Improvised Weapons: Rethinking the Paradigm for Improvised Defense - ITS Tactical

Shop the ITS Store!


Improvised Weapons: Rethinking the Paradigm for Improvised Defense

By George Matheis


Volumes have been written about improvised weapons. There are always people who desire tools that fly below the radar at work and when traveling, especially today. Some like to dedicate a great deal of time to thinking about what they can get on a plane. Truthfully, I am more worried about my exposure on the ground between checking my bags and getting them back. Face it: if you are on a plane and there is a problem, you are more likely to be killed in the crash than by someone on the plane.

Recently I taught a pre-deployment course for the military. The students were given a homework assignment. They were told to come in the next day and tell us about one improvised weapon in their room. I was puzzled by some of the answers, which included lamps, irons, and even the TV. I asked the students to tell me which parts of the body they would target with their weapons. Most said the head. A few with the iron mentioned the head, but they said that they could also use the electrical cord to choke an attacker. My thought was that too many people have watched the Bourne movies.

Combative Anatomy

Before discussing improvised weapons, we need to understand combative anatomy, which I define as the study of how to stop interpersonal human aggression in the shortest amount of time. When we involve weapons, most people think about edged weapons and firearms. Attacking the body with these tools has a good likelihood of serious physical injury and death, but they can take some time to be effective. It’s kind of like putting a hole in a garden hose or draining an oil pan.

Body Systems and Avenues of Attack

For our purposes, the body has three main systems.

  1. The central nervous system, which is comprised of the brain and spine.
  2. The structural system, comprised of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
  3. The circulatory system, which includes both the traditional circulatory system, comprised of the heart, arteries, and veins, as well as the respiratory system.

There are only three ways of causing trauma to these systems: burning, cutting or crushing. When it comes to burning, I like hot liquids. I have responded to many calls for service with a steaming hot cup of coffee in my hand. Burns do a fantastic job of overloading the central nervous system, causing the person to fixate on their injury instead of what is going on around them. A hot liquid in the hand is a great example of an improvised weapon: it is not carried as a weapon, but is effective none the less.

Edged Weapons and Impact Weapons

There are only two types of weapons that you can hold in your hands: edged and impact. Even a bullet is a hybrid that goes really fast, crushing bone, and cutting through tissue. As a rule, at least with handheld weapons, impact weapons seek bone and edged weapons seek flesh.

If you pick something up, hit someone with it and it does not cut them, then you have an impact weapon. If it cuts them, then it is an edged weapon.

Handheld weapons produce a concentration of force on a small surface area, increasing trauma to that area. The force begins in your feet and travels through your hands to the end of your weapon.

If you end up on the ground in a dark alley fighting for your life and start feeling around for something to use as a weapon, you are way more likely to grab an impact weapon. And that can be a good thing.

Say you pick up a rock and swing it into the head of your attacker, attacking the central nervous system. Just like watching a good show on TV, the cable does not have to go out to mess up your viewing pleasure. All that is needed is a bad signal. So, you hit him over and over until the cable goes out. Since you are in the neighborhood anyway, land a few shots to the collar bone, extending your attacks to the structural system. This can deanimate the entire arm.

The rock is a small weapon that can be easily manipulated. If you pick up something heavy, like many of the objects that the students named in their exercise, you will naturally swing wide to hit with it. The same thing goes for something long. The bigger it is, the more room you need to deploy and use it.

Rethinking Improvised Weapons

So, let’s go back to the students’ homework assignment. There is no need to be exotic. Most people overlooked things that were likely right beside the bed: keys, pens, flashlights, beer bottles, etc. How the object feels in your grip is a good indication of how effective it will be for follow up shots if your first one fails. This is especially important if you are dealing with multiple attackers.

Another funny thing about impact weapons is that you have several natural ones: feet, knees, torso, elbows, shoulders, hands, and the head. We may not be naturally equipped with the best tools to kill someone barehanded, but we are very well equipped to get them to stop attacking us right away.

Now that all of the above has been stated, my favorite weapon, even though it is not so much improvised, is the common 28-inch rattan escrima stick. I have one by every door in the house, and along the seat of every vehicle I drive in. It not only extends my striking distance, but is great for multiple attackers.

After receiving the above information, the troops looked at things a little differently. Maybe you will too.

Are you getting more than 14¢ of value per day from ITS?

Thanks to the generosity of our supporting members, we’ve eliminated annoying ads and obtrusive content. We want your experience here at ITS to be beneficial and enjoyable.

At ITS, our goal is to provide different methods, ideas and knowledge that could one day save your life. If you’re interested in supporting our mission and joining our growing community of supporters, click below to learn more.


  • Pingback: Improvised Weapons- Rethinking the Paradigm for Improvised Defense | Modern Combative Systems()

  • What do you think about Filipino martial arts, ie Dan Inosanto and Balintawak Eskrima, for improvise weapons use?

    “the Bladed Hand” documentary comes to mind.

  • Also during a flight to LAX the other day, there was a sister of a Playboy model on the plane seated next to a Middle Eastern man who was fondling her. At first he touched her leg, then her arm, I guess terrified, the poor girl didn’t say a word, he continued to touch her (over her clothing) on her breasts and then near the genital area. But it wasn’t until he touched her exposed armpit area, and licked his finger, that she contacted a flight attendant. Upon landing the guy was arrested.

    But what could have the girl done? Elbow to the face? There’s more and more bad behaviours during flights, but the average Joe just doesn’t know and understand the tools of violence he/she has the right to. Can you go over use of force options and legal ramifications?

    • Ken

      There should have been no reason for her to resort to violence. The first touch she might have brushed off as accidental and played it off with a comment signaling it wasn’t what she wanted. The second time would warrant a flat-out statement the touching was not wanted and to not do it again. …and a possibility of requesting a seat reassignment giving the reason for doing so. It shouldn’t have gotten past that point at all.

      As a police officer I’m constantly educating people on the law and proper responses to situations. It is really eye opening to know what folks don’t know about the law–even what I didn’t know before I entered the field.

      To answer your last query would take a volume. Police officers are constantly being trained on force options and legal ramifications. For instance, the very first force option a police officer has is his very presence. It is quite amazing the chilling effect on a heated situation when a marked unit arrives on scene and a uniformed officer steps out of the vehicle. It’s multiplied by the number of cars that arrive on scene. Additionally, more force is applied with blue lights. It is the “Oh, Shit Factor” that folks get when police show up to a disturbance. Presence as a force option also applies to noise complaints, traffic enforcement, etc. when those responsible can see me. Many time when someone is blasting their car stereo all I have to do is roll up next to them, heck, most of the time I don’t even have to look over at them.

      A little authority in that young lady’s voice could have stopped that man’s unwanted touching. If not, then asserting her wishes to be removed from his presence would have.

      One last thing: if that young lady had resorted to violence it could have been her who was carted away in handcuffs. Disturbing a flight is a big deal. Even in less restricted situation, one should use the least violent force option available to them to effect the desired end. Jumping to physical violence when she could have moved seats, reported the incident to receive an immediate response, etc. is not appropriate. Sure, the two alone in a dark alley is a completely different story.

    • Bergman

      There’s violence and then there’s violence. If the pervert doesn’t respond to an authoritative demand he stop, then lock the knuckle joint on the offending finger, and the pervert can have it back after he apologizes. No overt motions, no flashy movements, and the point is firmly made.

    • Dave

      Regarding Ken’s note here: I imagine there’s another layer in the combative anatomy to be discussed the “Mind”…

      Essentially, active violence prevention that relies on eliminating someone’s -will- to act against you, which can be approached in a range of ways. Aggressive action (in my opinion) comes from a heightened state of arousal and a correspondingly diminished capacity to recognize consequence.

      Like a dog that fixates on the ball…you have to break that fixation and take control. That can be done “violently” or with firmness. I’m no expert here, but I have defused a number of fights in my life, that could have gone real bad.

  • Good stuff, but IMHO has too much movement outside the silhouette of you and your attacker, look at these as branches on the side of trees, more likely to get blocked and hung up. Try to keep things tight, concentrating keeping the elbows in helps with this- George

  • Pingback: RE- Mark's article on the Role of Violence in Primal Life | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 2()

  • BTJ Non-Master

    The escrima stick is a fantastic weapon. It generates a crazy amount of energy at the point of impact and will easily break bones.

  • nate

    if we are talking about in our home, my sig is my improvised weapon, but on a plain i think a great weapon would be boiling water, this was one of the weapons used by the heroes of flight 93

  • Just the unwanted touching is sex offense, she should have scratched hit eyes out and ripped his balls off. Or maybe just a cup of hot coffee “accidentally” in his lap. Just some thoughts- George

  • Irishmanlost

    Great article George, here in Ireland pretty much every weapon is improvised due to laws and restrictions…. Another good improvised weapon i feel would be a strong cane or walking stick. It could pose a deadly impact weapon.

  • Thanks bro, what county are you in. My family is from Cork.- George

    • Irishmanlost

      Dublin born and bred !

  • Junebee

    I”m a big fan of escrima as well.

  • The Captain

    A simple padlock isn’t illegal but can be used like a brass knuckle or looped on to a belt a swung like a ball & mace.
    Just one example of everyday items used in a combat situation.

  • Arano

    the first thing i would do is throw anything in the direction of the face of the opponent, at least for distraction. a stack of playing cards or a book is hard enough to break the jaw. if you have something long you should atack the legs; defence against that attacks is hard to perform and damage to the legs will cause your opponent to be an easier target for following attacks and will hinder his attacks. a pair of shoes with their laces knotted together can be used as a bola and a blanket thrown to your opononent will hinder his movement nearly like a net. and if all you have is a cigarette it will give you at least a first blow if you throw it in the face off the attacker.

    (english is not my first language, sorry if it is not good)

  • Ian

    George, do you have a favorite Escrima stick or recommended supplier?

    Great article and a good thing to think about before you are in a bad situation.

  • Good article George! I think the best thing people can do is to always be thinking about what they could use as a weapon if needed. I’m sitting here on my computer right now and that could be used both offensive and defensively, plus it’s a good excuse to buy a new one! Keep up the good work!

  • Ken

    A word of caution on “improvised weapons.” They really should be improvised. One respondent mentioned a padlock. While a padlock can be used as an improvised weapon it should have a primary function–like locking your gym locker.

    In many cases the intent is what will get you in trouble. Overtly tactical items like tactical pens could actually get you in hot water concerning concealed weapons violations. If you carry an item specifically for defense through physical means, then by extension that item is intended to do harm to another human being, i.e. a weapon.

    Know your local laws concerning concealed carry of any weapon, what “concealed” means, length of blade, “intent” qualifiers, etc. as they do vary from locale to locale.

    Oh, and the answer to any question of the intent of any item on or about your person is always something other than any variation of “protection” unless you have the papers to protection you legally.


    Your comment about overloading the CNS are dead on. A tac ti cool riggers belt works well, as does a pen. Consider soft tissue strikes, that will, overwhelm your attacker. A Bic pen driven into the temple or the sclera and Iris. Warming of liquid works really well, again if you have that much time also consider things you can’t see or haven’t trained your self to see. In the flight attendent area are a plethora of such devices, stainless steel serving trays (ya know the ones they use on those Dubai to Kandahar flights) In the rear of most plains is a ALS Med kit, full of medical instruments, that in a pinch work well as a weapon. Blunt trauma to the clavicles, soft tissue strikes, burning and thinking outside the box will all give you the winning edge.

  • In our litigious society you could be charged criminally and sued civility no matter what you use as a weapon. Most courts are not pro self-defense. Also keep in mind that just like police they seldom have a “citizen” defend them self against a bad guy. Most of the time it is shit head vs shit head. Every incident is different, but most of the time if you did your best to avoid the confrontation, were not under the influence of alcoholic or drugs, you have a much better chance of a good outcome.

    About five years ago I bought a 20 stick bundle of 28 rattan sticks. They were seconds and had blemishes and had some knots and bends. Still good for my needs. Cannot remember where the hell I got them.

    One of my favorite ways to get good with your timing and distance using the stick is to poke a hole through a tennis ball with a screwdriver, then push some paracord though the hole and tie it off. Hang it in the garage or yard at about 5’9. That is what the FBI says is the average height of a bad guy. Start with the stick down by your side, work on doing a back hand snap strike to the tennis ball from different distances and angles. I call this sniping. You will get good quick. Picture yourself hitting the bad guy right under the chin/side of face. His eyes will involuntarily close his eyes, hands come up to the source of pain (face), leaving everything from the neck down unprotected for the next shot.

    BTW, if anyone has any ideas for other topics you would like to see me cover send me an e-mail at [email protected]

  • D

    Cold Steel has many things adapted from everyday items that can be used as self defense tools. If you are looking, it is a good site for ideas. I have a titanium pen from that is a non-threatening but effective defense weapon.

  • Pingback: Utilise Daily Objects As Improvised Weapons In Self Defence Situations | Lifehacker Australia()

  • Aaron Woodin

    As a previous poster mentioned, don’t take carrying “weaponized” versions of everyday objects lightly.
    TSA are increasingly aware of these – they’ve gotten pretty good at spotting “tactical” pens and hardened tactical flashlights with striking crowns.
    I’d rather not lose my surprisingly nice Office Depot pen that *looks* like a tactical model, nor do I wish to hand over my SureFire Nitrolon – not taking a chance, so those are staying home.
    I’m very pro self defense – all in favor of open and concealed carry of firearms. But knowing the law and effecting a strategy of conflict avoidance are crucial.

    • Mark

      Another good improvised tool to carry on a plane is Knitting Needles, These are 8″ metal spikes. Take 2 of the with a little yarn on them and you will have not trouble. You might need to learn a stitch or 2 as well. My son, 24yo, 6’3″, beard, long hair has carried these on many flights and had no problem. (he knits as well). He did get stopped for a small metal belt buckle but the needles went through with no questions. YMMV.

  • Avadakadevra

    Another good one is a lacrosse stick. Players can launch lacrosse balls at over 100 mph. Just think of how much it would hurt if you hit someone in the head or back of the knees with it. Not to mention, the shaft is usually made of some sort of metal alloy. You could shove it into the attackers face, ram the butt end into the ribs, use it like a garrotte, the possibilities are endless.

  • Dan

    Love the article and LOVE the subject. I work in a County Jail and talk about improvised weapons! When all you have is time you can come up with some pretty interesting stuff even if we don’t let them have access to much to make weapons with.

    I also train in Arnis De Mano which is another Phillipino Art. I have 2 Bahi sticks in the bedroom along with my Kimber Custom Classic and my Shotgun(both loaded). Rattan is used for training but the Bahi and Kamagong sticks were used for battle. Just wanted George’s thoughts on Rattan vs Bahi or other sticks for Self Defense.

  • Zebra F-701 is my go to improvised weapon. Always on me.

  • T

    I routinely carry a 40 oz. stainless steel water bottle (as I get very thirsty and am not all about consuming the chemicals in plastic). When full, this bottle is fairly heavy. I suspect that, in a pinch, I could use the bottle itself as a bat, or leave it in my purse and do a bit of whacking with that.

  • Chris Wertz


  • Mo

    I prefer a screwdriver or a small exacto knife. I wear a blazer most of the time, so i have plenty of pocket to conceal them in. Also, sometimes i use a rope that i keep coiled up on my arm hidden under my sleeve. I feel that these three items keep me safe for most situations i can think of. Plus, i dont think most people freak over a screwdriver. They’ll just think im a janitor or something.


    Initially understanding that I am the weapon and everything else is just an extension makes the depth of this subjcet much more shallow in terms of what is a good improvised device and what is not.
    When I am confronted with the subject of improvised devices I easily get sucked into what I have available to me that I can improvise with. Trying some reverse engineering I began to look at what is not available to me and what I can obtain in the midst of chaos to improvise with.
    The chaos of violence will not always if ever, afford us with the ability to be prepared for it. Wether I carry concealed, have a myriad of sharp objects stashed about my person or the latest death ray tucked in my trousers, I may not be afforded those few precious seconds to deploy the very labor saving devices that I employ daily for these encounters.
    We can utilize anything as an improvised device, which includes common things that a threat may be adorned with or that may surrond the immediate threat area. Jewelery, piercings, backpacks, loose clothing, accomplices, localized debris…you name it. I understand that I cannot fixate the ability to finalize the deanimation of the threat on the device but on the amount of physical work that I put forth.
    The improvised device is merely a tool to afford me more time to accomplish the task at hand. The device may only cause a breif distraction so distance can be closed or opened. Survival is the key to valor and survival is commonly found by avoiding life threatening situations or situations that can be come threating. The device is not the means to an end the individual is and nothing is more dangerous than the thinking, moving, problem solving , butt naked human being.
    Please excuse any misspellings or grammatical errors.


Do you have what you need to prevail?

Shop the ITS Store for exclusive merchandise, equipment and hard to find tactical gear.

Do you have what you need to prevail? Tap the button below to see what you’re missing.