If you’ve spent any time in the self-defense world, you’ve likely seen those roughly half-foot-long resin fobs intended to go on your keychain. Most of them have ridges, some of them end in spiked points, and a few have thin, perpendicular protrusions extending from the implement’s main body. In all likelihood, at some point you’ve probably wondered, “What in the world is that, and how would you use it against an assailant?” This article intends to answer both questions, starting with the first one: These keychain-based weapons are known as kubotans, and despite their inoffensive appearance, they’ve proved remarkably capable at defending against assailants.
The Kubotan and it's Uses
The History and Origins of the Kubotan
Though the kubotan looks deceptively simple, it required an extensive amount of expertise to create. Invented in the 1970s by Japanese martial artist Takayuki Kubota (窪田 孝行), it bears some similarity to the yawara, a small, handheld striking implement hat looks a little like a tiny dumbbell. The yawara functioned differently from blades or clubs. Rather than slicing or smacking at any exposed area, it required precision strikes to vulnerable places. No wonder, then, that it was incorporated in jujutsu. It’s a little more surprising that police in Berkeley, California, began to employ the yawara while on the beat, even augmenting their versions with spikes to discourage perps in their attempts to grab them.
Fast forward a few years to the 1970s and the influence of Kubota, who had begun to learn martial arts at the tender age of four. As a thirteen-year-old, he was waiting for food in Tokyo when he ran across a pair of criminals and put his fighting prowess to work capturing them. That led to a personal connection with a police officer, an opportunity to open his own martial-arts dojo at the age of 17, and multiple training sessions with U.S. Air Force, Army, Military Police, and CIA personnel followed. These contacts drew Kubota to the United States, and in the late 1960s, he began training the Los Angeles Police Department. That’s when the kubotan — a portmanteau of “Kubota” and “baton” — was born.
The original kubotan measured five-and-a-half inches and was constructed of Lexan. It’s trademark grooves facilitate a tight grip, and the original key ring disguised it as simple ornamentation. It proved anything but. Under Kubota’s tutelage (and especially his instruction of female officers), the kuboton earned the nickname of “Instrument of Attitude Adjustment.”
How Does a Kubotan Work?
Specifically designed as a less-lethal defense weapon, the kubotan doesn’t do a lot of damage when used correctly. However, it *will* cause a significant amount of pain and discomfort. Indeed, unlike most self-defense weapons that are designed to cut, crush, break, or maim, the kubotan was designed to help law enforcement manage suspects who resist arrest without causing them significant bodily harm while simultaneously minimizing risk to officers. As the 1981 pamphlet Official Kubotan Techniques states, “Officers today are constantly striving for new techniques and ideas to assist them In the controlling of situations where individuals resist arrest. Resisting may take the form of simply refusing to move, or of attempting to fight with the officer. In any arrest situation, the chances of an officer getting hurt are always high … Those who once would have hesitated lo challenge an officer’s authority are no longer hesitant, and officers are finding themselves having to increasingly control suspects with physical means.”
What are those physical means that a kubotan facilitates? The original techniques fell into three broad categories: pressure placed on bone; pressure placed on nerve clusters; and strikes to soft tissue. While many think of martial-arts weapons as deriving their power from blows (think of nunchaku or bo staves), the kubotan emphasizes pressing. By using specific moves on particular parts of the body, even officers of smaller stature found themselves able to manage unruly perpetrators.
Basic Kubotan Techniques
For a significant period of time, the pamphlet mentioned in the previous section represented the only training available for the kubotan, and it only had six basic techniques, which are the following:
- Front Wrist Grab. Place the kubotan over the wrist bone immediately above the wrist joint, grab the weapon with your other hand, and apply pressure while guiding the assailant to the floor. Intended to be used when a suspect grabs your wrist or vice versa.
- Rear Wrist Grab: When a suspect attempts to walk away, grab the suspect’s arm, pull it behind the back, place the kubotan to the knob of bone immediately behind the wrist joint nearest to the thumb, apply pressure with both hands, and guide the suspect to the ground.
- Arm Jabs: Should a suspect tense and refuse to move, press the kubotan into the inside of the elbow joint or high on the rear of the arm while grabbing the suspect’s wrist. Bend the suspect forward, apply the kubotan to the wrist as needed.
- Punch Deflection and Wrist Grab: If an assailant attempts to punch you, counter by stepping to the side, blocking the punch, and pressing the kubaton against the wrist.
- Trunk Prods: During a physical altercation, you can prod with the kubaton against an assailant’s abdomen and then the shoulder near the clavicle. The discomfort should allow you to circle around the assailant, seizing the individual from behind and continually applying pressure to the clavicle. (The pamphlet takes great pains to indicate that this isn’t intended to be a chokehold.)
- Finger Presses: Intended to be used while attempting to handcuff a perpetrator, this technique involves sliding the kubotan between the individual’s fingers and then squeezing the digits together if the person proves uncooperative.
Necessity of Training
If these techniques seem to you somewhat hard to grasp on paper, then you’re not alone. Kubota always recommended that users of his tiny baton undergo training prior to attempting to use it, and we’d suggest the same. Like any other self-defense implement, simply buying one won’t make you effective with it, and for this weapon in particular, training is a must.
Though we don’t offer branded kubotans at TacKnives, we do sell several keychains that are very similar to this weapon. Browse our selection here.