Improvised Weaponry by KJN Ronald W. Stone
In a previous article, I mentioned the need for martial artists to consider educating their students about the use of improvised weapons. I would like to take this opportunity to amplify the diversity of objects that can be used for self defense when traditional martial arts tactics are applied. There is nothing original about this concept as ninjas were learning centuries ago to use everything from rope to rocks. Today’s world presents its own challenges however and the modern martial artist must learn to adapt, evolve, and oftentimes improvise to survive.
Perhaps some clarification might be in order. There is and will always be a place for traditional martial weapons instruction. For example, while we obviously no longer carry swords as a principal method of self-defense, this by no means should be construed as a reason not to learn the basic art of swordsmanship. The movements and muscle training, balance, stances, and coordination necessary to master the sword will prove just as useful when defending oneself with an umbrella. The blocks, parries, thrusts, and strikes that are used with improvised objects such as a stick picked up off the ground or a rake handle are identical to those used with the traditional staff.
While nowadays one might not find themselves drawing a katana or tanto when threatened late at night on a dark street, a cane, a stick or even a rolled-up newspaper might be available. Personally, I would match a good teakwood cane or tennis racquet with a wood screw cover against a pair of nunchuks any day, especially when you consider that unlike the nunchuk owner, no police officer would ever arrest me for carrying an unauthorized weapon.
It should be remembered that the goal of such defense is to effectively stop the attacker, whether this be by by disabling him or her or by creating an opening for escape.
Improvised weapons for this purpose can be categorized as follows:
Long flexible chord- like objects
Sharp edged cutting or slicing weapons
Sharp objects for thrusting
Hard objects for striking
Objects used for throwing
While many martial arts styles such as Hapkido, Aikido and Kung Fu teach both defensive and offensive tactics with the belt or sash, few if any of us will ever be attacked while wearing a dobok or Gi. We do however have opportunities to utilize such tactics using similar objects in the real world. Belts, purse straps, and suspenders fall into this category. We can use them to whip, block, entangle, immobilize, or strangle an attacker. If there is a buckle, snap, or metal ornament on the end of the strap so much the better as these can be used to hit with, to scratch with or to help apply pressure with over an opponent’s pressure points or other vulnerable areas.
Even the most unassuming articles of clothing may have a self defense application. Hats can be pushed into an opponent’s face, jammed over his head, or flung at his eyes as a distraction. A jacket can be wrapped around an arm for defense against a blade attack or can be rolled lengthwise to use as a whip. When properly performed opening up one’s suit coat or jacket can provide the opportunity to trap and immobilize a straight knife thrust. Coats can be removed and flung over an opponent’s head or over a knife thrust. If necessary, rope, belts, suspenders purse straps, shirts, ties, or scarves can be used to block, deflect, entangle, strangle or tie up an opponent. In an emergency the hand can be inserted into one’s shoe as a defense against a sharp-edged attack. In the category of objects for use as shields we must include backpacks, briefcases, purses, and portfolios. Some objects such as large camera cases can have the dual purpose of being used not only as a shield against knife and club but as an offensive weapon when swung by their straps. Most of us don’t go out to the movies loaded with a Hawken rifle and Bowie knife at our side, but that doesn’t mean that the bad guys aren’t well armed. Although I try to train as much as practical against edged weapons, personally I would feel more comfortable with a weapon of my own to counter with. Since not all states issue legal carry permits, in case of an assault you may need to get creative (and fast). Some ideas for sharp edged cutting or slicing weapons are broken glass, (better a bill for elbowing a glass display window into pieces than a medical bill for your multiple blood transfusions). Broken bottles fall into this same category. Most teens have a music cd or DVD at hand. When snapped in half and held by the broken edge makes a very sharp object for slicing an opponent. Everybody complains about credit cards these days, but one use I am in favor of is to slice an armed attacker sideways across his eyes. It might make him reconsider robbing you. Examples of sharp objects for thrusting would include ball point pens, silverware, keys etc. The most vulnerable areas to aim for with a such objects are the throat, the side of the neck, eyes, the temple area, the Ki center at the sternal notch, the solar plexus, the groin, and the femoral artery area in the inguinal area. Supporting the thrusting object with the palm of the hand helps to avoid losing the grip and serves to reinforce the blow. Canes, full sized umbrellas, and even tennis racquets can be used very effectively to thrust, strike, block, or immobilize. Hard objects for striking would include the end of a rolled up newspaper or a collapsible umbrella. The heel of your shoe can be an effective blunt force object when used to strike the collar bone, nose or the back of the neck. One of the more devious examples of improvisation would be to place a coin halfway between each finger in a closed fist. When used this way to punch the coins act as if they were brass knuckles (to either strike or drag across a face). Merely opening the hand causes the coins to fall to the ground eliminating any evidence that a hand weapon was used. Another possibility for improvising a striking weapon would be to load a sock with coins or rocks. The homemade blackjack has been around for as long as men have worn socks and is still an effective weapon. Examples of objects used for throwing at an opponent are numerous but the most available include a pocket full of coins tossed into the face. When using individual objects such as a set of keys, a cell phone, or a full wallet, one should aim for the middle of the chest since the head is too small moving target and reacts instinctively to avoid. When throwing a wallet or phone they should be held vertically to strike on the edge. The intent is to merely distract the attacker, perhaps buying a second or two to react with a proper counter attack or to flee. Even a simple pair of eyeglasses can provide a self defense edge. If challenged to an unwanted fight or if provoked explain that you will comply but ask to be allowed to take off your glasses, (a common request.) Grip them in both hands as you remove them and then fling them straight ahead into the opponent’s face. Again, this will only serve to cause a momentary blink, or if you are lucky he will raise a hand or two to block. This should be enough time to strike back perhaps at knees or groin. Finally, it should be noted that it is just as important to recognize the threat of an improvised weapon as it is to learn how to use them. For example, it is not uncommon for outlaws or gang members to wear large irregular rings on every finger. Don’t be fooled into thinking these are merely cosmetic. A fistful of skull rings does a lot of damage when raked across a face or when hammered into a muscle mass. Spurs on boots and detachable belt buckles with push-blades built in are other nasty examples to be aware of.
Even the innocent car antenna can be lethal when broken off and used as a striking whip.
Men have been trying to hit, stick, cut and spear each other since Cain bopped Abel and as far as I can tell nothing has changed recently. The trick is to be aware, diligent, and well trained. Remember, ignorance may be bliss, but not when it leads to victimization.
Ronald W. Stone, D.V.M.
8th Dan, HaeMuKwan Hapkido
American Dragon Martial Arts Academies
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