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Improvising, Weapons-Wise

When Improvising Can Save Your Life

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This is one of my favorite topics in self-defense. Every time we teach improvised weapons, we get excited because it’s something we can learn quickly, and there’s a fun, creative element. 

And once you get the hang of this concept? You’ll see everyday objects in a new light. And you’ll know how to use the most innocuous-looking item from your pocket, purse, or even the ground to stop an attacker. 

When my nephews were little, my mom was a caregiver during the day, with some elementary-age girls in her charge. In her living room sat the wooden toybox I grew up with. And in that toybox were several Barbie dolls. So when my nephews – a ragtag gang of four – came over, they’d head right for that toybox. At least two grabbed a Barbie and immediately popped her head off. Then they bent her in half and used her as a gun. 

My mom protested, and I tried in vain to pop the Barbies’ heads back on, but it was no good. So, since their mom didn’t want toy guns in her house and my mom didn’t have any, those boys improvised. No gun? No problem – a naked headless Barbie will do just fine!

Let’s Talk About Improvising: Two Examples From the ‘80s

My high school Spanish teacher threw an improv session at us one day. It went like this: She presented a basket full of folded slips of paper, each containing a word or phrase in Spanish. Our job was to pick a slip and return to our seats to read it and figure out what to say when we were called, one by one, to the front of the room. We had to coherently talk about whatever was on that paper for what seemed like forever. Of course, she had someone videotaping it, making it even more spine-tingling.

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I remember mine: invierno (winter). Okay, not too hard. When my name was called, I walked up and talked for a bit about cold temperatures and wearing sweaters and coats. Suddenly I caught sight of the camera and remembered it was recording me. I stammered into trying to talk about not slipping on icy roads, but instead of saying ice (hielo), I said ice cream (helado).

Just like that, my mind went blank, and I stood there, clutching my paper. Ed Sanchez burst out laughing from the back of the room, and I couldn’t help but laugh, too. My teacher chuckled and said, ”That’s okay. You can end there.” Not too shabby for improvising with no prep except whatever was in my head at the moment, and hey, I got a laugh.

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Improvising can be stressful – or we can make it cool with a MacGyver attitude. Shoutout to Gen-Xers, who know exactly who I’m talking about. For everyone else, he’s the title character and protagonist in the hit TV series MacGuyver, which aired from 1985 – 1992. The younger crowd may have seen the reboot by the same name, which ran from 2016-2021. 

In the series, Mac spontaneously used objects on hand to improvise his way out of difficult situations. According to Wikipedia (the bastion of all knowledge), he kept the following items handy: 

  • Swiss Army knife
  • Flattened-out roll of duct tape
  • ID card
  • Timex Camper watch, 
  • Strike-anywhere matches
  • Paper clips
  • Chewing gum
  • Flashlight
  • Toolbox (stashed in his Jeep)

And he knew how to mix and match these items to MacGyver himself out of any situation. Of course, the show being a show, he always succeeded. It didn’t matter the odds, it didn’t matter that time was ticking, and he could fail at any moment. He had everything he needed and knew what to do with it. He had the smarts and training and good old-fashioned know-how. In some way or other, he always saved the day (or his bacon, at least).

Improvising can be stressful – or we can make it cool with a MacGyver attitude.

The Self-Defense Connection

Here’s where it gets fun. Have you ever heard the term “anything can be used as a weapon”? Here’s the full quote: “Anything can be a weapon, if the man or woman who holds it has the nerve and will to make it so.” ― Robert Jordan in his book The Eye of the World. 

There’s nerve (thinking outside the box – seeing ordinary objects as weapons), and there’s the will (following through on using improvised weapons to stop an attacker). But, of course, we also need the training to ensure we get the desired results.

So what does this look like in a self-defense context? Dump out your purse or pockets, and let’s figure this out. Okay, now let’s see what we’ve got here:

  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Lipstick
  • Cell phone
  • Pen
  • Small notebook
  • Got anything else in there? After reading this section, you’ll likely have some ideas percolating.

Let’s focus on a few of these items. What could you do with your keys? First of all, let’s ditch what doesn’t work. Don’t stick the keys between your fingers. Looks cool, but if you strike with them, you’ll probably just hurt your hand. Instead, hook a lanyard on your key ring. Now you can swing it. Where and how to strike? We cover that in class.

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How about a pen? A regular pen is great, but purchasing a tactical pen is worth the extra cash. You can use it in so many ways. You can poke it into various places on his face and body using either end.  Now, of course, you’ll need to have it on hand and ready, so you’d better make sure your awareness is honed so nobody catches you unaware. This one’s cool to try out in class.

How about your cell phone? Throw it. Slam it into an attacker’s face. We explore these and more together, roleplaying various scenarios.

How about a scarf? Take it off and hold it loosely between your hands as you walk. Is someone trying to grab you? Tighten the scarf and slam it down on their wrist or arm. Wrap it around their neck or wrist. We explore what does and doesn’t work with scarves in class. 

Look around. Environmental options include a rock, a handful of pebbles, and dirt or leaf debris chucked at their eyes. When using our improvised weapons, it’s all about aiming, angling, and timing. 

So what else could you MacGyver?

Exploiting Pressure Points

At this point, you may wonder. How does an everyday object become a weapon? Besides the areas described above, are there specific places on the body where we can inflict pain quickly and effectively?

Yes. They’re called pressure points. Because we want to end the fight as quickly as possible, it’s about hitting the right spot with the right amount of force. We’re not interested in injuring people or disabling them. We just want to inflict enough pain to make them not want to mess with us anymore. We want to stop them, escape, call the police, and get someplace safe.

So what are pressure points? 

pressure point


: an area on the body sensitive to pressure: such as

: a discrete point on the body that, when pressed causes pain

So where are those areas? Anywhere clusters of nerves converge is a potential pain point, including the solar plexus, xiphoid process, upper pectorals, inner thighs, and back of the thigh. 

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The face has some spots where you can inflict much pain without injuring someone. Here are a couple: that lovely area between the nose and mouth. And further down is the space between the lower lip and chin. 

Now how do we exploit pressure points? Which improvised weapon do we use where? The good news is almost any improvised weapon can be used on any pressure point. A better question is, how do I strike using (insert improv weapon here)? Some examples: a backpack can stop a punch or grab, and an umbrella can both block and strike. In our classes, we create simulations where we explore the possibilities. 


Remember, it’s self-defense, not self-offense (is that a word?). We have this knowledge and skill ready to respond appropriately if someone becomes an active threat. While it’s tempting to strike preemptively, don’t do it. That’s called assault. What we train is readiness — techniques coupled with know-how, trained and honed over time. Self-control and wisdom serve us well here (and in everyday life, for that matter).

There is a  preemptive component, though. Situational awareness, the ability to read whoever enters our sphere, strategies for numerous possible scenarios, and various prepared skills  blend to hopefully prevent an altercation. Our strength and confidence spring from this attitude: “I can and will do what I need to do in any situation, but my first line of defense is prevention.”

Why We Teach Improvised Weapons

We want you to be ready wherever you go to handle whatever happens. We want to partner with you as we learn to defend ourselves effectively in this crazy world. We realize it’ll take time and commitment, and not everybody is willing to do what it takes to protect themselves. Let’s face it. We’re all pulled in so many directions. And we have limited financial resources. 

But we’ll ultimately find the time and the means to do what means the most. We’d do anything for our kids, families, and friends. What if we put that fierce love into training so we can carry practical safety into their lives? Will we prioritize learning how to protect those we love, or will we stand helpless if push comes to shove because we don’t know what to do?

Tigress’ Roar empowers us as we transform through training, evolving into the strong, capable warriors we were made to be. This includes using improvised weapons wisely and well. Our doors are open to you, and you’re welcome here.

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