Palm Stick

Why You Should Learn to Use the Palm Stick

A palm stick can not only add significant damage potential to strikes, but will also protect your hand against injury. And unlike guns, larger sticks, and knives, some version of a palm stick (a flashlight or pen for example) can be carried even when traveling to areas where weapons are not allowed, including on planes. The tactical flashlight as a palm stick can also blind an attacker at night, and the pen as a palm stick can be used as a dagger.

Problems with the Palm Stick

For most of my time teaching and practicing martial arts I've been against the palm stick for self defense. Recently however (after much testing and training) I've come to realize the palm stick can be a great self defense tool, as long as you don't use it like the vast majority of instructors demonstrate. Here are the three primary problems with most palm stick techniques:

  • The palm stick is used to strike relatively ineffective targets*.
  • The palm stick is used to strike unpredictable, fast moving, and ineffective targets.
  • The palm stick is used when other techniques/weapons would be better suited.

*Note: If the palm stick is being used as a training aid to represent other weapons such as the knife, as it is in many Filipino martial arts, this is not so much of an issue.

Most palm stick defenses you'll see taught begin with striking the arm of an incoming punch. A common version is pictured below:

Bad Palm Stick Defense Palm Stick Intercept

You'll also see instructors teaching to strike the limbs when attacked with various grabs and chokes. Although it may hurt to get struck in the arm, there are two serious problems with this. First, you're highly unlikely to actually succeed in striking the arm of an incoming punch when you have no idea when, where, how, or with what arm it will be thrown. And second, the majority of the time there are more effective targets than the arm. Additionally, striking the opponent's arm doesn't stop him from hitting you in the head with his other hand:

Palm Stick Strike Palm Stick Defense Fail

Some may counter that good footwork will keep you out of range of your opponent's other hand, but you can't assume your opponent won't also have good footwork and turn/step as you move.

One of the most important principles we use in FSD is what we call Zone Theory, the precursor to the Covered Blast. Zone Theory is primarily about minimizing risk, particularly the risk of catastrophic failure. All offensive and defensive techniques may fail to work exactly as planned, and that's ok. What you don't want are such large holes in your techniques that you invite catastrophic failure, where you are knocked out or worse due to an opening that need not have existed. Notice the difference between the two lines of attack below:

Bad Palm Kubotan Attack Good Kubotan Attack

In the first image my angle of attack leaves me wide open for my opponent to strike me. In the second the combination of footwork, angle of attack, and head position makes it nearly impossible for him to strike me as I attack. See the Covered Blast for much more on this topic.

Effective Use of the Palm Stick

The main problems with most palm stick techniques can be solved by targeting the opponent's vital areas, using angles of attack that make it difficult for the opponent to simultaneously counter, and not being mentally stuck on only using the palm stick. Sometimes you're better off striking with the palm stick and sometimes you're not. The determining question should be, "what is the most effective technique for the given position?" rather than "how can I use my palm stick from this position?". Here are a couple of great examples of offensive and defensive techniques with the palm stick:

Note: Our 4 Step Matrix for contact weapons can also be used to train the palm stick vs. a variety of weapons.

Choosing a Palm Stick

Because the "palm stick" represents any relatively small, solid object that can easily be carried and fits in your palm, there are a variety of options when choosing a palm stick to carry. While you can purchase palm sticks made purely for the purpose of self defense (also called a kubotan or yawara stick in Japanese systems and an olisii palad or pocket stick in Filipino martial arts), it makes more sense to carry a tactical flashlight, which also gives you the ability to temporarily blind an attacker at night. Below are images of palm sticks made only for the purpose of training and self defense, along with tactical flashlights that can be used as lights and/or palm sticks:

Self Defense Sticks Tactical Flashlights

There are many places, including some countries and states, where palm sticks are illegal. However, flashlights are legal to carry everywhere, including on planes. The two lights pictured above are the 6PX Tactical (top) and the Surefire LX2 (bottom). While I do prefer the LX2 due to the pocket clip for easier carrying and the fact that it has two output levels (making it more practical as a regular flashlight), the 6PX Tactical is far cheaper and still an excellent light for self defense. Both lights are extraordinarily bright (10 times as bright as a 2 D Cell Maglight), and easily capable of blinding an attacker with night adapted vision. Below you can find more information on the use of flashlights for the purpose of "flash and bash":

A great benefit of learning to use a palm stick is that so many items can be used as one, including pens, pencils, salt shakers, wrenches, screw drivers...even a clothing iron can be used as a palm stick. While not as effective as an expandable baton or gun, the palm stick may even be a better self defense tool than a knife (see our knife page for more information), especially when you have the advantage of the tactical flashlight.

Note: For much more on the palm stick, see The Ultimate Guide to Weapon Use and Defense.

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