Beware the Bad Self-Defense Advice

** I write the following blog with all deference to Mr. Emerson’s service to our country. As the son of a 20-year Navy veteran and the father of a United States Army Soldier, I hold nothing but the highest esteem for our serving men and women. This article is, in no way, intended to impugn Emerson’s service to this country. **

So the video below popped up in my suggested videos on YouTube today, and I simply could not help myself in posting it here.

There is an abundance of bad self-defense information on YouTube. The typical source of this bad information is usually some guy who esteems himself an ‘expert’ in self-defense and martial arts (despite having zero credentials supporting the claim) and thus goes about making instructional videos. This video, however, is different. A former Navy SEAL is presenting the information, thus lending implied credibility to its validity.

Further, a somewhat-major news entity, CBN, is presenting the information to its viewers, lending their own credibility to the story. Thus, one would expect that information from a Navy SEAL being promoted by CBN News would be doubly credible and thus highly reliable.

But it’s not.

Take 10 minutes to watch this clip from The 700 Club. Then see my analysis below.

Did you see the bad information there? If so, kudos. If not, stick around and let’s talk about it.

I want to point out at least 3 major problems with this information, including one thing that will land you in jail so quickly that you won’t have time to say, “APPEAL!”

Before I start, I must say that I question the credibility of any ‘expert’ (SEAL or otherwise) who refers to a long gun as an ‘assault rifle’. The term is a media contrivance that is intended to create a sense of fear in listeners and perpetuate a narrative that claims that somehow a weapon with a pistol grip and a barrel shroud is somehow deadlier than its counterpart without those add-ons. A rifle is a rifle. A handgun is a handgun. Trying to differentiate them based on appearance is stupid. Sure it might have been a slip of the tongue on his part, but that does nothing to change the fact that the words came out of his mouth.

Now, back on track.

Problem #1 – The Pen Attack
While I fully embrace the use of a pen for personal protection and totally agree that a steel-barreled pen is superior to plastic, it’s worth noting that Emerson’s assertion that a plastic pen will break is not exactly accurate. Here are a couple of experiments you can try at home:
1 – take a normal wood pencil. Break it in half, then break each half in half. How hard was the first break compared to the second break? Did it take more effort to break the individual halves? Now try breaking the fourths in half. How much effort does it take? A bunch, actually, due to the necessity of leverage in breaking the pencil. Keep that in mind while we cover point number two.
2 – buy a Bic plastic barreled pen and a watermelon (a pumpkin will also work, depending on the season in which you read this). Remove the cap of the pen (a la Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity apartment scene) and hold it in a point-down grip. Position the watermelon on a surface and stab it a few times. Did the pen snap in half in your hand? If you have a firm grip and about one inch of stabbing length extending from your hand, I’m guessing that the pen held up just fine.

So in a crisis situation where you have to act on the fly to defend yourself, the material from which the pen is constructed isn’t really the biggest factor here – actually having the pen in your hand at the time of need is.

After Emerson has decreed the virtue of metal pens, he demonstrates an attack to the eyes with the weapon. Good idea in theory but not in practice. Generally speaking, a victim who is juiced up on adrenaline isn’t going to have the accuracy to actually hit a target the size of a quarter. Sure there are exceptions to the general rule of adrenal response, but the abundance of people will have little to no accuracy under stress. Stabbing the eyes will likely fail. Sure it would suck to get stabbed in the face with a pen, but deluding people into believing that the eyes are a viable target under stress is dangerous.

Emerson goes on to say that ribs and kidneys are also good targets. On this point, I totally agree. I would add, however, that the thighs and neck are also target zones that can have the desired effect of inflicting pain and/or debilitating the threat.

Problem #2 – Sacrificial Lambs Limbs
Emerson discusses knife defense, asserting that one should sacrifice, “A limb for a life.” This is a neat concept in theory, but I am not at all excited about teaching the prospect of getting slashed to the bone in knife defense.

I have and always will assert that the best knife defense is to keep distance and/or run like hell.

Emerson instructs viewers to wrap a towel around an arm to reduce the degree of injury from trading limb for life. Now, if you are anything like me, you walk around at all times with a towel in your pocket for just such a contingency. And, when faced with a threat, you always ask for time to wrap your arm before the attack begins.

Emerson’s tip is one for planned engagements in which both parties – attacker and defender – are acutely aware of the nature of their situation. A home invasion may allow for the towel. So might a violent incursion at work (replacing the towel with a jacket or other material). For a street-level surprise attack, Emerson’s tip holds zero value. The victim, finding himself unprepared and towel-less (?) will be quick work for the street predator. Even if our victim has a towel, there is no way to pause the attack and wrap the towel around an arm before being gored to death.

On a good news note, however, that towel will serve the purpose of wrapping your wounds to stem some of the bleeding. So… at least there is that…

Problem #3 – The Fast Track to Prison
Emerson’s newspaper idea started strong and then went south in a hurry. For the moment, I will overlook the fact that finding a newspaper, opening it, rolling it up, punching a nail through it, folding it in half, and then bludgeoning your attacker with it is a touch tricky when under attack.

I will assume for the moment that this paper weapon was prepared in advance (which is the ONLY practical possibility here) and that the attack is happening in the home (since no one is going to pack this weapon for trips to the grocery store).

The nail. That is the biggest sticking point (pun intended) with this weapon. Adding the nail does more than just increase the pain factor; it increases the legal liability factor. It shows malicious intent in planning violence. The desired effect of inflicting pain can be achieved without the nail. The presence of a pointy spike simply speaks to the violent mindset of the person who built the weapon – and that mindset will not go over well with a jury of reasonable people.

Someone I knew as a young teenager found some barbed wire in the forest, brought it home, and wrapped it around a baseball bat. His father encountered his ‘enhanced bludgeoning device’ hiding in his closet, at which time he spirited it away to the garage for safekeeping. What that young man failed to realize at the time was that taking a potential weapon (the bat) and enhancing it to be more lethal (the barbed wire) shows malicious intent, and prosecutors just LOVE intent.

Using a newspaper weapon (with or without a nail) or a bat (with or without barbed wire) implies that the need for lethal force was not required. By using this paper-and-nail bludgeon, the force level scales upwards to potentially lethal levels, not unlike using a knife or a firearm. In the eyes of a jury, you planned, just in making the weapon, to take a non-lethal engagement to lethal levels. Without one hell of a good lawyer and a creative explanation for that use of force, the guilty verdict is all but assured.

On the up side, your ability to improvise deadly weapons will be a particularly handy skill in prison.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
It is difficult to cull the bad information from the good. It is sometimes easy to fall under the spell of someone whose credentials indicate that they should have a level of expertise – like a Navy SEAL (or an Army Ranger, or a LEO, or a martial arts ‘expert’) – even for people with years of experience in self-defense-related training. Most (like… practically ALL) of the videos you see online have holes in reliability and practicality. Far too many of them will land you in a prison cell if you apply what you see in them.

I will tell you this: virtually ALL of the self-defense information you find online is unreliable (including what you read on this website) due to the fact that violence is an extremely fluid event. Each attack, while demonstrating certain predictable elements, is unique and requires on-the-fly decision making. Without sufficient training in violence, self-defense, self-defense law, physiological response to stress, and a number of other variables, every guru’s video you watch will be incomplete at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Take everything you see and hear with a grain of salt – even what I write here. Watch the videos, train the techniques (in a controlled environment) at length to verify their effectiveness and practicality, and seek counsel to determine the legal ramifications of implementing what you have seen.

If you fail to do any of the above, please remember to say hello to your cellmate Bubba for me… that is assuming you aren’t looking for a way to haunt your online guru from the other side.

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