Empty Hand vs. Gun

When Indiana Jones faced a massive scimitar-wielding warrior he smirked, drew his pistol and shot the swordsman dead. 

For some people that incident put a bullet in the head of martial arts. Done. Outdated. Silly. Gone the way of the cavalry charge, the knight in armor, the sword and shield.

That has not proved true. 

Martial arts are practiced by every modern military. Every insurgency and revolutionary group I have ever heard of does too. They are not using martial art as their primary means to fight. But they value empty-hand skill. The US Army and the Marines have different empty-hand doctrines, but all service members train in martial arts. 

In a night club shooting this week an unarmed man approached an active shooter from behind and took him to the ground, where the shooter dropped his rifle. When the shooter reached for his pistol the unarmed man, a retired Army officer, grabbed the pistol from the shooter’s hand and used it as a club to subdue him, until help arrived.

On a train in France a while ago a US Airman, riding the train on vacation, saw a man enter the train car and walk down the aisle, bringing a rifle up to eye level. While the other terrified passengers ducked behind the seats, the Airman got up, advanced on the gunman and grabbed his rifle, which misfired. The shooter reached for his backup pistol, which also misfired, and which the airman was able to seize. Other passengers helped him to restrain the would-be assassin until help arrived.

Another time a man walked in the front door of a busy café, drew a pistol and started shooting the people sitting at the tables. The patrons dropped to the floor trying to hide as well as they could until it was all over. After a few seconds the shooter’s gun was empty. It locked back. He reached into his jacket for another magazine.  Most of the patrons remained fozen and waited while the shooter started to reload. Two women at one of the tables understood what they were looking at. They knew they had seconds to act before the shooter could reload and kill some more people. They rushed him, disarmed him, and with the help of some of the other people, held him until help arrived.

Outcomes in a confrontation are not guaranteed. In each of those cases the empty-handed people prevailed over the armed. In all cases the defenders were familiar with firearms; they understood the operation and the limitations of firearms. They also had martial skills and a martial mindset – to accept the risk, take the initiative, and go full bore to prevail until the threat was stopped.

In none of these cases did the unarmed people persist in their use of force beyond the moment when they were certain the threat was over.

Understanding arms-length empty-hand disarming techniques is useful. It may be that you are armed but do not have time to access your weapon, and may need to rely initially on an empty hand response. What is necessary in all of these situations is the self-confidence, skill, strength, knowledge and determination that come as a result of sound empty-hand self-defense training.  

The military knows this. The insurgencies know this. And we know it.

The same mindset applies in armed defense.


Post by Jeffrey Brooks Copyright© 2022 Mountain Karate Dojo, LLC, Yamabayashi Ryu Honbu, in Saluda, NC

Photo by Zacary Debottis via Pexels

3 thoughts on “Empty Hand vs. Gun”

    1. All the defenders in those three situations were well versed in armed defense. That’s how they knew what was going on and what to do. But shooting well is not the same as armed defense. Hitting the x ring every time does not necessarily prepare you for an encounter – that is where the value of the martial mindset is necessary. As you know! As the Marines say – “One mind, many weapons.”

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