Self-Defense with a Shovel

If we consider all of the exotic features of the martial arts, such as the kimono-like gi, barefooted practitioners, machetes, rattan sticks, kneeling techniques, and so on, they were all sensible characteristics of everyday life in another culture, such as Japan or the Philippines. When we bring those elements to the United States, they have a novel appeal, but the problem is that they are out of place.


I think we must force ourselves to focus more intently on eliminating the exotic elements of foreign martial arts that make them appealing, but are irrelevant to the lives we live. So I ditch the uniform and wear clothes like those I normally wear. Although I have nunchaku and enjoy playing with them, I know I must put them aside  and train with a long-necked beer bottle. The beer bottle isn’t a sexy weapon. No one is going to post You Tube videos of himself wielding a bottle, but if you’re good with the nunchaku, you just might go viral.


Which brings me to the shovel. Let us look at the shovel as an improvised weapon. If you work construction, landscaping, or farming, or if you live in a cold climate where shoveling snow is a regular event, a shovel is a weapon you just might have to use. But the shovel isn’t a glamorous weapon, so the temptation is to pick up the spear, or the three-sectional staff, or those really cool hook swords. The guy who does the seminar where everybody carries swords and dozens of knives will have a line around the block, but the guy offering a seminar on self-defense with bottles, shovels, and pens should be certain to keep his day job.


Looking at the attributes of the shovel –and you really do need to pick one up– is that it is heavy, especially at the blade end. The heaviness means that large swings are too slow and therefore impractical. From low guard, with the blade resting on the ground, your primary attack is a direct thrust forward, attacking the opponent’s shins, knees, ankles, and groin. Trying to bring the blade up to block will also be too slow. You are better off evading or thrusting as a stop hit.


A couple of GM Estalilla’s long stick techniques are also applicable to the shovel. One technique is to bounce a strike up off the ground and into a thrust. The blade of the shovel serves like a spring, so that you can bounce the shovel off the ground and forward into a thrust. Another technique is that guys who had sticks made of bamboo and cut at an angle to create a sharpened tip, had something like a small cup at the end of their sticks, due to the bamboo’s hollowness. With the tip of the stick resting on the ground, you could scoop up dirt and fling it into the opponent’s face before launching an attack.


If you realize that this sort of tool (shovel, rake, hoe, pruner, etc.) is one that you use regularly, a good resource is William Cheung’s “Kung Fu Dragon Pole.” You also might want to carefully choose the lightest shovel you can find, and sharpen the blade.




  1. Van_Kiser says

    I teach the weapon use of the shovel, basing the movements used in combat as those same upon which I base the close-quarters work of the cane; the military bayonet. I prefer the ‘sharp shooter’ shovel, which has a straighter and longer blade. But any shovel will work. To me, and with the techniques I teach, it is a weapon used for thrusting, primarily to the throat. But with a sharpened blade it has incidental cutting ability, too. Simple, fast, direct, and deadly.

    • Darrin says


      Now that you mention it, the bayonet method is a good one for a tool with a heavy end, like a shovel.

      It’s good to hear that somebody is working with practical weapons.

      I wasn’t aware of a sharp shooter shovel, but it fits with one of my concepts, that of the “semi-improvised” weapon. Let’s say you work in an office and one day you must pick up a pair of scissors to defend against an enraged co-worker who has been bullying everyone in the office, and specifically you, for months. You pick up the scissors, only to find the blades are thin, and made out of a poor quality metal, and that the handles are plastic, and glued on. Oops.

      The smarter thing to do would be to go to an office supply store and ask, “Which of these scissors would make the best weapon if I needed it?” “Which of these staplers could be used as a weapon if I needed it?”

  2. tommy says

    I used to live in the foothills of the Sierra’s and used a shovel to kill rattlesnakes on numerous occasions. I bought one with a light-weight fiberglass handle and a high quality steel shovel. I also filed down the edges a little bit to make them sharper. I was consciously thinking about having the best “anti-snake” weapon that I would be likely to have in hand while doing chores around the property. I never even considered an exotic martial arts weapon. A machete might have been ok, but would likely have required me to get too close and risk getting snake-bit. when you think about it it isn’t too much different from a knife weilding attacker, gotta keep him at long range and blast him from the outside. “Western Diamond-Back Long Shovel Combat” that’s my style;)!!

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