Letter Re: Recommendations on Discreet Self Defense Weapons and Training

Mr. Rawles:
I am at a disadvantage to your American readers. I live in a suburb of London, and travel by train to work each day. Street crime is now out of control in some neighbourhoods, but I cannot carry a weapon. I must say that I’m envious of Americans that can carry concealed pistols and revolvers. Here, I cannot even carry a pocket knife. Are martial arts effective, and if they indeed are, then which one will be most effective with not too much time for training? What do you suggest? Thanking You in Advance, – G.H. in England

JWR Replies: I wrote the following for SurvivalBlog back in 2006. I’m re-posting it, along with an update, for the benefit of the many readers that have come on board more recently:

I highly recommend training to use a cane, walking stick, or a traditional full-length umbrella. This is particularly important for our readers like you that live in gun-unfriendly nations. Ditto for our readers that live in states like California, New York, and New Jersey where is is very difficult for mere mortals to get a carrying concealed weapon (CCW) permit. And even if you are a concealed firearms permit holder, you should learn these valuable skills. Why? You never know when circumstances might dictate that you cannot carry a pistol. (For example, when traveling to a state where your CCW permit is not valid, or when traveling overseas.)

Here is a forward from firearms instructor John Farnam, by way of SurvivalBlog reader Grampa Redd:

“I attended a stick/cane-fighting seminar yesterday, instructed by Peter Donello of Canemasters. Canemasters manufacturers high-quality canes and walking sticks and provides training in their use. However, I used my Cold Steel City Stick, as did several other students.

I was astonished at the number of effective moves available to the cane/stick fighter, certainly more than I can remember! Peter’s knowledge is vast, and I did my best to catalog the few that I thought were most effective and easiest to learn. Range is the big advantage that canes have over blades and other impact weapons.

Striking and jabbing are still the premiere moves, easily done with nearly any style of cane. Some follow-up moves and holds and more comfortably accomplished with a hooked cane than with a straight stick, but either style works just fine. The real question is: What can I have with me most often that attracts the least attention?

This four-hour clinic is something I recommend to everyone. The cane is a wonderful, low-profile, yet extremely effective fighting tool that most people can fit into their lives with a minimum of lifestyle disruption. Most casual observers don’t even notice when you have one with you and certainly don’t believe them to represent a threat. Time well spent!”

As for walking stick designs: From what I have heard and observed here in the U.S., if you are well dressed and groomed, then law enforcement officers in most jurisdictions will hardly give you a second glance if you are carrying a walking stick. But if you are shabby looking and perceived as “riffraff”, then expect to get plenty of grief. Canes, especially aluminum ones those that look like true walking aids, are far less likely to attract suspicion than walking sticks. I have an acquaintance who lives in Oakland, California who carries a dull silver aluminum cane with a big rubber tip. This cane looks very unobtrusive if not downright innocuous. It is not until you pick it up that you realize that it has been retrofitted with a 1/2″steel rod firmly epoxied into its hollow core. The phrase “the iron fist in the velvet glove” comes to mind!

I have another acquaintance that lives in a very rainy climate, near Seattle, Washington. He makes a habit of carrying a stout full length traditional umbrella whenever he gets out of his car. Aside for misplacing several umbrellas over the years (a fairly costly mistake, since he carries a big sturdy umbrella which cost around $60 each), he has had no trouble. (And, by God’s grace, he has only had need to use it to protect himself from rain showers.) Nearly all of the stick/cane fighting techniques apply to folded umbrellas, and they can also be used quite effectively for jabbing.

My general preference is to use a shoulder-width two handed grip grip in most situations, to maintain control and more importantly to assure retention of the stick. This is akin to what has been taught for many years by police academies in the use of long (“riot”) batons. The last thing that you want to happen is to have Mr. Bad Guy gain control of your weapon. If that were to happen, you would become he “Owie” recipient instead of the Owie distributor!

Do some research on your local laws. In most jurisdictions, any blow with a striking weapon to the neck or head is considered potentially lethal. Police academies emphasize this in their baton training. (“Never strike above the chest unless you you would in the same circumstances draw your pistol and fire.”) So don’t escalate to doing so unless you absolutely confident that your life is threatened and you have no other choice. (Essentially it is the same as firing a gun–at least in the eyes of the law.) It may sound sissified and a bit too prim, proper, and “Queensbury Rules”, but most courts look at things in terms of equal force and a graduated response, roughly as follows: If Mr. Bad Guy uses his fists, then you can use your fists. If he uses a weapon, then you can use a like weapon. If he strikes above the chest, then you can strike above the chest. As a practical matter, there are no rules in trying to save your life in a street fight, but apparently there are in court houses, post facto. Yes, I realize that graduated response is not realistic to expect, since street fights are fast and furious. Most victims don’t even recognize that their attacker is using a weapon until after the incident is over. (The classic victim’s police statement is: “I thought that he was punching me until is saw the blood, and it wasn’t until then that I realized he had used a knife on me.”) But again, a graduated response is what courts will expect in order to make a ruling of justifiable force in self defense.

Don’t forget that we live in a litigious era, so expect prosecution and/or a civil lawsuit in the event that you are forced to use a weapon in self defense, even if you were entirely in the right. Show restraint, and never deal out punishment. Just reduce the threat with a quick jab or two, disengage, and then engage your Nike-jitsu technique. (Run!)

If you get into an absolutely lethal brawl (a truly “kill or get killed” situation) and you cannot disengage, then by all means aim where you can do the most damage: The front or side of the neck. The human neck is soft tissue, a bundle of nerves, veins, arteries, and wind pipe. It is your surest target to end a fight quickly and decisively. (The same goes for hand-to-hand combat. Aim your punches at his throat.) But again, it is also your surest way to find your way to a courtroom. I can’t stress this enough: show discretion!

When carrying a weapon of any sort for self defense, be sure to develop the same Condition White/Yellow/Amber/Red situational awareness skills that you would for carrying a concealed firearm. (See Naish Piazza’s article “The Color Code of Mental Awareness”, available free at the Front Sight web site. (Click on “Special Offers” and then on the link for “15 Gun Training Reports free of charge.”) Extensive training on self defense combative techniques is worthless if you don’t see an attack Be alert.

If you don’t live near a school that teaches cane and stick fighting, there is a 40 minute training DVD produced by the Gunsite academy, titled: “Defensive Techniques: Walking Stick.” It is available from the Gunsite Internet Pro Shop. (They do not accept overseas orders.) OBTW, one of my readers also recommended Lenny Magill’s training DVD “Mastering the Walking Stick“.

I should also mention that modern self defense with a walking stick (“Bartitsu“) was first popularized by Edward W. Barton-Wright. His classic 1901 magazine article on walking stick self defense is available for free download. See: Part 1 and Part 2. These techniques are weak on weapon retention, but it otherwise is still fairly valid, even after more than a century.

Update for 2009 on Yawaras and Kubotans
For discreet carry, don’t overlook the potential effectiveness of short striking weapons such as Yawara sticks and Kubotans. Since these self defense tools are restricted in many locales, I recommend instead carrying a Cold Steel Pocket Shark pen that has had its markings scraped or sanded off. Outwardly, this stout little weapon will pass for a marking pen. (And it fact, it is a marking pen, which should get you past all but the most rigorous security checkpoints.)

Some martial arts dojos offer yawara stick training. These are derivations of the ancient “closed sheath” Japanese striking techniques. These classes are offered by both karate and Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) academies. Just be forewarned that many dojos require at least brown belt ranking as a prerequisite for anything beyond “empty hand” classes. This means a lot of time and money before they will teach you how to use a yawara!

Although they are no substitute for hands-on training from a master, there are several training DVDs that can give you a head start. These include Yawara Kata Training by Maurey Levitz, Kubotans & Yawaras by Sammy Franco, and The Persuader (also known as the Kubotan or Yawara) by George Sylvan.

In closing, I must repeat that situational awareness is crucial. You mind in your primary self-defense weapon. With the right training and a survivor’s mindset, just about any small sturdy object found close at hand can be used as a weapon–even a pocket comb or just a tightly-rolled magazine or newspaper. Get the training, practice often, never travel unarmed, and maintain “Condition Yellow”, as a minimum.