The blackjack is a venerable, notorious and respected weapon that has been used in one form or another around the world for extreme close-quarters combat. Relying on a weighted head and a flexible or semi-flexible shaft, a blackjack can deliver a ferocious impact out of all proportion with its size.
In use by police, security forces, gangsters and defensively minded citizens alike these simple but undeniably effective weapons are currently enjoying a renaissance in our era.
But any weapon, no matter how good, is only as effective as the person who wields it, and what separates the pretender from the seasoned user is knowing, practicing and refining a variety of techniques for employing it.
Ignorant, wild flailing might produce the intended result, but then again it might not,and careless use is just as likely to injure the wielder as the assailant.
If you’re going to go “all in” it is far better to know what you are doing, and we are here with an article that will give you a ground floor education on blackjacks, their design features and their proper employment.
***Caution: The legality of blackjacks, saps, sand clubs and other similar weapons varies significantly from state to state and around the world. It is entirely up to you to ensure that any weapon you would incorporate with your self-defense program is legal to possess and employ for the purpose. Neither the author nor this website’s owners or operators make any claims or guarantees regarding the legality of any weapon in any place for any purpose. Consult with a competent attorney for clarification before acquiring, carrying and using a blackjack or sap.***
What is a Blackjack, Exactly?
The blackjack is a curious sort of weapon in that everybody knows what it is, but no one seems to agree on exactly what it is and what makes a blackjack… a blackjack.
To further complicate matters, blackjacks often go by a variety of other names, including sap, cosh, sand club, and slungshot.
In common usage people might know what you are referring to or they might not, though seasoned weapon and martial arts aficionados are usually conversant with any of the terms above.
If one was being pedantic, you could make the point that there is indeed a difference between a blackjack, sap, cosh, and the other weapons mentioned that are relevant to their history and use.
But in the interest of clarification and simplification a blackjack can generally be regarded as any compact, flexible or semi-flexible striking weapon that employs a weighted head in order to increase impact force.
Today, as a general rule the head of a blackjack will be hollow and contain lead shot, lead clay, powdered lead or some other dense but loose or “soft” payload that will deform somewhat on impact.
Early blackjacks and some specific classifications still found around the world may utilize a solid lead head or some other solid head that is wrapped in a softer material like leather or macramé.
The shaft of the blackjack may similarly be entirely flexible, made out of heavy leather or some other woven material or a flexible cutting of wood.
However you might describe it and whatever you might call it, blackjacks are compact clubs with dense but (typically) deformable heads capable of doling out a dreadful wallop.
Advantages of the Blackjack
The advantages of the blackjack should be obvious to a self-defense minded citizen. Compared to a larger billy club or nightstick, or the ungainly contraption that is the modern telescopic baton, a blackjack is both the picture of simplicity and compactness.
And instead of relying on length to generate power the blackjack relies on weight and density, with a properly aimed and delivered strike capable of inflicting serious pain or injury while requiring very little room to chamber and launch compared to other club weapons.
Easy to conceal, easy to wield and typically quick into action, the blackjack checks all the boxes for a discreet self-defense weapon.
Also, most modern blackjacks are far more suitable for less lethal or at the very least less injurious strikes and techniques compared to knives and other self-defense weapons while still retaining the ability to inflict utterly disabling or even lethal injury when called upon.
However, it must be pointed out that despite common depictions and popular media throughout the ages of police and gangsters alike administering a little night-night tap to the back of a target’s head with a blackjack these weapons are still capable of easily inflicting lethal damage for the breaking of bones or concussion.
It might seem unreal considering that most modern iterations of the blackjack will easily fit inside a pants or coat pocket but it is the truth, and larger or full size varieties of the blackjack are easily capable of shattering the target’s skull. Never use your blackjack on someone except in legitimate cases of serious self-defense!
Defensive Use of the Blackjack, Step by Step
Broadly, the blackjack is used just like any other club: strike the intended target with the weighted end, and swing for the fences when you do!
Any hooligan can wail away on somebody with a blackjack, but a seasoned self-defense practitioner will strike with more methodology in close combat, targeting various locations and structures on the opponent’s body in order to produce the desired result according to the threat level facing them.
Before we get to targeting and striking methodology, we must first know how to properly grip the blackjack.
Overwhelmingly, most blackjacks are gripped the exact same way regardless of design and that is the traditional “ball bat” or “hammer” grip with all four fingers gripping the handle and the thumb curled around for security- just like you were gripping a framing hammer, hence the name!
Note that certain blackjacks have an unorthodox design where the handle is offset from the striking surface laterally and in operation are held and swung almost as if the wielder was holding a heavy mug or beer stein.
Though rare, this latter design will require modification of most techniques for proper employment of anything except a haymaker style swing.
Aside from a good and proper grip on the blackjack the other fundamental that is required for effective employment is follow through.
There is a tendency among some users to rely on the flexible or springy nature of the blackjack to employ a sort of whipping or “snapping” movement in use.
Though certain techniques can make use of such a maneuver almost invariably you are better off swinging for effect and following through decisively, just like you were trying to drive a nail. This will ensure maximum impact on target.
Lastly, don’t rely on a single strike with your blackjack. If the situation is bad enough that you need to deploy it at all it is likely bad enough to warrant multiple strikes to catalyze the attack and halt your attacker.
After striking one target with your blackjack follow up with an empty hand strike or check while you “rechamber” the blackjack to strike with it again at any target of opportunity on the list below. Only stop when your attacker is stopped or obviously disengaging.
- Grip it like you mean it!
- Aim small and swing hard!
- Follow through!
- Cycle! Continuously pile on the damage!
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Executed properly, a blackjack can deliver massive blunt trauma, potentially breaking bones. With that well in hand, pardon the pun, we can move on to specific targeting methodology.
Soft Tissue Strikes: Major Muscle Groups
Some ill-informed folks think a blackjack is only effective when striking a hard target on an assailant’s body, such as the face, head or bones that lack significant protection from muscles and other tissues.
But this is not true: a blackjack can deliver a ferociously painful and nerve-deadening blow to large and important muscle groups.
This is one of the best ways to employ a blackjack in a non- or less-lethal context. If someone is acting aggressive, invading your personal space, or grabs the collar of your shirt you could smash their biceps with your blackjack that you discreetly preloaded in your hand.
Even if you are already in a scuffle or in a compromised position other targets such as the pectorals, thighs or calves could similarly be worthwhile.
Executed properly such a blow is going to be fantastically painful and might significantly impair the affected limb, giving you a leg up on your attacker if the fight continues or perhaps even stopping the fight right then and there if the attacker is not particularly motivated.
These strikes can be delivered overhand or underhand depending on your positioning relative to the attacker.
Reductive Strikes: Hands and Joints
One of the best uses of the blackjack in a self-defense context is for so-called reductive strikes, strikes that intend to reduce the capability of the attacker.
This is typically accomplished by targeting structures on the body that will impair the use of their hands, and correspondingly their ability to strike back, grasp you or wield a weapon, or degrade the attacker’s mobility by damaging joints in the legs.
Both are significant “base hits” in a self-defense context as either might prove enough to tip the fight in your favor or allow you an opportunity to escape.
To implement this technique, simply target the attacker’s hands whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
They might be reaching for you. They might already have a grip on you. Maybe they are just not being cautious enough and the hand is an easy target to reach with your particular tool at a moment in time.
Smashing the back of the hand or the fingers with a solid blow from the blackjack is likely to severely damage the appendage in question as the tiny, tiny bones of the wrist, palm and fingers are highly delicate. If the attacker cannot use their hand they will have a very hard time hurting you with it!
Joints are another excellent target for the blackjack but require slightly more finesse than the hands. While the hands are so delicate and so sensitive to pain that any heavy blow will do, when targeting the joints, particularly the elbows and knees, defenders should attempt to strike the joint along the axis that the joint does not bend.
In the case of the elbows and knees, this is on either side at any time or the back of either when the joint is fully open, though this latter instance will be comparatively rare.
Significantly damaging a joint (to say nothing of destroying it) will obviously impair the limb in question significantly, reducing the ability of the arm to utilize tools or strike in the case of the elbow and slowing or even immobilizing the attacker in the case of the knee.
Incidental Targets: Ribs, Collarbones
There are non-traditional targets for your blackjack, areas you might not think to strike considering the kind of weapon it is that are nonetheless reasonably effective locations.
Particularly, the ribs and collarbones are comparatively delicate and ripe for a heavy blow from a blackjack. Fracturing or breaking either will produce eye-watering pain, and likely degrade the attacker’s ability to continue fighting.
The collarbone is a relatively large and easy-to-hit target when using an overhand hammer blow so long as the attacker does not check it.
Slipping in a shot to the collarbone after a short combination or after demolishing the attacker’s arm that is attacking you is a great idea and usually easy to do.
Likewise the ribs, particularly the lower ribs, are fragile, exposed and easy to break with a sharp backhanded shot from your blackjack.
If you are able to tie up the attacker’s protecting arm on your non-dominant side smash the hell out of his ribs and he is likely to drop. At the very least you’ll knock the absolute stuffing out of him and impair his ability to breathe easily.
If the fight is underway and you are getting the better of your attacker, he is likely to focus on protecting areas you have already struck, meaning he’ll leave one or both of these targets open.
Disabling/Lethal Strikes: Head and Neck
When the chips are down, and you are in for a legitimate fight for your life, your blackjack can deliver. Remember, contrary to popular conception a blackjack is not a magical knockout wand; this is a blunt weapon capable of inflicting lethal blows with ease.
Anytime you deliver a strike with your blackjack to the head or neck of an assailant there is a significant chance they will be gravely injured or killed.
Strikes to the skull are an obvious and time-honored method for getting immediate or nearly immediate results utilizing a blackjack.
You can strike anywhere, but take care to avoid the frontal glacis of the forehead as this is the most durable part of the skull and also most likely to deflect the blow.
Strikes to the temple or the face will easily break the thinner bones there and likely inflict a concussion. If you are under lethal threat and are armed with a blackjack the correct procedure is multiple, rapid blows to the head until the baddie goes lights out.
Blows to the neck should not be neglected or underestimated, however.
A strike to the back of the neck can easily fracture the spinal column and damage the spinal cord, while sharp hits to the side or front of the neck can compress major arteries or blood vessels potentially resulting in unconsciousness or even damage the trachea, making it hard for the attacker to breathe or potentially asphyxiating them.
Generally speaking overhand blows are the prescription for shots aimed at the head while forehand and backhand strikes are for targeting the neck.
Know Your Weapon!
Though the techniques above are applicable to pretty much any blackjack, it pays to know the ins and outs of your specific tool, particularly the shape and weight distribution of the head. This may afford you more options for using it and will also inform how it is used in a fight.
For instance, the typical and popular “beavertail” or “paddle” shape of many modern and traditional blackjacks is so liked because it is unlikely to break bones compared to other shapes; it spreads the force of impact out over a wider area.
However, this means that proper alignment is important for good effect, and depending on how the head of such a blackjack is constructed one might be able to strike with the much thinner edge of the head in order to concentrate that force.
On a similar note, blackjacks that have a uniformly cylindrical head mean you won’t be concerned with proper alignment and no matter how it makes contact with an assailant you’ll be delivering a roughly equal amount of force.
Some blackjacks can even be had with oddly shaped or solid heads that mandate careful alignment with the target if you want to deliver anything less than lethal force. Striking edge-on or with the narrow end of the head can dramatically increase the force of a blow.
As always, seek out professional training with your chosen blackjack, and then practice with it until you cannot get it wrong. Only by attaining that level of fluency will you be able to truly depend upon your weapon in a life or death self-defense encounter.
The blackjack is a venerable and notorious weapon that has enjoyed a long career with lawman, gangster and citizen alike.
Compact, intuitive and indisputably effective, a blackjack is capable of delivering a phenomenally powerful blow out of all proportion with its size and half thanks to its payload of lead shot or other material contained in the head perched at the end of its flexible shaft.
Learning how to strike properly with a blackjack and what targets you should focus on the attacker’s body means you’ll be a one-man wrecking crew with your blackjack in no time.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.