Story and Photos by Joshua Swanagon
Editor’s Note: These are interesting times we are living in and violence has been increasing exponentially in recent months. Fortunately for me I live in a small town and it hasn’t really reached home, until recently. Just this past weekend I heard about a friend who was jumped by a few people in a truck, featuring BLM stickers, at a gas station not far from where I live – very close to my son’s work.Fortunately, my friend was able to back them down and end the altercation, I won’t go into the details here. But that may not be the case in every situation. For that reason, I am resurrecting a couple old articles I did for S.W.A.T. Magazine years ago, that I found pertinent in today’s contentious climate. I hope that you find them useful. This week, I am starting with the article I did on Improvised Weapons.
Story originally published in S.W.A.T. Magazine, January 2016. Re-published here with the consent of S.W.A.T. Magazine and its Publisher.
Ever since the Jason Bourne movies, a lot of people who don’t understand aggressive conflict have been fascinated with the idea that he could use a pen to fight off an attacker.
Although the fight scenes in the Bourne movies were mostly overblown Hollywood claptrap, intended purely for the entertainment value, the premise is sound. Using various objects for combat has been in practice for centuries; many of the martial arts weapons we know today began as simple farming tools that were turned into weapons when an unarmed populous was forced to defend itself against an overwhelming force.
To most people, ordinary every day objects are completely innocuous – they cannot see an item as a weapon, unless it is clearly designed to be so. However, by weaponizing the world around you, you can greatly increase your and your family’s chances of survival, in a chips down scenario.
Simply put, an improvised weapon is any object that was designed for a given purpose – usually innocent or inconspicuous in nature – which can be altered in preparation for, or weaponized during, a combative scenario, giving the user an advantage.
Weapons of Opportunity
While the idea of improvised weapons seems very intriguing and exotic, the truth is that it really just boils down to weapons of opportunity.
From an angry housewife who throws a pan at her husband, or whacks him with a rolling pin, to bar fighters who use beer bottles as impact weapons, and then as an edged weapon once the bottle breaks.
If you have ever considered the use of a chair or heavy ashtray in defense of yourself or your family than you have contemplated improvised weapons.
Constructed with Intent
Not all improvised weapons are simply weapons of opportunity; some are constructed with clear intent, or were selected for every day carry, because of the potential they have to be used as a weapon.
For example, in every prison in the world great lengths are taken to ensure that inmates do not have access to weapons of any kind. However, shivs are regularly constructed from very simple objects (like toothbrushes) available to any and all inmates.
Pens, like the Zebra Stainless Steel barreled ball point pen, have been carried by many, due to its strong barrel, for use as a kubotan or penetrating weapon – while still being just a pen.
And for the truly industrious, let’s not forget the zip gun.
Science might not exactly be the correct term, or way to look at it, but it is as close a term as I can figure when thinking about weaponizing ordinary objects. There are certain things you will begin noticing in the items around you, that you can key in on and determine the best use of that object for self-defense.
One of the key principles in making any weapon effective, improvised or not, is proper targeting. While a weapon will work anywhere on the body, the right target will make a weapon more effective. Simple key principles are, hard objects for hard targets, edged and pointy objects for soft targets and soft or liquid objects in the face for distraction.
When choosing an improvised weapon, structural integrity is going to be important. Attempting to use an object as a weapon that has a structural flaw somewhere in it, may cause it to fail at a crucial moment.
For example, if you attempt to use a shirt or jacket as a makeshift sarong and the sleeve rips off during use, your technique will fail, possibly placing you in a compromising position.
Beware potential structural flaws.
Identifying the Most Effective Part of an Object
We already know that any weight focused into a small area will equate to a larger pound-force per square inch, and the heavier the weight and smaller the area, the more pound-force. Consider a 10-pound sledgehammer. Getting hit with a 10-pound box would hurt, getting hit with a 10-pound sledgehammer will cause serious damage. Because the weight is focused into a smaller area.
So, when considering an object for use as an improvised weapon, look at the overall structure and determine which part will deliver the most pound-force with the greatest accessibility.
For example, if you use a chair, the end of one of the legs will deliver the most pound-force per square inch. However, it will be very awkward to try and hit somebody with the end of the leg (unless you are above them somehow). So, you will probably achieve greater success swinging the chair more like a bat.
As a second example, if you were using a cell phone, it would not be awkward or uncomfortable to use a corner of the phone and maximize the impact.
Likewise, a magazine is a great weapon when rolled up, but if you try to use it as a club you might not get much impact, because there isn’t much weight behind it. However, if you use the end in a hammer fist manner, you will deliver an effective payload, because you are focusing the force to a smaller area.
As a side note, don’t discount using the magazine in a club fashion, as a distraction to set up a more detrimental strike.
Importance of Grip with Smaller Objects
Small items can be devastating when used correctly and we have all seen the instruction on using keys for self-defense – placing the key(s) between your fingers and punching the attacker. However, this grip does not have a sufficient enough structure to prevent the key from collapsing onto your finger and causing as much, or more, damage to you.
But, using items like keys or a .223 round as a weapon can be achieved with the proper grip. Simply pinching the key or .223 round tightly between your index finger and thumb, while placing it firmly against the pad of your index finger for a base, you can do very serious damage.
This kind of tight grip will work with many small items from credit cards to combs.
I had considered doing a section on different examples of improvised weapons, but considering there can be any number of options – and since I placed a few in this article already – I would instead challenge you to look around you right now and start thinking about ways to use the different objects at your disposal, to defend yourself, if someone were to kick in your door and attack you right now.
You’re surrounded by options. Some items may not have a damaging effect, in and of themselves, but can be used as a distraction, giving you time to launch an unobstructed offensive – such as throwing a drink in an attackers face so you can strike while he is dealing with the liquid in his eyes (or the burning if it was a hot drink).
Improvised weapons are not as exotic as they sound at first and are more of an instinctual reaction to a life-threatening situation.
People have been using improvised weapons since there were rocks, it is only recently that it was given a cool name and viewed as a mystery known only to spies. With a basic understanding of combatives, a will to survive and the ability to see the potential in any object, you can turn anything around you into an effective weapon.
Keep it real and stay safe. K&G
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Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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