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Weapons of Opportunity: How to Use Everyday Objects for Self Defense

When yours or the lives of others are at stake, you need every possible advantage you can get. Not having a weapon when facing an armed opponent is a grim prospect. Learning to use everyday items in these violent confrontations allows you to even the odds, even if just a bit.

If someone attacks you with a knife, would you rather be holding nothing or a monkey wrench? What if they pull a gun? Try and keep steady aim as someone throws a monkey wrench at your head. Being able to effectively use items around your environment, or ‘weapons of opportunity’ as the military calls them, to assist you in defending yourself could mean the difference between life and death.

A Marine should be ready and able to use anything around him to serve as a weapon. This may mean throwing sand or liquid in an aggressor’s eyes to temporarily impair his vision so that damage can be done to his head with a rock, e-tool, helmet, or anything readily available to the Marine. In a confrontation, a Marine must use whatever it takes to win or face the genuine possibility of losing his life.

Marine Corps Martial Arts Program Handbook

Not every weapon of opportunity is going to be as apparent as a wrench or hammer. We will cover how you can begin to recognize and discover these weapons based on function. Then we will go a bit into usage and how some martial arts approach this topic. Afterward, you should be better at thinking about using the items around you in a life-saving manner.

Learn to Recognize Aspects of Weapons

Any port in a storm; any weapon in a fight.

What is the difference between a sharp letter opener and a knife? It depends on the knife and the opener, of course, but I have seen letter openers much scarier than your average everyday carry folder knife. Both items can stab, cut, and lacerate a foe – that much is readily apparent.

Other things lying around may not be as obvious, but can be just as effective. Beer bottles, shovels, a vase, a coffee mug, a fork, a barbell, ANYTHING! If it can stab, cut, bludgeon, defend, or scare, it can be useful.

While it is impossible to describe how every possible weapon in your environment can be utilized, we can categorize weapons of opportunity by primary use. Doing this allows us to think about them based on their end function rather than their specific identity. An example would be that I’d smash a bad guy with a nice overhand strike the same way with a chair leg as I would a hammer or frying pan.

To that end, we have broken up Weapons of Opportunity into the following Categories:

Cutting

This is an item that can lacerate a foe. These tools will hopefully operate similar to the blade edge of a knife. These items will often not stop a motivated attacker unless a primary area is targeted. Strike at the face, neck, or wrist since most other regions will only do superficial damage.

Examples: Knives, letter openers, Exacto knife, broken glass, broken plate or CD, old-style shaving razor, license plate edge, etc.

Stabbing

These are perhaps the easiest for an untrained person to use effectively. Stabbing the tissue of the opponent’s body can be useful in quickly hampering their ability to operate.

In the movie, The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne uses a pen to stab at the neck and hand of an opponent wielding a knife. This is an excellent example of how even the most basic item can help you survive. These items are useful in attacking an opponent’s eyes, neck, inner arm and hand, torso, groin, and inner thighs.

Examples: Knives, letter openers, Exacto knife, broken glass, corkscrew, screwdriver, fork, pencil/pens, scissors. Even a toothbrush getting jammed in your eye is going to ruin your day.

Bludgeoning

Channel your inner caveman. These items can be wielded as clubs and are useful for striking your opponents head, collar bone, groin, knee, and especially their weapon hand.

In that same Bourne Supremacy fight scene, the hero uses a rolled-up magazine to hit the opponents knife hand away before he grabs for that pen. Obviously, your first choice will likely be a baseball bat, or golf club (I mean ‘club’ is literally in the name) but nearly anything can be used to add weight to your strikes.

Examples: Coffee mug, brick, frying pan, extinguisher, flashlight, sticks or pieces of wood, baseball bat, golf club, a shoe, a laptop, a beer bottle, fire poker, a chair, etc.

Projectiles

Everything from a baseball to an ax can be thrown as a way to fight back. It starts to sound ridiculous when you list everything, but you can be sure that grown men have been killed by a tire iron being flung into their skull.

Also, don’t forget throwing sand in their eyes, hot coffee, boiling soup, etc.

Examples: Glas bottles, nail gun, brick, rock, coffee mugs, books, phones, frying pan, hammer, a shoe, etc.

Non-Rigid Items

Some items are useful in defending against a weapon but are not great at striking. While a good offense may always be the best defense, a defense is better than no defense. If someone is coming at you with a knife, trying to wrap the blade or his hand up in a towel or even your shirt can be better than nothing. Same goes for your belt. There are also other ways to employ these items.

Examples: towels, shirts, belts, thick trash bag, bed sheet, etc.

Remember to Think About Range

If your attacker has a knife, you will want to keep your distance. Items like a baseball bat, fire poker, or shovel work great for that. At close range, items like a pen or pair of scissors will allow you to hold them close and attack their weapon hand and primary areas (like eyes, neck, and groin) more effectively. If you are facing a firearm and you are unable to escape, then you must close the distance.

Using Any and Every Item as a Weapon

As has been made clear, the usage of a weapon will be highly dependent on its function. While it may not be possible to train with every possible item, some martial arts have developed methods for teaching large swathes of tools at once.

Some of the images we used earlier were from the Marine Corps Martial Arts training book sections on weapons of opportunity. In that book, it is stressed to the Marines that certain basic strikes will work the same whether it is a club, a knife, a bottle, etc. They practice striking using their helmets, shovels, and other odd shaped objects. It becomes more about how you universally use your body rather than the specific item.

Marines will have sparring matches with each other using rubber knives, sticks, odd-shaped staffs, rubber rifles and more to help their motor skills adapt to different weights and balances.

Another art that has a storied history in this sort of training is Kali, also known as Escrima. This is a blade and stick art from the Philippines full of concepts that transcend into using many types of weapons of opportunity.

Matt Damon trained quite a bit in Kali when prepping for his role in the Bourne series and it shows heavily in certain scenes. The scene where he uses a rolled-up magazine to fend away from a knife is a perfect example of both Kali techniques and everything we have been talking about in this article.

Kali is a complicated art but uses simple movements – movements that apply to objects as general as a baseball cap. Other martial schools such as Krav Maga and Jeet Kune, as well as many military units, will often spend time cross-training Kali for this reason.

Image via Doug Marcaida / Fighting With a Hat

There is so much more than just the Filipino arts though. Many fighting styles will help your body better understand itself, allowing you much greater overall versatility when wielding items. The trick is to build your own motor skills. Work on your balance, strength, and dexterity to help you better adapt to anything.

Warrior Mindset

Survival requires having the will to fight, especially if you are about to do so at a disadvantage. Remember why you want to live, and remember the brutality of what survival has entailed throughout history.

I recently had a knife pulled on me in Thailand. While I wasn’t the instigator, it was still a dumb situation to have found myself in – alone, unarmed, and facing a drunk man with a knife.

Realizing my situation, I quickly (though much too slowly in retrospect) took off one of my shoes with the intention of striking the knife hand with it should he attack. In the end, we both walked away, but it reminded me that I may really have to save my own life with nothing but a shoe one day, and I re-upped my training.

There are hundreds of scenarios that don’t end peacefully and people end up having to use their shoe (or whatever else) to thwart an attacker. Here are some examples to help put your mind in the right place:

  • A woman used a pair of car keys to defend herself from an attack.
  • In this case, a man defends himself and his son from a knife attacker with a baseball bat. This shows that a bat itself can be intimidating enough to thwart an attack.
  • An 11-year old used a decorative machete on his wall to defend his home from an intruder.
  • Although he was charged for murder, this event shows the effectiveness of items like a pool cue.
  • During a terrorist attack in London, the unarmed police were forced to flee from multiple ISIS sympathizers with long blades attacking a crowd. When armed police finally arrived, they saw bakers throwing bread crates, and men continuing to throw drinks and chairs at the attackers even while being stabbed and cut. The defenders are credited with saving multiple lives of those who chose to flee. While a knife attack may not seem extremely deadly, A similar attack in China that lacked the same active resistance ended with 33 dead and 130 injured.

Remember, a knife may kill you in one blow, or it may take over 50 wounds (and you may yet live like this woman). Don’t give them a chance for a clear and accurate strike.

The list could really go on for pages and pages, but you get the idea. This is not a rare occurrence. Weapons of opportunity save lives all the time, and with a little bit of forethought and mental preparation, you could be ready to do the same should the SHTF at the worst possible moment.

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