pepper spray, self-defense,
Photo by iStock

Self-defense is glamorized in movies and TV. The reality is that any physical altercation is brutal and ugly. It will require you to do things that you might otherwise find offensive. But remember, you have family and other loved ones counting on you to do whatever is necessary to be there for them the next day. Take no chances and stack the odds in your favor by arming yourself to the best of your ability.

If you find yourself in a bad situation and need to defend against an attack, a firearm is usually your best option. A handgun is a powerful weapon, one that allows you to be effective while remaining a distance away from the aggressor. It also doesn’t require a high degree of strength or dexterity in order to be effective. However, there are a number of reasons why someone might not be able to carry a firearm. Perhaps they live or work in an area where it is not allowed. Maybe due to a youthful indiscretion they are unable to obtain the required permit or license. It could be as simple as that they lack the funds to purchase a handgun and invest in the ammunition and training necessary to become proficient.

In any event, there are other self-defense tool options available. While they may lack the range and punch of a handgun, they can still be effective.

Get Your Head in the Game

Prior to any sort of conflict, it is important to get your head straight as to what you may need to do in order to prevail. Violent encounters don’t play out in real life like they are portrayed on television or in movies. They are fast, sometimes confusing, and often brutal affairs. There is no time for hesitation or second guessing. You need to be prepared to act quickly and decisively.

One disadvantage of using weapons other than firearms is you will need to be up close and personal with the attacker. If you’re close enough to use a knife or other weapon, then obviously you’re close enough for them to grab you. The defensive tactics you use must be geared toward disabling the attacker as quickly as possible, before they are able to get the upper hand.

There is no such thing as a fair fight. There are no rules you must follow, save one — do whatever it takes to win. The ultimate goal is to be around to see the sun come up the next morning.

For many of us, intentionally inflicting harm on another human being isn’t something that comes naturally. The thought of striking an attacker in the face with a slingshot or using a sharp blade to sever an artery or tendon may make you feel a little queasy and that’s okay. But make your peace with the knowledge that such actions and worse may be necessary in order to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Self-Defense with Pepper Spray

The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, which is the same stuff that has you reaching for buttermilk after ingesting your 5th ghost pepper. Occasionally you’ll see pepper spray marketed as OC spray. The OC stands for oleoresin capsaicin. Without getting too technical, oleoresin refers to this being an extract that was obtained through the use of evaporated solvents, as opposed to steam distillation.

Pepper spray causes the eyes to close and begin tearing, the skin to burn, and breathing to be hindered. These effects typically last 30-45 minutes or so, giving you plenty of time to take further action, such as making yourself scarce. Some sprays have a dye added to the mix, making it easier to identify the attacker later.

There are various measurements that are supposed to tell you how effective the spray will be. The only one that really matters is the Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids (CRC) measurement. This tells you how much of the OC is actually capsaicin. Look for a CRC level of at least 1%.

The other consideration with pepper spray is the delivery system. Stream is a far better option than spray or fog. It is easier to aim and is less likely to blowback toward you. Know the effective range of your pepper spray product and learn how to estimate that distance accurately. If the range is 12 feet, go outside with a partner and measure that off so you get a feel for the range.

Electroshock Weapons

Here’s a fun exercise. Go to YouTube and search for “police training TASER” videos. The hollering you hear is very real. Electroshock weapons work by causing debilitating pain and temporary paralysis through the use of electric current.

Stun guns come in all shapes and sizes, from basic black boxes to being disguised as lipstick tubes. They all have two metal prods that jut out from one end. The prods make contact with your attacker and you press a button, activing the current. Their body completes the circuit, so to speak. Stun gunes work just fine through clothing, too.

The downside here is you need to be within arm’s reach in order to use a stun gun effectively. While the current won’t travel from them back to you, even if they grab you, they could still do some harm if they don’t go down right away. If you’re close enough to touch them, then they’re close enough to touch you, right?

TASERs, on the other hand, give you a little range. A TASER unit sends out a pair of hooked metal probes, attached to the unit by thin wires. The probes hook into the skin or clothing and send current into the body. The upside is that a TASER will light them up like a Christmas tree. The downside is if one of the probes misses or gets yanked free, playtime is over.

TASERs use a single-use cartridge that must be replaced after being fired. Some of them do incorporate a stun gun feature as well, giving you that option should the need arise.

Tactical Pens

These have become rather popular in the last few years. The basic concept originated with the Kubotan keychain weapon that came out in the 1970s. The weapon amounts to a solid cylinder that can be held in the hand and used in a variety of ways, such as striking and gouging. In this case, the weapon can also write out your statement to law enforcement describing the altercation.

One of the most basic techniques is to hold the pen in an icepick grip and stab or strike your opponent. Note that if the pen is of sufficient size, it can protrude from both sides of your fist, giving you the ability to strike from multiple angles without repositioning the weapon.

Prime targets for the pen include the eyes, neck, and genitals. If you’re unable to swing your arm, try to push and grind the pen into your attacker.

While any weapon is better than none, don’t expect a plastic disposable pen to hold up to this sort of use. Tactical pens are often made of aircraft aluminum with deeply knurled bodies to provide a solid grip.


Many pocket size flashlights today are designed with a secondary use as a self-defense weapon. They often have crenulated heads that are intended to be used as an impact weapon similar to a tactical pen. With the advancements in LED technology in the last few years, the lights are often bright enough to truly dazzle the aggressor for a moment, giving you time to either further an attack of your own or beat feet.


A slingshot uses some sort of elastic to launch a projectile. A slungshot is a weight held at the end of a flexible material such as cordage. The weight is swung at the attacker, hopefully striking them in the face or groin. A monkey fist keychain is a popular type of slungshot.

To use properly, you don’t spin the slungshot around several times before striking. Instead, you simply grasp the loose end of the cordage and swing the weight forward, putting some effort into the movement, as though you were swinging a hammer.


These are typically made from steel though plastic models exist. They serve but one purpose, to put holes in your attacker. The spike is sometimes triangle-shaped, which allows for fast and deep penetration while still providing a very strong weapon.

To use, hold the spike in a tight fist and stab it into the face or body of your attacker. Multiple strikes add to the effectiveness of the weapon. It will take practice to be able to stab into a target, pull the spike out, and stab again in rapid succession.


One of the primary considerations when choosing a blade to carry for self-defense is the blade geometry. A thick blade with a relatively short grind will not work as well in a fight as a thinner blade that is made for slicing. Here’s a good test. Take your battle knife to the dinner table and carve up a chicken or steak. If it works well in that capacity, it’ll do just fine on an attacker, too.

It should also have a sharp point that will allow the knife to sink deep when stabbed into the attacker. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, the knife need not be a foot long, either. A blade of only three inches length will penetrate deeply enough to hit something vital.

Remember, too, that the more stabbing and slicing you do, the more likely you are to hit tendons and large blood vessels, which will slow down or stop your attacker completely.

One more thing to look for is the handle shape and design. You’ll want something that will prevent your hand from sliding up the blade, such as some sort of guard or finger groove. The handle should be long enough to allow you a comfortable and secure grip. The handle material should be textured to allow you a positive grip, even when wet. The idea here is that the knife needs to stay in your hand throughout the altercation.

This article is from the winter 2019 issue of Survivor’s Edge Magazine. Grab your copy at

Up Next

Timeshare for Cows? Four Reason To Cow Share

Consider these reasons for buying into a cow share or herd share and get...