In unarmed self-defense training, we concentrate on our natural weapons like our hands, arms, legs, and feet to counter-attack. But in a self-defense situation, you should also be ready to use any weapon of opportunity to increase your chances of escape and survival. Physical self-defense isn’t a sport or a fair fight; it’s counter-attacking to escape and survive.
Some people dismiss natural weapons and weapons of opportunity, preferring instead traditional weapons like guns and commercial self-defense products ranging from pepper spray to self-defense jewelry.
In violent attacks, guns, knives, or other weapons can increase your survival chances. In addition to their deterrent effects, traditional weapons can enhance the reach and impact of your natural weapons.
My husband and I have lots of traditional weapons like handguns, shotguns, tactical pens, swords, daggers, knives, a machete, a spear, blow darts, a rungu, which is a club that a Maasai Warrior gave me, a weapon that had killed four lions.
Many other less obvious weapons are placed strategically around our house, my husband’s shop, and my training facility. But I wouldn’t want to rely on any of these weapons as my sole or even primary defenses.
You may not always have your traditional weapons with you or you may be prohibited from carrying them in certain places, such as public buildings, trains, subways, planes, schools, or foreign countries. Or you may have a weapon with you, but you may not have the time to access it before a threat rushes you. That’s why Special Forces say,
“You are the weapon. Everything else is only a tool.”
The Tueller Drill established that assailants within about 21 feet of armed people can rush them and attack with knives or blunt objects before the armed person can draw and shoot. It takes most people with gun training about 1.5 seconds to draw and deploy their handguns. This assumes that your gun is accessible and that you know how to draw and shoot efficiently. Some people do; many don’t.
Unlike guns, knives, or other traditional weapons, your natural weapons are with you at all times and wherever you are. They are always legal to carry and instantly available.
Weapons and Gadgets
Occasionally it’s fun to explore self-defense gadgets. At a recent workshop in Virginia Beach, Tom Antion’s and Alain Burrese’s Brutal Self-Defense seminar, we explored a variety of them. Some items were potentially valuable, worth considering seriously. Others were fun to check out and will make good stocking stuffers next Christmas. A few were potentially more dangerous to the carrier than to any attacker.
None of the gadgets were anything I would want to trade my natural weapons for.
These are some of the weapons and gadgets we looked at.
- Flashlight: A good tactical flashlight is a useful tool that you can use not only for temporarily blinding your attacker but also for striking him. As with all weapons, learn about its functions and how to use it efficiently and effectively. Larry and Anne Yacht from Sealed Mindset TM offer a good video on tactical flashlights, vision, and how to use flashlights. Your flashlight should have at least 200 – 600 lumen and should be large enough to strengthen your hand so that you can also use it as an impact weapon. It also needs to be small enough so that it fits comfortably into your hand. If you want to use it also as a regular flashlight, buy one with different settings so that you don’t drain the battery with your tactical setting.
- Irritants: There are many commercial irritants. People usually ask about pepper spray. As with any weapon, inform yourself about it, learn how it works, and practice using it. Actual Scoville heat units in the product, not Oleoresin Capsicum concentration, determine how strong the irritant is. Know whether your spray shoots out a stream, a cone, or a fog. Fog is generally best. With a stream, you need to aim and be on target, and you may miss. A fog, especially shot in an S pattern, may build a temporary fog wall in front of you deterring your attacker. But the wind also needs to cooperate, and not everyone is equally susceptible to the irritant. Some people are not affected by it. Pulling up a jacket or pulling down a hood may protect an assailant. In an enclosed space, like a room, an elevator or a car, fog may affect you as much as the attacker. In Montana, and other mountain states, hikers usually own bear spray. In other parts of the country, people may own wasp spray. You may have lots of spray containers in your house, business, or garage: hair spray, bug spray, ammonia or bleach spray, olive oil spray, Mazola, toilet bowl cleaners, and fire extinguishers to name a few.
- Alarms: Alarms can be good deterrents for attackers that aren’t highly motivated and are looking for easy victims.
- Impact Enhancers: Companies make all kinds of impact increasing gizmos like sap caps or spiked rings. I consider most of these items gadgets rather than weapons, especially the rings. Our boxing trainer would always frown when we left any rings on before wrapping our hands, and we would unwrap and take the offending ring off. Any ring can damage your hand when you strike, especially one with spikes on it.
- Handcuff keys: How likely is it that you would ever be kidnapped and need one of those? But most of us own fire extinguishers and pay thousands in building insurance every year while fires are rare. Insurance for the worst case is a good idea, especially when it’s as cheap as with hand cuff keys. So why not invest a little money in a few tiny hand-cuff keys?
Weapons of Opportunity
“Fezzik: We face each other as God intended. Sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone.
Man in Black: You mean, you’ll put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword, and we’ll try and kill each other like civilized people?
Fezzik: [brandishing rock] I could kill you now.”
The Princess Bride
Physical self-defense isn’t a sport or a fair fight; it’s counter-attacking to escape and survive. My favorite self-defense weapons are improvised tools, like a handful of sand, a rock, a chair, a belt, a broom, or a bar stool. None are as quick as your natural weapons like your hands and feet. But sometimes you do have a little time. Weapons of opportunity don’t cost anything extra, and they can greatly enhance your striking or shielding power. So why not use them?
You can train yourself in using weapons of opportunity with games that exercise your mental flexibility. You take turns with your partner or in a group, rapidly naming items that you see or that are within your reach, and what you would do with them. Or you can play with specific locations, like a campground, or a park, or your living room or office.
These games help you overcome functional fixation, which means being fixated on using an item only for its traditionally intended purpose. For example, a can of bear spray can be used to spray bears, and also human attackers. But you can also use it to strike your attacker. Chairs, computers, backpacks, barstools, and any other such items can serve as shields as well as impact weapons.
So don’t be rigid, exercise your mind, and you’ll notice weapons everywhere. Geoff Booth, an Australian self-defense instructor, offers an entire one-hour session on using plastic shopping bags as a weapon.
Under adrenal stress, our cognitive capabilities deteriorate. We can’t analyze, plan, or think as strategically as when we are calm and relaxed. The limbic brain takes over, and we react. But to react effectively, it needs to have something to draw from. If you’ve never thought of improvised weapons, when you are ambushed, you may not recognize possible weapons, even if they are right in front of you. That’s why the weapon of opportunity games, as warped as they may appear, make a lot of sense. You’ll build synapses in your brain so that you can recognize and use weapons of opportunity effectively in times of stress.
You also need to learn when to abandon weapons that aren’t working, whether they are natural, traditional or improvised weapons. A few years ago, I trained with Tim Larkin from Target Focus Training. Tim showed a video about a man being threatened by another guy with a gun. The man frantically tried to reach his own handgun and never attempted to counter-attack with his hands or elbows, even when targets presented themselves. He was fixated on drawing his gun, and he was shot and killed before he had a chance to use it.
“A good warrior knows how to use many tools. A great warrior knows when to abort them and go to something else.” Tony Blauer
“The fundamental principle of surviving violence is mental. Not physical, not gadgetry, but mental preparation.” Stanford Strong, Strong on Defense.
Remember, you are the weapon; everything else is gadgets. Train hard, be safe, and enjoy life!