Self defence in societies without guns
Contemporary self-defence techniques have changed in the west, as the law has continued to be increasingly restrictive about the use of the tools of self-defence against unprovoked violence. Incidents of civil unrest cannot be ruled out as the Coronavirus lockdown continues, people become testy, and as the food supply becomes increasingly strained. We will increasingly need to be aware of how to defend ourselves as society is pushed to its limits.
You need not read this article if you live in Salt Lake City and you carry a handgun to the supermarket. Nevertheless as the Coronavirus crisis starts to affect the ability of people to obtain food, with rowdy groups waiting to get into supermarkets that have overstocked food with rapidly approaching sell-by dates, you may wish that you were able to carry a handgun to the supermarket. This article is not a domesday prophecy about societal breakdown; societies will step back from their collective foolishness. But there will be a lot more desperate people as a result, and desperate people are more inclined to commit violent acts. We may all feel more reassured if we know a little about the essentials of self defence.
Most Police forces will arrest you for carrying in public anything that they consider you intend or anticipate using as an offensive weapon. Therefore while knives with a certain blade length are legal to own, if you carry one in your pocket while going shopping you are probably committing a crime. By contrast if you are hiking through the forest with it in the bottom of your rucksack, you probably are not doing. Some countries have even banned pepper sprays, although they have been replaced with paint sprays that justify themselves on the basis that the distinctive paint they spray assists the Police in later identifying an assailant. These are the sorts of legal distinction you do not want to find yourself testing in Court. Remember that just because an internet company will sell it to you and deliver it to your door, it does not necessarily mean you are free to take it with you down the street. Swords may be hung on the wall at home for ceremonial or artistic reasons, but Uma Thurman stretches her legal liberties in the film series "Kill Bill".
Self-defence without weapons, by contrast, is extremely difficult. It is not just a matter, in the immortal words of Michael Caine, of going to buy yourself some Karate lessons. You need actual combat experience, preferably street-fighting experience. Even the Police do not have much of this, because most people don't resist arrest using violence and anyway the Police are carrying weapons so they don't need to use their fists. You will probably not be an effective streetfighter unless you routinely fought or found yourself in dangerous situations as a child, or you have spent time in prison. It has little to do with health or even size. It is everything to do with timing, control of adrenalin, and doing things your aggressor won't have thought of; and knowing precisely the right time to turn round and run away or raise the alarm. These issues are far beyond the capacity of amateurs.
Unarmed, you have no hope against an experienced fighter, unless you are one as well. Your best strategy may be to lie on the floor in a curled foetal position, hands over face, rocking around and screaming, until the aggressor either gets bored of kicking you or is deterred by the prospect of third party intervention.
If you are prepared to bend and break the law to defend yourself, and you are not entitled to carry a gun in public (generally the ultimate deterrent to aggression), there are a number of options. Never carry a knife. The reason is that penalties for carrying knives are typically much higher; the Police are much less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt; knives are dangerous - they kill people and that is not your goal (or if it is then you do not need our advice - you are an assassin and we do not act for those people); you can be disarmed of a knife easily by an experienced street fighter, who may use it on you; and knives are too slow to deploy, needing to be unsheathed etcetera (don't even think about going out with a fast-action knife such as a flick knife or balisong; they are totally illegal virtually everywhere and there is no conceivable excuse satisfactory to the Police of why you might be carrying one.)
The best weapon to carry is a staff. With just a little training in bo-jitsu, a person wielding a staff can disarm an assailant wielding a knife safely and at a distance. A staff has a primary purpose unrelated to violence; it may help walking, or it may be an umbrella. (Do not try to use ordinary umbrellas as self defence weapons; they will just bend like the cheap aluminium they are made of. There are steel umbrellas designed to be used for self defence.) A long staff - say, six foot - is very powerful, a better weapon than Ms Therman's ubiquitous katana and a lot less lethal. But unless you are a priest or going hillwalking, people may find it strange that you are walking around with a six foot pole. There are poles you can screw together; but in a moment when you are faced with aggression you may not have time for that.
Four or five foot poles are adequate alternatives. Poles normally used to assist the immobile in walking tend to be three feet long. They can be useful at close quarters, if they are well made. A pole that snaps is not much use for anyone. However it is easy to disarm a person with a three foot pole at close quarters. To see how it is done, watch the Jeremy Brett televised version of the Sherlock Holmes novella The Illustrious Client, as Holmes is disarmed of his staff by two men and beaten with larger staffs. In stick fighting, length turns out to be everything. In all staff fighting situations, you are more likely to want to thrust that strike. It doesn't take time or space to thrust, and if the thrust carries your body momentum it can knock a man over, concuss them or wind them for enough time for you to make your escape.
Spray cans of paint (particularly the small ones sold for self defence) are very effective, as is pepper spray (although that is now increasingly criminalised). It can be deployed quickly from the pocket; and even if you miss (very easy), the shock factor may give you sufficient time to run away.
Forget trying to acquire a police taser, however tempting it may be. Firstly it is probably illegal for you to own one. Most large men can resist a first blast of the taser, however agonisingly painful it is. You need to know how to use it repeatedly. Moreover tasers are difficult to deploy at short distance - you might electrocute the wrong person, including yourself. Most fundamentally, tasers are used to subdue someone, not to escape from them. They are generally deployed against people who are running away or who are at middle distance and are failing to comply. In a self defence situation you will likely be in close proximity. There is a lot of training behind correct use of the taser, and people have died when the Police have got it wrong.
A magician's wand is an old tool used in self defence. They are not too difficult to acquire, but they vary in quality. There are no instruction manuals in existence instructing you how to use it; magicians teach one another, and unless you are a magician you will have to learn by trial and error. If you get it wrong, you can injure yourself. If you get it right, your assailant may turn upon his tail and run.
Always consider the option of not fighting. If you are very fit and your assailant is not, consider just turning around and running away. If you are in a bar melée, don't join in. Get down on your hands and knees, don't look at anyone, and push through the legs to the door. You will escape with a collection of bruises inadvertently inflicted by people kicking you while they beat each other up. Escape is not always the best option, but it is not considered nearly as much as it should be.
The other option is compliance, which some Police forces recommend. If a robber wants your wallet, give him your wallet. These sorts of robber are rarer these days, because people carry less cash so robbery is not nearly as lucrative as it used to be. The main problem with compliance is that you may not know the robber's full list of demands - and neither may (s)he, until (s)he finds you complying. You may end up being kidnapped or raped. By all means carry a drop wallet for open air third world city knife threats against wealthy foreigners, but also be aware that an apparent mere robbery may bely something more sinister.