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Self Defense/Effectiveness and popularity of different impact weapons


QUESTION: Dear Mr MacYoung,

My question is essentially how effective different types of impact weapons are. Since this is a vast subject, I will try to be more specific in what follows. The issue interests me mostly in a historical context, when weapons were used for combat, not necessarily in self-defence by contemporary standards.  

Not long ago, I read your article about 'strike enhancers'. I understand that you consider those items as rather ineffective and not really worth for a competent fighter to pick up, even if readily available. However, many impact weapons, although they do not enhance one's range by a big margin, add quite a lot of weight to the hand, thereby increasing the damage a blow does. Most focus the energy of the hit on a smaller area, some (saps) don't. The classes of impact weapons of my interest would be:

1) Small - less than 8 inches long, about 8oz weight. Examples: small sap, vajra, 2C or D sized flashlight.

2) Medium - 8-13 inches in length, about 8-20 oz in weight. Examples: billy club, tessen, jutte, dan bong, larger flashlights, beer bottles, etc.

3) Large - any wooden police baton, escrima stick, walking stick, cudgel, all the way up to a mace or war hammer.

I could specify the question in two ways:
a) To what extent could a weapon in any respective class improve the odds of a competent fighter surviving against a likewise skilled man, unarmed, but larger and/or stronger (woman vs man, old man vs young, etc.)? The context could be either a battlefield or a police intervention.

b) Suppose two men were engaged in combat with weapons of either class. To what extent would the presence of the weapons decrease the significance of their size and strength and/or increase the importance of skill with the weapon? Context as before.

In a broader context what I would like to know is whether the popularity of a particular weapon stems form the fact that it is indeed a good equaliser (meaning that a skilled little old man or a woman is almost as good as a skilled large young man ), and to what extent from the fact that they are issued (ASPs, saps) or that they fit into a convenient legal loophole at a particular time (there were many laws in Japan regarding swords in the Edo period, but a tessen or a jutte could be carried by people of lower social class and in more restricted areas). Also, what impact weapons, if any, are likely to be carried by experienced streetfighters nowadays?

Thank you very much in advance,

ANSWER: You started with this:

Not long ago, I read your article about 'strike enhancers'. I understand that you consider those items as rather ineffective and not really worth for a competent fighter to pick up, even if readily available.

If you got that out of the article then you missed my point. I never said they don't work. I said they are NOT defensive weapons. First off, having something in your hand automatically bumps the charges against you to aggravated assault/battery (depending on your state).  Second, I repeatedly stated that they are offensive weapons that work best when they are used first thing. (Which looking at point one should give you pause). Third, if you use these things right out of the gate and correctly, the guy on the receiving end ain't going to be able to do much.

If you're going to use them, you'd DAMNED well be good enough not to get caught. That's a skill most people do... not... have. Which means most people -- if they use them -- are going to end up being charged for excessive force.

Repeating what I said earlier, they are not defensive weapons, they are first strike weapons. Know that and own that -- including the consequences of getting caught for using them as such.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your answer.

I think I understand your point - the cases in which using a strike enhancer would qualify as self defence are so rare that it is not worth to carry one. That was, however, never my intention - as an amateur martial artist and historical artefact collector, I was interested in how effective different weapons were in the historical context in which they were used.

Your explanation about first-strike weapons clarified a number of things. I now believe that short iron truncheons were popular with Japanese palace guards as a means of subduing unruly samurai, since they would primarily be used to strike the swordsmanís hands and wrists (with follow-ups to the head or neck) before he managed to unsheathe the sword and achieve the optimal distance to use their superior weapon. In that, they were probably effective, especially in confined spaces.  

Iím still interested in the issue of size and strength importance for various weapons. They clearly matter a lot in hand-to-hand fighting -  thatís why there are weight categories. Iíve heard from advanced HEMA practitioners that in a sword fight skill and experience are by far the most important determines of who will survive. Where does a fight with blunt weapons fit in between those extremes? How much stopping power do they have compared to knives, daggers and swords?

First off let's talk about the myth about sais being used to disarm samurai.  

Sais AND jutte were carried as batons of both office and that you worked for the local daimyo, mayor or the equivalent of the constabulary. (Modern policing did not exist) Basically if you were one of the folks who kept order you had one. These were VERY much a sign of office and weapon to apply a non-lethal level of force. Unlike just a truncheon/billy club, the arm/wing/ spike/whatever you call it allowed for trapping, binding and even disarming. It also gave you extra leverage which allowed for those. So it wasn't just the hit. It was the hit, followed by the bind, followed by you moving that threw the guy down to the ground. He's controlled and 'in custody' without being dead.

A sword on the other hand, yeah the guy's pretty much dead or a cripple for life because you chopped off his arm.

Here's the both the booger AND where the myth of sais vs. swords came about. The booger is even a halfway competent swordsman will kill your ass if you go up against him with just sais. Halfway competent includes a good swordsman who's drunk off his ass.  Until the Meiji restoration, commoners were NOT allowed to touch samurai (kiri-sute gomen) so it wasn't until the haitorei edicts that samurai were to be disarmed that it became an issue.

Now, here's what martial artists don't know about all their talk about disarming samurai. It was was done in response teams. Like one samurai vs. five guys with various weapons and specific tactics. Two guys with pole arms (satsuma, sais/tridents, jutte on a stick), one with a manriki gusari to trap and one guy with sai/jutte to close and disarm. The different weapons and tactics covered the weaknesses of each individual weapon against the superior weapon (sword).

Now that's just in the East. In Europe, maces and war hammers could very much kill. But they also served a more common purpose of getting a guy in full armour out of the battle.  They'd break bones under the armour yes. But think of a car wreck. When the fender is crushed the wheel can't turn so the car is undriveable. If your armour gets jacked up, you can't move or breath so -- if you can -- you have to withdraw from the fight.

The better the armour became, the less swords were used against those wearing it. Polearms, impact weapons and spikes (like on the back of a battle ax or hammer) became more the response. Oh yeah, also team tactics and different weapons were used.  

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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