The palm stick, sometimes called a Yawara stick, or Kubotan, is an excellent and highly effective tool for self-defense. The tactical folding knife and the concealed pistol typically dominate the self-defense culture, especially when weapons are discussed. However, the palm stick has several advantages and applications that firearms and knives cannot match.
Typically a palm stick measure around six inches in length, and about a half inch in diameter. Six inches is a good length, in my opinion. This combines concealment with a length that is still practical for offensive moves. A half inch may be a tad skinny, but too much thicker and one starts to get into concealment issues again, as well as weight and gripping ability. On the whole, I have found that the commercial off-the-shelf palm stick to be sufficient for the average citizen.
Since most of our palm sticks are going to be key chains, it pays to be aware of everything else that is in your pocket, and not to keep your keys in a place that is not readily accessible. One of the things I do is typically grab onto the kubotan and hold onto it loosely if I think there may be any sort of confrontation. It’s important to practice pulling the stick from its place of concealment, and practice with a purpose.
By “practice with a purpose”, I mean simply bring the palm stick out and strike a target, real or imaginary. Do it with speed. One of the things I do, with a palm stick or folding knife, is bring it out and thrust it straight towards the chin area of an imagined opponent. This is good in either provoking a flinch, or hitting a target that can cause a great deal of pain, allowing for a successful escape.
Once you have practiced drawing the palm stick, it’s time to practice swinging it, stick part first. Obviously, its length precludes one from swinging the palm stick like a baton. However, there are a great variety of other techniques that are surprisingly effective.
For starters, grip the stick in the center, with a closed fist wrapped all the way around, making sure that there is a sufficient striking surface sticking out of both sides of the fist. One can grip off-center, and use the palm stick in a similar fashion as a knife, but that is not a technique I would recommend for beginners.
Next, practice a hammerfist technique, with the outside portion of your fist, or the part made up by the pinky finger. This is quite possibly one of the simplest strikes to learn and practice. Practice an overhead strike, a backhand hammerfist, a low hammerfist, and a palm-up hammer fist. Try striking in a variety of angles, with the hand in different positions. The length and hardness of the palm stick will turn this simple technique into one that becomes devastating when applied to nearly any part of the body. Imagine slipping this hammerfist into someone’s ribs, head, cheek, neck, hand, forearm, and you begin to see my point. It is a simple way to cause pain and damage to an attacker.
The next thing to do is practice with the inside of the fist, the part along the thumb. This strike may take a little more practice and finesse, but it also can be quicker, and just as painful. Practice strikes from top, bottom, left and right. Aim high, low, face, stomach, ribs, anywhere you can think of to strike. Later on, I will list some of my favorite targets. The forward portion of the fist also requires a little bit of coordination. If you find yourself having trouble, try to imagine a hook punch or a haymaker punch. In essence, this is what you are throwing, only not with the knuckles of the fist. Also, do not neglect a palm up strike.
Now, you already have formed a fist. Might as well take advantage of the fist and the natural inclination to punch someone, and practice a few jabs and crosses, with the palm stick. Punching with the palm stick has many advantages over having an empty hand. For starters, there is a little added weight to the hand, making a punch have more impact. Secondly, if the punch itself misses, the palm stick may graze the person, or the keys that may be attached to the stick. Last, and probably most important, the palm stick provides a measure of support and reinforcement for the knuckles and finger bones in the fist. Many people can easily break their own bones by punching someone in the head, which is an instinctive place to punch. A palm stick is one method of reinforcing these fragile bones and preventing serious injury.
Once again, a boxer’s delivery will help the most for punching. If you have no prior experience, simply try to remember a couple things. Always keep your hands up, bring your hands right back to your guard, and don’t rear back for the punch. Most likely if you have internet access, you can find a couple videos that can get you started on learning how to punch properly. At the end of this article I will provide a list of references for more information on punching and weapons for self-defense.
Now, in the case of a key-chain palm stick, the keys themselves have tremendous advantage over just a palm stick without keys. Keys are sharp, somewhat heavy, and can be swung by that palm stick with a decent amount of force. Practice swinging the keys in an X-pattern, known as ikis in Kali. Swing diagonally from upper right, then from upper left. The goal is to not only hit the person, but also convince them that you mean business so that they may run off and find easier prey. If they decide to rush in, imagine the consequence of taking a set of keys to the face. The psychological impact alone of having sharp metal objects swung at one’s face cannot be overlooked. If the attacker puts their hands up in attempt to ward off an attack, then any low-line targets such as the thigh, knee, or groin are open for some other attack.
A couple of years ago, a friend introduced the idea of holding the keys and swinging the palm stick. This is not my favorite method, but that does not mean it should not be trained. The advantages of this are that the palm stick typically has more solid mass than the keys, and can be swing a little harder due to leverage. I think that the keys are a bit trickier to get a grip on, but that may be my personal opinion. In any event, swinging the palm stick can be used just like swinging the keys. Describe an X pattern in the air in front of you. Ideally, this X should start at about the enemy’s collar bone, and cross about the solar plexus.
Care must be taking to balance striking power with control. Take care not to over-swing, and over-commit. W. Hock Hocheim describes the “window of combat”, a rectangle loosely bordered by mid thigh, to about shoulder height, no wider than the shoulders. If your swings start getting outside of this window, you are over-swinging, and opening yourself up to an enemy being able to defeat your defenses.
The palm stick can also be applied to a variety of pain points. The middle of the back of the hand, the notch at the bottom of the throat, under the nose, under the mouth, and behind the ear are some of the ones that come to mind immediately. A quick strike to the carotid artery, no matter how lightly, can have literally stunning results on an opponent. A strike to the temple can be potentially fatal, as can a strike to the trachea.
Using a palm stick, it can be possibly to break an attacker’s collarbone with a hammerfist attack. If you are grabbed, in addition to a releasing technique, a quick strike to either the offending limb or the person’s solar plexus will loosen their grip, making it easier to get away.
If you double the person over, a hammerfist to the back of the neck can have potentially fatal consequences, and will at least leave the attacker stunned and lying on the ground, unable to continue the attack. The palm stick can be thrust into either the groin or the solar plexus, with devastatingly painful results. [JWR Adds: In many law enforcement circles, baton strikes to the neck or head are considered potentially lethal, and reserved only for life-threatening situations that are comparable to firing a gun.] If the groin seems protected, the inside of the leg can be struck, as this can strike or come close to striking the femoral artery, a painful and potentially stunning blow. If the hands are high, aim for the ribs with either the inside or outside edge of the hammerfist. Ribs are always a good target for causing maximum pain and damage.
If you know any throws or takedowns, the palm stick can assist. One simple judo throw, o-soto gari, calls for the fist to apply pressure to the collarbone. That same pressure can be applied with the palm stick, to the collarbone or the throat area, making this simple foot sweep even more effective.
Against edged weapons, the palm stick has somewhat less usefulness. As always, the best chance of success against and edged weapon is to catch the weapon bearing limb, preferably after hitting the attacker with a chair, brick, or a car. Once you have caught the weapon bearing limb, you can beat on the wrist, the fragile bones of the hand, the elbow, and the inside of the biceps. All areas are vulnerable to strikes, and have numerous pain receptors. In the case of the inside of the biceps, there is a nerve cluster there that tends to send a shooting pain down the arm, sometimes making it go numb. It is not a strike to count on, but a possible and worthwhile target nevertheless.
A palm stick can be homemade quite easily. One merely has to select a thickness of dowel, preferable at least a half inch thick, measure out enough so that there is a striking surface of at least a quarter inch on each side of the fist, and cut it to fit. Added options include placing a weight in the center of the stick, drilling two holes in the stick and tying a cord [to make it into a Koppo stick], or making one end slightly sharper, or at least more pointed than the other.
At least one martial art that I’ve seen, Goju-Ryu Karate, which is an Okinawan style, has a kata that uses two palm sticks, although they are considerably smaller than what I’ve described here. Many Filipino systems cover the palm stick, if not in precise detail.
Many tactical folding knives can double as a palm stick, if the user is not able to deploy the blade right away. However, some State [and local] laws may prohibit carry of knives [or even palm sticks]. But keep in mind that several tactical flashlights, such as Surefire [and Mini-MagLite], can be used as a palm stick. Surefire and a couple other companies make flashlights with beveled front edges, specifically for this purpose. [JWR Adds: These are generally legal to carry. Ditto for beefy pens that run the gamut from the very inexpensive Cold Steel Pocket Shark to the very expensive Mont Blanc Meisterstuck. If you opt for the Pocket Shark (which, BTW, is what I carry when I fly on commercial airplane flights), then I recommend scraping off all of the pen’s exterior markings. Be sure to consult the laws for wherever you will travel!]
There is a great deal of martial arts instructional material available on sites like YouTube if one does a simple search. [JWR Adds: Try doing searches at YouTube that include “palm stick “, “Kubotan”, and even the very common misspelling: “Kubaton”.] Much of my own instruction has come from W. Hock Hocheim, and guru Marc Halleck. Both individuals have first rate instructional DVDs.
In summary, the palm stick is an overlooked and easily used piece of self-defense equipment. Useful for striking and grappling, it can cause a great deal of pain with a reduced risk to the user. It’s easily concealed, easily employed. Overlooked by the majority of law enforcement officers and civilians alike, it can be hidden in plain sight. You’ll never have to leave it in your house while you go to the bank or a school board meeting. With a little elbow grease one can be custom made for every member of the family. The principles of the palm stick can be taught to children and adults. It is not a tool that depends on the use of the right hand or left hand. It may not have the range of some other more conventional self-defense tools, but it is much more versatile than the average citizen realizes.
About the Author: Kent is an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Army’s Infantry Corps, now serving his third tour in Iraq. He has been studying Filipino Martial Arts (Kali, Arnis, and Silat), for about seven years. In addition, he has been training in various military and civilian combatives programs since joining the Army. He has taught combatives and martial arts to his fellow soldiers, and civilians.
JWR Adds: A full line of inexpensive yet very well-made high impact American-made plastic palm sticks is available from Alpha Innovations. They also make “Letter Openers”, and other other high density injection-molded goodies. Their “Stylus Kubaton” variant is ideal for anyone that carries a touchscreen PDA or an iPhone. (Consult your local laws before ordering!) OBTW, they also make some amazing custom products and sell training DVDs.