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Carry A Big Stick - Street Smarts (permalink)

It is often said that the best defense is a good offense, especially if the offensive effort involves a firearm. However, there are often times when a gun isn’t handy or allowable. In those circumstances, I’ve found that carrying a big stick is frequently the next best choice.

Teddy Roosevelt knew a thing or two about wielding a beefy chunk of wood when he made his famous admonishment to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Of course he was referring to U.S. foreign policy, but such advice also works nicely when you’re walking down a dark alley. I’d always rather have a gun, but failing that, having your hands wrapped around a hefty slab of hickory makes one feel not quite so naked.

I was reminded of this just a few hours ago while walking on the rail-trail near my home. While ambling along and listening to a recorded lecture on my earphones about how to make soap from wood ashes and a cow (true), I was suddenly confronted by a large animal.

Initially I thought the beast was a horse or possibly a moose until I saw the dripping fangs. It turned out my assailant was canine, size extra-extra-extra large, apparently the new and improved watchdog for a ramshackle house next to the trail.

I wasn’t too terribly concerned about my safety, as the .45 automatic under my jacket would resolve the problem if necessary. However, I also knew that unless the canine had eaten at least one of my arms, the owner would claim the deceased pooch was a valuable show dog without an ounce of aggression in his 300-pound body.

Thus, I was less than enthused about putting 240 grains of problem solver into the slowly advancing hound from hell.

Fortunately, my six-foot sassafras hiking stick was in hand.

With a couple of menacing whoops and a few firm jabs to the ground that kicked up gravel, the dog retreated several steps. I then slowly continued down the trail, keeping a solid eye on the still-barking animal. Once he started forward again, a few more threatening motions with the stick convinced him otherwise.

In the end, Cujo walked away satisfied that the intruder had been run off, while I wasn’t forced to explain my actions to an irate dog owner and perhaps several of my fellow officers. Once again, a stout stick had proved its worth.

The stick as a jabbing, blocking and impact tool is my first choice of improvised weapon. Aside from superb effectiveness, it is also impeccably handy due to the number of ways it can be carried without drawing too much attention to yourself.

For example, if you aren’t allowed to keep weapons in your work cubicle or office, no one would look sideways at a softball bat or golf putter propped in the corner. I’ve personally seen someone killed with a golf putter and can at-test to its lethality.

With a hiking stick or its urbane brother the walking cane, you can toddle about town or the countryside drawing nary a look, but still be reasonably armed against man or beast.

I’m a huge fan of the hiking stick and own several types, ranging from the above-mentioned six-foot sassafras model to a heavy commercially made laurel stick and several aluminum hiking poles.

Most folks think of a stick primarily as an impact weapon, but in my book, that is perhaps one of its least effective uses. While a strike can be devastating, a better use is as a jabbing weapon.

A jab is typically not a fight-ending, killing blow. However, in most situations I’ve encountered that culminated in actual physical contact, an authoritative blast to center mass of man or beast lets the adversary know that you’re armed, you mean business, and they stand a good chance of suffering serious damage if they press the attack.

Such a move might not dissuade an opponent who is intent on killing you at any cost, but in most situations, the assailant isn’t so motivated.

However, if they are, at least everyone is clear on the intention.

Obviously, this would be folly if your attacker is armed with a firearm, but otherwise, using the stick in such a manner offers plenty of upsides. When you jab, the strike is exceptionally painful, you are putting your assailant at a distance disadvantage, it doesn’t require a great deal of form or practice, you shouldn’t lose your balance and, if done properly (with violence and speed), there is little chance for the assailant to block.

Conversely, a stick can be used as a very effective block against strikes or even knives. I would hesitate to take my stick into a knife fight, but if it were the only thing at hand, we’d do our best. While there are many martial arts techniques for defense, as a fast and dirty rule you should focus on using the stick to deflect rather than actually block in-coming punches or weapons.

Striking with a stick is certainly effective but presents some difficulties. For instance, a strike is relatively easy to deflect while simultaneously putting you closer to the assailant and usually off-balance. Also, anyone who is quick or agile will move inside your weapon radius and return the favor before you have recovered, maybe taking away your stick and possibly throwing you to the ground, where you are more vulnerable.

These obviously aren’t optimal results during a fight. Save strikes for unique situations where you have an engraved invitation to an unprotected vulnerable spot on the assailant’s body.

Hopefully you can take this information and do the same thing that Teddy and this writer would do when unarmed and confronted by a large assailant—run!

But if that isn’t an option, speak in quiet, soothing tones and whip some ash (or hickory or maple).

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