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, while taking into account your own personal situation. Bruce Lee himself believed that if it serves a tangible purpose, it would behoove you to learn it.
Way Of The Dragon had a lot of underlying themes on substance over style, Bruce Lee was ahead of his time
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, getting in shape always will yield 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.) A proper diet and workout also increases hemoglobin being transferred to the brain, which helps not just physical health but mental awareness and how receptive you are. In other words: working out makes you smarter. But the more important reason being: a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle is a much bigger killer than any criminal. 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 potentially 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 requirements are a very good thing to hold yourself up to. This link includes a bunch of free information and resources.
Border Patrol – One of my end goals for a career is BORSTAR or perhaps EMT-T. 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 never weighed more than 135lbs in my life. 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.
Other things I can recommend as far as basic workouts go is buying a few things off of Amazon like their pull up bar, some tension chords, and a cheap barbell. Download the 7 Minute Workout app to your phone as well. Doing the 7 minute workout, interspaced with the stuff bought off Amazon, right after you wake up is a great way to start your day. Eat a hearty breakfast no more than 30min afterwards, too. It will taste better since your metabolism is going and will break down the food more efficiently.
If you’re looking to build strength for things in the line of duty, sandbag training is also useful. Some basic sandbag workouts as well as an almost 30min workout. You can buy various sandbags off of Amazon as well. 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 footwork 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.) Also, do situps. Lots and lots of situps. You will get hit in the gut on duty.
Another useful thing is to try a carb spike before you work out. I eat a peanut butter and honey sandwich, as well as have a cup of organically brewed green tea, before I work out. A carb spike increases your insulin levels, insulin and natural sugars are what the body uses to rapidly repair injury. Insulin is actually the most efficient way to build muscle, and it’s also why eating a hearty meal no more than 30min after working out is important. Eat lots of natural sugars like dextrose and glucose, lots of protein, lots of iron, lots of natural fat. Working out regularly means your body breaks down and uses fats, sugars, etc instead of storing them. And if you’re curious why the tea: organically brewed green tea, with no preservatives or anything, will put the brain in a similar state as one hour of meditation. This, combined with working out and eating a hearty meal, puts me in a very good headspace for the rest of the day.
Also be aware that a proper strong body has fat gain in proportion to muscle gain. Fat is what the body draws on for endurance. Skinny waist is not what you want- Build up your core muscles! You need to be able to handle heavy lifting and taking blows when you’re in the line of duty. Handling people who are unconscious or non-ambulatory, carrying injured people including fellow officers out of a hot zone to EMTs, controlling and handcuffing a resisting suspect, etc.
What about fighting styles? Martial arts?
This one is also a bit subjective. A 6’2″ Indiana farm boy and a 5’7″ acrobatic Korean are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. What’s more, what works for one person against one threat in one kind of situation isn’t going to be universal. Fights are extremely context specific. There are a few basic things that always remain true, though.
Footwork and breathing make up the basis of any competent fighting skillset. The point of this to maintain a constant heart rate, as well as focusing on your mobility and positioning. It also helps your power and guard. For example: a lot of people mistake the uppercut for being something of brute upper body strength, or jumping to throw an uppercut. This in incorrect. The power of an uppercut comes from the waist and legs, driving you upwards. 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. This is something that translates to a lot of police work, the focus on aggression and speed. Substance over style.
A lot of dojos go soft on you, because if you get your ass whooped you’ll leave and you won’t pay. But you need to get your ass whooped to learn. (This is another point in the favor of boxing, they will lay you out flat.) There should be risk of injury when you train. I’ve been injured plenty of times doing bare knuckle TaeKwonDo, another Asian style Pencak Silat which was forged in brutal gang warfare.
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. 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. Normally this mindset is arrogant, but in the line of duty it can get you or your fellow officers killed. 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.
A fighting style that I can recommend if you’re new to things is Krav Maga. Be aware that there’s a lot of mall ninja Krav out there, but anything approved by the IKMF (International Krav Maga Federation) is something I can absolutely recommend. Here is their list of recommended locations. I would avoid things that focus on ground and pound, such as MMA, because in a street fight going to the ground is a big mistake. However, there are a lot of Jujitsu/Judo techniques for getting up off the ground, such as the Uphill Turn Escape, that are useful.
As far as work experience, city cops and security in bars and hospitals are where you’ll have the highest exposure to use of force. Which y’know, can be a big risk to your safety but it can also give you a lot of experience if that’s truly what you value. But it’s also where you’ll invariably deal with the most bullshit. (I’ve been bled on, spit on, thrown up on, pissed on, and almost shit on doing security work for a block of bars downtown. There’s always something happening.)
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 (namely because I’m not a cop).
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 (not grappling distance, striking distance) 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. I would recommend a taser that doubles as a stun gun, like the X26c, for on duty because it’s useful for resisting suspects. 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.
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 jumps 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. It can also be purchased off of Amazon.
What it is NOT. Pepper spray is not a substitute for a gun or empty handed skills. 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. This is great for an iffy thing, like someone with a baseball bat. Using a spray before moving up to a firearm is great because there is a good chance of the spray doing its job and you not having to use lethal force. If you do have to use lethal force, the fact that you went up the continuum and tried less than lethal means first will really help your case in court.
The spray also works as a first attack as you close the distance with someone. The first person to get a successful first attack off is usually the winner, and the effort it takes to fight through pepper spray is a good distraction while you drive in on them. It’s what Clint Smith calls “a strong introduction.”
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.
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 eyes and nose. This waterfall of fluids, swelling of the eyelids, blurry vision works in tandem with the irritation to take somebody out of the fight. A quality spray will also trigger a panic response (even though it doesn’t actually interfere with someone’s breathing). You can fight through the panic response, but it takes effort.
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 can cause some serious damage to people, as well as having 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- this is how they get by. They are as good as what they do as you are at your job.
Mike The Cop did a video on OC Spray, as has ActiveSelfProtection. 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 isn’t in the line of duty like we are. We usually get issued new tech before it hits civilian market and get to corroborate it with the experience of all our officers. 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?)
USCCA has also written an article on OC Spray, which I find a bit funny since USCCA only covers firearms. US LawShield covers all weapons, including OC Spray, which is one of the 2 main reasons I use them for legal coverage. (The other being they are the only ones who offer a program to security guards.)
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 by all 3 and I can tell you they are all hot as shit and absolute misery to get hit with. I have heard good things about a few Sabre Red products such as the Mk3, the Crossfire, and the Mk4. But I haven’t used them in the field at all. Once I’ve at least exposed myself to them, I’ll get back to talking about them. Sabre Red has a good reputation though.
(And yes, you read that previous paragraph correctly. I look forward to exposing myself to sprays to see what they do, since it’s my ass on the line out there. I’ve been sprayed 5 times already and the idea that you build up any sort of immunity is horse shit. It does not get any better.)
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 a bit generous in optimal conditions. It’s much better within 10ft or so. 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 easily fit into a pocket. (Picture below). The 5.3 name comes from its Scollville Unit hotness, 5.3 Million. The Ghost Pepper is 1 million for comparison. And this goes back to using a number as a selling point- “it’s 5 times hotter than the ghost pepper” 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, I carry the medium size 3oz canister on duty and I bought him a little 1.5oz brother for my EDC.
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. 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 hell.
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.
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 does nothing. It’s the worst of both worlds, combining the weakness of the stream and weakness 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.
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 the video I linked 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, after being exposed to the Fox Mean Green. I had just come off of working 3rd shift (10pm to 6am). 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 contacts 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. The training which I received in security was using the baton offensively, which is a shame because that’s not utilizing the full effect of what a baton can do. I’m used to holding batons Escrima style, using them to block hits. The tonfa (which exists in a plastic, Americanized form as nightsticks) is also a very nice defensive tool which gels with a lot of martial arts.
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.
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. I would highly recommend looking into Chuck Haggard, the legendary lawman, who shares a lot of my thoughts on OC spray and is a veritable expert in intermediate force.
To recap: 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.
If you’re on twitter and have questions about this, can always talk to me there as well as Business & Bullets, Donut Operator. If you’re in need of first aid equipment, here is a link to SkinnyMedic’s store which is a great one.
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.