By: Dan B.
There are a lot of choices out there when you are talking about weapons for self-defense.Pepper Spray is one of the best. My personal second choice is an impact weapon such as the ASP® tactical baton. Like any weapon it has its strengths and its weaknesses. Unlike some weapons, such as a stun gun, the baton does require skill to use effectively. The purpose of this article is to give you an overview of this weapon, and some of the skills required to use it.
The first important concept you need to know about the baton is reaction time and distance. As an impact weapon, the baton requires time to gain momentum in order to do damage. That time translates into some distance that you must maintain between you and your attacker, for the baton to be effective. Ideally, you want to remain about a 1/2 step outside of the range where you can just strike the opponent, or his weapon, whichever is furthest. This distance not only enables you to slip forward and strike with power, it allows you the reaction time you need to slip back and effect a defense with your baton when your attacker strikes.
As you might imagine, this distance requirement is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage, which really comes from the length of the baton, is that you may very well be able to stay outside the effective striking range of your attacker and yet still be able to strike back at him. This is especially true if you target the weapon, hands, arms, etc. of your attacker, and he is trying to strike at your body. That is, if you target whatever part of your attacker happens to be closest to you, rather than trying to get in a strike to his body or head, you will have the advantage in both reach and reaction time. The disadvantage of this distance requirement is that, for the most part, it is a requirement. If your attacker can move inside of your optimum striking range or reaction distance, you are at a serious disadvantage. There are some strikes and blocks you can use with a baton when the attacker is close to you and I will describe these later. I will not go into grappling techniques with a baton (chokes, arm-locks, etc.), however, as I don't think these are applicable to typical self-defense scenarios.
The second thing to talk about regarding impact weapons is what area of the opponent you target. A big advantage impact weapons have over other types of close combat weapon is that you can effectively strike at the attacker's weapon, whatever that may be. This allows you to stop the weapon of an opponent, something most other close combat weapons can't do. It is quite possible to disarm an attacker with a good strike around his grip - although not something you should depend on of course. Besides the attacker's weapon, you typically want to target bony areas when striking with an impact weapon. These include the wrist, elbow, knee, ribs, collarbone and head. A strike to muscle with a baton will cause pain and possibly some muscle cramping, but it won't be nearly as debilitating as a strike to bone. One solid strike to an attacker's knee will probably end the encounter right there. That is another advantage of the baton - it has the ability to disable an attacker without having to kill him to do it. This can be a legal bonus. The disadvantage of all this is that bony targets may be difficult to strike in the heat of combat. With a baton, anywhere you strike will do damage, but bone is definitely better. Legally, any strike to the head, neck or spine is considered probable lethal force.
I've talked about where to hit, now let's talk about how to hit. First of all, you need to grip the baton with your thumb wrapped around the handle rather than resting along it. Your grip should be secure but not tight because speed requires a degree of relaxation, especially in your wrist, elbow and shoulder. There are four basic types of strike available to you with an impact weapon. A slashing strike is one that intersects and then moves across the target to the other side. These are most often horizontal or downward angled strikes that, for instance, start on your left side and end on your right side. Swinging a baseball bat would be an example of a slashing strike. These strikes tend to be the most powerful type of strike. They also have the best flow of any strike; in other words it is easier to flow from one strike to the next with these strikes because you are moving with the momentum of the weapon, keeping the weapon in motion, keeping its energy and power, and simply steering it where you want it to go next rather than stopping it and starting it again. A horizontal slash (with the tip of your baton angled up somewhat) is very effective at striking and deflecting downward attacks.
The second type of strike is the jab. This strike whips forward, impacts the target and then retracts back to its original position again. Although not as powerful as a slashing strike, the jab does have a couple of advantages: it is very accurate and can effectively strike small target areas, it can be used effectively in confined spaces.
The downward circular strike is really just a particular kind of slashing strike. It describes a vertically oriented circle between you and the target that returns to its original position upon completion. This strike is very quick and powerful because it has the assistance of gravity and because in the typical ready stance, with your baton held vertically in front of you, you are already chambered to execute the strike. This strike, although it moves downward, also moves outward as it describes a circle, especially if you chamber the baton by angling the tip backward over your shoulder prior to your strike. Thus, you can use it to strike down onto the frontal face of an attacker (or weapon) at about a 45-degree angle of impact. The downward circular strike can be done to any degree within a 180-degree plane in front of you. It is quite effective at stop-hitting incoming horizontal attacks as long as you target the face of the incoming weapon and strike it away from you rather than trying to strike it downward.
The last type of strike is the thrust. To be effective with a baton, the thrust must follow a similar line as the uppercut punch or hook punch (from the side). A thrust straight forward just doesn't have any real power. The thrust is one technique that can be used at relatively close range if necessary. If done to the solar plexus of an attacker, it can be a very potent strike. One thing to be aware of with a tactical baton such as the ASP, your weapon is collapsible and a powerful thrusting strike may collapse it. Even if your weapon does collapse, there is a good chance your strike will stop the attacker at least long enough for you to reopen the baton.
In addition to using strikes to stop-hit an incoming blow, a
baton can also block or parry. To block with a baton, you essentially move it between you and the incoming attack, shielding yourself. Push into the block with your whole body and keep your baton close to you, don't try to just extend your arm out to meet the attack. Use your free hand (the hand not holding your baton) behind your baton to help support your block against the impact. Usually, I keep my free hand forearm a couple of inches behind the baton and perpendicular to the baton when I am blocking. It is important to have good skeletal alignment so that the force of impact on your block travels in a straight line down the forearm of the hand holding your baton and into your body. A block can be quick - it requires very little motion to pivot your baton into position - it can be done inside the effective range of your strikes and it will stop an incoming blow. However, unlike a stop-hit, it will not do anything to disrupt your attacker; the block is a purely defensive maneuver that will not take the initiative away from your opponent. It requires more effort to flow from block to strike to block than it does to flow between strikes. For such reasons the block is not one of my favorite techniques, especially if I can maintain a good reaction distance between myself and my attacker. However, there are times when a block is the only thing that will work.
>Before I leave the topic of how to strike, I want to touch briefly on the subject of power. Although difficult to describe on paper, it is important that you put your entire body mechanics behind a strike. This makes your strike much more powerful than if you just use the muscles in your arm and shoulder. Upon impact both of your feet should be firmly on the ground (although you can step into a strike) because your legs on the ground provide the foundation of your power. Again, it is somewhat similar to swinging a baseball bat.
Footwork and positioning is probably the second most important factor when using a baton in combat. It is rare that you want to move straight forward or backward. Ideally, when you step forward you want to angle to the outside of your attacker as if you were stepping along the lines of the letter “V” (starting at the bottom where the two lines meet and moving out towards the top of the “V” as you step). If your opponent attacks with a horizontal slash to your left side and you step forward angling to the right you have done several things: 1) you have not significantly changed the distance between you and your attacker even though you stepped forward, 2) you have given yourself a little more reaction time and a great angle of attack on the hand holding incoming weapon and 3) you have moved inside of the opponents ideal striking range and power, but have kept him at your ideal striking range. Likewise, when you strike at your attacker, whenever possible move and strike to the outside of his weapon hand as this will make it more difficult for him to strike back at you in return and make it easier for you to defend against his return strikes. When you move backward, you should angle back and out, along the lines of an upside down “V” as well. If an opponent is rushing this allows you to slip to the side, block his strike if necessary, and then be in a position to hit him as he goes by.
Before closing, I would like to very briefly mention the legality of carrying an impact weapon such as the ASP
baton. In every state, it is illegal to carry such a weapon concealed without a permit. In some states, it is illegal to carry one at all (even in states such as Texas that allow you to carry concealed firearms - but for some reason do not allow you to carry impact weapons, concealed or otherwise). In quite a few states a baton is legal to carry, as long as it is not concealed. So check with your local regulations, and the laws of any state where you will be traveling, before deciding to pick a baton for self-defense. If you do choose to carry a baton, don't buy a cheap one because it will not hold up. Both ASP and Monadnock make good batons. I personally prefer the ASP brand, but I stay away from the Airweight and Duratec models, which are made of plastic and aluminum, as they tend to bend more easily; the standard steel ones really are almost indestructible.
I hope this article has given you some insight into the use of an impact weapon for self-defense. Such weapons have both advantages and disadvantages, but in my mind the advantages win. Regardless of what weapon you choose to carry, whether it is pepper spray or a gun or anything in between, remember that it is only a tool and the best advantage you will ever have comes not from your weapon, but from your brain and your attitude - those are the things that will determine how useful your weapon can be. And finally - plan, prepare, practice!