Estimated reading time: 21 minutes
In spite of the ability to obtain a concealed carry permit and some laws allowing open carry of firearms, most people don’t go to business meetings or the grocery store with a pistol on their hip or an AR-15 over their shoulder. Unfortunately, crimes of violence continue to increase and many people find themselves at a disadvantage when confronted by individuals with criminal or violent intent.
The standard advice is to run, and that’s good advice, but in some situations running is not an option. But it’s not always about attacking either. In many instances simply demonstrating the ability to defend yourself can intimidate a potential attacker and cause them to retreat. Then again, there are no guarantees and at that point you need to improvise – quickly.
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But there’s a Catch
Many places don’t allow weapons and it’s not just about firearms. Airports and airplanes are the prime example. The 9/11 hijackers used box-cutters as their primary weapons. As a result, TSA security is very strict about what can be allowed to pass through their security gates including something as innocuous as a bottle of water.
A similar level of security is enforced at courthouses, some schools, and even some municipal offices. The result is that most of us hit the streets without the ability to defend ourselves with the weapons that most criminals carry as a matter of course.
So What Are the Options?
Actually, we’re surrounded with weapons of opportunity and often are carrying them without even realizing it. Then again, some items are designed to serve as weapons with the appearance of common, everyday objects. We’re going to cover the range of possibilities to find ways to defend yourself beyond running or simply screaming for help.
Here are some great examples:
- In one instance, an 11-year old boy grabbed a decorative machete on the wall in his family home to defend the home from an intruder.
- In London during a terrorist attack by ISIS sympathizers, a random collection of bakers emerged from their bakeries to throw bread crates at the attackers. They were joined by men on the street who hurled drinks and chairs allowing people to flee the area.
- In another instance a man used a toilet plunger to successfully defend himself from a knife attack.
- In another example a man stopped a synagogue shooting by charging the shooter with extreme force.
- Not to be outdone, a janitor hit an active shooter over the head with his vacuum cleaner knocking him out.
- Women are often the victims of random violence until one woman successfully used her car keys as an offensive weapon when attacked.
- A man defended himself and his young son from a knife attack with a baseball bat. Possibly one of the best improvised weapons in an emergency.
These objects (both designed and improvised) are sometimes referred to as “force multipliers.” All that means is they increase your offensive and defensive capabilities through a use of force.
One situation that can’t be overcome with improvised weapons is if you are confronted by someone with a firearm. In that case you either need to run, hide or simply give them what they want. That’s hard for some of us to do but even a machete is a poor match for a Glock. It’s the old argument about bringing a knife to a gunfight.
It Begins With Situational Awareness
Perhaps the most important aspect of improvised self-defense is situational awareness. This includes not only awareness of the people and possibilities surrounding you, but knowledge and awareness of what you have with you or around you that can be used as a weapon. Urban survivalists call it “street smarts.” This gets to our first and maybe most important weapon of choice:
You have to think fast in a desperate situation and taking the time to think about what could happen and what you might do in the event of an assault is the place to start. The ability to anticipate possibilities is one of the primary characteristics of a prepper. This applies to everything.
The next time you’re walking down the street, crossing a parking lot or just browsing through a store. Think about the locations where a threat may emerge.
- Give yourself a bit of training to think twice and take a good look before you cross that dark alley with your nose buried in your iPhone.
- Take some steps in another direction if you spot a group of people who strike you as threatening or odd as you cross the parking lot or jog through the park.
- When driving, take a good look at that street before you turn and if all you see are abandoned and boarded up buildings –find another route.
- Look ahead and anticipate. The best way to stay out of trouble is to spot it and avoid it.
But there’s more to sensing or identifying threats. If they come upon you in spite of your best efforts, situational awareness gives you another set of weapons. It’s your ability to be aware of what’s surrounding you that has weapon potential. Here are a few possibilities.
A pile of 2×4’s or scattered pieces of wood can give you the benefits of a baseball bat in a confrontation. You can’t count on it being there when you need it, but if you are aware of what’s around you a piece of scrapped lumber can give you a way to keep any attacker at least at a safe distance assuming they’re not armed with a firearm.
An odd piece of pipe isn’t common but if you are walking through a disaster area when looters are common, you’ll want to be aware of something as simple as a discarded length of pipe. It doesn’t guarantee your safety but at least you won’t be empty-handed in an emergency.
4. Logs and Branches
How many times have we walked past a downed tree, a branch or seen whole blocks devastated after a storm. A club is probably the oldest weapon known, and in the event of an assault it will give you a fighting chance.
5. Your Body
Anyone accomplished in the martial arts can attest to how our bodies can serve as defensive and offensive weapons. It requires time and dedication to master the skills, but there are basic classes and videos that can show you some of the basics of street-fighting and classic martial-art moves.
6. Bricks and Rocks
Another type of weapon from ancient times. The idea is not to throw them. All you’ll be doing is providing your attacker another weapon. Hold it in your hand and use your arm as a club with the brick or stone in hand as the hammer.
7. Lawn Chair
It sounds sad to think of a lawn chair as a defensive weapon, but sled dog drivers used to use their snow shoes to breakup dog fights. If for any reason your attacker is a pit bull off-leash a lawn chair is one way to buy some time and hopefully escape. It can also be used as a shield against an attacker.
8. Rolled Up Magazine
An often mentioned scene from the Bourne Identity was when Matt Damon defended himself from a knife attack with a rolled up magazine. It’s not as deadly as a knife but it can keep an attacker at bay long enough for you to get away, or if you have the skills like Jason Bourne – disarm the attacker.
9. A Glass Bottle
We don’t drink from glass bottles as much as we used to, but shattering the end of a glass bottle on the ground or a hard surface gives you an instant weapon with the lethal potential of a knife.
10. Broken Glass
It doesn’t have to be a bottle. A glass of water in hand, a piece of broken glass from a window wrapped in a t-shirt, if it’s glass and it’s broken it’s sharp.
11. Sand and Dust
A handful of sand or dust thrown in an attacker’s eyes should give you the time to run. And it doesn’t have to be sand or dust. If it’s a powder or granular it’s a weapon that can temporarily blind your attacker. This gets back to situational awareness. If you’re thinking about the things around you even a cup of flour can be seen as a potential weapon.
12. Sheet Metal
It’s everywhere if you know where to look. A torn aluminum can; a cut piece from a tin can, scrap ductwork in a pile after a disaster, rain pipes. Sheet metal workers live with heavy leather gloves because they’re well aware of the danger of the sharp edges. In an improvised situation any piece of sheet metal can quickly become as effective as a knife.
And It Doesn’t Stop There
There are always weapons of opportunity around you. In fact, the Marine Corps has a specialized training program about weapons of opportunity in their Martial Arts training manual.
But for some of us, hoping to come across a weapon when we need one is a bit of a stretch. For someone who is risk averse and has a preparedness mindset, there are other approaches for weapons that can be carried anywhere. Some still fall in the “common” category but others are designed for self-defense.
13. Pencils and Pens
If you haven’t seen the John Wick movies, there’s a scene in the first film where Keanu Reeves kills 3 assassins with a pencil. If you think about it a sharp pencil has all of the characteristics of a stiletto. A fact that wasn’t missed by John Wick.
There are also tactical pens designed specifically for self-defense. They offer a range of features but some are a bit fussy and time consuming to attach. It’s not often you can say to an attacker, “Give me a minute while I screw in my stiletto attachment.”
14. Tools (in a drawer)
Whether it’s in the office, at home or out in the garage or tool shed –a drawer with a tool or two is not uncommon and many of them can quickly serve as an improvised weapon. Kitchen knives also come to mind but even a screwdriver or file is better than bare knuckles during an unexpected attack.
15. Belt and Buckle
The great thing about a belt is you can remove it quickly. If it has a good sized buckle you have a heavy weapon that can use to deter or at least intimidate your attacker while you make your escape, or they make their retreat.
There are actually tactical belts designed specifically for self-defense. They appear to be normal, everyday belts but have both the weight and the flexibility to be used for self-defense.
There are also tactical hats that can be used for self defense and this video demonstrates how a martial arts expert uses a baseball hat for self-defense. That’s the key to finding a weapon with common objects –knowing how to use them that way.
This is another stealth weapon that has been widely touted for self-defense. A common umbrella can work but of course there are tactical umbrellas designed for self-defense. By the way, don’t assume that a tactical “anything” will make it past airport security. They know what to look for and it will be confiscated or worse – you’ll be detained or possibly arrested.
18. Walking Cane/Staff
The most common weapon associated with a walking cane is a sword concealed in the cane, and yes you can buy them. On a basic level a walking cane affords someone the defensive capabilities of a club. More than a few hikers have a walking staff not so much to help them walk but to fend off any rabid or wild animals that get too close.
A metal briefcase is like carrying a shield and can be wielded with the same force.
20. Tactical Gloves
These are leather gloves that usually contain hardened and weighted knuckles. They are the definition of a force multiplier and can often deliver a knockout blow to an attacker.
21. A Handful of Change
A good handful of change can pack a powerful punch when clenched in your fist. Some self-defense experts state that a good amount of change in a sock makes for an effective blackjack.
A few keys protruding between your fingers will deliver a punch an attacker won’t soon forget. It may be enough to stun them long enough for you to get away… hopefully.
23. Tactical Flashlight
If you’re investigating anything suspicious at night and not sure what you might be walking into, a tactical flashlight might be a wise thing to have with you. In some instances people would simple carry a handgun but there have been too many stories of people shooting kids for playing hide-and-seek, ringing a doorbell or pulling in the wrong driveway.
There are videos on how to carry and use a tactical flashlight and by the way, all flashlights carried by police are tactical flashlights. Some of them also feature a powerful and blinding strobe light.
24. Hot Drinks
People sue for getting burned from hot drinks from fast food restaurants. A hot drink in someone’s face will stop them quickly but escape is a good idea because it may not totally stop them.
Backpacks can be used much like a purse and if the contents are heavy enough, knockout your assailant. They also have the ability to serve as a shield from some other weapons.
A match or a lighter below the spray from a can of hairspray will ignite like a flamethrower. It’s a bit of a complicated proposition requiring some coordination of flame and spray but when it works it is definitely a deterrent -just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer pictured above demonstrated using this technique.
28. Credit Card Multi-Tool
The corner edge of most credit card multi-tools have a razor sharp edge. This is another one you don’t want in your wallet under X-Ray at the airport but anywhere else it’s well hidden and always available. In fact, pulling out your wallet will rarely be seen as a threat by an assailant. You just have to be ready to use it.
29. Nail File
Many nail files are metal and come to a point. The point can even be sharpened. When held like a knife it will perform like a knife.
30. Manicure Scissors
They seem petite and fragile but when you insert two fingers into the bottom of the scissors they make your fist a weapon that few would want to experience.
Beyond the Airplanes
For most of us, the majority of our time is not spent in airports and court houses where security is both strict and tightly monitored. In fact, it’s those places where everyone is restricted in the kinds of weapons they can carry that makes them at least safer than everywhere else. For that reason it makes sense to discuss weapons you can easily carry that you definitely wouldn’t want to run through a metal detector or X-Ray.
31. Pepper Spray
This is a common carry in purses, glove compartments, briefcases and pockets. Pepper spray is effective against attacks from both criminals and animals like feral dogs or the random rabid coyote.
33. Stun gun
34. Box cutter
A box cutter is easily concealed in a pocket and used like a knife.
It All Gets Back to Street Smarts
Situational awareness continues to be the key to effective self-defense. Awareness of potential threats, and just as important awareness of weapons of opportunity that we either find or choose to carry.
Unwanted and unwarranted attacks are rarely an expected event. But having the basic skills and a basic self defense item or two can at least give us a fighting chance when the unexpected happens, and we have few alternatives to protect ourselves.
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