Learning to use any available weapon

Written by Paul Cale & Mannie de Matos

When an attacker has a weapon, as they often do these days, only fools rush in empty-handed, if at all. That’s the mentality of those who survive real violence in the course of their daily employment. So why in so many ‘self-defence’ schools are weapons — even traditional ones, let alone the legal, non-lethal and portable types available — not even addressed in the syllabus? Here, special forces soldier and 34-year veteran of the martial arts Paul Cale reveals how professionals use legal, everyday objects to turn the tables on an attacker — and how you can, too.

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Any available weapon can help you in a self-defence situation

When I rewrote the Close Quarter Fighting manual for Special Forces, I kept one principle from the old doctrine that rings true through the ages: make full use of any available weapon.

To provide the best chance for defence of yourself and others, you must at all times be armed. To not do this because you’re a martial artist or combat sports fighter is to place yourself at a significant disadvantage when dealing with a real threat.

That being said, there are two points I want to make clear. Firstly, being armed does not mean that you should use a weapon if you are not at risk of grievous bodily harm or death. In fact, as a legally armed person — and I stress ‘legally’ — you’re often less likely to place yourself in harm’s way because you don’t wish for any confrontation to escalate out of control, as you always know that at least one person is armed…that person being you. Secondly, being armed does not mean breaking the law. You must conform to the legal requirements of the country and state in which you’re living or visiting.

For example, if you live in Arizona, USA, you can legally carry a firearm, either concealed or openly, with the sole purpose being for self-defence. If you live in any state of Australia, you cannot carry any type of weapon for the purpose of self-defence. So whatever you carry in Australia that can be used as a weapon must not have a primary function of being a weapon.

So, how can you arm yourself with effective self-defence tools in a country that does not let you carry weapons?

Really, you’re only limited by your imagination. Almost anything can be used as a weapon, and if not a weapon, at least a barricade or shield. Let’s explore the principle of making full use of any available weapon. ‘Available’ is the key word here. There are three ways to look at that availability, all of which work to support each other and to ensure that you are never found wanting for a weapon when one is needed.

Firstly, what are you carrying into the ‘threat space’ (that being any location where you may be confronted with a threat to your life or the lives of others around you)? For everyone reading this, you probably have weapons on you right now — you just may not have yet thought about how to effectively use them in that capacity. Your keys, pen, flashlight, carry bag and clothes, to name just a few items, can all be used. And for Americans reading this (depending on your state of residence), a knife, pepper spray or handgun may also be available to you.

For those who think your martial arts training means you won’t ‘need’ a weapon, a word of warning: martial arts and combat sports make for an excellent training base, but it’s your body that is the potential weapon and it’s your mind that must make this weapon work while under the great stress of trying to survive a violent encounter. Your mind must be conditioned and accepting of the threat so that you can get on with what you need to do to come out of it at the other end. ‘Of course, that’s what the martial spirit is all about,’ I hear you say. Maybe, but the martial spirit is misunderstood by many who claim to have it.

Let’s scratch a little at the surface of ‘warrior spirit’. You will only have a true spirit in the way of the warrior when you’re willing to lose that which you’re willing to take. I have seen martial artists not wanting to compete unless they are sure of a win, or who give up after a loss for the first time. If just a little sporting competition can play such havoc with the ego, imagine what a life-or-death situation can do to one’s state of mind.

I remember watching the first fight Randy Couture ever had in the UFC and the giant ‘Viking’ that he had to face made the comment, “I will tear his arms off or die trying.” The bell went, down the Viking went and tap the Viking did. Die trying? I think not. This spirit-development is a very personal thing that you will need to test with challenge; only challenge that has a real chance of you failing, and having that fear of failing overcome, is what will give you the required spirit.

So, the will to use your body when needed is what makes it an actual weapon — but your body works best as a weapon when it has a tool for that purpose in its hands. Humans have achieved what they have in this world because of tools, and tools of war are no different. Don’t use your unarmed techniques to defend yourself, use them to arm yourself. If you feel that you’re not justified in using a weapon during a confrontation, then you may find that you shouldn’t be fighting in that situation in the first place. If, conversely, you think that you should use a weapon for any confrontation of any kind, you’re probably the reason that law-abiding people need to be armed.

Also, if you do an armed martial art or combat sport such as eskrima, you must not let yourself be limited to what you are used to seeing as being a weapon, nor in the way that you use a weapon (i.e. within the rules of your sport). That statement includes the tactical shooting sports as well.

The second point in regards to availability concerns what you can find within the threat space. You may be armed with something small but you could have a chance to better your weapon when dealing with a threat, and these weapons are all around you. Do you train in a martial art school? And if so, is it reasonably hard to find a big, open space in which no one could hit any dividing walls or pillars, or fall through any windows? Are there mats on the floor to ‘help’ students avoid injury when thrown? Why do I ask? Have a think about almost every other location besides the martial art/sport training hall and you will find that area littered with potential weapons, barricades and shields that could easily be used in a life-threatening situation. A book, bowl, plate, glass, fork, cup, lamp, phone, saucepan, chair, scissors, shoe…and on it goes. Everything is a potential weapon; it’s just that some things are better suited to the purpose than others (such as the purpose-built tools demonstrated on these pages).

The next time that you go to a restaurant, have a look at where you find yourself sitting. Can you see the door that you came in? How many exits are there in addition to that door? Is your back to the passing traffic of people getting up to pay their bill or find a seat? What is on your table, and what’s the best weapon to throw and the best weapon to keep in your hand? Which way will you exit through the crowd if a person entered the café shooting? Were there warning signs in the passing public outside that should have alerted you to the pending threat?

All too much to think about and you just want to relax and drink your café latte?

Again, if you have a combat mindset then you will be doing all of these things I’ve mentioned and much more. This is the kind of thing I spend my time training in people to the point where you don’t think about it, you just do it without effort and while your smiling away and talking to the person you’ve come to have coffee with.   

Thirdly, ‘availability’ covers using the threat space itself as a weapon. Most combative techniques are about delivery of the weapon to the target; however, I spend a lot of time training how to deliver the target to the weapon — of course, this requires an understanding of your body and the body of the ‘target’ that you wish to deliver to your weapon. What weapon, you ask?  How about the concrete floor? Or a pillar, wall, motor vehicle, streetlight…any fixed object that will sustain the dynamic force of a moving body will do. When people think about weapons, they mostly reason that the weapon will be in the foreground of the target and that it will be brought to the target in a clubbing, stabbing or punching motion, or maybe the squeezing of a trigger. However, you also have the option of projecting the target into a weapon in the background, such as pushing the body into a wall or over a car.

So, in understanding the principle of making full use of any available weapon, you begin to see the large array of potential weapons accessible by a trained individual, regardless of the restrictions made by law: what you (legally) bring to the threat space; what can be found within the threat space; and the threat space itself.

Understand what you’re capable of and what you’re not capable of — put your ego aside and be honest with yourself, as the biggest mistake you can make is to overestimate your capabilities, both physical and mental. Take a look at the improvised weapon tactics on these pages and ask, do you have the will, as well as the way?

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in that ‘my martial art is the best because my instructor did this’ game. Your instructor is not you and your best teacher is fear. Get friendly with it, because it’s there to keep you alive.

Read more self-defence articles.