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Close at Hand: Using Makeshift Weapons When SHTF

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According to FBI reports, violent crime — aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder — is on the rise. Up-close-and-personal encounters of the worst kind can happen during everyday life. The odds of violence will increase during riots (like recent protests), natural disasters (like recent hurricanes), or when law enforcement is stretched too thin or non-existent.

Naturally, having a dedicated EDC weapon or force multiplier is highly encouraged. As the old saying goes, “When you need it, you really need it.” Unfortunately, there are times when carrying a weapon isn’t possible (think schools, courtrooms, airports, and hot days) or when an attack happens so quickly that accessing your weapon isn’t only difficult, but may be foolhardy. During these times, empty-hand self-defense and combatives skills are a must. Luckily, there’s almost always something we can use in our surroundings to fight with. Once you know where to look, you’ll notice weapons are everywhere. Improvised weapons are readily available, effective, nonthreatening, and best of all, they’re free.

You may have seen Jackie Chan use a variety of household items in his movies, or, more recently, Matt Damon as Jason Bourne grab common office items to fend off a group of thugs. But just how easy is it to find an improvised weapon, and how effective is it? Here we help you think outside the box by exploring the seven creative concepts for using any weapon at hand.

Concept 1: Situational Awareness
Just about anything can serve as an improvised weapon; most likely, the first weapons used by our early ancestors were improvised weapons in the form of a rock or tree branch. Looking around you, we bet you can already identify multiple weapons in your vicinity.

To be able to use improvised weapons, you need to train your brain to think outside the box before the brutality starts. During a violent situation, your brain will likely not be in the “Leonardo da Vinci” thinking mode. “I can use this cup of hot coffee as a distraction,” may not come to mind when someone is trying to violently ventilate your body. During an assault, what will likely come to mind is, “Holy f*ck! What the hell?” But if you’ve already thought of utilizing common, everyday objects as weapons, you’ll have a greater chance of using improvised weapons during your dilemma.


The face, neck, and hands are all acceptable targets for makeshift weapons.

The face, neck, and hands are all acceptable targets for makeshift weapons.

Start by increasing your awareness in places where you spend the most time. In your house and at work are two good places to start. Make a game of looking for potential weapons when taking a water break at work or hanging out at home. Also do it when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, filling your gas tank, or sitting at a restaurant. Try to identify as many potential combatives components as you can, within arm’s reach. You’re more likely to use improvised weapons, that you’ve already identified as such.

Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am
Conrad Bui is on his cell phone, but still situationally aware that Sherman Chin is disgruntled. Sherman attempts the haymaker from hell. Bui quickly steps in and slams his trusty cell phone into Chin’s neck. In one motion, Bui takes Chin down, breaks the attacker’s arm, and slams the attacker’s head into the knee. A second strike to the nose teaches Chin not to interrupt while adults are talking.


Concept 2: Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am
Once you’ve identified potential weapons, instinctively grabbing something to strike with will make total sense. The improvised weapon will serve as a force multiplier and also save your hands from damage. If you’re looking to injure an attacker with a blunt object, something with heft and density will serve you well. Just make sure your new impact weapon isn’t too heavy or unwieldy.

As with any weapon, a stable grip is paramount. It makes no sense to strike an attacker, only to have your weapon drop to the ground — embarrassing. It’s also crucial that the weapon doesn’t cause you any injury. Using a plate to smash someone’s head is great, but if the plate explodes, it may send shards of porcelain back into your eyes. Grabbing the plate to strike with, instead of throwing it, only made things worse, in this example.

Obvious impact weapons come in the form of chairs, flashlights, pipes, hammers, crowbars, wrenches, pots, and pans. More inconspicuous weapons may include cell phones (who doesn’t have one?), staplers, and magazines — like the hefty one in your hands right now (see RECOIL OFFGRID Issue 18 for “Improv Skills” on how to use a magazine for self-defense).

It Cuts Like a Knife
Chin stabs at Bui, who was busy cutting origami. Bui immediately steps to the side for a counter stab to the hand. Edward Scissorhands finds his mark, causing Chin to drop the knife.


Concept 3: It Cuts Like a Knife
Impact weapons, like the ubiquitous cell phone, can be effective in persuading an attacker to seek easier prey. The downside is that impact weapons require distance and momentum to deliver a solid strike. Grabbing an edged weapon (something with a blade or pointy end) will also make an effective equalizer. Unlike an impact weapon, the edge and/or point will make speed, distance, and momentum secondary.

Cutting or stabbing improvised weapons include kitchen knives, scissors, ice picks, pens, and pencils. Any of these items can slash or cause puncture wounds. Keep in mind that, just like any weapon, you want a solid grip and a durable tool — one that won’t disintegrate (and possibly cause injury to the wielder) when used.

Concept 4: Astute Aiming
Employing an edged or impact weapon will help increase your odds of coming out on top in a violent encounter; knowing where to strike will boost your odds even more. When you have an impact or edged weapon, you have either good targets or really good targets. Whatever comes into range of the improvised weapon can be targeted and attacked. Often, the target will be an attacker’s offending limb. With impact weapons, the hand, wrist, arm, legs, neck, and head are adequate targets. Edged weapons can target the inside (medial aspect) of the limbs (either arms or legs), the neck, or puncture soft tissue. Be smart and pick your targets wisely.

Don't Be Tardy
Bui prepares to pull out his belt to thwart a knife attack. He makes the fatal mistake of not fighting to his weapon. The knife finds its mark while Bui is busy drawing his weapon.


Concept 5: Don’t Be Tardy
The idea of using an improvised weapon is no different than any other CCW. If your tool isn’t immediately available, you must “earn your draw” or “fight to your weapon.” It’s a mistake to become weapon fixated (no matter if it’s the attacker’s weapon or your own). Only when you have the proper distance and “the coast is clear” should you consider using your CCW, jacket, belt, shoes, or reaching for a nearby weapon. Fumbling around to draw your weapon or grab an improvised weapon may lead to a struggle by both parties at best. At worse, your mind and limbs will be occupied while the assailant is well, assailing your behind.

Fighting Fixtures
Chin attacks Bui with a stab. Bui immediately blocks the knife attack and controls the weapon. A quick knee to the groin sets up a head smash into the cubicle corner. Because Chin is still resisting, Bui has no choice but to follow-up with an elbow strike.


Bui sees Chin wielding a knife through the window. Chin is through the door before Bui can lock it. Without an exit, Bui skips into a sidekick that would make Bruce Lee proud. The door slams into Chin, knocking him to the ground. If Chin continues the attack, Bui can “show him the door” again. This sequence may also be accomplished by “tackling” the door.


Concept 6: Fighting Fixtures
When studying improvised weapons, grabbing something to strike or cut with often comes to mind. Take into account that a weapon is anything that can serve as a force multiplier and also save your hands from damage. Instead of using your limbs to strike with, take the attacker’s head (or other parts of their anatomy) and ram it into a solid object, resulting in serious trauma.

Solid items to smash body parts onto can include (but are clearly not limited to) corners, doors, edges, hand railings, chairs, tables, and cars. Altercations don’t always occur in open fields. With the proper training and a little awareness, anyone can learn to take advantage of their environment.

Make That Change
Do you have some loose change in your pocket? You can throw it into your attacker’s face. A flinch (from the coins) may give you that split second advantage needed for a counterstrike. Paperclips, sand, dirt, or snow can likewise serve to distract your assailant. Keep in mind that you must follow-up with immediate action, since the coins won’t take down your adversary. Against an attempted grab, Bui throws a handful of change at the attacker’s face. The attacker flinches just long enough for Bui to step in, strike the neck, and sweep the attacker to the floor. A knee to the face allows Bui to make a safe escape.


Block Party
A disgruntled Chin brandishes a knife and prepares to attack. Bui recognizes the threat and backs off. Bui tips the chair over and Chin trips on it during an attempted attack. Because the knife is present, Bui has no choice but to give Chin the boot.

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Concept 7: Block Party
Grabbing a weapon or slamming someone into an object make excellent choices in engineering our environment during a fight. Another option is to use items to delay, impede, or even trip the attacker. Objects should be large enough that going around them is difficult. The locations best suited for this tactic are small portals, like doorways or hallways. The narrow space will make it difficult to circumvent the barrier or obstacle. This ploy can buy you valuable time to attack or escape.

Examples of objects to tip over, pull down, or shove off can include televisions, dressers, chairs, tables, couches, car doors, and large fans. Just make sure that when you go to use the objects, the action doesn’t slow you down significantly, allowing the assailant to get their hands on you.

Ad-Lib Analysis
Violence can happen at any time, and the odds increase during a crisis. Learning to defend home and hearth with weapons, improvised weapons, and empty hand may not only save your hide and those you love, but can open a slew of new recreational activities. Use this article as a starting point — and with the correct training, using weapons in your surroundings to come out on top should be no object.

About the Author
Dr. Conrad Bui is a San Francisco-based doctor of chiropractic and frequent contributor to RECOIL. As a former bouncer, he has seen first-hand the devastating results of improvised weapons. A self-proclaimed martial arts and combatives junkie, he won gold medals in the featherweight and absolute (unlimited weight) brown belt divisions at the 2017 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu American Cup. He’s also a certified full instructor in Indonesian Silat Serak, Filipino Kali, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, and Muay Thai, and holds a fifth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

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