Less Than Lethal Force
The vast majority of assaults don’t turn lethal in America. When the topic of EDC comes up, the part most people inevitably jump to is what kind of gun you carry. Having something in between harsh language and a firearm is often overlooked, so in my continuing series of basic skills for self defenders, I’m going to talk about a few things to consider as far as less than lethal force goes.
First off, I’m going to break this down into categories of the most common, available types of less than lethal force. The ones that are worthwhile, the ones to avoid, common misconceptions, etc. There are 4 main categories as far as availability and what’s out there, which I’ll break down in order.
Most of these came about out of necessity in the line of duty, and since I’ve began a career in the field, I feel it would be a disservice if I didn’t talk about less than lethal in terms of EDC vs On Duty.
Starting off with the one that you always have on you at all times:
Empty Handed Skills
Perhaps the biggest misconception on empty handed skills is that it must either look like unrefined brawling or some Bruce Lee master kung fu skillset with no in between. The best skillsets are the ones that are constantly growing and improving. Bruce Lee himself believed that if it serves a tangible purpose, it would behoove you to learn it.
So the question invariably comes up: “What exactly *is* the best?”
Your best bet for self defense, the most important thing you can possibly do, is work out and be open to learning. While skills such as shooting might yield benefit (most officers will go their entire careers without ever shooting someone), getting in shape always will yield tangible benefit.
From a tactical standpoint, with a proper workout you’ll be able to last longer in a fight. (People never seem to understand how difficult and exhausting fighting actually is.) But more importantly, being out of shape is a much greater threat to you than a criminal ever will be. On top of that, a proper workout also increases hemoglobin being transferred to the brain, which helps increase mental awareness and how receptive you are. In other words: working out makes you smarter. Now there are various kinds of workouts and I’m not going to give you an entire regiment breakdown. I will give a few basics, but otherwise it’s up to you. Keep your blood pressure in check, keep your diet and sleep schedule in check, keep your levels of stress and fatigue in check.
So what is a competent workout?
That isn’t something I can answer easily. Much like firearms, working out is subjective. What a firefighter in the suburbs needs for a workout is vastly different than what a single mother holding down 2 jobs in the hood needs for a workout. Given the career path I’m going down in the field of security and law enforcement, I can name a few workouts which I recommend for that.
SEAL SWCC – I’ve said often than most people don’t need to meet Navy SEAL requirements, but if you plan to go into the line of duty the Navy SEAL fitness requirements are a very good thing to hold yourself up to. This link includes a bunch of free information and resources.
Border Patrol – Linked there is a forum post (so take it with a grain of salt) discussing entrance physical exams for Border Patrol and compares it to some police departments. Not only is this a good workout, but it also gives you a tangible measurement for your progress because a lot of state and federal level PT tests won’t deviate too much from this.
Westside Training For Skinny Bastards – I have a lot of medical complications, which were accentuated by my abusive parents doing things like starving me and feeding me a shitload AD/HD meds as a magic “good pill” to make bad behaviors go away. As a result, I’ve missed key nutritional milestones growing up and it perma-fucked my metabolism (when I graduated high school, I weighed 91 pounds and my BMI was 12). There is a way you can put on muscle, even with a swimmer’s body, and this is a good guide to follow for that. This workout, combined with a proper diet, has been immensely helpful for me to get up to a healthy weight and build the muscle mass I need.
Other workouts that are good for the line of duty include sandbag training and sit ups. Do lots and lots of sit ups. Working out your core muscles is important for various things you’ll be doing on duty, and you will get slugged in the gut, too. Doing sit ups will help you not get bent over from one punch. Also work on cardio. Carrying around a vest, full duty belt, and possibly a fully loaded chest rig on top of that is going to take a lot out of you. Don’t skip leg day, either. Your footwork is of absolute importance. Something to help build muscles in your legs for balance is skateboarding. Buying a basic longboard, then pushing yourself up a hill on it and riding the board back down is a good start. A lot of dancers, such as the people in Caravan Palace, use skateboarding to help their leg muscles and balance for this very reason. (Oh and before anyone pops off about dancing =/= fighting: The lead singer of Caravan Palace is 41 years old. You don’t get to looking that good and moving like that at that age unless you’ve been taking care of yourself.)
A habit I picked up from my martial arts days is also drinking tea before and after I work out. I find organically brewed tea, especially green tea, helps get me into a good headspace.
What about fighting styles? Martial arts?
What works for one person against one threat in one kind of situation isn’t going to be universal. Fights are extremely context specific, not to mention the quality of instructors can vary immensely. Even a proven quality style can be completely useless if it’s taught by Sensei Chad at your local McDojo. In my experience, the main 3 martial arts I would recommend for people who’s goal is self defense/street fights are boxing, Jujitsu/Judo, and Krav Maga. (I say, as I do mostly old school TaeKwonDo. Substance over style- find what you are comfortable on and become an expert in that.) Just remember that there are a few basic things that always remain true:
Footwork and breathing make up the basis of any competent fighting skillset. Footwork is everything. You want to remain upright and mobile in a fight. (Whenever someone says “Most fights end up on the ground” it tells me they’re too lazy to learn proper footwork.) Footwork is where your power and guard comes from. Footwork combined with breathing maintains a constant heart rate and helps prevent you from getting tuckered out. People who fight with raw power aren’t doing it right- true power comes from your legs and waist.
For example: the uppercut, A lot of people mistake the uppercut for being something of brute upper body strength, or jumping to throw an uppercut. They also disregard it because they feel it drops their guard. Doing either of these is incorrect. The power of an uppercut comes from the waist and legs, driving you upwards. And regardless of whether you make contact or not, you always return to your guard from an uppercut. While the uppercut is a punch, your footwork is where all of your power and technique come from. (The uppercut is also better for tall guys in a fight, because they can deliver it with much more power than shorter people can.)
Any instructor worth their salt will start you with aggressive physical contact from day 1. When Bruce Lee was inventing Jeet Kune Do, he discovered anyone who had mastered wrestling and kickboxing could beat any Asian fighting style. This wasn’t due to any difference in technique, but because wrestlers and kickboxers are used to aggressive physical contact from day one. Substance over style. Even modern Asian masters of martial arts can tell you how useful boxing is in a fight.
Honestly, boxing is what I would recommend for anybody looking to get into self defense. (Even though I come from a TaeKwonDo background.) A lot of the Asian styles in America have lost their ways. This is in direct contrast to Asia, where most of those styles like TaeKwonDo and Pencak Silat have been forged in brutal gang warfare and adopted by various security and bodyguards and police. But a lot of dojos in America go soft on you, because if you get your ass whooped you’ll leave and you won’t pay. This is another point in the favor of boxing. They’ll whoop your ass and you’ll learn from that ass whooping. You’ll learn how not to telegraph your own movements, how to anticipate your opponents’ movements, how to throw a punch, how to take a punch, etc. This segues into the next point:
The purpose of training is to show you where you need to improve. If you feel like a badass after it’s over, you’re not being trained correctly. The purpose of training is to show you where you need to improve, not teach you another technique to pull out of the toolbox as needed. My grandmaster of TaeKwonDo is in his 50s and he’ll jump in the ring with all the 20-something year olds any day of the week (and I have the injuries to show for it). Iron sharpens iron, don’t be too proud to think you’re above someone or that they can’t show you something. There will always be something that surprises you or catches you off guard in the field, and you will be forced to react from a deficit.
And this next part is going to piss somebody off (it always does) but needs to be said: MMA is not good for self defense. MMA is a competition, fighting one-on-one, in a cage, with a focus on ground and pound. If your goal is street fights and you go into MMA, then you’re training for the wrong fight. You can even see the difference in the way boxers and MMA fighters stand. Don’t just take my word for it- look up what Chuck Haggard, the legendary lawman, has to say about it. That’s part of a 3 part video series, which if you’re unfamiliar with Chuck then I’d highly recommend you watch them. I also think of that episode of Human Weapon where they go to Israel to learn about Krav Maga, and one of the hosts has been doing MMA for 10 years so the IDF run him through some very basic scenarios where he gets completely destroyed. The IDF Instructor’s exact words to him afterwards were, “You’re a real good ring fighter, but you have no concept of self defense.”
Again, the main 3 that I recommend are boxing, Judo/Jujitsu, and Krav Maga. I already covered boxing above. Brazilian Jujitsu is an essential part of every officer’s skillset, because you’ll need to control resisting suspects when you’re taking someone into custody (be it detaining them or placing them into custodial arrest). It’s also really useful in a street fight for no other reason than the escapes. For example: the Uphill Turn Escape from Judo should be something everybody knows. You need to get back up on your feet quickly in a fight so you don’t get overwhelmed. (If you try to ground and pound, what’s gonna happen is their friend is going to walk up and knock you out while you’re on the ground and you won’t be able to defend against that at all.) Finally, Krav. There’s a lot of mall ninja Krav Maga out there, so I don’t blame anybody for avoiding it, but anything that’s approved by the IKMF is really useful. Similarly, I don’t blame people for wanting to avoid certain styles entirely such as Karate or TaeKwonDo because of how hard they lost their ways.
Tasers are the usual fall back when people go “Why did the cop have to shoot that guy?” There are a lot of misconceptions on tasers, as well as stun guns. I’m going to cover a few of them, but I won’t touch on police procedure on tasers, because it varies so drastically from one agency to the next.
Stun guns and tasers are two different things. Some tasers double as stun guns, but stun guns are not tasers. A stun gun is a contact weapon. You must be within striking distance of the person in order to use it. In my own personal experience in the field, plus all of the testaments from active and former law enforcement I’ve worked with, I would not recommend a stun gun for EDC. It’s useful on duty, especially a taser that doubles as a stun gun, like the X26c. I am of the steadfast belief however that this is a tool for control, not defense. If you want to know how a taser works, Watch Donut Operator’s taser video
Police and civilian tasers are two different designs. Civilian tasers go for 30 seconds, the point is so you drop the taser and run off while they’re getting zapped. This is something like the Taser PULSE does. Police tasers go for 3 to 5 second bursts with every pull of the trigger, this is in order to get a resisting suspect under control. From what I’ve seen in my line of work, as well as badge cam footage I’ve seen, tasers are about 50/50 in their effectiveness. Either they work really well, or not at all, and there’s about a 50% chance for each outcome.
You have to reload tasers. On top of the several hundred dollars you must throw down for the taser itself, you also need to throw down money for cartridges. (Money I would honestly say is better spent on a handgun for your EDC.) You have standard and heavy duty barbs, the heavy duty ones meant for piercing thick jackets costing around 60 to 80 dollars per cartridge. So you have a taser gun that costs as much as a pistol, and the cartridges that cost more than a box of quality duty ammo, for a tool that’s applicable in far less scenarios.
In my own anecdotal experience, it’s really good when we already have a resisting suspect and need to zap him in order to get cuffs on him. But I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen it work as a fight stopper. Again: it’s a tool for control, not defense.
Another one that has a lot of misconceptions to it, and a far underrated tool. Oleoresin Capsicum
Clearing up misconceptions
What it is. Pepper spray is a soft intermediate tool. This means it doesn’t leave any lasting damage on a target in the same way that a baton or taser will (bruises, marks on the skin from taser prongs, etc). Also, in some circumstances a baton or empty hands can turn lethal. Pepper spray, being a soft tool, never will. It also helps someone who is at a disparity of force, for example: if a 6ft man walks up on a 5’1″ lady, the lady doesn’t need much effort to deploy her pepper spray. Can’t the same about a stun gun or a kubaton. It’s not very expensive, usually going for about $20-30 per canister.
Also don’t buy your OC spray off Amazon. You want to buy it directly from the source, such as Fox Labs own website. There isn’t a standardized QC for pepper spray yet, you need to rely on a reputable name like Fox Labs or POM or Sabre Red to QC their own product.
What it is NOT. The people who shit on pepper spray usually try to use it as a substitute for a gun or empty handed skills. This is wrong, pepper spray fills a different niche. This is a distance tool, you do not use it when someone is already on top of you. Nor do you use it for an objective reasonable deadly threat such as a knife or gun wielding attacker. It is meant to be a distraction.
Most people can fight through pepper spray. But the effort it takes to fight through the effects is effort they are NOT focusing on you. While they’re distracted trying to fight through it is when you overwhelm them or run away from them. The first person to get a successful first attack off is usually the winner, and pepper spray is a great first attack. It’s what Clint Smith calls “a strong introduction.” Pepper spray is also quite effective against multiple attackers, where you can spray them with it before any of them get within striking distance of you.
For EDC, practice surreptitiously drawing the OC spray and concealing it. This way you already have the spray in hand and if they come closer/ignore verbal commands, you can deploy it quickly. You don’t want to hold it out in front of you and threaten them with it, because that gives them time to cover their eyes or lift their shirt up in front of their face. It should surprise them.
Dye is also important. Since there aren’t sights like a gun, you need an intuitive and effective way of aiming your pepper spray and seeing where it hits. This is where a bright dye comes into play. The sprays themselves are clear from the process that makes them, so a dye has to be added in later.
How it gets measured There’s a number on the spray which tells you how much of the actual juice in the can. This works similar to SPF on sunblock, in that it does provide some measurement but also companies like to sell them based on the number on the side. Ex: we know 90 SPF is gonna work as well as 60 SPF, but the company says 90 SPF as a selling point. The number is only one part of the equation however- It’s the other stuff that’s in it which matters.
Any spray is going to induce irritation. A quality spray also induces discharge from the nose and swelling of the eyes. This waterfall of fluids, swelling of the eyelids, blurry vision works in tandem with the irritation to distract someone. A quality spray will also trigger a panic response when inhaled (even though it doesn’t actually interfere with someone’s breathing).
Canister design is as important as the formula. You could have the best formula in the world, without a proper means of delivering it into the face of the target it won’t do you much good. There are a number of canister designs including the way you activate the spray, how the stream pattern works, and the label itself (this is where legalities of the spray come into play- what’s on the label and canister size).
I personally prefer a flip up top where all you need to do is press the button on top. There are other designs out there, but simpler is better for a high stress scenario.
It goes by several names. OC Spray, Pepper Spray, and Mace are the most common. The only time these names really matter is when you’re writing a report for usage of them. We in the field prefer to call it another name: Liquid hell. Again, paying attention to what else is in the spray as well as what kind of canister design is a lot more important.
Different people have different reactions to the spray. You’ll see in just a moment with some sources that I link that those sources don’t agree with each other completely. This is because people react differently to sprays. Also, about 10% of the human population is uneffected by it due to a natural immunity. Everybody else, however, will never build up any resistance to it.
There are some minor risks involved. If someone has had surgery on their eyes, such as Lasik, OC Spray can cause residual damage. The formula is designed not to fuck with asthma or allergies, but the panic response the formula triggers can still cause someone to hyperventilate or otherwise wind up in the hospital. Especially if they’re already prone to things such as panic attacks.
Why use pepper spray instead of bear spray or something? Because bear spray is a pesticide. It’s a different formula from OC Spray, so it can either not work at all or it can cause some serious damage to people. It could also some legal backlash (aside from the damage, it can also be construed as inhumane treatment or cruel and unusual punishment). Do not underestimate the pedantry of prosecutors.
Chuck Haggard is the leading authority on pepper spray. He has a lot of good input on intermediate force and I would highly recommend his training courses. ActiveSelfProtection has made a good video on pepper spray. And as I stated earlier, not all sources are going to agree with each other on OC Spray because different people have different reactions to it. ASP is also on the civilian side of things. He’s a great instructor, easily one of the best in America today, but he is nonsworn. ASP has however done videos of people using OC Spray and there’s a lot of good information. This video here is perhaps the best example of how to use it. If you notice the guy doesn’t hold it out like a magic talisman to ward off evil- he stays moving and blasting. (Remember how I said earlier that footwork and breathing make up the basis of any competent fighting skillset?)
This also alludes to an often overlooked facet of the spray- the scenarios it’s most effective in are more common for civilians than on duty officers.
USCCA has also written an article on OC Spray. Though I personally use US LawShield which covers all weapons, including OC Spray. On top of that, they have programs for civilians, security, and LEOs available. I have been a member of Texas LawShield since I got my CHL (here in Texas we call it LTC) and only delved further into their program since going into the line of duty.
Now that the boring stuff is out of the way…
What I recommend for sprays comes down to 3 main ones: The Sabre Red Mk6, the Fox Labs 5.3, and the Fox Labs Mean Green. People want to get into a dick measuring competition over which of these is the hottest, but I’ve been sprayed with all 3 and I can tell you they are all hot as shit and absolute misery to get hit by.
The Sabre Red Mk6 is legal in all states, including being New York Compliant. It also has a really good formula but the stream itself is a little weak. The label says 15ft, I’d say that’s in optimal conditions. One thing I do like though is that the nozzle is far recessed into the can, so none of it will run out onto your fingers after you spray it. I would recommend this spray for EDC only, not anyone on duty.
The Fox 5.3 has been around as the law enforcement spray for a good while. Fox Labs is a great company who is on their game and I have no qualms about carrying any product of theirs. The 1.5oz smallest containers are compliant everywhere except New York and Michigan, and easily carried around (Picture below). The 5.3 name comes from its Scollville Unit hotness, 5.3 Million SCU. And this sounds neat but that doesn’t tell you much about the spray itself, does it? This spray also contains a UV dye that police use to help identify people who have been sprayed. The 5.3 is a very proven formula, but I have switched to the Mean Green for on duty and EDC.
Not me nor my picture, if you took this let me know and I’ll add you in.
The Mean Green is the newest from Fox Labs, as the name implies it’s more environmentally friendly and it also contains a bright green dye instead of a UV one like the 5.3 does. The Mean Green theoretically can be used indoors since it’s more environmentally friendly and indoor ventilation can handle this stuff, but I have yet to confirm that myself. (Edit: It absolutely can be used indoors and ventilates better than 5.3 does.) My main complaint about the Fox sprays is that the nozzle isn’t very far recessed into the canister, so if you use it the spray will also get on your fingers. I learned this the fun way the first time I used my 5.3 on duty, then wiped my nose afterwards and wound up snorting a line of liquid hellfire.
What to avoid is more difficult for newbies to understand since they haven’t regularly seen peoples’ reactions to them or practiced deploying them under duress. If it ain’t a spray, don’t get it. No gel, no foggers, and especially no foam.
Pepper Gel attempts to solve the problem of wind disrupting the stream by making it solid. But in attempting to solve a problem, it creates 2 more. Because it’s a solid, people can wipe the gel out of their eyes before they suffer the full effect of it. Also, if they’re wearing glasses or something, the liquid stream can be used to blast their eyebrows and then it runs down into their eyes. Because pepper gel is a solid, it won’t. Most streams are also an oil based compound, meaning they go directly into the pores on contact. And as I mentioned above, they need to inhale the spray to get the full effects of it.
Foggers are usually a mix of pepper spray and tear gas, or those 3-in-1 things that Mace brand makes. These are easily disrupted by wind and you just as easily hit yourself or your partner/friend with it as you can hit the bad guy. The cloud makes it really easy for collateral damage. There are pepper ball guns that exist, which are basically paintballs loaded with the fogger instead of paint. This is a little more of a niche thing though.
Pepper Foam is the most useless of all. While the gel or a fogger has a chance of incapacitating a threat, the foam is the worst of both worlds. It combines the disruption of the stream and solidness of the gel. Fuck the foam.
Now here’s what you really wanted to see: People getting sprayed
You came to see the glamorous photos of pepper spray. I got you, here’s myself, Mike The Cop, and Donut Operator after we been sprayed.
A young Donut Operator doing this for Navy auxiliary security. He ran through the various stations with a baton, but forgot the Red Man clearly said he had a bad knee. First thing Donut does when he gets to the Red Man is baton his bad knee, so the Red Man punches Donut in the face and breaks his nose. Donut also got the spray on his heat seeking moisture missile when he used the bathroom after the course.
From a video where Mike The Cop takes a blast of pepper spray and chugs a beer with Officer Daniels. Link to the shirt is also at the end of the article.
That last picture is me (age 23? 24?), my very first time being exposed to the Fox Mean Green. I had just come off of working 3rd shift. I showed up to the course at a security academy on 36 hours of no sleep, to learn the secondary instructor had to flake at the last minute because his wife went into labor. So, I helped train a PPO officer there in various force on force scenarios where I got to play the bad guy. Because I was so hazy from the lack of sleep and exerting myself, also getting wailed on a bunch by the PPO officer, I forgot to take my contact lenses out before getting sprayed. The result was the spray melting to my contact lenses and constantly re-exposing my eyes to it. The problem was that my eyelids swelled up enough that I couldn’t take the contacts out and had to wait until I was able to. Longest 5 minutes of my life.
Oh and for those curious about decontamination after being sprayed: pepper spray wipes are good. Dawn soap and baby shampoo also works. Just be aware that because most of them use an oil based compound, getting into the shower will reactivate it. I made the mistake my first time of sticking my face directly under the shower head. Nothing like pepper spray running down your dick, balls, and taint to make you shoot straight up. Every time afterwards, I’ve leaned my face forwards in the shower.
Baton (or other bludgeoning weapon)
Probably the least popular of the less than lethal options is the baton. Be that an ASP baton, nightstick, kubaton, tonfa, whatever. This is because it takes the most amount of skill and effort to learn of any of what’s listed here. However, there still lies a very solid niche for these kinds of tools, one that none of the others do: Defensive properties.
While the other tools listed here are offensive, the baton is defensive because you can block hits with it. However, the training which I received in various academies was using the baton offensively. A big issue in modern security and police is that a lot of the training has been streamlined to get officers onto the streets as quickly as possible. This, combined with the quality of the batons degrading over time, has made many an officer shy away from them. Which is a shame, because it’s quite a useful tool with the right training in the scenarios it was designed for.
The downsides being it’s a pain in the ass to carry them around and takes a lot of effort to learn effectively. The ones that do try to make it convenient to carry around, like the kubaton, sacrifice a lot of reach and surface area used for blocks and striking. This is the crux of all bludgeoning weapons- The ones most useful for fighting are the ones most inconvenient to carry, and vice versa. Even the detectives I’ve spoken with have stopped carrying collapsible ASP batons. Straight up: They don’t have much place in an EDC. They are very useful in the line of duty though.
The main 2 that I would recommend for on duty are the tonfa (wooden, Asian version) and the nightstick (Americanized, plastic version). They offer the best construction and the geometry of them make them very useful for a lot of things. The main 2 that I would recommend for EDC are the sap (leather tool that almost resembles a paddle) and the blackjack (a weighted or spring loaded mini-stick). Though these have one major downside: You can’t block hits with a sap or a blackjack. Again: the crux of all bludgeoning weapons is that the ones most effective in combat are the most inconvenient to carry around.
Craig Douglas has some excellent training on saps and blackjacks that I can highly recommend. If for some reason you don’t know who Craig Douglas is, then you should rectify that immediately.
Using a tonfa to block hits and lock down enemy weapons is great, but it takes a while to learn. Extremely effective when you master them, if you have the time and resources that is.
A possible risk of batons includes strikes to the wrong area. If you get carried away, or miss, you can wind up causing severe injury to the neck, face, or head. You can also break bones if you strike the wrong area. Remember- the purpose isn’t to maim but control and neutralize a suspect.
You also need to train yourself to shout “stop resisting” or something along those lines while you strike, because otherwise some asshole can take out his cell phone and record only you wailing on the suspect without saying anything, then upload that specific video to the internet completely out of context. On top of the resulting witch hunt, prosecutors are going to love getting their hands on that footage.
Really, there’s nothing more I can add to batons that an instructor teaching a course can’t say better. Batons are for on duty, not EDC.
And that concludes our main 4 less than lethal force methods
There’s more out there, but some of it is very niche or very specific that even finding competent knowledge and usage of it is going to be a challenge. (Ex: Rubber shotgun slugs. They’re great for corrections officers or working security for an embassy, but outside of that niche they’re not super viable.) The best intermediate use of force for someone is going to vary. Find something you’re comfortable with, and become an expert in that. Substance over style. Maintain a robust exercise routine, find a quality instructor, understand your strengths and weaknesses, never stop improving.
As usual, I’m promoting charity
Mike The Cop’s t-shirt OC Pepper – profits go to supporting law enforcement and you can use discount code “MikeTheCop” for free shipping. I own one of these shirts BTW.