Martial Arts Weapons & Self Defense

I frequently get asked, “Can martial arts weapons be used for self defense?”

The answer is both yes and no, and there are some caveats to consider before launching into a program.

First, understand that most schools that teach weapons are teaching things that look great in TOURNAMENTS to WIN MEDALS, not self defense. Even with a useful weapon, like a bo staff , which could be very useful for self defense, most schools only teach flashy forms that look cool, but have absolutely no real-world application.

Second, realize that not every cool-looking weapon is something you need to learn to defend yourself. For example, the Naginata is wicked-cool looking and I could lop off heads with it, but am I ever going to actually carry one? Never.

Third, learn BASIC ACTIONS before launching into forms. The coolest form won’t help me if I don’t know how to execute a block or a strike.

With these ideas in mind, let’s look at which weapons have real-world value. As always, check with local laws, because some states have silly restrictions.

  • Fighting Stick: 2 ½ to 3 feet long, the most applicable…you can always find a stick, an expandable baton, etc.
  • Bo Staff: You can adapt this to a broom handle or a long stick/closet bar.
  • Nunchaku: Easily concealable, but be careful as most forms aren’t realistic. Many police departments use a variation of these.
  • Tonfa: A great tool, but again focus on basics and not forms. Many police departments use the tonfa, calling it a “side-handle baton”.

The ones with the least:

  • Kama: Although, some kama skills do translate directly to the tomahawk, you won’t exactly be attacked for your wallet while out harvesting the wheat with a sickle in your hand.
  • Sai: Not something you’d ever carry or find.
  • Double Sword: You’ll rarely in every day life have one sword, let alone two.

You’ll notice that the knife isn’t listed. Knife fighting is an entirely different and absolutely essential skill set only marginally associated with traditional martial arts. Stick fighting skills are most closely related to knives.

To adapt forms training to self defense, pull out the usable combinations and train on them incessantly, because you’ll use a high block/strike combination for more naturally than the really awesome “drop to a knee and spin the bo staff like a helicopter over my head” part (sorry Master Martin and Master Seegert…you’re both still awesome).

I have a rule that before my students can learn a tournament form, they have to understand the history of the weapon and be able to defend themselves with it against basic attacks first. Then, with each form, they have to be able to describe the combative combinations inside the form and demonstrate them in a self defense context. That was the original purpose of forms training, anyway, but that’s another blog post entirely…

There are some who believe that for true self defense weapons, only firearms are needed. That’s absolutely and unequivocally untrue. Many times, a firearm isn’t legally appropriate. There are other times when it’s more dangerous to insert a firearm. Having additional tools is a plus.

For the true end of the world, power-grid-down situation, you will eventually run out of ammunition and/or spare parts for your firearms, but traditional weapons will still be usable and there won’t be any instructors, so learn now.

An under-considered weapon is the cane. Hapkido and Hwa Rang Do, both traditional Korean Martial Arts, have extensive cane-fighting techniques. Can you think of anywhere that you can’t take a cane?

In short, a true warrior trains in any weapon that he could conceivably use, and the time to learn those skills is BEFORE they are needed.

I hope this helps answer the question for all of you.


Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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