How could I best defend myself? How could I avoid being attacked? Should I take martial arts classes or carry a weapon? Which weapon is best to carry?
These questions seem to be quite common in today’s climate, and they are certainly important ones to ask.
If you’re looking for a silver bullet or the universal kryptonite, you may not find it here. I can, however, walk through what I think might be some realities of self-defense using the little bit of knowledge I have acquired over the years about fighting, weapons, and anatomy. I began training in martial arts a decade ago, I have been professionally engaged in emergency medicine since 2011, and I have trained with and carried a fair amount of firearms.
In general, I believe that any physical self-defense encounter would be messy, extremely quick, and often surprising. A massive amount of epinephrine (adrenaline) would immediately be released into your bloodstream (as well as some other physiologic processes which prepare humans to fight at the top of their ability). This will direct more blood to your muscles and less to your skin and GI tract. This could cause nervousness and may cause you to forget the event as soon as it’s over. You might have so much epinephrine in your system that you could be stabbed without even realizing it. You might freeze, run, or fight without even thinking. If you do fight, your instincts will likely take over.
If you have not spent thousands of hours training in a fighting discipline (martial arts, boxing, shooting, etc.) you are unlikely to be proficient in your defense against any assailant, especially if they have strength, numbers, or weapons that you don’t have. If you have thousands of hours of training in fighting, you could be hopeful that the training has become your instinct, in which case you’d have the advantage in a physical fight (all other factors being equal).
Naturally, people often prefer to buy a $10 ‘ultimate self-defense tool’ as opposed to training seriously for 2-4 days a week for years. It’s the shortcut, and like most shortcuts, it doesn’t pay. Keeping in mind what that flood of epinephrine will likely do to you, if you haven’t practiced deploying that pepper spray/knife/nunchucks/pistol thousands of times, you should not expect to do it flawlessly under the most pressure you’ve experienced in your life.
I’ve come across many products that are hailed by their owners as ‘the perfect self-defense weapon’. In general, I consider these items to be gimmicks, a waste of money, and largely ineffective.
Ask yourself this: If I put a knife in your hand and set an armed (or unarmed) attacker on you, would you be comfortable utilizing that knife to fend him off? Unless you’re one of the extremely rare (spec ops?) people who have trained in knife fighting, you’d likely be very uncomfortable using one in a fight. I know I’d be much more comfortable using my fists than a knife in a fight because that’s what I’ve TRAINED in.
And that’s the key: Training.
You could buy the best knife ever. Or the best brass knuckles or taser or the ‘knuckle blaster’, which combines the two. You could carry pepper spray or a baton. Unless you spend years training/fighting with a weapon very seriously, it’ll likely prove useless in a fight. Especially once the adrenaline begins to dictate your reactions. Fortunately, I’ve trained in martial arts, sometimes with some extra adrenaline in my bloodstream. As such, I’d be most comfortable using my own limbs in a fight. A knife or pepper spray would probably just make me uncomfortable, and therefore, less effective. Simply put, I wouldn’t know what to do with a knife! I do know how to land punches and kicks, though. I’ve spent years strategizing in milliseconds and using that strategy to land punches and kicks on opponents. I have never even considered how I would use a knife to defend myself from an attacker.
For people who have training in martial arts, weapons that supplement the training they already have may prove to be useful, though. If you are very comfortable throwing punches, brass knuckles/rings would seemingly just make you significantly more effective in a self-defense scenario.
If you have no training in martial arts, no contact weapon (taser, knife, knuckles, baton, pepper spray, etc.) is likely to help you defend yourself, in my opinion. A taser would be extremely difficult to benefit you since your chance of hitting a moving target in a real fight would be negligible. Even if you did get lucky and hit your attacker with the barbs, it may not even affect them at all. Pepper spray might make an attacker uncomfortable enough to leave you alone or to give you the advantage, but a bit of wind could cause it to miss – or worse – backfire and incapacitate the user.
How about a pistol?
You should absolutely train with a firearm before carrying it. Once you’re comfortable and accurate with it, it can be lethal, even at a distance and even when used by those with no martial arts training and little firearms training. If you choose to buy a pistol, (please use me as a resource to help you pick one out) do as much research as possible to determine which type would work best for you. If you don’t want to spend tons of time researching and debating which caliber is best, you can just read this and know that if you have a pistol, caliber is extremely unlikely to make a difference in a self-defense scenario. If you ask me, I would recommend buying a handgun with a caliber that is cheap enough to allow you to shoot it more than 20 times per month. (choose 9mm unless you’re rich)
However, no weapon is perfect. Guns require very serious safety habits and while they may be used successfully without prior training, it would be very beneficial to become familiar and proficient with any firearm that you plan to carry. Additionally, many states make it difficult or impossible to possess a firearm. If you live in one of those authoritarian states, I recommend that you leave that state. If you must remain in such a state, I recommend that you begin to train in a fighting discipline and in general fitness as soon as possible. Consider a weapon, but think very seriously about how effective that weapon would be. It could determine whether you survive a self-defense encounter.