Phil Elmore has already done an article about key flailing, and isn’t a fan of the idea – citing the lack of actual damage that flailed keys inflict, and the danger of losing said keys, which are, by virtue of the fact that you carry them with you, important – both of these points are true. Elmore instead suggests that, in the event that keys are used at all, they be used as penetrating weapons for soft targets on the face, such as the eyes. Please read his article before drawing your own conclusions.
I respect Phil and consider him a friend and inspiration, but I disagree with the complete invalidity of the key flail as an improvised self defense tool… notice I don’t say “weapon”, because a weapon, by my unwritten definition, is something that can cause measurable damage in combat. A person can theoretically attempt to use anything AS a weapon, but to BE a weapon (by my definition) that object must exhibit a degree of effectiveness in the role.
A tool, on the other hand, is “anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose” – therefore, not every tool is a weapon, but every weapon is a tool. In regard to a key flail, while it may not be effective in its role as a weapon, it can certainly be effectively employed as a self-defense tool. That is not to say that it can necessarily debilitate or nullify an attacker, but that it might deter them from their attack either long enough for the defender to escape or appear as a less-than-ideal target.
Obviously, using your keys as a flail is not an ideal option… not even a GOOD option, but given no other option, it remains AN OPTION. For some, as is the case with any improvised weapon, you have to weigh the effectiveness of an improvised weapon (or self defense tool) with the inherent effectiveness of one’s own body, and the variables involved with the attacker and the nature of the attack. For example – I’m a young, fit, 200 lb man with a long history of martial arts training and a damn good right cross. If an unarmed attacker assaults me, it would be far more effective for me to drop an artillery shell on the side of their jaw than jingle-jangle my keys at them. However, if they are armed with a short range weapon, such as a knife or club (and I am, for whatever reason, without my knife or pistol), I definitely don’t want to engage with them. Instead, I want to create an opening to escape, if possible – if I am unable to escape, then I want to create an opening in which I can try to gain the advantage, either by disarming the assailant or dropping the previously mentioned five-knuckled artillery shell. In that case, the surprise of me whipping out a shiny, jangly object on the end of a rope and smacking him as hard as I can across the face, or in the eyes, not only keeps me slightly further out of range, but also sets off all kinds of primal “WTF!?” fight-or-flight alarms in the reptilian portion of the would-be-attacker’s brain.
I could just as easily splash a drink in his face, throw my keys or something else in his face, or throw my wallet behind him. However, as Phil states in his article, and I am paraphrasing, if my objective is to get to my car or my house, throwing my keys is a pretty bad idea.
You’ll notice that my idea of a key flail is an actual flail, and not simply keys-being-flailed. Holding a key ring by an attached fob or stick is also silly, because it not only gives you minimally more range and centrifugal force (thus impact), but also makes your key ring far bulkier (and more impractical) during the 99.99% of the time you’ll be carrying it without having to use it as a self defense tool. I’m a big believer in keeping your wallet and keys as minimalist as possible, but that’s another article for another day.
So, why the hell even bother with posting this concept of a key flail if you’re not going to carry it around 100% of the time? Well, this is where we draw the line between improvised and expediently improvised weapons. An expediently improvised weapon is something you grab and use in the heat of the moment with little to no preparation – a beer bottle, for example. An improvised weapon is something that is simply improvised from your surroundings, without the same need for immediacy – a beer bottle filled with flammable liquid and topped with a rag to create an incendiary grenade, originally devised and used against tanks (molotov cocktail), for example.
I travel armed with weapons – not self-defense tools, but weapons. If I expect I might be somewhere where the likelihood of my getting attacked is greater, I might carry more or larger weapons (the .45 instead of the 9mm… or both). However, not everyone is comfortable carrying weapons, and not everyone thinks about the potential dangers of the environments they’re likely to find themselves in. Knowledge of expediently improvised and improvised weapons comes in handy when you suddenly look around and say “oh shit, I’m in danger (or possible danger) and am woefully unprepared for it”. Perhaps you find yourself leaving the grocery store much later than you expected and realize you have to cross a dark parking lot alone. In that case, you might ask the cashier to triple bag your can of peas all by its lonesome in plastic… and you’d carry that triple-plastic-bagged-can-o-peas-flail in your dominant hand just in case you had to crack someone upside the CPU with it. Make sense?
Not every idea I pose (or that anyone else poses elsewhere, for that matter) will be effective for everyone, or should be considered valuable or sensible by anyone. You should pick the ones that sound good, test the one’s you’re not sure about, and ultimately train your brain to cultivate an “improvised weaponry” mindset. Once you establish and develop this mindset, you can look through it like a lens to see the world a little differently. You’ll begin to see a wooden chair as a sum of its individual parts – individual parts that could each be used as clubs or stabbing weapons. You’ll see the mess of wires and cables behind your desk as potential flails, bindings, or choking/grappling weapons. You’ll see your cup of pens and pencils as force-multiplier striking weapons and stabbing weapons. The more you play with and practice this, the more autonomic it becomes, and thus the more likely you are to implement this knowledge when the time comes.
Do I think you should take out your shoelace and make a key flail when you expect trouble? Sure, if there is absolutely no other better option. Do I think you’ll ever have to? No, probably not. Would it be effective? Maybe – I certainly wouldn’t want to be hit in the face with it. Is it good to start thinking about other objects in this way, as potential weapons and self-defense tools? Abso-freakin-lutely.