Defending Against Long Weapons Attacks

(“Long Weapons”, for our purposes, will be anything noticeably longer than a normal sheath type hunting knife. )

In a nutshell it’s all about movement……….

To paraphrase Richie Grannon of ‘’:  If you understand the principles you can develop your own techniques.  If, on the other hand, you only learn (memorize) techniques and ignore the principles you will likely fail when things get rough.

It is this author’s observation that it is critical to have a pretty good understanding of the mechanics, movement and forces of both the attacker and his weapon during an attack in order to prevail or even survive.  There are certain principles which are inherent in these situations.  Without understanding the basics of these principles you will be at the attacker’s mercy (or lack thereof).  You must also gain an understanding of how incredibly easy it really is to escape the main force and impact of the weapon.  No matter how many great self defense techniques you know, how good a kicker you are, etc., if you end up in the wrong position in this type of attack there is a good chance you will not prevail in the conflict.  (Wrong place+ wrong timing = wrong outcome).  Once the attack starts you will likely have less than one second to make your move.  Where and how you move could mean the difference between your survival and severe injury or even death.

There are essentially two basic types of attacks involving long weapons:  A single handed swing and a two handed swing:
Single handed Weapons would include relatively light swords, machetes, sticks, maybe a hatchet, a piece of pipe, etc.

Two handed weapons would include some heavier swords, baseball bats, boards, garden rakes, hoes, axes and the like, i.e., implements which cannot be easily wielded using only one arm.

As a sub category under each of the above types of swings there are, of course, forward (inside) and ‘backhand’ (outside) strikes.

There is also the potential of a direct overhead strike or thrust attack straight at you but these are relatively uncommon because it is not as effective or destructive as the others and, frankly, these are much easier to avoid and defend.

The principles for escaping injury and defending against the various types of attacks is essentially the same.  However your options in how you might implement your counter attack or defense are quite different.

For starters, know without question that your best and safest defense in these situations is to run away and run away quickly.  Unfortunately running to escape is not always an option.

It is important to understand that trying to be ‘macho’ at the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances can be fatal.

Initially we will deal with single handed long weapons attacks.  (To keep things simple we will assume that the attacker is right handed.) Note that in a single handed long weapons attack the attacker will generally start with a swinging motion from behind his right side or shoulder traveling in an arc toward his left side, thus allowing the elbow to bend comfortably and control the location of the weapon, whereas the backswing which would follow essentially locks the elbow mid swing, keeping it straight and inhibits any change in the weapon’s path of travel.

Basic Concept:  This is critically important.  More often than not people don’t realize the obvious:   The part of the weapon farthest from the wielder’s hands is the most dangerous.  It will be moving the fastest and will have the most force on impact.
The path weapon will come at you in a circular path which is generally quite predictable.
The part of the weapon being held by the wielder is essentially harmless.
From the wielder’s hands to the mid point of the weapon is usually the least harmful part of the weapon since it will be moving much more slowly than the outermost part.  From the middle to the outermost part of the weapon can easily become a lethal zone.  Make no mistake, however.  Injury can occur from any part of the weapon.  It’s just an order of magnitude.

As an example, think about a pendulum:  Visualize a thin steel rod hanging from a pin in the wall up above.  On the bottom of the rod is a rock or other heavy weight.  Pull the weight back and let it go.  As it swings it will pick up speed until it gets to the center point of the swing and then the speed will decrease as it gets to the other side, it will stop for a second and come back with the same process.  At the top, where the rod is pinned to the wall, the speed through the whole process is essentially zero.  As you go farther down the rod toward the weight the speed will increase more or less regularly (centrifugal force) and, of course, at the weight the speed will be the greatest as will the force.

Common types of attack:
1.  Inside swing to the head or body
2.  Inside swing to the legs
3.  Overhead swing (not as common with a one handed long weapon)
4.  Back or outside swing to the head or body
5.  Back or outside swing to the legs
6.  Forward thrust straight toward you (very uncommon and usually not very effective)

Next, let’s consider reach and distancing:  Typically on a one handed long weapon attack the wielder will step toward the intended victim while he initiates the attack.  In a two handed long weapon attack this is also frequently the case but it is usually not quite as dramatic.  If you consider that a ‘long’ weapon will likely be around 24” or more in length and the attacker’s arm will likely be similar  you , as the potential victim, start out with a 3 to 4 foot disadvantage.   If you add the stride forward that the attacker will undoubtedly take, especially in a one handed weapon attack, add another 30” to 36” to that, which results in a total disadvantage to you somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 or 7 feet, possibly more.  That distance will be covered, in most cases, in a less than a second when the attack takes place.

The Basic Premise:  Attack the Attacker!
Too many martial arts and alleged self defense “systems” focus on the weapon, gaining control of it and disarming the attacker.  Understand that the weapon, regardless of what it may be, is in and of itself not a threat to you at all.  It only becomes a threat when the person holding the weapon decides to use it against you.  IF you choose to concentrate on the weapon and IF you are successful in disarming the attacker, guess what……The attacker is still a threat and now you have to deal with him.  The folks who have “been around the block” and who have personal experience with real life weapons attacks generally concur that you must attack the attacker.  If you disable the attacker the weapon is no longer a threat.  This is overlooked in many systems but it is quite critical to understand.  Of course you must be aware of the weapon, its type and position and you must avoid being struck or otherwise injured by it.  That is why understanding the principles of movement and body mechanics (physiology) are so critical.

Your only realistic defense is awareness of the principles involved, watching for the “tell” (covered below) and, of course, correct movement.  Movement, that is, in a predetermined direction with serious intent and extreme focus.  Simply trying to duck under the attacking weapon is a very poor and dangerous option.

Given that you are in a situation which does not allow you to just run away, our normal instincts are to move back from the attack.  If you see or sense the start of the attack in time that may work.  However that is exactly what the attacker expects you to do.  IF you do move back and he misses, odds are he will keep moving forward and come at you again with what would now be a backhand attack.  As you move away he will move toward you with increasing intensity and speed.  Your chances of escaping injury or worse decrease exponentially in this scenario.

OK…..what DO you do?  Do the unexpected!  Move into the attacker.  You absolutely must innately and instinctively understand the mechanics and physiology of the type of attack and the attacker to be able to pull this off.  With practice this can become a natural instinct.

You must be patient and wait until you get the “tell” (he will ‘telegraph’ his move by “winding up” at least a little because that is what the subconscious mind tells the human body to do in order to generate maximum power) and move instantly.  If he is swinging the weapon with his right hand, from his right to his left, just move quickly “inside” toward his left side, as close to his body as you can.  His body motion will be forward and in somewhat of a circular motion pivoting around his left foot due to the power he generates in the swing.  If you are “up close and personal” the weapon will no longer be a factor.  From here, if he is overtly off balance, you can run or otherwise escape in the direction you are already heading.  He will have to turn around and re-set in order to continue the attack.  Essentially, by doing the exact opposite of what the attacker expects you to do messes with his mind and interjects a bit of confusion for at least a part of a second……That’s all the time you need to start your escape or to initiate a defense technique.  From this initial position there are a plethora of defenses (or counter attacks) you can use.  Remember in choosing your next move that this guy was trying do you extensive bodily harm and possibly kill you (especially if there is a sharp weapon involved).  Assuming that you honestly felt that your life was in danger,  your options are often considered essentially limitless.  However, if your defense or counter attack ends up disarming the attacker and you use the weapon against him you will then be considered the aggressor and will have to deal with those legal issues.  The main point here is Just be sure you can live with your decision.

Now, let’s say that you misread his “tell”, he went through with his first (right to left) swing, you jumped back and he missed.  Now he is taking another stride toward you, he is really aggravated and moving fast while you are a little off balance from moving suddenly backwards.  He expects you to try the same thing again.  Do the opposite! The weapon just went a good bit past you when you moved back, giving you plenty of time to make your move.  Move quickly and suddenly toward his right side as he starts his backswing.  If you do nothing more than keep running in that direction you may be safe.  Otherwise, a simplistic defense from this move is to initiate a very strong, hard-style forearm or shoulder block to his elbow as he comes around with the backswing.  Odds are he will hit your block at the peak of his power and dislocate his own elbow (kind of a nice bit of irony, all things considered).  Then, of course, leave.  In this case there are also a plethora of other defense/attack options.

From an overhead attack the defense is simpler but the principle is the same.  As he rears back with the weapon (above his head) there will still be a “tell”, likely more pronounced than in the inside swing attack.  Move in to him, generally centered and close.  You can choose to block the downward strike with a forearm block, grab his upper arms just inside of his elbow joint (toward his body) as they come down.  This will tend to lock his elbows.  (Note that if you grab  his arms outside of his elbow joint he wil be able to pull his arms and the weapon back in by simply bending his arms.  Then you can simply take him down with an elbow to the face, throat or elsewhere.

From the standpoint of what defense or counter techniques are best for a given type of attack there are, of course many, many defensive techniques available.  No matter what anyone tells you it is vital that you use the one that is most comfortable and natural for YOU.  In a violent situation you will not be able to sort out much of anything other than responding to the situation.  You absolutely must respond with something effective, natural and essentially instinctive (due to practice) to YOU.

For the record there is a theory that a good, solid front or side kick will drop the attacker.  A friend of mine did that once in a situation against a violent attacker with a machete.  My friend was a law enforcement officer with 40(+) years of martial arts experience, behind the lines special forces action and was “hands on” with druggies, gang bangers and other riffraff literally every night.  The odds on most of us “mortals” who don’t have this type and extent of “on the street” experience making that approach work are minimal at best.  The surface from which you are kicking, timing, accuracy and a bunch of other variables come into play.  My friend had enough experience with thugs to have the confidence to wait for the right split second, check out his environment and get it done.

Attacks to the legs will be from either an inside or an outside swing but obviously not likely from overhead.  There is one very important difference between a strike toward the head or body and one toward the legs:  With a strike to the upper body you don’t have to worry about your legs and you can block or strike with your arms.  With a leg strike this is not the case.  There are some theories that you can just jump up at the right moment, let the weapon pass as you land and then deal with the attacker.  This takes extremely good precision timing, good fast twitch muscles and the elimination of any fear which might cause a split second of hesitation.  For most of us in an unexpected and violent situation this is not a good option.  The key is that you must move in exactly the same direction and with exactly the same focus and intent as noted above.  The big difference is that you must move farther and do so very quickly.  Taking a good stride forward, for example with your right leg toward his left side and then pivoting back around your right leg with your left leg will get you out of the main arc of the swing.  Properly done this movement will also put you comfortably behind the attacker where you may be able to run or you may choose to take him down from behind.  There are many options from this position but you absolutely must get past him.  This applies to the backswing as well if it is to the leg area, although his control and reach will not be quite as great on that attack.

Two Handed Weapons Attacks:

Virtually everything outlined previously for single handed weapons attacks and defense applies to two handed weapons attacks and defense.  The main difference again goes back to the physiology of the attacker and the weapon.

Witness the position of the batter in a baseball game.  He is wielding a two handed weapon.  He will start his swing by using a “tell”, or a bit of “windup” (sudden backward motion of the weapon), then swing.  For purposes of example let’s assume the batter is right handed.  His left arm will be bent at first but as he swings and brings the bat across his body to complete the swing the left arm will lock out straight due to the nature of the elbow joint.  This sets up the same scenario as above when the wielder of a single handed weapon missed and came back with a backswing.  In the case of a two handed long weapon, however, the elbow closest to the target is locked (or very close to locked) regardless of the direction of the swing.  The blocking principle mentioned above is applicable also.  The main thing remains that you move forward and into the attacker, inside of the arc of the swinging weapon.  As with the previous scenario there are many, many counter attacks/defense which can be used here.

An overhead attack with a two handed weapon is handled virtually the same way as described above for a single handed weapon.

With the principles of understanding the attack, physiology and movements in mind the available defenses or counter attacks vary from control and subdue to extreme violence and everything in between.  You must, however, physically and mentally practice the movement required in the above scenarios in order to develop the instincts to enable you to use the principles if and when you have to.  Practice different attack speeds, directions, etc., and concentrate only on the principles of where and how you need to move to get out of danger as step one.  Practice this over and over and over again and at some point the rest will be easy.  As a safety oriented suggestion, start off being attacked by a “nerf” sword or other soft or very well padded weapon.  As the attacker’s speed and intensity increases you will miss judge from time to time and the learning process is much less painful with a softer object.  As your skill and reaction time improves, change to a harder weapon and go from there.  We discourage practicing with sharp weapons since much can go wrong and usually does.  If your practice with hard, blunt objects (e.g., staffs, bats, etc.) is productive you will do fine if ever confronted with a sharp weapon.