The Right Way to Use a Blackjack or Sap

Almost everybody is familiar and comfortable with carrying guns, knives and pepper spray for self-defense, with a few folks still choosing to carry a taser or stun gun.

But there is one venerable close-quarters weapon that used to rule the roost when it came to close-in, high stakes fighting: The blackjack.

The blackjack is still around today, and still just as potent as it ever has been. Consisting of a weighted striking surface or head attached to a flexible shaft or handle, blackjacks deliver devastating impacts that seem totally contrary to their small size.

This is one discreet weapon that has enjoyed a considerable amount of use with the good guys and bad guys alike, everyone from police and concerned citizens to gangland enforcers and other outlaws.

If you don’t know your way around proper usage of a blackjack it is time to remedy that. The weapons are currently enjoying a renaissance in various circles and though they have never gone out of production new, high quality versions are currently on the market and entirely viable. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about the infamous blackjack.

Blackjacks, Saps, Coshes and Slungshots

You might already know exactly what a blackjack is and looks like, or you might not based on name alone. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term ‘blackjack’, you are still probably familiar enough with the category of weapon in question if you have heard it by any other name.

Though technically different depending on who you ask, blackjacks are often referred to as saps, coshes or slungshots and the naming convention can vary from country to country, and even region to region.

We’re not going to go too far into the weeds over semantics, as they are all close enough, and for our purposes I’ll be referring to this category of weapon solely as blackjacks throughout this article.

As mentioned above, a blackjack is generally constructed of soft and malleable material to impart a certain amount of flexibility while remaining rigid.

The heads are, as a rule, hollow and contain a deformable or loose fill material, or “payload”, that serves to spread out impact forces and hopefully prevent the breaking of skin or bones. Lead powder or tiny lead shot is a traditional payload, but some use clay or even sand.

The head is attached to a handle that might be as flexible or less flexible than the striking surface itself but it is constructed in such a way to afford the user a solid, no-slip grip, since blackjacks are always swung with considerable force when immediate effect is desired. Blackjack designs vary greatly, but no matter how they look, what they are loaded with or their size they are all used in more or less the same manner for the same purposes.

What Will a Blackjack Do for Me?

Considering the blackjack in the context of self-defense as a civilian living in the modern world or as a survivor trying to eke out an existence in the aftermath of a major SHTF event, blackjacks can yield many advantages compared to other impact weapons.

First and foremost, compared to a baseball bat, a proper nightstick or even a telescopic baton a blackjack is supremely compact and easy to carry.

While you will give up some reach going with a blackjack compared to these other tools, it is much easier to carry, far easier to conceal and very quick into action.

A blackjack does not rely on length to generate much impact force and these tiny tools can inflict injuries completely out of proportion with their size and weight.

Additionally, blackjacks are far less likely to inflict lethal injuries on an attacker, or at least they are compared to overtly lethal tools like firearms and blades. That being said, don’t misunderstand: a blackjack strike to the cranium or neck is easily capable of inflicting a concussion or other serious injury.

Popular depiction in media shows blackjacks being used more or less like a magic spell capable of rendering someone unconscious for a convenient amount of time with just a little tap on the back of the noggin. In reality, such a blow delivered with force is likely to give someone a traumatic brain injury.

In short, if you want a compact impact weapon for self defense, a blackjack is just the ticket.

Using the sap or blackjack.

Employing a Blackjack on Defense

Basic use of a blackjack is not rocket science. Since mankind first picked up rocks we have understood how impact weapons work: Swing or otherwise propel the hard and heavy end into your target and do it with feeling. A blackjack works just the same.

Now, even though an untrained user might obtain good results using a blackjack in a self-defense encounter you can be even more effective if you learn what to do and practice accordingly.

In short, you should learn how to properly grip your blackjack during the fight and learn where to strike with it and under what conditions.

This will allow you to respond to an attack of any kind with an appropriate level of defensive force, not just lethal force (which is not always called for) and if the fight is underway you’ll be more than just a one-trick pony throwing out predictable grand slam swings towards the head. A varied repertoire will allow you to steadily degrade your opponent over time with every blow.

Let us begin with proper grip. When gripping the blackjack, you hold it pretty much like any other tool of similar nature.

Acquire a full, firm grip with all four fingers and curl your thumb down like you are holding a carpenter’s hammer or baseball bat. When the time comes to actually swing the blackjack at your assailant, swing hard like you mean it and follow through!

Don’t break at the last moment or rely on the springy, snappy design of the blackjack to “pop” your target: Focus on your intended point of impact and swing the blackjack like you are trying to drive a large nail into a tough piece of wood.

Also, when the fight is on don’t swing and connect only to wait to see what happens. You need to be dropping blows repeatedly on your assailant, fighting like you’re the third monkey trying to get on Noah’s Ark. When they drop or retreat you’ll know the fight is over.

Remember: Grip it tight, take aim, swing hard and follow through!

Essential Blackjack Techniques for Self Defense

Now that we have the basics of gripping and swinging a blackjack properly understood, it is time to move on to more nuanced application.

Generally, you can employ a blackjack for lethal or non-lethal strikes. This allows you a significant degree of flexibility in a self-defense encounter so long as you are trained and practiced accordingly.

In short, any blow you direct to the head, neck or face of the attacker is likely to be considered lethal force and can indeed have genuine lethal effect. Larger and heavier blackjacks are capable of breaking bones and delivering tremendous impact forces.

Other targets, such as the limbs, hands, joints and large muscle groups are still excellent targets as any good shot from your blackjack will produce tremendous pain and likely deaden or disable the affected limb

We will go more into specifics in each category below.

Head, Face and Neck

When your attacker is presenting you with a genuine, imminent threat to your life or the threat of great bodily injury it is time to take the gloves off and respond with lethal force in kind. Your blackjack is more than capable of measuring up to this task if you can strike the attacker in their head, face or neck, particularly on the back of the head or neck.

Note that, while any blow to the head from a blackjack is likely to be a major “bell ringer” and inflict tremendous pain, you should avoid (if possible) striking the forehead or the crown of the skull as this is the single, most durable structure on the human body.

Instead, if forced to attack from the front use a forehand or backhand strike aimed at the temple, eye socket or side of the neck. Even striking the soft tissues of the neck can still be a decisive fight stopper since major blood vessels, arteries and the airway are likely to be damaged.

If you are able to line up a strike to the back of the skull or neck understand that you will very likely inflict catastrophic damage to the spinal cord or brain of the attacker.

BlackJack and Slapjack Self Defence Weapons

Joints and Hands

If you are dealing with an assailant that is gearing up to engage you with hands and feet, lethal force might not be called for, but your blackjack can still help get you out of a bad situation.

In this case, we will employ the blackjack in a non-lethal capacity to target the attacker’s hands and joints, in what is called a “reductive” method. In this context, reductive means it is reducing the assailants capability to attack you.

Remember, you don’t need to completely disable someone or knock them out in order to claim victory and self-defense. Victory for our purposes is just getting them to give up, stop or give us an opening to get away. Mission accomplished!

For this technique, let us say that someone has reached out to grab you or has already grabbed you. Now that their hand is an easy reach, you can use your blackjack to crush their hand, wrist or fingers before or after checking the offending limb.

Believe me when I tell you the tiny, delicate and extremely sensitive bones of the hand and wrist will not hold up well under such abuse!

The elbow of the offending arm is another good target but you’ll have to be a little smarter when it comes to attacking.

Any heavy blow will definitely hurt, but ideally you want to target the side of the elbow or the rear in order to disrupt or destroy it. This will definitely reduce the attacker’s capability to use their arms in any meaningful way.

Also keep in mind you might be afforded a chance to do the same thing to their knees depending on how the fight unfolds.

Limbs and Large Muscles

Your blackjack is good for more than just targeting the hard surfaces of the assailant’s body. Make no mistake, using it in such a way will definitely do the trick, but you shouldn’t give up so-called soft targets like the abdomen and major muscle groups.

Directing a solid blow to the biceps, calves, thighs or gut is going to give the bad guy some major incentive to leave you alone.

Striking these targets will induce tremendous pain and make great “filler” while you wait for a more promising opportunity to disable the attacker. It should also be noted that such targets might be all you can get if you are tangled up or in a compromised position.

Considering that strikes to these soft tissues are the least likely to be considered lethal force these might be your opening move if self-defense is warranted but lethal or even escalated levels of force are not.

Flanks and Shoulders

While rarely considered prime targets for strikes delivered with a blackjack, the ribs, shoulders and collarbones are generally easy to hit, and can produce surprisingly good effect.

You’ll note that both the ribs and the collarbones are among the most delicate bones on the body and a solid strike from even a modest blackjack is likely to fracture either, perhaps severely.

Aside from being life-changingly painful, this will further degrade the attacker’s capability to persecute his use of force against you, either by impairing movement of the arm or making breathing difficult.

To target the ribs, use a swift, powerful forehand or backhand strike, especially if you are able to drop beneath his line of attack.

Targeting the collarbone is likewise simple but might be more difficult to connect with if the attacker sees it coming. An overhead hammer strike that connects solidly can easily break a collarbone.

Also something to keep in mind is that an attacker is highly likely to leave either of these targets vulnerable if he is focused on protecting his head or face or is already guarding an area previously injured by another strike.

A feint followed up by a powerful blow to either is an excellent technique that is likely to pay off if you connect.


The humble blackjack is a close-quarters weapon with a storied, if infamous, reputation for effectiveness.

Long the weapon of choice for heroes and villains when seeking to disable an adversary with a couple of swift, powerful blows, blackjacks are enjoying a renaissance today thanks to their ideal combination of effectiveness, compactness and ease of use. But using a blackjack skillfully is more than just wailing away until an attacker drops.

Take the time to learn proper procedures for employing a blackjack as well as the best places to strike an attacker and you’ll be able to count on this simple, timeless tool.

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