One of the most effective law enforcement tools that I used during my law enforcement career was the Kubotan, a 5.5-inch rod used for striking or pressure point manipulation. On duty, I found that by hiding it in my waistband with my patrol unit key attached to it, the Kubotan was readily accessible, quickly deployed, and it helped me avoid having to use even greater uses of force.
On one occasion, a suspect had the poor judgment to lay his hands on me in an attempt to break free of my grip on his forearm. I struck him sharply in the center of the sternum with the Kubotan: instant behavior modification. It took the fight right out of him and neither of us ended up rolling on the ground—maybe he did, but not with me. And it didn't look particularly offensive to onlookers.
Stories of officers using Kubotans in the field are becoming harder to find, as many law enforcement personnel and civilians alike have never heard of this tool, let alone seen or used one. As such, they have no conception of its applications or effectiveness as yet another force instrument in their arsenal. This is unfortunate because the Kubotan can be a very efficient tool when properly applied.
A Brief History
Soke Takayuki Kubota, the son of a Japanese police officer, a martial arts master, and a trainer with the Tokyo Police Department developed the Kubotan. During the 10 years he worked with the police force, he shared his knowledge with U.S. Military personnel stationed in Tokyo, as well as CIA personnel.
In the mid 1960s, Kubota came to the United States and was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department to train police personnel. So a generation of American police officers learned how to effectively use this seemingly innocuous tool as a weapon.
In recent years, popularity of the Kubotan has been eclipsed by a variety of impact weapons such as the Monadnock PR24 and collapsible batons, and other weapons such as the TASER and OC spray.
But given today's political climate and the desire for less "offensive" looking weapons, perhaps the time is right for the inconspicuous but effective Kubotan to enjoy a renaissance.
Control and Compliance
Traditional Kubotans are made of wood and are 5.5 inches long with shallow grooves in the wood. Today, they come in a variety of colors and materials. Some are made of metal or polymer with raised material where the grooves would be cut. Some may have a hidden knife blade or pepper spray. This is good to remember if you remove one from a suspect.
Those areas of the human body where the bone is closest to the surface (skin) also contain many nerve endings. This is where the Kubotan is applied for control and compliance techniques. But remember, when using the Kubotan as a tool to strike or apply to soft tissue pressure points, you must focus on the end of the tool.
The applications shown in the pictures that accompany this article are the most prominent points of attack, but they are not all inclusive. The human body has many more pressure points that would be susceptible to the Kubotan—well beyond space constraints here.
Part of the Kubotan's appeal lies in its deceptive appearance: To the layman, it looks like little more than a non-intimidating key chain. Ironically, those keys can be used in concert with the Kubotan, as well.
The length of a Kubotan allows the user to whip keys attached to it like a flail. The hard, serrated edges of keys can be used to strike and flay the skin. This is particularly effective when used against the face and neck areas. Raking the keys across the forehead not only inflicts pain and injury, but the attendant bleeding may blind your opponent, giving you a further advantage (admittedly, while heightening your need for serological decontamination).
But perhaps the most prominent use of the Kubotan is to apply crushing force against bone, joints, and/or muscle. A simple rule of thumb: Most pressure point control training that you learned to perform in the academy with your fingers can be performed much more effectively with a Kubotan.
Striking these same pressure points with force brings exponentially more pain, and may prove disabling for a suspect.
If a suspect lays his or her hands on you, use the Kubotan to strike and gain release and the suspect's immediate attention.
To gain compliance when dealing with suspects who resist handcuffing, the Kubotan can be brought into play along with verbal commands by applying force to head area pressure points. Applying pressure to the wrist with a Kubotan can bring about compliance with suspects who are not necessarily combative, but determined to keep you from getting the handcuffs on them.
Of course, suspects have varying tolerance levels for pain; some may not be as readily susceptible to pressure points. This is particularly true when dealing with suspects who are under the influence of chemical substances or are emotionally disturbed.
I don't recall having any issue with the administration regarding the use of the Kubotan. However, proper documentation of why you used the weapon and how it fits within the force continuum matrix should be noted. You are always susceptible to "use of force" complaints.
The Confrontational Continuum Model that is used in many police academies aids in understanding and reporting police actions. Pain compliance falls between escort and countermeasures on the Continuum. The Kubotan can and does expand over and into both of these areas.
With all the tools and gadgets that a law enforcement officer puts on his belt, my little friend, the Kubotan, is a welcome addition. Just remember not to take it to the airport when you travel—Just ask my wife.
Many thanks to my good friend and esteemed colleague Steve Moores for taking all the photos needed for this article and to my student Tim Kelly for participating as my subject.
Mike Nitch is a retired police officer and former police academy instructor. He owns and operates a small martial arts studio in Florida in which he teaches Chinese Arts and self-defense, as well as the National Rifle Association's "Refuse To Be A Victim" seminars.