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Close combat using ashtrays


The most difficult circumstances to manage close quarters combat is in bars: noisy, chaotic places in which very high population density combined with intoxication is liable to produce violent encounters, up to and including melee (generalised close quarters fighting in which everyone is fighting everyone else).


You are unlikely to be armed in such circumstances, because few people (except those seeking to start a fight) go to bars (or nightclubs, which are much the same) with weapons. You carry weapons when you anticipate and intend to inflict harm on persons; by contrast you go to bars (or nightclubs) typically to relax (or at least normal people do).


That having been said, fights do start in bars and nightclubs, particularly ones that have a lot of people in them, as they bump into one another in a state of intoxication, some offence is taken, the drunkenness encourages a person to resort to aggression or violence, someone else reacts in the same fashion, and so the dangerous situation begins. Here are some rules of thumb for combat in these innately dangerous environments.


  1. The most important rule is this: know your adversary. There are only two environments that comprehensively teach and provide experience in close quarters fighting: active military service on the ground; and prison. People with such experience are notably without adrenalin, and they are extremely dangerous in a close quarters confrontation. Thankfully they are also some of the most self-controlled, and are rare to initiate violence without extremely good cause. If you spot one of these people (and we re-emphasise that the principal identifying characteristic is a total absence of adrenalin), then talk your way out of the potentially violent situation as you will lose if it comes to violence.

  2. The first question to ask in a bar fight is, 'am I personally the object of the violent intent?'. If you are not (and in 95 per cent of case you are not), then follow one of three simple mitigating principles: (a) move out of the way and into the corner, in safety, until the violent episode has terminated; (b) walk out of the door; or (c) in cases of extremis (in particular melee), get down on your hands and knees and crawl out of the door while all the action takes place a couple of feet or so above you.

  3. If in a melee, and you see a group of hostile men moving in one direction, step out of their way and then start moving in the opposite direction. This is an iron rule.

  4. Some people are just aggressive and intimidating (i.e. bullies), testing you rather than actually wanting combat. If you deal with one of these, move your face increasingly uncomfortably towards theirs and they will typically back off. Get so close that you are about to french kiss them; then spit in their mouth. This gets rid of the vast majority of bullies, without any physical injury being involved.

  5. If someone is very drunk, you can usually cause them to fall over - particularly if they are large and heavy. Just put your foot behind their ankle and push them. Then run off while they get a chance to recover.

  6. Assuming you are the object of clear and imminent violent intent, immediately apologise. Do not worry what you are apologising for; it really doesn't matter. This gets other violent people on your side, and then they can fight while you leave. Profuse apologies are a good strategy.

  7. If profuse apology will not work, that is typically because you are the object of a pre-meditated violent targeting. In this case you will need to fight your way out; there may be more than one assailant; and you do not have any weapons on you. Your assailants may be large powerful men. The situation is looking grim.

  8. You need to arm yourself immediately in order to be able to prevail against one or more large violent men. In a typical bar, glass or porcelain ashtrays are the best bet - bottles, glasses etcetera tend to shatter and create all sorts of mess. By contrast glass ashtrays serve as exceptional knuckledusters.

  9. Automatically upon entry to any bar, you should take note of the location and composition of ashtrays. (Some bars do have plastic ashtrays which are no use.)

  10. If there are no ashtrays (for example because you are in Europe or North America and smoking indoors is banned), aluminium (or better steel) champagne buckets or glass spirits bottles (often sturdy) will do. In any event you need some hard dense object that will not easily smash. A bottle full of whisky will not easily smash. A beer glass with a handle is also a good choice; they do not easily smash.

  11. Any weapon is better than none in a closed quarters environment. That is because close quarters environments serve as great levellers in persons' fighting skills. With limited room to manouevre and hence to engage martial arts skills, such skills become less valuable. By contrast sheer physical size becomes a more important relative factor. In any situation of violence, your goal is always to escape with minimum harm done to yourself; and (as a secondary priority) minimum damage done to others including your assailant. This is the standard the law will hold you to. In a situation such as close quarters combat in a busy environment, in which size and numbers outweigh skills, you need to redress the balance in your favour by arming yourself effectively.

  12. Once you are armed, do not hesitate. Strike immediately, and again and again, until your assailant is disabled. Remember that a skilled and sophisticated street fighter (such as this author) can whip a weapon out of your hand at a moment's notice. Therefore do not hesitate. Once the decision to use a weapon has been made, pick it up and use it to achieve your objective which is neutralising an assailant in a very violent and hence dangerous sotuaifon.

  13. After you have done this, you always do the same thing: you drop the weapon (hence showing bystanders you mean no violence to them) and you calmly but quickly walk out. The lawyers can pick up the rest later. With a bit of luck, in the modern world the whole thing will have been recorded on CCTV and your actions will be exonerated by the CCTV footage. The violence of an unprovoked assailant always comes across clearly on CCTV, and hence law enforcement authorities will acknowledge a proportionate but firm response on your part.

  14. This is another reason not the carry pre-emptive defensive weapons (except ones that cause no permanent harm, such as pepper spray): law enforcement authorities will not look kindly upon your having done so.

  15. One important point about pepper spray use in a close quarters environment is that you will end up pepper spraying everybody, yourself included. It is very unpleasant and you should pre-attempt pepper spraying yourself before you pepper spray anyone else. Few people have the guts for this. If you don't, then you probably won't use pepper spray on an assailant either so there is no point in carrying it.

  16. Pepper spray in close quarters disables everyone, you included. You will be blinded and quite possibly unable to leave the close quarters venue. You need to know what this is like by practising, before you try it for real!

  17. As to impromptu knuckledusters such as ashtrays, there are two sorts: those intended for direct punches, and those intended for glancing blows. Know which one you are wielding and do not get the manouevre wrong. A glass ashtray is for a direct blow to the face (i.e. a direct line blow just as if throwing a direct punch but with an ashtray on the end of it). A glancing blow (e.g. slamming and object down on someone in an arc) will create lots of blood but will not disable an adrenalin-fuelled assailant. Generally, direct blows are better than glancing blows unless you like lots of gore (which is to be avoided - the goal is to disable an opponent so you can leave with minimal damage to persons). Likewise a beer glass with a handle is better used for a direct strike. This may smash the teeth; break the jaw; break the nose; or break open the skin on the forehead, causing blood to pour into the assailant's eyes. Glancing blows by contrast will not immediately incapacitate an adrenalin-fuelled assailant, who may well be able to withstand even a heavy glancing blow to the head and keep attacking.

  18. Now we are in the area in which experience of actual close quarters combat becomes very important. Experience will teach you to aim at direct strikes; an inexperienced amateur will be more inclined to go for glancing blows.

  19. The strength of a woman is sufficient to disable with a well-placed direct strike, but not enough to disable with a glancing blow, even with a heavy object, unless the force is such as to smash the skull (which is undesirable because the goal is to cause least harm while escaping from the situation). A fractured skull may kill, and may make a prosecution for a serious crime inevitable.

  20. If you happen to be wearing thick (e.g. steel toecapped) shoes, don't forget the possibility of a firm kick to the shin. This is typically disabling with the right sort of shoes. But don't bother unless your shoes are of adequate solidity, or you will achieve nothing except looking foolish and provoking your assailant.

  21. Always bear in mind the possibility of just seizing someone's head in both your hands and slamming it into a proximate solid object. While risky if you do it too hard (the skull may fracture), it tends to cause concussion and gives you time to get away. You need experience to know the right level of force with which to execute such a manouevre. It tends to create a lot of blood and gore, so be prepared to get out of there quickly afterwards. This only tends to work before your assailant has decided to strike. So if you are considering this, don't leave it too late.

  22. Close quarters combat situations tend to take place extremely quickly: they can be over in a matter of seconds, blood spilt and damage done. Hence you must not hesitate. Act immediately upon perception of danger or you may be overwhelmed by several people at once and you are pulp.

  23. If you find yourself in a situation where several men are pulping you, lie on the floor in a foetal position, covering your head with your hands and pulling your elbows up, to minimise the damage. Nevertheless you may at the very least end up with bruised or broken ribs.


The only way of avoiding close quarters combat unambiguously is to avoid crowded bars, nightclubs and other densely populated places (particularly where people are intoxicated). For most of us that is difficult; crowded places are just part of life. Moreover close quarters combat is extremely frightening, even for those skilled in it. No level of self-defence training can prepare you for it. Only experience can. We hope that these tips are useful in the event that you find yourself in a close quarters combat situation.