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Don't call strike enhancers a 'defensive weapon.'
Calling those purely offensive, pre-emptive,
 ouch-that-hurt-more-than-it-should, non-lethal
weapons 'defensive' is like calling a crack whore
a "lady of negotiable virtue.' Call it what you want,
you ain't gonna make it respectable.
                      Marc MacYoung

Strike enhancers do NOT equal self-defense

On This Page:
What is a strike enhancer? | Increase the force of your blows ...WRONG! | Physics vs. training | Strike enhancers are offensive weapons, not defensive weapons | Illegal use and the associated problems | In conclusion

A storm that periodically arises on the internet is when someone posts my opinions on "strike enhancers"  on a so-called self-defense forum. Usually these are lifted from other sources and posted in places where such toys are drooled over by guys who touch themselves whenever the word 'tactical' is put into the title.

When this happens the "I wooda brigade" proceed  to go ape-shit over how little I understand the nuclear, cure-all, awesome capabilities of their deadly weapons (Or, as I like to think of them little toys.)  Obviously, I don't know what I am talking about because, if I did I'd know how effective these items are for 'self-defense.'

Well, there is just one problem with all that: Unlike many of these internet warriors, I have extensive experience using strike enhancers on other human beings.

Not just carrying them, beating on bags and listening to dojo darlings  and internet warriors wax poetic about them. I've actually hit, poked, gouged and zapped uncooperative individuals with them. So unlike the cyber-studs or the advertisers, I am speaking from experience about the strengths, limitations and problems of these items. And I can tell you, right-here-and-right-now, that calling them a 'self-defense' item is not only wrong, but dangerously so.

For the record, I am not against these items per se. They do have their time and place.

Having said that, I am a firm believer that learning "how to hit" is a far more viable course of action than relying on these gizmos. Unlike a strike enhancer, knowing how to hit can deliver immense force without having something in your hand.

In other words, you can still be effective without your little doohicky. Nor do you need to waste precious time in a crisis getting out your strike enhancer before you can get around to defending yourself. Your hands are immediately deployable. Speaking from the perspective of having been attacked quite often, I can tell you this is a very useful trait.

The downside of this is that you have to work. As in spend lots of boring time practicing and drilling while you ingrain the neural pathways into your body so you CAN still strike effectively under adrenal stress.

What annoys me is the rampant and willful ignorance that surrounds these items in internet self-defense fantasies. Their over-reliance on these items is frightening. Before you risk your life or freedom on using them, you'd better have thought about some very important points. In other words, before you buy into these lies and start carrying one of these items, you'd better join me in a quick reality break.

What is a strike enhancer?
What is meant by the term strike enhancer is any item that basically fits within your hand. I say basically because some of these items fit entirely within your hand and are usually concealed by your fist. An example of such an item would be a roll of dimes, pennies or a small metal bar. By grasping this item you create a greater structural stability within your hand. This is commonly mistakenly called "making your hand harder," I tell people that they can create the same effect by learning how to punch correctly.

Other types of strike enhancers extend slightly beyond your fist. The length of this extension is seldom over an inch in any direction. This includes such items such as yarawa sticks, tekko, chi sai kun bo, plastic impact kerambits, brass knuckles, mini-mag flashlights and the "Stinger,"  Note however, items that extend much beyond the hand (such as saps, clubs batons, nitanbo, nunchaku, kali sticks, nitanbo and tonfas) are in the category of 'impact weapons.' Impact weapons are different than strike enhancers because they usually significantly increase the range of your attack and are themselves the main source of the attack. In other words you are hitting with the item alone instead of, like with strike enhancers, your fist and the item.

Let's just start off with the fact that you're already heading down the wrong path with the name 'strike enhancer.' By calling them that you are focusing on the least effective application of these items. These items have much greater value when used in other ways than just trying to hit 'harder.'  That's like throwing away a free steak and lobster dinner and demanding to pay $50 for a McDonald's hamburger. The exceptions to this idea are items that are entirely concealed within your hand and brass knuckles. These items only use is striking.

Another point is that the police aren't stupid. While an individual officer may not know what an item is, over all, most cops know your little gadget is a weapon. The question is can you convincingly sell it as something else? Your salesmanship is going to determine if you are arrested or it is confiscated. While things like small flashlights, rolls of dimes and Leatherman tools can be successfully argued to serve other purposes, a lot of these items can't. For example a yarawa stick is a yarawa stick. The cop knows what it is for and why you're carrying it.

So are you sure you want to call it a strike enhancer?

Increase the force of your blows
Wow isn't this sexy ... these items increase the force of your blows ... WRONG!

This misconception is what makes the "I wooda's" crowd go into liver-quivering joy. The problem is, it's wrong. And it's wrong in the same way that people used to believe that the sun revolves around the earth. While it looks like it to the untrained observer, that's not how it works. This misunderstanding is by itself harmless. However, it is what people do with the misunderstanding that is the problem.

I have discussed with both physicists and scientists (who specialize in in stress and strain analysis) the physics and mechanics of these items. These individuals confirmed what I was saying all along. Bottomline, the idea that these items are 'force multipliers,' or that they 'increase the force of the hit' is flat-out wrong. However, this misconception is the biggest selling point of these items. In fact, it is the basis of the advertising and internet legends about their effectiveness. So let's look at the physics. While the exact physics will cause you to reach for a whiskey bottle, I'm going to give you a quick and dirty layman's explanation.

A specific action only has so much potential energy. (P = m x v). That's it and there ain't no more. While the amount of force can be changed by changing the details, once these changes are accounted for, you run into this wall again. There is only so much potential energy. The key word here is 'potential.' In a perfect world there would be no difference between potential and actual, in the real world there is a huge difference. While you may have the potential to deliver that much force, that isn't what is going to happen. Basically the best way to understand this is: Starting from potential, from there on it is a matter of subtraction.

Once you realize this then your goal changes. The challenge isn't to increase energy so much as it is not to lose it.(1)

An untrained fighter -- for a wide array of mechanical reasons --  is going to end up losing all kinds of force. His body is going to flex and bend, his actions are going to be uncoordinated, his understanding of range and timing is just going to rob him of all kinds of power. In fact, think of trying to bail out a flooding boat with a spaghetti strainer. All that water pouring out of those holes is like the power the untrained fighter is losing.  

'Strike enhancers' do not increase your power, they plug some of the holes in the spaghetti strainer. And they concentrate it into a smaller area. This is what people mistake as 'increasing force.' Increasing and losing are two totally separate animals and they lead to two radically different places.

The first thing 'strike enhancers' do is that they either force your hand into a better structural position or they provide structure for you. Often they do both. This is what makes your fist more solid. This takes out the spring and flex of your hand and wrist (a common problem when striking). This, as much as the item's inflexibility, makes your hand more solid. While it might be said to increase your striking power, the fact is it reduces the loss of a poorly formed fist. It doesn't increase the force -- because you had the potential already -- it just keeps you from squandering it.

That's why people think they are hitting harder with these items. This is like bragging about how big of an income tax return you got. It was your money in the first place. You had the potential to deliver an incredible amount of force, and yet instead of doing that, you're bragging that you're smart enough to use a hi-tech spaghetti strainer? What's wrong with that argument?

The second thing that these items do is concentrate the force. This is a real sweet thing -- but once again -- it is not increasing the force. I'm going to give you a flawed example, but one that is easily understood. Take a 250 pound man and have him do a belly flop off a diving board. The speed and weight of that man (m x v) creates a massive amount of force when he hits the water. But realize this the surface area of the entire front of his body takes that impact. He will come out of that pool red all over -- if not entirely from the impact, then as much from embarrassment.

And yet, if you were to take the momentum of that dive, pack it all into bullet and shoot that same man with it, he'd be on his way to the morgue.

The same amount of force applied in a smaller, concentrated area (especially when backed up by structure) is more effective. There is no arguing that. It is not, however, an increase in the force, it is changing the dynamics of the delivery.

This concentration of force is also what makes these items so effective in other than striking capacities -- which brings us back to why 'strike enhancer' is a misnomer. I will discuss in a bit where this enhancement and focus is truly effective and it has nothing to do with striking.

Physics vs. training
So what if these items don't increase the power of your strikes, but instead only prevent you from losing more? After all don't these items still allow for the maximum amount of force to be applied?

Well, no.

Learning how to hit correctly allows for the maximum amount of force to be applied. That's because an effective hit is a complex process that involves your entire body and delivers the maximum amount of force possible into your opponent. There are more points of flexibility, structural stability and movement than just your hand. While a strike enhancer will stiffen your hand, it does nothing for the rest of your body. It's the rest of your body that has to be involved in the process for it to be an effective strike.

And this is where having the false idea that these items increase your striking power becomes a problem. It negatively effects training on what does work. It it extremely common for individuals -- believing that these items will carry the day for them -- to fail to train in effective striking. Putting it bluntly, without these items in their hands, they hit like girls. They do not have the body mechanics that make for effective strikes, because they never bothered to learn. Why should they? They believe the item will increase their power and do the job for them.

Let me put it in these terms. A strike enhancer -- by reducing loss -- will take a bad hit and make it the best that it can possibly be. But that doesn't really mean all that much. It will upgrade a bad hit to an okay hit. But okay isn't even good. And yes, I will even admit that it will take a great hit and make it a fantastic hit. What this item will not do is take a bad hit and make it into a fantastic hit. Without the skill sets to throw an effective punch there is only so much loss prevention these items can do.

The problem with this is that an 'okay' punch often works in an ambush, first strike, stop-the-fight-before-it-becomes-a-fight situation. This isn't a "pre-emptive strike' this is a sucker punch. However, in the middle of an attack, you don't want to be throwing "okay" punches with one hand and bad punches with the other. Or hadn't you realized that? Strike enhancers are usually only held in one hand. So if you don't know how to strike, then only half of your blows are going to be upgraded from lousy to semi-effective. And you're going to be betting your life on that?

Spend the time to learn how to hit effectively. That way you'll be able to be effective even if you don't have your gizmo in your hand. Which face it, drawing and deploying a weapon in the middle of a crisis tends to be a problem.

Strike enhancers are offensive weapons, not defensive weapons
Even though the kind of people who touch themselves while watching Roadhouse constantly natter on about these items in self-defense terms, their strongest application is in an offensive capacity.

Let's start with the fact that self-defense is a legally defined term. That means it is up to you to to conform to that standard; NOT  to use the term to mean whatever you want it to mean. This is where most martial artists and cyber-warriors get the false idea that they can go to jail for "attempted self-defense." The simple truth is that usually they cross the line from acting defensively into being, if not, the aggressor, then at least an active participant and co-creator of the violence. Then they whine about the consequences of their actions.  

Oh yeah, and while we're in the neighborhood, carrying a strike enhancer isn't going to help convince the police you weren't part of the problem -- especially if you hit 'pre-emptively' with the item in your hand. As you are about to see, this looks awfully close to an outright assault. Since an item in your hand can upgrade an assault charge to an 'aggravated assault' (in some jurisdictions  'assault with a deadly weapon') you better take a good hard look at the legal issues surrounding these items.

The second point about these weapons is that there is a big difference between a pre-emptive strike and a sucker punch. A pre-emptive strike is a blow that you deliver because you are in reasonable belief that you are in immediate threat of being attacked. While clearly stated in British Common Law, two points must be considered. First, other legal systems do not so clearly define the acceptability of getting there first with your self-defense. That means if you strike first, you -- once again -- better be good at selling your side of the story.

Second, in all legal systems this is not a stand alone issue. If you do fifteen stupid things that created and escalated the situation, those are going to outweigh your claim that you had to strike pre-emptively in self-defense. An example that comes to mind is the guy who upon hearing a drunken ruckus at the end of his street, picked up a large (club-like) flashlight, went outside of his house and  left his property to walk down the street to confront the noisemakers. All of this instead of calling the police. His rationalization was that he wasn't going down to pick a fight, but had something happened he would be legally justified in striking first because the UK allowed for pre-emptive strikes in self-defense. Fortunately for him, the event fizzled out to nothing. Had anything actually happened, he would have been blaming the police for arresting him for defending himself -- when in fact, his actions were like walking down to the OK Corral.

This brings us around to why these items are an offensive weapon instead of defensive. To begin with these items are generally speaking 'less than lethal.' That puts them into a category of application where you don't want to kill the guy, you want to change his behavior. Nor is the goal necessarily to damage him too severely (although this is obviously not the case with brass knuckles). These items are useful in achieving specific, non-lethal, non-damaging results more effectively. As such, why would they serve any self-defense purpose?

The likelihood of being able to defend with these items is so situational specific as to be almost meaningless. You have to be walking alone to your car in a deserted parking lot, with the weapon in your hand (and that means off your key chain) and be attacked by a single, unarmed, incompetent not particularly committed (and probably drunk) attacker. What's wrong with this scenario? Face it, strong arm robberies are usually committed by packs of thugs. While you are hitting one, the others are beating you down. Single robbers are usually far better armed than with just strike enhancers. As such you don't want to get into a trading damage situation -- his superior weapon is going to win. Stranger rapists usually rely on blitzkrieg attacks to overwhelm their victims. That means he expects to take some hits before beating his victim into submission.

These are just some of the problems of relying on less than lethal items to stop an attack. And yet the walking alone to your car with the item in your hand is exactly the kind of scenario gear-queers dream of using these toys. Never mind the fact that trying to draw these items while being attacked leaves you vulnerable to the very attacks you want to defend against (that's because your hands are down, trying to draw the item instead of defending).

However, with a little bit of creativity on the definitions of both self-defense and pre-emptive strike, what is, in essence an offensive weapon can be called 'defensive.'  Not that it will keep you from getting arrested, but you can consol yourself in your cell that you were wronged. That's if you are alive to face the consequences.

Where these items shine is pre-pre-emptive strikes. If it your job to arrest or control unruly, possibly violent individuals, then this is an action that prevents the other person from gaining the advantage of initiative. You know this guy is working his way up to going off so you take him down and control him before he moves. You reach out with an enhancer in one hand and grab him with the other, dig it in, pull him over, put him down and wrap him up before his eyes get uncrossed. Then you put that little gadget into a spot where if he starts to try and fight you just press down and it makes him squeak. This is where the real application of "enhancers" come into play. You don't need to press hard to get the message across. The concentration of force will make a small amount of force come across loud and clear.

If having to sit on violent people is part of your job, then you can legally do this. And you can even do the same to Drunken Uncle Albert at a family reunion. Although if you don't handle it right or you over-do it, it's going tick off Aunt Betty. But that's about the extent of where using these in an offensive manner is legally kosher. Past that, you are quickly heading into grey areas or outright assault.

Illegal use and the associated problems
Remember I mentioned that I had experience using strike enhancers? Back before I learned how to hit effectively, I commonly used these items. You should also remember that my background isn't exactly squeaky-clean. So I am not speaking of ideal situations or even legal ones. Putting that simply, we're talking fights, assaults and sucker punches, not self-defense.

The reason why the attitude of so-many "I wooda's" make my teeth itch is that I've tried using these items the way they are espousing. And quite frankly, the results sucked when used that way. I usually ended up dropping the item when the violence was fully engaged (i.e. we were both trying to beat the snot out of each other). The added value of the item didn't outweigh the cost and complications that arose from having a limited hand position (a closed fist) in a situation that needed both open and closed hands.

Before we go on, realize that violence very seldom just comes out of nowhere. Rare is the stranger jumping out of the bushes to attack you. Usually there is a build up towards it. While in criminal assaults this can appear to be calm on the surface while the criminal positions himself to attack this is only a minority of all the violence that occurs. In interpersonal violence, which is the majority of violence,  there is usually escalation. That means there's a whole lot of huffing, puffing, posing, posturing and yelling and screaming while the participants either work their way up to violence OR attempt to frighten the other off so they don't have to resort to violence. Knowing this is a critical component for understanding how strike enhancers effect your opponent's will to fight.

The problem with the idea of strike enhancers being used as 'defensive weapons' is by the time it gets to where you need to defend yourself it is too late!You're already in a fight. More importantly, your opponent already has the will to fight. A person who is in the middle of an attack is in a physiologically altered state. This is to say it isn't just mental, it is physical. The adrenalin is pumping, the body is in fight mode, the blood has pulled in from the skin and gone deep into muscles and organs and the nervous system is focused on only one thing. This is why, in fights, people can take hits and still keep going. Hits that would normally drop them are shrugged off. Later the person will realize he is sore, but usually doesn't remember when the strike occurred.  

This also assumes that your pre-emptive strike didn't provoke him into counter-attacking (better known as defending himself).

This is why a bad hit, upgraded to an okay hit via a strike enhancer isn't reliable. It probably won't be as effective as if you hit him before he underwent this change. What's worse, since you're up close to him when you deliver this pain, odds are you're just going to enrage him into attacking harder. And bad news folks, that's the common reaction to any pain that doesn't overwhelm someone.

The common answer to this answer by "I wooda's" is "Well that's how come you have to hit him repeatedly"  Great... now you're standing there for a longer time taking punishment while you are trying to dish out enough punishment to stop him. Once again, is it just me or is there something wrong with this argument? In case you missed it ... you're going to stand there getting your face beat in so you can throw enough half baked hits to make him stop? Yeah right... that's a good strategy. Now compare this with throwing two or three effective hits that stop him in a quarter of the time. Which one do you think is going to lessen the damage you take? Oh yeah, by the way. A critical component of learning how to hit hard, is also learning how to minimize the damage you take whenyou are hit hard. This is something else people who rely on tools  instead of learning how to hit effectively don't learn. So they really will be standing there getting their faces beaten in while waiting for that strike enhancer to do all the work for them because they don't know how to minimize damage to themselves.

What I am about to say will probably bring heaps of scorn on me from the internet 'gurus of self-defense.' The most common charge is outraged squawks of "Well that isn't self-defense!" This is rather ironic since I first made my writing chops as an ex-streetfighter telling people about how street violence goes down and what the need to expect. And streetfighting isn't about self-defense.

I learned the hard way not to wait until it had gotten to the pre-emptive strike stage to use a strike enhancer. You didn't want to allow him that far down the "I'm getting ready to fight you' process." This is why I refer to the weapons as offensive or pre-pre-emptive. You don't wait until the guy is swinging before you zap him, you zap him at the  first "F*** **u" he directs at you. The unexpected speed that it went violent and the intense hey-wait-a-minute-that- hurt-a-whole-lot-more-than-it-should-have pain combined with you screaming at him to leave often does the trick. Most people can't rally a counter attack at this early stage so they instead choose to beat feet.

Recognize that this is sheer laziness. You don't don't want to fight the guy so that is why you zap him this way. But in order for this to work, the following points must be met.      1) unexpected and rapid escalation to violence
     2) intense pain out of proportion to the light fast strike you delivered
     3) the confusion of being screamed at while his eyes are watering
     4) you giving him an opportunity to leave as an alternative to further pain
     5) you stop actually attacking -- while still showing that you are willing to continue

I tell you this, not so you will know how to commit an assault on another person, but rather so you will know how these assaults usually work. And also to inform you why the strategy of the Internet warriors is likely to put you into the fight that you are trying to avoid. They tell you to keep on striking. If you don't stop and give him a chance to retreat, you can actually create the fight you were attempting to avoid. If you follow these people's advice to come uncorked and start wailing on someone, you are going to give him no choice but to counter-attack in self-defense!!!

Oops... that's not what you wanted.

Now realize that the strategies where strike enhancers work like a thing of beauty are outright assaults! You cannot sugar coat, rationalize it or call it anything else than what it is. The video cameras are going to show that you closed the distance and hit first! And you did it before he pose a reasonable threat!  That is so far from self-defense that it isn't even funny (Well, okay so the cops who you try to convince you were acting in self-defense are going to be laughing about it later over coffee). But that is where these things work best!  So singing the Hallelujah Chorus over these items uses for "self-defense" is seriously out in left field. Because that is not how most people use them. And amazingly enough, a whole lot of cyber-warriors and dojo darlings will do exactly this when confronted. What they call self-defense will,  in fact, be an assault because they don't know the legal standards of self-defense, much less how to meet it in the middle of a crisis. But that's okay because they have their trusty strike enhancer that is guaranteed to work!

Speaking of out in left field. Another place where strike enhancers tend to have proven value is in areas with a large bum/street people population. The simple fact is businesses in areas with a large indigent population often discreetly deal with the problems poised by the homeless. Within these businesses there is usually someone who gets elected to chase these people from the property. Often this is security, someone from building maintenance or someone from the warehouse. In such circumstances the use of strike enhancers is kind of grey area. While you have the right -- as a duly authorized representative of the owner -- to eject a trespasser, you can only use reasonable force. Having said that, the truth is, if your boss sends you out,  you don't want to be touching a skanky MICA (mentally ill chemically addicted). So when you tell him to move along and he starts arguing you zap him with a strike enhancer to get him moving. Again, the strike is delivered before he can get too far along with his "I'm ex-CIA" spiel and followed with the order to leave. Was the degree of force reasonable? Weeeeeellll...metza metz...but it did save time.

The reason I say this is a out-in-left-field issue is herding trespassing bums off the property isn't something you brag about. In fact, it's kind of like taking out the garbage. But those who do it, know it. It's just something that has to be done in urban environments, like locking your door. Knowing this, it is interesting that this a slice of urban reality is something internet warriors never seem to have any experience with. This is curious, because if they are so deadly with their fighting arts, how come their bosses don't send them out to shoo the trespassing bum away from the front door?  Instead, someone else gets to do the job. If they are so tough, why not them? While this is not a glorious Ragnoraak battle against hordes of criminal assailants, it is a routine assignment for anyone with cajones. What does that tell you about their live-fire experience with using these items?

Items they are telling you to stake your life and freedom on?

In conclusion
My main point about these gadgets is don't buy into the internet fantasy that they will make up for you being unable to hit. They don't. Do  not rely on them to do the work for you. Can they make a good hit better? Yes. But the ability to consistently throw good hits will serve you much better than trying to improve bad hits through gadgetry.

That's because you're going to tend to throw more of the same. If you invest the time and effort to learn to throw good hits, then that is what the bulk of what you throw will be. The same goes with bad hits. Remember, only one hand is going to be enhanced. Therefore at the very best only 50% of your blows will even reach OK status upgraded from bad -- and that's assuming you have the item in your hand. If you don't have the item in your hand, all you are going to be throwing is bad hits.

Furthermore, as an offensive tool when it is your job to takedown and control someone, these items can be useful. However, that is you being offensive. In a defensive situation, the benefits of these items seldom outweigh the potential problems. You will get more use out of knowing how to move effectively  because you will be able to apply that skill in a much wider set of circumstances than the limited applications of strike enhancers.

Am I against these items? No. I just happen to know from experience that they have limits. Limits that you need to know before you stake your life on them saving you in a self-defense situation.

Return to top

1) The problem with increasing force without reducing loss is that while you increase the power, you also proportionally increase power loss. It's like making more money, while proportionally spending as much. You still end up broke. Return to text

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