Saturday, October 20, 2012

Self-Defense Blunders #1- Keys Between Fingers

While perusing the internet I stumbled onto a law enforcement website from here in Indiana that was promoting a women's self-defense class that they offer on a regular basis. The picture that was posted on the site immediately caught my attention. You can view the original pic on my Facebook page here-

The picture shows a woman standing in a fighting stance with her hands up and and the fingers of her right hand gripping a set of keys with a key protruding from between each finger. The idea being that the intended victim will be able to fend off an attacker by driving the keys into vital targets while punching. It looks something like this...


Unfortunately this "keys between the fingers" technique has been taught for years by instructors that have little or no actual experience with the technique in question. They either read about it in some old self-defense book or magazine article or were taught the technique by some martial arts guru that also lacked any experience with the technique.

While this technique makes sense from a theoretical perspective it's never made much sense to me from a practical and tactical point-of-view. There are many issues with this such as safety, false confidence, etc. 

Let's talk safety- the reality is that if she punches with this technique she is more likely to suffer injury than her attacker. I heard a story years ago about this technique. A woman had taken a self-defense class and the instructor taught her to put her keys between her fingers as described and depicted in the photo I mentioned. She would do this as she approached her car in the dark parking lot after work, assuming it would keep her safe from harm. One winter night she put her keys in her fist and walked to her car. As she gripped her keys tightly in her fist and approached her car she suddenly found herself laying on the ground starring up at the night sky. She had slipped on a patch of ice and fell violently to the ground. As she fell, she reached out with her closed hands, as anyone would instinctively do to slow the fall. However, because she had her fist wrapped around her keys it caused severe injury to her hand and fingers. The point to remember is that this is no different than trying to use the same technique to strike out at the bowling-ball we call a head. The other thing this technique teaches is the bad habit of punching with a closed fist. Punching is great for boxers and MMA fighters but is not a recommended strategy for women (or men) wanting simple and effective self-defense. Sport fighters wear gloves for a reason and unfortunately without the gloves the hands are nowhere near as protected and don't fair well when impacting the human skull. Since the basic idea of self-defense is to develop the ability to protect ourselves while minimizing the injury potential, using techniques like punching or the "keys between the fingers" make absolutely no sense.

With that being said, using keys like this also requires 1) either placing the keys in the proper position BEFORE the attack or 2) taking those precious seconds to try to get the keys in place DURING the attack. In the first case it's just wasted time, in the second one it's a life-threatening mistake. The time that is being wasted on positioning the keys in between the fingers is time the intended-victim could be using to escape the situation. Also, we need to keep in mind that the bad guys are fully aware of simple tricks like this. They are even prepared for defensive use of pepper spray and firearms. While they will often choose their intended victim based on the likelihood of least resistance, they will still be on the lookout and ready for these things once they make the decision to attack. The obvious protrusion of the keys between the fingers will provide an early warning to the attacker. He will be prepared in advance to avoid that hand or to quickly overwhelm the intended-victim so that the keys are no longer an issue.

Let me be perfectly clear...I am not saying that using keys for self-defense is a bad thing. I am a huge proponent of the use of improvised items for personal protection, including keys. It's not the keys that are bad but the actual application as passed on by misinformed and misguided instructors. That said, allow me to describe a simpler, more effective and actually safer way to use keys for self-defense. Before I describe this let me emphasize that this may not be the ideal option, even if keys are in the hand and ready to go. However, if someone should choose to use their keys in self-defense they might as well have an appropriate tactic rather than the dangerous technique I have been discussing above.

The proper way to use keys in self-defense should you choose to do so...

1) Place a single key over the index finger while the remaining keys lay across the palm as shown below-

2) Curl the index finger around the Bow of the single key. This is the fat piece of the key that we hold onto. The rest of the fingers will curl around the remaining keys-

3) The thumb will lay across the Blade of the key with the thumb closer to the tip of the key than the index finger. This will form what is called a "pinch grip" that squeezes the key between the thumb and the index finger. A small portion of the tip of the key will extend out from the "pinch grip", around  1/4"-

While I broke this grip method down into several steps to give you the details, it's actually very simple and instinctive. In fact this is almost the same grip that we employ when trying to use the keys to unlock a door. The main difference is that we choke up a little more on the single key in order to improve the grip for striking. Also, keep in mind that this grip reduces the striking surface of the key but increases our ability to maintain our grip while making forceful contact of the intended target. It's not how much key surface we have that's important but how we actually use it that matters.

To strike with this grip, simply drive the tip of the key out into the preferred target in a piston-like fashion. Think of it as more of a jabbing movement then a punching movement. The targets would be the eyes and face. This technique should be thought as more of a quick distraction rather than a "fight-stopper". To get the best results, it should be used in combination with other empty-hand techniques and tactics. It should not be used alone except to create a quick opening to run away.

Remember, this has the potential to cause severe injury to eyes or face so please make sure the situation warrants such tactics before using. It's always a good idea to get hands-on training as well as learning about the legalities of using such tactics before you need them.

Take care and stay safe,
Steve Zorn, ICPS


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-27 years training in personal safety -Multiple martial arts black belts -Multiple instructor certifications -Certified law enforcement trainer -Crime Prevention Specialist -Previous self-defense trainer for one of the country's largest airlines -Child safety specialist -Certified Fitness Trainer -TACTIX Fitness Trainer -High Intensity Training Specialist -FAST Defense Instructor -Kid Escape Instructor
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