The first thing that comes to hand . . .

Charlie Fox

I’m out and about today, so I hope you don’t mind if I play a substitute?

Here for your entertainment (and possibly your enlightenment) is the second in an occasional series of guest blogs from my close-protection expert and main protagonist, Charlie Fox, touching on the subject of personal security. For those of you who didn’t see her opening instalment back in June – which went into how to spot and avoid trouble in the first place – you can catch up on the subject here. For those of you who enjoyed the words of wisdom last time out, read on at your own risk . . .


Charlie Fox: People assume that if you want to stand any chance of defending yourself from serious attack you need either to be built like an outside lavatory or be some kind of martial arts guru. Well, yeah, it all helps.

But deterrent or brute force are not the only alternatives.

If you’re reading this in one of the countries around the world that encourages its citizens to bear arms, you might decide to take that route. But I’m a Brit and back home we’re liable to arrest if we’re caught in a built-up area during the hours of darkness in possession of a loud shirt, never mind anything that qualifies as an offensive weapon.

That means not only are firearms of any description out of the equation, but also pepper spray, TASERs, and anything more than a butter knife. Good job all the thieving toe-rags out there also play by these rules, isn’t it?

Ah, hang on a minute . . .

So, if you’re a civilian and the only black belt you own is the one holding up your black trousers, you need a fallback plan.

And that, I guess, is where I come in.

I’ve always been a big fan of the sneaky ‘speak softly, but’ approach. Trouble is, if you do carry a big stick and end up actually hitting someone with it, you’re likely to find yourself in the back of a squad car with your wrists braceleted together behind your back faster than you can say, “Hey officer, he started it!”

(Trust me on this.)

So when is a weapon not a weapon?

All the time.

As I mentioned last time, having a dog is a good deterrent. But if you don’t happen to own a ferocious pet of some description?

Well, then you have to use whatever item comes to hand.

Speaking of which, here are a few fairly innocuous everyday items you might like to consider for personal defence:

I admit the bent fork doesn’t look so innocent now, but it started out as a cheap table fork, same as can be found in cutlery drawers across the country. (OK, my mother would probably die before letting such inferior stuff lurk among her hallmarked silverware, but that’s another story.) I found this one in the kitchen of an organisation called Fourth Day, out in California. I was unarmed and in need of something I could use for my own protection – something that wouldn’t be missed like a chef’s knife. I bent it into this handled claw shape using the steel legs of a bed frame, and kept it under my pillow.

And yes, when I needed it, my improvised knuckleduster proved pretty effective.*

Not only is it a nasty thing to hit someone with, almost guaranteed to do some damage and mark them for later identification, but the way the handle bends around your fingers makes it hard to take away from you, and it also protects your hands.

Protecting your hands is vital. If you’re not a bare-knuckle fighter by training or disposition, the chances are that the first time you hit someone in anger, for real, you’ll break something.

And as soon as you injure your hands, you’re halfway stuffed.

You should avoid it if you can.

Same reason why I’d be wary about using a bunch of keys clenched inside a fist for self-defence – there’s as much chance of breaking your own fingers as your assailant’s face.

Instead, as you’re walking along a deserted street or back to your car in a darkened parking garage, why not just carry a rolled-up magazine? In the past, I took on a burglar with a copy of Bike, which is a nice weighty mag and perfect-bound – it has a thick spine instead of just a row of staples. Tough enough to be effective, flimsy enough to be laughed out of court. And while he was down on the floor still gasping, at least I had something to read.**

Roll the mag up reasonably tight and keep the hard ridge of the spine to the outside. Then strike with it as you would a baton. Practice. I’ve seen the end of one of these punched through an internal door. (OK, practice on an old cardboard box – you’ll be amazed at the damage you can do.)

Of course, going to check out anything, alone, at night, is downright bloody stupid. But we all do downright bloody stupid things occasionally. At least take a flashlight rather than a flickering candle.

I keep a four-cell Mag-Lite by the bed … purely in case of a power-cut – why else? Hold it like the cops do, just behind the head. That way you can use the tail-end to strike out at an intruder without breaking the bulb. And once they’re down you still have the light to see who it is you’ve clobbered.


A steel-case pen is another terrific improvised weapon and one that most people have about them at any time. It can be used clenched in the hand in a hammer grip to strike at the eyes, face, temple, side of the neck, ear, shoulder muscles or chest.

And if you don’t have a pen? The handle of a toothbrush will do the job, a small pocket flashlight or even a roll of sweets. Basically, anything that’s small and cylindrical and easy to hold, but will not cause damage to your own hand when you use it.

There are numerous grips you can use with this kind of object, like palm-push and pointing finger. All will be just as effective if delivered with determination to a vulnerable area.

The last item in the group shot above is a small canister of hairspray. If you’re being attacked, threaten someone’s eyes with it – hell, if they’re attacking you, don’t threaten, just point and squirt. I happen to know that a liberal dose of lacquer in the eyes will take the fight out of just about anybody.*

Not to mention what you can do with a canister of spray and a cigarette lighter . . .

So now you’ve chosen your improvised weapon for self-defence, what do you aim for?

Given a choice in a close-up scuffle, I’d usually go for the throat. Might sound like a cliché, but think about it. In a fully dressed assailant, the body is likely to be covered up. The face too, if they’re wearing a ski mask to avoid you picking them out of a line-up afterwards. I’ve been there, and let me tell you that not being able to see your attacker’s face all adds to the scariness of the situation.***

The eyes are a good choice, but harder to hit if they’re wearing glasses. But the throat is usually exposed and is a small, easily identifiable and relatively soft target. That is one area you could hit with your fist and be reasonably assured of it hurting them more than it hurts you. (I’d try to use a forearm or elbow-strike, though.)

Anywhere on the face is good, too. Eyes, temples, ears, neck, or the soft area under the jaw. There’s a sweet-spot about halfway along the jawline itself (just about where the tails of a droopy moustache would end) that will put them down every time if you place it right.

You can trust me on that, too.***

I’d bypass the body for an initial strike. Unless they’re wearing fairly light clothing, in which case the fleshy vee under the rib cage – the solar plexus – is a good aiming point. A solid blow there with leave your attacker doing landed fish impersonations on the ground while you leg it.

Most guys, I’ve found, have pretty fast reactions when it comes to protecting the family jewels from sudden attack. Mind you, if you are forced into close contact then there’s always the opportunity for a fast-raised knee.****

Instead, knees, ankles, shins and feet – probably in that order. The knee is a straightforward lateral hinge joint and very vulnerable to impact. Ask any sportsman.




(And if you’re squeamish, you might want to scroll past this next pic a bit sharpish.)


















Back with me? OK. Deep breaths – you’ll be fine.

Unless you’re Jean-Claude van Damme, don’t go for high kicks to the head. It’s opening yourself up – if you’ll pardon the pun – for a hefty punch in the knackers.

Instead, a low level stamp-down kick to the side of the knee always proves effective.*****  The shins contain a huge cluster of nerve-endings that will put most assailants down if gouge or clout them with enough gusto. And when it comes to the final target – the feet – the instep is probably a better target than the better-protected toes.

Unless, of course, you’re being mugged by a guy in flip-flops.

In which case you should be ashamed of yourself – grow a pair.

So, questions for you – what do you carry that you could use to defend yourself in an emergency? And have you ever had to use it?


As mentioned, I’m out and about today, but I’ll get to comments when I can. Tomorrow I’m guest-blogging over at Jungle Red Writers. I hope you’ll stop by and say “hi”. I’ll bring virtual cookies!

This week’s Word of the Week is cognition, meaning the act or process of knowing, in the widest sense, including sensation, perception, etc, distinguished from emotion and conation; the knowledge resulting or acquired. And as an aside to that, also cognosce, which in Scots law means to examine; to give judgement upon; to declare to be an idiot.


All techniques mentioned are described in the following books in the Charlie Fox series:

*FOURTH DAY: Charlie Fox book eight

**ROAD KILL: Charlie Fox book five

***KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one

****FIRST DROP: Charlie Fox book four

*****HARD KNOCKS: Charlie Fox book three 

37 thoughts on “The first thing that comes to hand . . .

  1. Alaina

    I know Tai Chi. Doesn't sound like a threat– it emphasizes slowness of movement– but it also emphasizes balance, knowing where the exit is, and being able to stop any blows. Besides that?

    Love your scuffle idea, and the flashlight. One thing I've found that works: insanity. Doesn't matter the situation, if you're smiling, they're thinking twice.

    Oh. On the lines of a magazine… ever tried a book? Hardcover's good, but paperbacks can almost be rolled up tight as that magazine, and pack a wallop. The spine is always the way to go.

  2. Tammy Cravit

    Great post. – clipped to Evernote for future reference, of course.

    I generally have a folding knife in my purse (such things are legal here in California), but thankfully the only actual use the blade has gotten has been for camping and opening packages. Never had to use it for self-defense, and hope never to have to. I'm a big believer in the "avoiding the danger in the first place is better than defending against it" philosophy, and I've made a conscious effort toward situational awareness.

    I used to have one of those little pepper spray containers in my purse, but that didn't work out well. A word to the wise: it's easier to buy a new purse than it is to clean up a pepper spray leak inside the old one. Trust me on this one.

  3. Jake Nantz

    Welcome back! I've taken just enough muay thai to know that I can defend myself and 'lose less quickly,' but that's probably about it. I did at least learn that thai is great for anyone, because it doesn't rely on your hands or feet, nor does it require you to be exceptionally strong. The shins, elbows, and knees of a slight man or woman can be just as hard and effective as those of a 200+ pounder, and the short stroke you use for the latter two lends itself to a quick reaction/strike moreso than raw strength or power.

    I personally keep my keys on me, with a lanyard attached. I agree that I might end up with a busted finger or two with my keys sticking out, but the tradeoff is that the lanyard could work much like the tassle on the end of a Chinese Qiang spear…to distract the eye and take the focus off the oncoming blow. Then again, if I was trying to hurt someone else, it could be a garotte from behind…[insert sinister laugh here].

    Or I guess you could go all 'Jack Reacher' on someone and just use nature's perfect arch…the forehead. It works because attackers generally watch your face (if they think you're a novice…does your expression belie your intent?) or they watch your chest so they can see your hands and feet in their peripherals. Either way, no one expects that dome to come crashing into the bridge of their nose. And then, when their eyes are watery, you run.

  4. Louise Ure

    Thanks Charlie/Zoe. I'm already good for the cigarette lighter and steel pen, but I need to find a way to roll up the iPad instead of a magazine. And I'm definitely making the fork today. Cool.

  5. David Corbett

    I admire your ingenious product placement.

    I'm with Louise, the fork is a winner. But the flashlight is probably my best bet.

    Used it last night, as a matter of fact, but just for illumination. I discovered what I'm hoping to God isn't a termite.

    Not the kind of intruder you were discussing, but every bit as nasty, if not worse.

    Great post. And useful — what a concept. Thanks!

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alaina

    Any form of martial art is great, but bear in mind that most have evolved rules.

    The first rule of self-defence is that there are no rules

    Yeah, the spine of a book is first class. Don't bother rolling it up, just use a corner!

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tammy

    Glad you found it useful. I'm with you on the avoiding being in the wrong place to start with, but this tackles what happens when that isn't possible.

    I used to carry a pocket knife (Swiss Army, of course – you never know when you'll need an attachment to remove a boy scout from a horse's hoof) but too much air travel with carry-on luggage only has got me out of the habit. Now I just use whatever happens to be nearest!

    Never carried pepper spray, but I was CS gassed once. Long story …

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    LOL on the 'lose less quickly'. As Charlie would tell you, attitude is half the battle ;-]

    I agree with you completely on using something else other than the hands to strike with, which was mainly what this post was about. There's all kind of stuff you could use as a kubotan or other weapon, but I was aware the post was getting a bit long!

    Hmm, I confess I've never had cause to head-butt someone – or deliver a 'Glasgow kiss' as it's also known over here. Prefer a reverse head-butt for someone standing behind me, I think ;-]

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    As with a paperback, the corner of an iPad would be an ideal weapon. But you might like to look at the small print on your warranty before you use it as one ;-]

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David

    Hope you managed to wrestle that pesky termite to the ground and give it what for.

    Reminds me of an awful joke:

    A termite walks into a bar and asks, "Is the bar tender here?"

  11. Tammy Cravit

    Zoë, I'd love to hear the CS gas story sometime. It sounds interesting. 🙂

    I've experienced trying to clean up pepper spray, as above, but never actually been SPRAYED by the stuff. I have a sense of how unpleasant it must be, though – many years ago, when I was working as a summer camp counselor, a disgruntled 12-year-old future-delinquent took offense at being asked to sit down and behave in the dining hall. His method of expressing his displeasure was to quietly empty most of two bottles of hot sauce into a cup, and then throw it in my face the next time I passed by. To call that "not a pleasant experience" would be putting it mildly, especially since I'm asthmatic and not being able to breathe pushes unpleasant emotional buttons for me.

  12. Jenni L.

    Hi Zoe, I love these Charlie posts – great tips!

    A criminal defense attorney once told me he believed that people who carry around weapons will eventually find themselves in a situation where they have to use them, and I've always kept that in mind – I think his theory was that we attract that type of energy at the point we make a conscious decision to carry it. I'm not sure I buy into that idea, but I've always been afraid that if I carried a weapon, it would be taken away and used against me. I was assaulted by a client with a knife when I was alone at work once, and relied on a calm, quiet voice to get through the situation. It was tricky. I'd had some karate lessons, but knew just enough to be dangerous to myself!

    A cop friend told me once that houses that have dogs rarely get broken into, so I think they are usually a great deterrent at home. When we lived in the Congo, we had an attempted robbery every night, dog or no dog. But the dog we had was pretty fierce, and if I lived somewhere like that again, I would want another just like him.

    That soccer photo of the guy's knee being tackled was gruesome. I worked on a baseball injury case once where a client's knee was purposely stomped on by a base runner, and it was a terrible injury. It's definitely a weak spot in our anatomy.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey Charlie! I like the pen in the throat thing, you're right, the throat is most likely to be exposed.

    Jenni, I have to disagree – it's always been when I'm NOT carrying weapons that I've been menaced.

  14. Jenni L.

    Alex, you may be right. but I'm always afraid that if I tried to use a weapon, it would end up being used against me. I try not to put myself in too many situations where I've actually wished I had one! And in some of the situations where I wished I did, it was probably best and safest in the long run that I didn't. It can escalate an already risky situation in some cases. I guess the best thing would be to have some training and practice the techniques so that if there's a threat I can use whatever is at hand, if necessary, and have the confidence to carry through.

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Jenni, I know what you mean – I'm afraid to carry pepper spray for just that reason. But a pen to the throat – I could do that.

    Unfortunately just having a life as a woman seems to be enough of a provocation.

  16. Jenni L.

    Alex, you're right that being a woman is provocation enough, unfortunately. I'm not sure I could follow through with a pen to the throat. I hope I never have to find out!! ;} But this post is making me think through the ways to use various items at hand.

    When that client assaulted me in my office several years ago (when I worked for a criminal defense attorney), all I could think of was to try to talk him down. I was in the office alone. I never heard the man come in, and my desk faced a wall. He hit me hard on the back of my head and screamed at me. I reached for the phone and he pushed a knife up to my throat. He held me like that for a long time. I suppose, if I'd been thinking, I had scissors, a stapler, a letter opener all at hand, but I'm not sure I could have used any of those things without getting my throat slit first. I stayed very, very calm and used the quietest, most reassuring voice I could, and he eventually calmed down and just walked away. When I play that back in my head, I don't know if I could have done anything differently. I guess I was lucky. I don't think he was so lucky. Our investigator eventually caught up with him and put him in the hospital. I never saw the guy again. …

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh my god, Jenni. I'm so sorry, how terrifying. I'm so glad you were able to be strong and sane.

    I totally believe sometimes you can talk your way out of situations. Gavin deBecker (THE GIFT OF FEAR) would say that your instincts will always tell you how to save yourself, and they did.

    But it's good to know Plan B and C and D and… just in case.

  18. Jenni L.

    And sane — um, wow. I did have the presence of mind to lock the office up and keep an eye out in case the guy returned. I managed to hold it all together long enough to call our investigator – he was adamant that I not call the police. They don't tend to be very sympathetic with defense attorneys or their staff. After calling the investigator, I kind of turned to mush for a while. I think I was more terrified after the fact of what could have happened than when I was going through it. I remember thinking it was just one more weird experience in a weird life.

    I did eventually get out of criminal law, but not for several years. And that client was not the scariest of them, by a long shot. So, sanity?? 🙂

  19. PD Martin

    Great post Charlie/Zoe. Love the ideas for self defense. Like the UK, Australia is also very strict with gun laws and as others have mentioned, if I could carry a knife or gun I'd be worried it would be used against me anyway.

    Jenni – what an amazing and horrific story. You seriously did an amazing job talking the guy down. So scary to be in an office alone at night.

    The self defense thing is always a tricky one. I created a section of my website for self defense and when I contacted two of my regular experts (an ex-cop and Victoria's profiler) they were both very hesitant to give any advice. The ex-cop said women who did self-defense courses were sometimes overconfident and less likely to run. Feeling empowered is great, but the reality of muscle mass means you need some serious skills as a woman to actually get the better of a male. The key is to buy yourself enough time to run! And the profiler…she commented that every situation is so different that generic advice is almost impossible. A sicko might see a smile or nod of acknowledgement from a female stranger as an invitation, whereas another type of sicko might be angered by the lack of a nod or hello. And one attacker might be scared off when a woman hits back or attacks while it might cause another type of criminal to escalate. It's a tricky business!

    But I do love that fork…and the torch…and the magazine!

  20. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tammy

    I think the CS story may be reserved for another time. Little tip fo you, though – any antacid like pepto bismol or even Tums or similar, in diluted form, can be used as a wash to take the sting out of CS/pepper spray. And always use COLD water.

    I'm not surprised that it pushed all kinds of unpleasant buttons for you! I do hope that 12-year-old thuglet got what was coming to him.

  21. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jenni

    I echo the dismay and the admiration voiced about your experience at work.

    Self-defence is whatever works to get you out of a dangerous situation in one piece. You demonstrated excellent self-defence skills by talking your would-be assailant down instead of taking him down. We each of us have to develop our own methods of dealing with such situations.

    In the first book, KILLER INSTINCT, I actually have Charlie avoiding a fight by making her would-be attacker laugh and view her as a threat not worth fighting.

    Of course, she later kicks his arse …

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jenni, and Alex

    Choosing to carry a weapon is only part of the process. Before you make that decision, you also need to work out a) if you'd really honestly be prepared to use it, and b) if not, would your assailant be likely to take the weapon away from you and use it against you instead?

    If you haven't worked out the answer to these questions, you shouldn't carry a weapon.

    Part of Charlie's character is that she drew her line in the sand a long time ago. She was a victim in the past, and has already made the decision that she will not be one again.

    But as she told her self-defence students in KILLER INSTINCT. "If you go looking for a fight, you'll find one and you shouldn't be surprised about it if you do."

  23. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jenni

    Sounds terrible, but you got through it. Taking forward something – anything – positive from the experience is the main thing. You now know you can remain very calm in a dangerous situation, which has to be a plus. I think Charlie would come down on the side of taking your investigator's approach though ;-]

    And I did once have her attacked in an office, during a training exercise when she was at a close-protection training school in Germany. She grabbed the desk telephone and laid the guy out.

    Improvised weapons can be such fun …

  24. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks, PD

    I've studied a LOT of self-defence in the past, especially after the death-threat letters I received. They taught me that technique and practice is everything, size is not. I have cherry-picked the moves that work best for someone of my size and weight – it is not a one-size-fits-all thing.

    Most of the martial arts experts I've encountered are little skinny folk, not big musclebound behemoths. Some of the moves I've been shown to dislocate a shoulder, or spiral-break a forearm, can be done with very little actual strength involved. It's all leverage. Wasn't it Archimedes who said give me a long-enough lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth?

    Interestingly, Charlie comes across a woman who's done a little self-defence in FOURTH DAY. She knows just enough to be dangerous, as you say, and the advice Charlie gives her is always to run if the chance is there to do so.

    I'm just a crap runner, so I don't tend to have that option ;-]

  25. Reine

    Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for all the useful tips. I live in Tucson. Even my hairdresser carries a 45 in her purse. In her spare time she competes in target shooting on horseback.The bagger at Walmart wears an automatic on his hip. The doctor's office has signs posted, "No Weapons Allowed" with gun and automatic weapons graphics (I took photos – available on request). I have to admit to a certin amount of nervousness about it all though. I have my own service weapon still and shotgun but prefer using my electric wheelchair. It's really good as as a knee capper. Take care,

  26. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    There is always the theory that an armed society is a polite society, but I kept away from actual firearms for this blog. This was all about using ordinary stuff in the best way possible in an emergency situation. I can imagine that reaching ramming speed would be a very good improvised weapon!

  27. Reine

    Haha . . . and would add litttle propane canisters so I could shoot flames out the tips with a flick of the old Bic. How is it you know my fondest dreams?

  28. Zoë Sharp

    Well, I did see an aftermarket security device from South Africa, which was designed to combat an attacker approaching the driver and pointing a gun at him. At the flick of a switch, a machete arced out from a central point, and chopped the attacker off at the ankles.

    Bit extreme perhaps?

  29. Reine

    Oh dear . . . well . . . I think you've found my "extreme" button. Hahahahaha! Nope, I was not cut out for that work. Did I ever tell you that when I was a kid, I went for an interview with the public works department for a place on the carpentry apprenticeship program? And they offered me a job as police officer? Now I can't believe I did that. I did look cute in the uniform, though."

Comments are closed.