Key Flailing

One of those hoary old self-defense “tips” that has lingered well beyond all reasonable credibility for its application is the notion of key-flailing.  In a neutered world whose citizens are allowed no implements of self-defense beyond innocuous pocket accessories, the idea that you could use your car- and house-keys to fend off rampaging hordes of subway muggers and whistle-fearing rapists holds a certain appeal.  The problem is that key-flailing is an unutterably dumb idea.  Not only is it ineffective for self-defense (beyond the benefit offered by the most momentary of distractions) , but it asks you to use as a weapon something that, in all likelihood, you really ought not risk losing.

The key-flail is most commonly recommended in conjunction with a kubotan-style keyring, which serves as the handle for the flail.  What you do, when you flail with your keys in this manner, is waste an effective weapon (the pocket stick itself) as a way to grip and deploy an ineffective weapon (the keys).  Even the heaviest wad of keys does not have the weight to do significant damage to a human being, no matter how hard those keys are whipped.  Yes, a jagged piece of metal — or many of them — can be painful and distracting. Such a “weapon” is still much too light to have any real stopping power.

The exception when using keys as a self-defense implement is using them as makeshift penetrating tools.  Keys thrust between your fingers can be used to rake and stab, especially when deployed against soft targets like the eyes or the hollow of the throat.  Keep in mind, though, that holding them between your fingers like this will tear up your hands — you’re even better off just holding the key as you would hold it to open your car door, between thumb and forefinger, and pushing it home or scoring with it.

The conclusion any reasonable student of self-defense should reach is that keys used in this manner can be pressed into use for delivering physical force… but key-flailing techniques should be left in the realm of fantasy and bad advice.

Remember that when we talk about inflicting damage on an attacker, we are not talking merely about breaking the skin or making him flinch (or even causing him significant pain).  We are talking about inflicting enough damage to stop an attack in progress — to put the assailant off balance and even to drop him to his knees or to the prone position.  An aggressive enemy moving in on you with violent intent will not be stopped by a key-whip to the face any more than he will be dropped to the floor by an eye flick (although the latter is at least a reliable and controllable technique used to create an opening for follow-up).

When using your keys for self-defense (if you must), please remember that they should be used as gouging, penetrating tools, not as the tip of a makeshift flail.  Whenever possible, however, try not to use your keys at all, as one presumes you carry them because they are important.  If you use the keys with which you’ve just struck a mugger or a rapist, you don’t want to then find yourself locked out of your car or your house.

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8 thoughts on “Key Flailing

    1. The number of threats of violence received by me and by people who commented on the YouTube review convinced me that there is no benefit in covering products like that one (the name of which I have removed from your comment to avoid giving the product further exposure). Accordingly, I have vowed never again to do a negative product review. It simply isn’t worth the trouble it causes. Purveyors of this kind of product will continue to prey on a populace that seems to want, only too eagerly, to partake of their ill-advised ideas, teaching, and inventions. There would seem to be very little that we, as reasonable students of self-defense, can do about it.

  1. To be honest, I am somewhat surprised by this outcome. I still remember a closing statement in one of your videos: “The truth will prevail. Always.” There’s no offence intended, and I do not want to criticise your decision, particularly considering the fact that I do not do any product reviews or engage myself in arguments with representatives of flawed self defense systems. Still, I am wondering what kinds of threats have made you change an attitude which always has been a cornerstone of your philosophy. Kind regards

    1. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, in turn: The point at which I decided something had to change was the point at which OTHER people started receiving threats. No less than half a dozen people received death threats from a psychotic supporter of the self-defense product we reviewed. They received these threats for no other reason than that they participated in discussion of The Martialist’s review of the product. That disturbed me, and profoundly so. This publication exists, and has always existed, to help and protect people. The point at which we start endangering others is the point at which we’re doing something wrong.

      I gave the issue a lot of thought. I don’t take these things likely. But in considering the reviews we’ve done, I realized that our negative product reviews, while they’ve certainly alerted some consumers to potential issues, have probably done more to publicize the poor product than any marketing efforts made by those products’ producers.

      We will always tell the truth, and the truth, as I’ve said before, will always prevail. The difference is in one of approach and style. I refuse to do negative product reviews anymore. It simply isn’t worth the rancor it causes. I can contend with an army of mentally deranged fantasy martial artists howling for my blood… but I won’t have that happening to my audience. That would be irresponsible of me.

      What this means is that, for the remainder of this publication’s useful life (which I believe will be many more years to come), what we don’t say will be as important as what we do say. We will continue to bring you our unflinching view of reality and self-defense. We just won’t bother with those products or persons who fail to meet our minimum standards of what is acceptable. What you can then conclude is that if we refuse to cover an individual or a product, even after we’re asked to do so, there’s probably a very good reason for this.

      I think the result is a much more productive, much more positive attitude that builds networks and alliances rather than creating enmities and forcing readers to choose from opposing camps.

      I appreciate your feedback very much. You took the time to say something very insightful and very honest, and you gave me the opportunity to respond to that in a format where everyone can see what I’m trying to accomplish. That’s invaluable to me. If you’re not already a member of The Martialist’s discussion forum I hope you’ll join it.

  2. I respect your decision. I got a very nasty comment from a certain ninja action commando, reacting to one comment I made on the video review you did of that product. I don’t feel threatened, as I watched some of his videos, he seems mostly a danger to himself. But, as the Keehan/ Count Dante (sp?) kookiness shows, you never know when the fantasy will overrun reality, and real people will get hurt.

  3. Dear Mr Elmore,

    I carry my keys attached to an ASP “Key Defender”, which I tuck my keys inside my belt. You are correct in saying that keys alone are not viable as a “flail”. However, my keys contain an additional two rings to which I have attached a medium size brass padlock. My tests on various objects lead me to believe that “deadly force” is easily achieved.

    Mike Russell

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