Weapon disarming is as much an art as it is a science. However, before diving into the deep end of the pool here, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what it is you intend to disarm. All weapons, capable of delivering lethal use of force, fall under either one of two categories: ballistic weapons or contact weapons.
Ballistic vs Contact
The word ‘ballistic’ is derived from the Greek word “ballein,” which means to throw. A ballistic weapon is anything that launches a projectile such as a bullet or an arrow. A firearm is the most common ballistic weapon of our modern age. Since a pistol is far easier to conceal than a rifle, a handgun is more readily employed in a typical street crime such as a mugging or home invasion. The distance and accuracy of a ballistic weapon are limited only by the capability of that weapon, its ammunition, and the skill of the shooter.
Impact and edged weapons comprise the remaining category of contact weapons. Use of contact weapons requires both user and victim to be at contact range—a measurable distance where the attacker is holding the weapon as it is applied to their victim. The assailant must be close enough—within contact range—of his intended target for effective application.
An impact weapon can be a baseball bat, tire iron, golf club, baton, shovel, broomstick, and the like. These weapons rely on force with strikes delivered by an assailant using either one or both hands on the weapon. Impact weapons can be specifically designed (nunchaku, expandable baton, tonfa [PR24], and the like) or improvised weapons (weapons of opportunity) like an axe handle that can be used to break the bones in your body or crack open your skull.
Impact weapons require power. Application of a force vector (mass and velocity) making physical contact with your body is what causes the damage.
An edged weapon can be a knife, a machete, an icepick, a meat cleaver, a broken piece of glass, a sharp rock, and the like. An edged weapon has a sharp edge which, if it contacts your body will cut you wide open, and/ or a sharp tip or point with which, when thrust into your body, can cause irreparable damage. Both the edge and the tip of an edged weapon if applied to a lethal strike zone of the human body can result in severe bodily injury or death. It’s always in your best interest to avoid the edge and the tip at all costs in any violent physical altercation as these are the business ends of an edged weapon.
Contact weapons and ballistic weapons are operated differently based on distance and application. An edged weapon such as a knife and an impact weapon such as a baseball bat requires the assailant to move to contact range—that is the optimal distance for weapon deployment—which is measured by the length of the assailant’s arm plus the length of the contact weapon needed to make physical contact with any part of your body.
Referencing contact range, an edged weapon requires the closest distance because it is shorter in length than an impact weapon. It is one of the reasons why most people would rather be shot at distance rather than look their attacker in the eyes and smell his bad breath as he drives the blade into their body.
Impact weapons are employed at a bit further distance than an edged weapon because of weapon length. Think about swinging a baseball bat as opposed to stabbing with a knife. The range is dependent upon weapon length, like a shovel or a golf club. The sweet spot of an impact weapon strike to your brain housing is the same as it is for a baseball player knocking a ball out of the park.
Accidental or Incidental
Going for a disarm is not a primary close-quarters combat option. In training with my Filipino martial arts (FMA) masters over the years, there is a combative concept associated with weapon disarming, “All disarms are either accidental or incidental.”
An example of accidental would be an attacker swinging a contact weapon at you and you raise your hands up to protect yourself and just by accident your elbow nails his hand and the weapon flies from his grip. There was absolutely no intention to disarm whatsoever. Your elbow happened to hit his weapon hand(s) just the right way causing the blade to fall from his grip.
A more common example of an accidental disarm would be carrying your keys in your hand while walking briskly through a furnished room. Swinging your arms, your hand makes an unintended impact with a doorknob or piece of furniture completely by accident which knocks the keys out of your hand. Technically speaking, what happened was that the unexpected strike loosened the grip on whatever it was you were holding.
Such accidental contact can also be viewed as a strike to the hand. The same thing applies to an incoming contact weapon. A hand is a hand, it can hold keys, a phone, a cup of coffee, et al. It has an opposing digit, aka your thumb. In the event of an incoming contact weapon, you strike the hand that’s striking you. Striking is one of the most effective methods to releasing a grip on whatever might be in the hand, aka weapons disarming.
There are two combative concepts that go together with this methodology: strike or control of the weapon hand. The example of unexpected impact with a doorknob or furniture demonstrates striking the weapon hand.
Another option is to control the weapon hand using technique. Incidental is “liable to happen as a consequence of.” You block his attack and notice there is an opportunity for a weapon-disarming technique, so you take advantage of the highly unlikely opportunity and incidentally apply a disarming technique.
Throughout my three decades working in the hard skills training community (hand-to-hand combatives, firearms, martial arts defensive tactics, etc.,) teaching professionally, many questions arise about the art of weapon disarming. One of the most common questions posed is, “What’s the one technique that will work every single time?” The unsurprising answer is that there’s no such thing.
There’s no such thing as a silver bullet. There is no one technique that will work every time because if there was, we’d all watch it on YouTube and know exactly what it was and wouldn’t ever need to train or be concerned.
Before even considering technique, the very safest thing you can do if attacked with a ballistic or non-ballistic weapon is to exit the danger area and get to a safe area. Move away from the weapon. Move away from the attacker. Stay mobile and move rapidly. A fast-moving target is always more difficult to hit with either a ballistic or contact weapon than a stationary target.
Given any ballistic or contact weapon attack scenario you need to move either closer to your attacker (get in) and smother the attack or move away (outside of contact range) clearing distance—the safest (causing the least amount of physical injury) is to get out, get off the “X” get out of harms’ way. When in doubt, get out!
However, barring an exit option the next best reactive measure is to physically defend against the attack. Psychologically speaking, if you choose to engage an assailant or assailants, then you have elected to raise your potential for bodily injury or death. In some cases, you may not have a choice but to accept this risk. Know that if it’s an edged weapon, just resign yourself to the fact that you are going to get cut. If you must go in, avoid the business ends (tip and the edge) of the edged weapon, avoid the sweet spot of the impact weapon, and avoid the muzzle alignment of a gun (handgun or rifle).
One technique is to hit the attacker in the head very hard—this almost always loosens the grip. If you cannot reach the head, then your next best bet is to strike the weapon hand. Just like you smash your hand into a doorknob or the corner of a piece of furniture and the keys go flying out of your hand, the same will work on your attacker if you can get it—remember only if it is accidental or incidental.
Another weapon disarming option in addition to striking is to control the weapon hand. One of my FMA instructors, Punonguro Edgar Sulite, who is now deceased, was the founder of the Lameco System of Eskrima, one of the arts that has a very high level of proficiency at weapon disarming. A combative concept he shared with me was the “father of the four fingers.” What this means is to consider the thumb, our opposing digit, to be the father of the four fingers.
He used to say to me, “If you can control the father of the four fingers, you can control the entire family [hand].” Disarming by controlling the weapon hand is to control the thumb. The technique is to take the strongest part of your hand, which is your four fingers opposing your thumb, and place those four fingers of yours on the base of your opponent’s thumb. Not on the thumbnail, not on the wrist, but on the base of their thumb. If you can control that one muscle at the base of their thumb, which activates the opposing digit, you can control the weapon.
You have three viable response options in weapons disarming.
- Use your personal weapons (body) to strike—fist, elbow, foot, etc., to make impact.
- Use something in your hand like a baseball bat, frying pan, rolling pin, or umbrella to smack the weapon hand.
- Control the father of the four fingers, all the while avoiding the business ends of a ballistic or contact weapon.
The very same three options apply to disarming a pistol in wresting it from either a one or two-hand grip. You can go online and look up the hundreds of martial arts and defensive tactics handgun/pistol disarms out there for your review. You will notice that the very first step for the defender of any technique is to move to contact range. It’s impossible to either strike or control the weapon arm if you are not positioned at contact range.
People trying to shoot you in the face with a gun, cut your throat with a knife or cave your head in with an impact weapon are not about to let you disarm that weapon out of their hand. Remember, weapon disarming is either accidental or incidental. It’s imperative to stay mobile, control your distance in the fight, and either strike or control the weapon hand at contact range.