magazine by itself won’t do much, but rolled tightly it can be a potent weapon.

Attributes And Awareness

“Awareness” is a term we hear a lot in personal protection training. It is generally interpreted as being alert to signs of unusual activity that could Long weapons like brooms are best wielded with two hands represent potential threats, such as people coordinating their movement with yours or attempting to arrest your movement, unnatural eye movements, and motions that indicate that they are carrying and/or intend to use weapons. However, real awareness goes much deeper and should include things like assessing your footing and your ability to move quickly, consciousness of obstacles, cover, and concealment, mental planning of escape routes and, you guessed it, consciousness of potential improvised weapons in your environment.

While many things can qualify as improvised weapons, the best objects share a number of common attributes. If you learn to look for and quantify these as you move through different environments, you’ll quickly realize that often a serviceable weapon is never more than a few steps away. Of course, if you incorporate improvised weaponry into the personal carry category, you’re even better prepared.

The attributes that make a good improvised weapon include: Structural integrity/strength – The object must have the integrity to stand up to full-power impact. If it doesn’t (for example, a #2 pencil), you need to realize that it’s basically a one-time shot and be prepared to back it up with something else.

Appropriate mass to wield or employ effectively – very light objects don’t offer much impact potential. Conversely, very heavy objects cannot be wielded with speed. Objects that offer a happy medium are the best choices for improvised weaponry.

Supports immediate (or near immediate) access and deployment – violent situations happen suddenly. The midst of an attack is a poor time for a weaponry craft project. You need something that you can grab and put into action very quickly.

Versatility/ability to employ in multiple roles – a beer bottle can be used to deliver serious impact. A frying pan can be used as a bludgeon and a shield and is therefore more versatile. The more the tool can do, the better it will serve you.

Once we understand where weapons come from, we can then start identifying them type-based on the capabilities they offer and the types of functions they can perform. Improvised weapon types include: Impact Weapons – suitable for striking and creating blunt trauma. Edged – suitable for cutting or hacking.

Pointed – capable of puncturing. Flexible – suitable for whipping, entangling, and possibly striking. Shield – can be used to block or deflect an attacker’s strikes.

Hybrid or multi-function – offer two or more functions in a single object.

The final consideration in evaluating an improvised weapon should be the mechanics that are most appropriate to wield that weapon. In the most basic terms, can I swing it well with only one hand or is it long or heavy enough that I need to use two hands?

Basic Body Mechanics

In my research on personal protection, I have watched countless videos of people being attacked with weapons. One of the most interesting constants I have found is that people — regardless of ethnicity, culture, or experience — seem to be hard-wired to fight in the same way. Under stress, we typically lead with our weak side and use our weak hand to probe, grab, and gauge distance before striking with forehand blows with our strong side. Since that is the way we instinctively move under stress, it should also be our default tactic for our use of improvised weapons. To borrow a term from my friend Kelly McCann, we’ll call it cycling. For natural right handers, it’s a repetitive left-right, left-right cyclical action that focuses mostly on downward or inward hammer-like strikes.

When performed with empty hands, the natural “weapon” is the hammerfist — the bottom of the clenched fist. When performed with an improvised weapon, the operative term is “fist load” — anything solid that doesn’t have nerves in it that you can hold tightly in your fist and use as a striking, puncturing, or cutting surface.

For a right-handed person to perform the basic cycling action, assume a left-lead stance (like a boxer) with your left palm facing
forward and your right hand and fist load at about shoulder level. Extend your left palm straight forward without any wind up and touch your intended target. That touch tells your brain exactly where that target is in space. Now, with an elliptical motion
of your right hand (as if throwing a ball), strike with the portion of your fist-load that extends from the little finger side of your hand. Then repeat the entire sequence over and over until you develop a smooth, powerful, elliptical flow with both hands.

Long weapons like brooms are best wielded with two hands
and are very effective when used with linear thrusts.

Tactics And Targets

At this point, most people start wondering, “What targets should I be hitting?” The easy answer is, “The ones on the other guy.” The more sophisticated answer depends upon the type of weapon you’re wielding. The Filipino martial arts has a saying: “wood seeks bone; steel seeks flesh.” I like to add to that: “big steel seeks both.” What that means is that impact weapons (usually made of wood) are best used to target bones to break the skeletal structure. Cutting and puncturing weapons (typically made of steel) work best when aimed at fleshy targets. “Big steel,” like a machete, does both, so you don’t have to be as particular.

With this concept in mind, think of having a beer bottle, flashlight, Magic marker, or any similar object in your hand. When your attacker strikes, use your left hand to check, parry, strike, or just gauge distance before you smash him in the nose, cheeks, jaw, collarbones, or sternum with your fist load.

If instead your fist is full of ballpoint pens, scissors, forks, chopsticks, or similar objects — and the situation warrants it — use the same mechanics to strike his eyes, ears, throat, and jugular notch.

If he raises his hands to block, slap them down with your left hand or hook them out of the way with your fist-load and go back to cycling.

Once you’ve landed a few hits, if you’re worried that the fight’s not over, take advantage of the fact that he’s preoccupied with guarding his head and fire a full-power knee to the groin or low-line kick to the knee or ankle to put him on the ground long enough for you to make your escape.

Even if you carry a purpose-designed weapon, get used to having your improvised weapon in your hand and ready to go. This is one of the advantages that improvised weapons have over their overt counterparts, as you can literally walk down the street “armed” without raising any eyebrows. If a situation does arise, use the improvised weapon as a line of first defense to deliver a few strikes.
Then, use the time and distance you’ve bought with your initial response to transition to your purpose-designed weapon. In the process, make sure you can effectively sequence your skills and transition from gross-motor-skill actions (like pounding on someone)
to complex motor skills (like drawing a pistol or folding knife).

Improvised weapons offer a lot of options that literally range from a last resort to, quite possibly, a purposeful first choice. By learning to identify and assess them as part of your overall awareness, and employ them effectively with a solid, basic skill set, you can ensure that you’ll always be “forever armed.”

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