Pool Cues, Beer Bottles, and Baseball Bats: Animal’s Guide to Improvised Weapons for Self-Defense and Survival
By Marc MacYoung
Third Edition, April 2021, Carry On Publishing
Paperback, 207 pages, $14.99
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
Marc MacYoung has been updating some of his classic books from the ‘90s, and I’ve enjoyed the newer editions a lot. Because the Network assists members with their self-defense legal expenses across a wide range of defensive situations beyond just guns, the topic of improvised weapons and their legal use in an emergency comes up from time to time. One of MacYoung’s updated volumes, Animal’s Guide to Improvised Weapons, casts a different and important light on using improvised weapons, so I’d like to bring it to your attention.
Unlike many self-defense books, MacYoung does not focus on how to fight. He explains, “I write survival books rather than self-defense books. Self-defense books only show you what to do in certain situations. Survival books show you how to think in various situations.” How does that apply to improvised weapons?
He adds, “When I write about the defensive capabilities of a ‘weapon,’ I’m not talking how much damage it can do to someone trying to hurt you. I’m talking about sticking it between you and an incoming attack, so it takes the force, not you. Put another way, can you use it to block an incoming attack?”
MacYoung categorizes items commonly improvised as weapons, describes traditional technique used with similar, purpose-made weapons, and helps readers understand the kind of damage done by, for example, impact weapons, edged weapons, pointed weapons, shields, things that are rigid and things that are flexible. These characteristics affect whether the item is useful in a defensive capacity or only offensively. He suggests that the most important evaluation is to ask, “‘How can these sorts of weapons be foiled?’…When dealing with weapons, you must really know more about defense than offense. If you know how a weapon works, you’ll know its strengths and weaknesses. This means you can prevent it from being fouled up in your hands, and yet you can foul it up in other people’s hands.”
MacYoung’s evaluation of the characteristics of striking weapons was very worthwhile. He writes, “It’s a real compromise, speed vs. clout. A lighter weapon is faster off the starting line. It takes less energy to get it moving. That means (usually) before the heavier weapon can get into motion, the lighter weapon has struck. On the other hand, with extreme disparity in weight, if the heavier weapon is already moving, the lighter weapon won’t be able to stand against it.” That equates to damage and time, as measured in how long it takes for multiple swings of a fast, light weapon to cause damage, he continues. “Defensively, the light weapon can’t stop a heavy one, but a heavy weapon is likely to not get there in time to stop a light one.”
MacYoung writes extensively about grip, not only for effectiveness, but also how it is perceived as offensive or defensive. “Video is particularly damning when it comes to improvised weapons,” he writes. “Something that is common through many state penal codes is ‘designed as a weapon or adapted.’ Adapting something into a weapon can be as simple as being seen to shift your grip in the video...Showing up on video shifting your grip will be promoted by the prosecutor as a sign of your intent to attack. So, you damned well better be able to explain that it was more defensive in nature and that you were trying to get out of there.”
After a chapter about long-handled items like shovels, Mac-Young discusses grips for retention and grips for speed Footwork is also vital–you can’t just stand still and block. Then there’s the element of structure, a complex topic, that on the surface, determines whether a block will stop the incoming blow or if it will collapse, as well as affecting your own striking power. “Structure isn’t about how strong your muscles are, it’s more about aligning your bones so your skeleton takes the incoming force and neutralizes it,” MacYoung explains.
In this edition of Animal’s Guide, MacYoung applies the concept of attack range about which he also wrote in Multiple Attackers, a new book that we reviewed in late 2020. From beyond attack range, an aggressor can “call you every name in the book,” he writes, but stepping into range changes the equation and the first twitch of a hand that might grab a weapon requires immediate reaction. The key is recognizing preattack indicators like an aggressor moving into attack range and hand movement, to mention only two. He explains, “Spotting the key points of a violence pattern that is starting to go down is the only real way to keep from getting your head knocked in.” Knowing how various weapons are brought to bear “will keep you from getting creamed when someone tries to use an object in that manner. Fortunately, with a little practice, these patterns are easily recognizable.”
MacYoung recommends awareness of and familiarity with objects you might grab for defense. “Look around and see what you’d use to hold off an attacker...From now on, when you walk into a place, scope out what you could use…start picking things up and looking at them from the standpoint of how you would use them to defend yourself. Are they primarily offensive or could they also be used defensively?”
MacYoung encourages experimentation with the balance, or pivot point, of various items. “By using the pivot point, you’re adding both gravity and leverage to your muscles. The only muscle you use is to guide one end and half the weight.” Pivot points determine the location on the item with which you should block, he continues. “When you lock your arm and take a blow against the pivot point, the shock is transferred into your arm…What you don’t want to do is try to block near the tip if you can help it. That’s a good way to get your item leveraged out of your hand.”
Practice should primarily concentrate on blocking and parrying, he continues, because, “It is a simple and raw fact of life that you won’t always get to move first. The best way to deal with this is to be really strong in the defense department.” Later, he urges focus on grabbing something with which to block or shield rather than an object with which to attack. You can’t afford to get hit! “After you’ve been hit, both your time and your ability to effectively react dwindle,” he warns. He adds later, “One of the most readily available shields is a chair. In fact, given modern life you’re more likely to have access to a chair than a long stick that can be used as a weapon.”
How do you recognize that someone is setting up to strike? MacYoung teaches, “Be aware of his shoulders, not his eyes,” explaining that “very few can throw a punch without tensing and moving their shoulder in a certain way. A way that is easily recognizable if you’ve seen it and learned to watch for it.” Likewise, “there’s a distinctive body weight shift onto one leg” that broadcasts preparation to kick.
Before an aggressor launches an attack, a distraction may buy you a little time to get away or shield yourself. MacYoung dedicates a chapter to the subject of diversions and distractions, be that a thrown beverage, an object hurled at an aggressor, or attempting a pain compliance technique, although that option comes with the warning that your attacker’s level of commitment determines whether you can derail him. Plenty of people are willing to injure or kill, he stresses, but if counter attacked, may or may not have enough commitment to come through your defenses. A committed attacker may come through anything you counter with, while what MacYoung terms a “plastic berserk” will put on a convincing demonstration, then “flinch away and dodge when you throw a soup can at him. That doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous, but that second gives you time to do something other than get hurt. Use it.” See our interview with MacYoung at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/rallies-riots-and-protests-part-2 for more on berserks and attacker commitment.
Reading Marc MacYoung’s books, article and essays is always eye opening and Animal’s Guide to Improvised Weapons is no exception. In fact, if new to this author, readers should check out the large quantity of instructional material he gives away freely at http://nononsenseselfdefense.com) Much has been written, both legitimate and not-so-trustworthy about fighting back with what is at hand. Most focuses on offensive use of objects; I benefited a lot from MacYoung’s repeated reminders about defense, blocking and shielding and his emphasis on the dangers of exchanging injuries with an assailant who has also grabbed what is at hand to use as a weapon.
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