Isandhlwana and the Pulse Nightclub

Isandhlwana and the Pulse Nightclub


Effective Range

Every weapon a bad guy could use against you has a

  • MAXIMUM range, a
  • Maximum EFFECTIVE range, and a
  • MINIMUM effective range.

The differences between the three may be easier to explain by illustrating with a few examples.


Example 1: Projectile Launcher (Rifle)

According to the user manual, the maximum range of an M16A2 rifle is 3534 meters. That’s the farthest distance it can throw a bullet. There is no possible way anybody can hit somebody on purpose with an iron sighted M16A2 at half that distance, and if the bullet did hit you by mere chance at 3500 meters, it would probably bounce off. By the time it has gone that far, the wind resistance has slowed it to the velocity of a thrown pebble.

The maximum EFFECTIVE range, the distance somebody with an M16A2 can actually hit what they aim at (with half of their bullets), is much shorter: about 550 meters when fired at a non-moving, man sized target.

Like just about every other weapon type, rifles have a MINIMUM effective range, inside which they are useless (as projectile launchers). If you can get between the bad guy and his muzzle (the business end), he can’ shoot you with it.

He may be able to beat you with it. When he butt strokes you, he is no longer using the rifle as a projectile launcher; he’s using it as an impact tool.


Example 2: Impact Weapon (Bat) 

The MAXIMUM range of a baseball bat is as far as it can be thrown–let’s say 30 meters, mas o menos.

But if the guy in the blue sweatshirt had tried to hit the gal, standing in the second photo by where the bat he threw lies on the ground, she could easily have stepped out of the way of the flying bat. A baseball bat is not even remotely EFFECTIVE at thirty meters, or twenty. Probably not even ten.

The bat’s maximum EFFECTIVE range is where it can be swung to hit a baseball or a skull: less than two meters.

In this photo, the guy on the right (grey sweatshirt) is outside the effective range of the bat’s swing. The ribs of the lady in the middle (orange sleeves, light & dark blue pants) are exactly in the sweet spot of the bat’s effective range: close to the end of the bat, but not past it. 

Edged Weapons (knives, ice picks, screwdrivers) have the shortest MINIMUM effective range, other than those of fists, fingernails, and teeth. If the bad guy has a blade, distance from him is our friend. Run from a knife. Because,

The best way to defeat any weapons system is to GET and STAY outside its maximum effective range.


Defeating Edged Weapons

Putting a table or desk between you and an assailant with a knife, for example, can keep you outside its maximum effective range, at least temporarily.

Tom ‘n’ Jerry drill from a Heloderm Ladies’ Personal Protection class. “Bad guy” role player in blue jeans is holding a rubber knife. Her task in the drill is to tag her sister with it. The defender’s job is to keep those two chairs between them.

Such barriers are a only temporary solution. Sooner or later, he may wear you out, or you may make a mistake.

Further, most of us spend most of our lives hemmed in by walls and furniture and fences.

If you can’t get away, you will need to control his EW hand at some point.

This is the law. The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.

–John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

Control an EW by grabbing his hand, or his wrist as close as possible to his hand. You WILL get cut. We can survive most cuts. You do NOT want to get stabbed, which is why we control his edged weapon and the hand holding it.

Grabbing the knife hand. Image from a Code 4 Defensive Tactics seminar

Controlling his hand is better than his wrist because it limits movement of the blade more, and it may keep him from switching the knife to his other hand.

For low line attacks, move your hips and stomach back out of range as you lean in and positively control his knife hand / wrist.

Image from a Code 4 Defensive Tactics seminar

To counter midline “haymaker” attacks, “Pat, Wrap, Counterattack” works for EWs as it does for batons and baseball bats (see Defeating Impact Weapons below). 

Instructor in the black T-shirt demonstrates the “Pat:” Meeting his attacking arm above and below the elbow. Image from a Heloderm Violence Avoidance and Survival class

After the Pat, we Wrap into a Figure 4 hold. This works with EWs as well as impact weapons. This folder with the holes in the blade is a dedicated trainer; it has no edge and the tip is rounded. Image from a Heloderm Lawful Use of Force class

Make no mistake:

There is NO SUCH THING as an “unarmed man with a knife.”

A knife is most often used as a tool, but it can be a weapon.

A deadly weapon.

ONE strike to your carotid or femoral artery, and you may be done on this earth. It bears repeating here: flee from a knife if you possibly can (better to be stabbed in the shoulder blade or even the back of the skull than the solar plexus or the eye). If you cannot flee, fight him with everything you have

He won’t just evaporate as soon as you control his knife hand. He will want control of it back, and will hurt you to get it back–perhaps successfully–unless and until you dissuade him with head butts, shin rakes, or knees to the thighs / groin. If someone is trying to kill you, you must be 100% committed, to the finish.

As Aragorn told the Elves at Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers movie, “Show them no mercy . . . for you shall receive none.”

Image © 2002 by New Line Cinema / WingNut Films, reproduced here for educational purposes

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings novels, was a combat veteran who fought in the Somme. It’s likely his visions of The Dead Marshes and Mordor came from his experiences in the trenches, and the no man’s land between, in WWI. Tolkien’s airborne Nazgûl, who paralyzed the men of Gondor with fear, are clearly analogous to the Nazi Stukas of WWII, with their sirens designed to induce fear in enemies at ground (or sea) level.

But Tolkien’s inspiration for the Battle of Helm’s Deep (in The Two Towers) may have come from stories he likely heard as a child of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, between the British and the Zulus. The Battle of Five Armies, in Tolkien’s Hobbit, shares many tactical elements with the battle that immediately preceded Rorke’s Drift: Isandhlwana (see below).


Defeating Impact Weapons

The MINIMUM effective range of a long flashlight or table lamp or baseball bat used as an impact tool, for most untrained assailants, is about the length of his arm.

How to get there? You have thus far evaded or deflected most of his blows, but he’s closing with you, your back’s up against a wall, and you can’t escape. What do you do?

TIMING is the key. The mantra we recite is,

He cocks, I close.”

In other words, as (NOT after) he pulls back the bat (cocks his arm) to strike at you again, you pounce on him like one of the Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. Once you get inside, his bat is almost useless.

A different option, if you still have a little room, would be to leap on him after he’s swung the bat past you, before he can reverse direction and strike you with a backhand stroke. This has the advantage of leaving his weapon arm half tied up across him as you bear-hug him.

In this photo, instructor in the tan outfit has stayed back, out of range of her swing. Her simulated bat (black foam pipe insulation) has swung past him. NOW is the time for him to pounce. Image from a Heloderm Ladies’ Personal Protection class

Of course, the fight isn’t over at that point. But in closing the distance, neutralizing the effectiveness of his weapon, you changed the very nature of the conflict. It’s gone from a one sided murderous assault, in which the likely outcome is your permanent brain damage or death, to a two-sided wrestling match, in which the likely outcomes are black eyes, bloody noses, and split lips. Your bear hug has evened up the odds and bought time for others to come to your aid in subduing the assailant.

This is not exactly a Figure 4, but she’s inside the the minimum effective range of the (foam) impact weapon, and her knee is moving in the correct direction. Unless you train martial arts regularly, enthusiasm and commitment are more important than form. If somebody within your arms’ reach is hurting or killing people, hit them with everything you’ve got.


Pat – Wrap – Counterattack for Impact Weapons

When he cocks the pipe wrench (or whatever) to hit you, “spear” in with your forearms up over your head, palms toward your skull, and elbows close together in front of your forehead. This is to protect us from any licks we may catch on the way in.

Strike his weapon arm with the outside of your forearms, above and below his elbow.

The “Pat” of Pat – Wrap – Counterattack, in a Heloderm Ladies’ Personal Protection class.

If you hit hard enough, this may cause him to drop the blunt instrument. Probably, he will not, but he might. If it doesn’t go flying against the wall behind you, wrap your outer arm over the top of his arm and around underneath it. Place your other hand on his weapon arm shoulder. Hook your wrapping arm over your shoulder arm, straighten the shoulder arm, and squeeze.

Setting up the Figure 4 hold (Wrap).

This “Figure 4” keeps him inside the effective range of YOUR weapons–knees, head butts, etc–while making whatever weapon is in his hand useless.


Defeating Firearms

There’s very little cover (something solid that would stop bullets, as opposed to concealment, which just keeps him from seeing you) in your classroom or office. Even if there is, he’ll just walk around it eventually. If the bad guy has a gun and you can see him, he can see you and he may be able to hit you.

Shots in the Distance

If you are in a big box store when you hear shots and screams from the other side of the store, by all means, bail out a side door.

There is sometimes a delay on emergency exits; stay calm and apply continuous pressure to the push bar. Once it comes open, pause and look around before you leap outside into a potential ambush. Remember, as we used to say when I served warrants for a living,

A door is like a bottle of fine wine. After it’s been opened, you should let it breathe for a bit.

If you don’t see or hear any signs of another bad guy waiting to ambush people bailing out the exits, run out the door and keep running.

Be mindful, though, that sheep only know two speeds: graze and stampede. Others in the store may panic and run you over if you wait too long to exit the door.


Shots in Your Space

If you are in an office or classroom, and the bad guy is already inside that space with you, you may be able to temporarily evade his ability to aim at and hit you, but unless you are already halfway out the opposite door when he comes in the room, you cannot outrun his bullets by running away.

Using Nerf technology, educators learn what they could look like from a bad guy’s perspective. Running directly away leaves you on the railroad tracks of the bad guy’s assault. Image from a Heloderm Managing School Violence class.

Nor will hiding keep you safe for long.

If you are trapped in the same room with a killer who has a gun, your next least bad bet is to GET and STAY inside the MINIMUM effective range of his weapons system.

With a rifle, that’s between him and his muzzle (the business end of his barrel).

Here, a volunteer instructor shows an educator how to get and stay inside the minimum effective range of an AR-15 rifle: between the killer and the muzzle. By pinning it tightly to your body, you minimize his ability to strike you with it (to use the rifle as an impact weapon).

In this view (same volunteer “bad guy,” different educator) you can see a little more clearly how she’s “Killing the Dragon” by placing her gloved hand over the ejection port, inducing a stove-pipe type stoppage.

You do NOT need a gloved hand to do this. I have done it bare handed but it smarts a little and can even give you a blister. We use gloves in training.

This volunteer instructor’s hand just blocked a hot cartridge case from ejecting out of an AR-15–without a protective glove. It’s none the worse for the wear. We wear gloves in training so students don’t hate us, not because gloves are necessary. In a fight, pumped up on “adrenaline,” you might not even feel it.

If he and his projectile launcher (gun) are outside of your arms’ reach, getting inside his minimum effective range is not a great option. But it’s the ONLY option that gives you any chance of survival.

Your first priority, when you get within arms’ reach, is to control the direction he’s pointing his gun. Remember,

ONE bad guy can only effectively aim ONE gun in ONE direction at ONE time.

If he’s not within arms’ reach and he’s pointing it at you, do NOT run directly at him. That leaves you on the railroad tracks of his assault. AFROTC student hero Matthew LaPorte tried that at Virginia Tech, and it did not end well for him. You must MOVE, NOW, perpendicular to his line of fire, or on a forward oblique (like from the bottom to the top of a V).

A father and daughter practice evasive movement (the V to L) during a Heloderm Violence Avoidance and Survival course. Moving apart creates a shooter’s dilemma: he must choose to attack one or the other (instead of both of you with the same volley), and it is much harder to hit any target that is traversing fast across his field of view.

Of course, this assumes the local microterrain provides you any room to maneuver. If you are a school bus driver, and he’s killing kids in back, your route to him is channelized by the aisle. Refer to our posting on Bus Takedowns for more options.

If he’s within arms’ reach, or he’s pointing it at someone else, pounce on him, because

the safest place in that entire room for you to be is between him and his muzzle.


Isandhlwana: a Case Study of Getting Inside Minimum Effective Range

On 22 Jan 1879, Zulus wiped out a British column of 1800 soldiers at the foot of a large hill or small mountain called Isandhlwana (also Anglicised Isandlwana). Only 55 of the Europeans escaped with their lives.

The British force was primarily foot soldiers, but they also had horse cavalry, Natal Native Contingent (NNC) scouts, cannons, and rockets. The soldiers were armed with Martini-Henry breech loading rifles.

Their Martinis did not need to have the powder and bullets rammed into the front end like the old muzzle loaders. With the Martini-Henry, the solider simply flipped a lever down, which kicked out the previous (now empty) metal case, tossed in another cartridge, flipped the lever up, and went on to aim at the next Zulu warrior. The entire process took less than 10 seconds (considerably less, if one was in a hurry).

Which sounds like a long time, compared to modern “assault” rifles, but consider that a British unit of 200 soldiers, formed square, firing in volleys, could spew out 100 bullets in all directions (360 degrees) every 5 seconds–far more destructive kinetic power in far more directions at once than one active killer invading your school, even if he has a modern magazine fed rifle. The British had half a million rounds of ammunition in their camp, many, many times the number carried by even the worst active shooters.

Actor Nigel Green, facing the camera, plays Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne, in the 1964 movie Zulu. Incidentally, the part of Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande was played in that movie by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Cetshwayo’s actual great grandson.

Most of the Zulus, on the other hand, were armed almost exclusively with one or two types of spear. The Zulus called their shorter stabbing assegaisiKlwas.” All iKlwas are assegais, but not all assegais are iKlwas. When I use the term assegai here, I’m referring to the longer throwing spear. Lacking a longer shaft to balance out the heavy blade, the shorter iKlwa did not fly straight and was never intended to be thrown. Their military doctrine and most of their weapons training revolved around the iKlwa, and getting close enough to stick it in their foes.

Replica iKlwa. The real ones had iron heads, not steel like this one. The shaft isn’t long enough to balance it for throwing; it was intended as a hand held contact weapon.

The Zulus did have some rifles and pistols. These were largely of the single shot, muzzle loading variety, but in the late 1870s they also had some modern breech loaders. They were not fools and most would probably have preferred fighting long range fire with long range fire. There were some among them who were great hunters and crack shots. But the Zulu nation, as a whole, did not emphasize the rifle as a tool of war. For one thing, they did not have a great wealth of ammunition. Zulu impis traveled fast, but light. They resupplied through raiding Boers, English settlers, and the kraals of other natives. The Zulus lacked the massive wagon trains, with their heavy crates of ammunition, that slowed the English army but allowed it to sustain combat operations.

The Zulus might be able to cast lead bullets, but the nation as a whole lacked the complex manufacturing required to make percussion caps and metallic cartridges. Few of their precious cartridges could be relegated for training, so consequently, the rifle handling and marksmanship skills of your average Zulu warrior left much to be desired in 1879. Most of the musketry training they had, if any, was probably OJT, shooting at living, breathing targets.

And when their firearms broke, they had few means to repair them. Maintenance and supply-chain issues also plagued the Zulu’s rifle-armed Sioux and Comanche contemporaries on the American Plains, half a world away. In treaty negotiations, Native American bands often requested gunsmithing services (Gwynne, p. 133).

The Zulus also had some assegais (longer throwing spears). These had a maximum range of 50 meters or so, although if the intended recipient saw it coming, he could probably dodge an assegai at that distance.

The British Army had some Zulus on its side. Evelyn Wood, Commander of the northern column invading Zululand, was surprised that a few of the non-Zulus could actually throw spears farther than his Zulu troops. Referring to what we would now call “team building” competitions in his camps, Wood said:

It is interesting that at some athletic sports on the 19th February [1879], in the country pastime of throwing the assegai, the Zulus, who since Chaka’s time had been taught not to throw long distances, but to rush on their foe and stab him with the short assegai, were easily beaten, the first prize being won by a Hottentot [somewhat ambiguous contemporary term we can interpret here as “non-Zulu South African native”] about 5 foot in height, who propelled an assegai 70 yards, the second man being a colonial born Englishman, while no Zulu threw an assegai farther than 50 yards.

–quoted from Wood’s 1906 autobiography From Midshipman to Field Marshal by Knight, p. 159

The max effective of a longer Zulu assegai (throwing spear) was probably in the 20 or 30 meter range, but the British Martinis shooting back at them had an effective range of a few hundred meters.

The Zulus could also toss an iWisa, a stick with a knurled end (the British called these knobkerries) with some accuracy. Zulus hunted small game with iWisas. But whether they were hurling them at today’s lunch or an enemy soldier, the iWisa was a short range, one-shot tool.

When very close, Zulus could use iWisas repeatedly as hand-held clubs, and sometimes did, but in combat they vastly preferred the iKlwa. The iKlwa had been the signature weapon of the Zulu warrior since Shaka kaSenzangakhona had standardized it throughout the Zulu nation in the early 1800s (Wood spelled his name “Chaka” above).

I say “nation” rather than “military” because the Zulus were citizen soldiers. Like the Swiss, every adult Zulu male was what we in the USA would call a “reservist,” capable of being called up to active duty in defense of their land. Military conscription and training, especially with the shield and the iKlwa, was universal, but when they weren’t conquering neighboring tribes or raiding their neighbors’ kraals, Zulus spent most of their days peacefully herding cattle. 

The iKlwa was almost identical, if not in form, at least in size and function, to the Roman gladius hispaniensis short sword. When the Romans invaded what we now call Spain, they learned from the receiving end that penetrating trauma (stabbing) from the point of a short Spanish poking sword put them down faster and more permanently than cuts from their longer slashing swords put down their enemies. The iKlwa and the gladius were both almost exclusively thrusting weapons. 

Even when it came down to poking at people with something sharp and pointy, the Martini with its bayonet had a longer effective range; it was about half again as long as a typical iKlwa.

Student on your left holds a wooden pole roughly the same length as (about 3″ longer than) a Martini-Henry with a fixed bayonet. Student on your right holds a replica iKlwa (with her other arm up as if holding a Zulu shield) as a visual aid for comparison purposes.

The British Army of the 19th Century was one of the most professional, and arguably the best equipped, military in the world. After the fall of Napoleon, theirs was probably the most powerful Western empire in the 1800s. There’s a reason people used to say “The sun never sets on the British flag.”

The British usually formed square when facing enemy cavalry, which could ride quickly around them. At Isandhlwana, against Zulu infantry, the redcoats formed in lines instead. Their lines were at least two deep (so they could fire in volleys). There were some gaps between units. Their backs were to their camp, with its supply wagons (and, significantly, much of the ammunition), at the base of the mountain.

Diamond Films / Paramount P9ctures images from the movie Zulu © 1963.

The Zulus had only three things going for them in the shadow of Isandhlwana:

  1. Righteous indignation. The British had no more right to invade Zululand than some InCel loser has the right to murder you and your classmates because Sally won’t go to the prom with him. So angry were the Zulus at the British that the Zulu leaders could not even control them at Isandhlwana. They did not attack in the classic Zulu “Bull Horn” (Chest, Horns, and Loins) formation. They simply swarmed the invaders. Indignation can be a powerful motivator in scary situations.
  2. The Zulu warriors were willing to close with the British / NNC till they were within the maximum effective range of their own iKlwas, and inside the minimum effective range of the British Martinis. This did not come without cost. Like me, when I boxed in college with my tiny tyrannosaurus arms (my gloved hands had less effective range than most of my opponents’), they knew they had to “take their licks getting in.”
  3. The Zulus outnumbered the combined British and NNC force about 11 or 12 to 1.

The lesson here is that there is strength in numbers–IF we all pull together, and IF you are willing to close with the bad guy to negate the effectiveness of his standoff weapons.

To be sure, gunfire coming in your direction is startlingly loud and scary. Believe me; I know. Your natural inclination will be to dive behind a desk or cabinet. That instinct was programmed when the worst threats we faced had claws and sharp sticks. It does not work well against modern kinetic threats.

If he’s already in the same room with you, hiding will only postpone your demise for a few seconds. Running away will get you shot in the back as you trample over each other in the doorway. Closing with him may get you shot–but it’s your least dangerous option.

Taking your licks getting in

In this photo of “the Deadly Diamond,” two members of a church security team I trained were standing together when a “bad guy” (with a simulated firearm) came in and began shooting. They moved apart and then back together as if tracing the outside of a diamond from opposite corners.

The bad guy had to pick one or the other. As it happened, he traversed to track the guy to his right. In real life, that might not have ended well for the guy in the white hat. But if white hat had just stood there and stared, or jumped behind a wooden desk that does not stop bullets, he would have been shot anyway.

I won’t get philosophical here about dying with dignity. And I won’t lie to you about flanking tactics being a panacea that will always save every single person in the room. But immediate counterattack is the only way for any of you to survive a close range ambush, e.g., a killer in the same room with you. It’s a practical matter of minimizing your losses.

In drawing fire away from his partner (think of parents counterattacking to save their children) white hat has created an opening for blue shirt to flank the killer.

You can tell from this photo that the guy in the blue shirt is about to rock that bad guy’s world.

At STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado, high school senior Kendrick Castillo immediately rushed an assailant who came into the room to murder people. Kendrick was killed. But the other two students who rushed the killer with Kendrick were able to subdue the assailant, saving all the other kids in the room–and probably adjacent classrooms as well.

Mural honoring Kendrick Castillo. Photo from “Pintan mural de Kendrick Castillo, joven que murió para salvar a sus compañeros,” in La Noticia Charlotte

I have actually read news editorials citing Kendrick’s demise as an example of why they think we should NOT teach young people to defend themselves (Kendrick and the others had been through some form of Active Killer Response training). Those editorials only tell their readers that Kendrick got killed. They conveniently omit the fact that Kendrick’s sacrifice stopped the killer, saving many, many lives. If he had just sat there and stared at the killer instead, Kendrick and the other kids in the room would have been shot anyway.

Then the killer would have moved on to the next room.

And the next.

And the next.

But let’s get back to the subject at hand.

If your walls are walls, not glass, lock him out if you can, but have a plan for when he breaches your locked door or barricade.

The Zulus weren’t stupid about it at Isandhlwana. Once they were within range of the British rifles, the Zulus went to ground and continued to advance by low crawling.

Going prone works far better at distance in brushy fields than it does up close in a room; soldiers in the deployment processing center at Ft Hood went prone, following their training, and got shot in the back as the turncoat stood over them.

Going prone is an instinctive response to taking fire–even from nerf balls–but does low crawling really make this I-LIVED student any harder to hit? I-LIVED stress inoculation training is not just “death by PowerPoint.” We put you in simulated situations so you can find out for yourself what works, and what doesn’t. Visit for more info.

On a dirt road near San Benito, Texas, my friend Mike R followed his USMC training and went prone in the open when taking fire from an AR-15–instead of dashing into a cornfield by the road which might have at least concealed him. Running perpendicular to the incoming fire would also have made him harder to hit. Instead, he crawled. It very nearly cost Mike his life.

When given the option to flee, some students in this ICSAVE / AZCSN I-LIVED class chose to duck under the tables and crawl to the designated “safe” zone by the door. Props to them for choosing the path of least expectation; the route the others took was channelized by the tables and wound up bunching them up. But the others still got there much faster and were exposed to incoming nerf balls for less time.

In a school, office, or house of worship, stay mobile on your feet.

Each British soldier at Isandhlwana had about 40 rounds on his person. The Natal Native Contingent, who primarily served as scouts, only started with 5 rounds each. When they started to run low on ammo, they sent runners back to the supply wagons for more. When the initial volume of fire fell off a bit, the Zulus noticed the slackening pace, stood up, and charged.

The Zulus fell upon the British lines like a tidal wave. They flooded into gaps between the British units and soon took them from the sides and rear.

Even with a powerful rifle, a killer is vulnerable from the sides and rear. Far better to take him while he’s pointing it at someone else, than to wait till he swings it in your direction. Note the yellow chamber flag sticking out of the ejection port. This photo is from Off-lining: The Key to Successful Disarms, a seminar at the Arizona Church Security Network’s 2022 Defending the Flock conference.


Swarming as a Solution

Compare Isandhlwana, where the Zulus outnumbered the invaders by 11 or 12 to 1, to the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where the patrons outnumbered that idiot by over 300 to 1.

The Pulse Nightclub had several rooms. In the Jewel Box, the largest room / dance floor in the club, the patrons probably outnumbered the assailant at least 100 to 1. In their defense, the music in the club was so loud, it was not immediately apparent to most of them that they were under attack, but when they became aware, most instinctively fled, even when he was already in their space. Some followed the instruction of a DJ who turned off the music and announced: “Run! Get out! There’s a guy with a gun!” Many died in piles.

Layout of the Pulse nightclub, from a presentation by Brian Kowalski at the Arizona Church Security Network’s 2023 Defending the Flock conference

Now compare the Pulse Nightclub to Club Q in Colorado Springs, where the patrons fought back. The killer lost his rifle when they threw him to the floor. They took his pistol from him and beat him senseless with it. He even got a spike heel or two in the face. “The assailant was due to be arraigned in court today, but he’s still in the hospital intensive care unit . . . “

When a bozo shot President Reagan on 30 Mar 1981, the assassin was swarmed within 3 seconds–not only by Secret Service agents and DC Metro cops, but by unarmed bystanders and even reporters (those were different times).

The would-be assassin going down under a pile of angry bystanders on 30 Mar 1981.

We hear a lot about rifles, but the tool of choice in the vast majority of crimes in which guns are used is most often a handgun (pistol or revolver). The reason is obvious: a handgun is simply easier to hide before the attack.


Point It Up

To “get inside” the minimum effective range of a handgun, as with a long gun (shotgun or rifle), one must first point it in a safe direction. Most places (unless you are on the bottom floor of a multi story house), the safest direction to point the bad guy’s gun is up.

Angela McQueen, hero school teacher, showing me how she saved multiple lives by pointing a bad guy’s pistol up in the cafeteria at Mattoon High School in Illinois.

Most office buildings and other modern structures–Sabino High School, for example–have concrete floors that should stop bullets.

Pointing it down is safer than to the side, but remember our legs and feet are also down that way.

This guy is much stronger than me, but if I’m hanging off his (red, plastic, imitation) shotgun with all my weight, he can’t lift me and the shotgun up high enough to directly target anyone else in the room. About that time, inspired by my example (or responding to my call of “A little help, here?”) others should be coming to take him down. Image from a Ladies’ Personal Protection class.

Once his pistol is pointed in a safe direction, CROWD HIM. Get right up in his grill. Keep it pointed away from your face. Pointed at his face is OK.

Image from the 2022 Defending the Flock conference

If you get into a tug o’ war, sooner or later it will be pointed back at you. It’s as much about footwork as it is about arm strength, but keeping your arms bent, elbows in, keeps your hands close to your center of strength.

It will likely be weeks or months before the investigation into the Monterey Park ballroom attack is complete. Hero Brandon Tsay may be a Navy SEAL and a Krav Maga instructor, but I suspect he’s just an ordinary guy whose family runs the Lai Lai Ballroom in Alhambra, CA. With little more than his empty hands and the will to live, Tsay disarmed the Monterey Park killer.

Fighting and disarming the assailant has been, for far too long, spoken of in hushed tones and listed as one’s very last option. Depending on geography (i.e., his proximity to you or presence in your space), it may very well be your FIRST and ONLY option. Fortunately, people are finally starting to figure that out on their own.

I’m guessing that Brandon Tsay, hero of the Lai Lai Ballroom, had zero training. He saved many lives–including his own.


Get Training

Your chances of living through such an experience are FAR greater if you have trained beforehand. With even a modicum of qualified instruction and a willingness to invest time practicing, anyone who is adolescent or older can become basically proficient at off-lines and disarms.

Adolescents learning how not to be helpless victims, with a red piece of plastic shaped like a pistol.

Some self-proclaimed “experts” who should know better postulate that teaching young people to defend themselves from threats we know to be real somehow traumatizes them, or worse, engenders the very violence we are seeking to avoid. I don’t know about that, but I can tell you from personal experience that watching your friends die from violence is very traumatizing.

Learning self defense is considered moral in just about every culture. I taught my kids to defend themselves, including empty hands against the gun, from a very young age. I would walk up to them while they were doing homework, stick a rubber or plastic replica pistol up near their head, and yell, “Where’s Debbie?!?” (or some other nonsensical expression).

At first, they were, like, “What?!? Who’s Debbie?”

Now, their immediate reaction is to take my “gun” away. Once they have established a safe environment for civil discourse, they say, “Now, let’s talk about your ‘Debbie’ issue . . .”

One of my kids does not take out the trash till after I harangue her, and the other doesn’t do the dishes often enough. But they are both straight-A students on merit scholarships at a major university. Both contribute to our economy by working in paying jobs at which they excel. Both inherited some OCD from their dad, but as far as I can tell, neither of them are on drugs or psychotic or axe murderers or pregnant or in jail.

Acknowledging that most people are good, but some are not, has not given them PTSD. Being trained to defend themselves makes them MORE self-confident as they take their first steps out in to this big world, not less.

Some important advice about learning to off-line or disarm:

  • Only practice off-lines and disarms under the tutelage of a qualified instructor
  • When practicing disarms, make sure all four of the bad guy role player’s fingers are on the grip (as in the image above), with none inside the trigger guard. Otherwise, you could break the role player’s fingers. That’s OK with a real bad guy, but something we discourage in traning.
  • Do NOT practice off-lines / disarms with a real gun, even a gun that is allegedly “unloaded,” as THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN UNLOADED GUN. Use a plastic or rubber replica gun, as in the image above. If you are training how to “beat the click” of the hammer fall or sear releasing the striker, have a certified armorer demilitarize your training tool with a barrel insert and / or a shortened firing pin beforehand.
Note the orange plastic barrel insert which physically blocks the chamber of this M9 from accepting ammunition when training off-lines and disarms. 

In the 1970s, long before active violence became a daily occurrence, Jeff Cooper wrote:

“Our police do what they can, but they can’t protect us everywhere and all the time. All too often they cannot even protect themselves. Your physical safety is up to you, as it really always has been.”

Principles of Personal Defense, pp. 77 – 78


Selected Sources

Richard F. Burton. The Book of the Sword. London: Chatto & Windus, 1884. Burton intended this to be a three volume work, but he died in 1890 and never completed Volumes II & III. Volume I concerns itself primarily with artifacts of the ancient world. Roman swords were originally single-bladed, intended for slashing, and even longer than the Greek swords. But unlike the Spartans, the Romans were not too proud to change their gear or tactics when they found something that worked better. They soon standardized the short stout Spanish blade (alternatively spelled gladius hispanus) for their foot soldiers. Roman cavalry carried longer swords, called spatha, for reach when mounted.

David Clammer. The Zulu War. Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England: David & Charles Publishers, 1973. A concise overview.

James O. Gump. The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

S. C. Gwynne. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. New York: Scribner, 2010.

Ann Hyland. Training the Roman Cavalry, from Arrian’s ARS TACTICA. London: Grange Books, 1993.

Ian Knight, editor. “By the Orders of the Great White Queen:” Campaigning in Zululand through the Eyes of the British Soldier, 1879. London: Greenhill Books, 1992

Joseph Loconte. A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914 – 1918. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2015. This is a wonderful book, but perhaps it should have been titled “and THE Great War,” a contemporary term for WWI, rather than “A Great War,” which makes it sound like “a really awesome war.”

” ‘Great warrior’?” Wars not make one great.”

–Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Donald R. Morris. The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation under Shaka and its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879. New York, NY: Konecky & Konecky, 1965. This is probably the definitive account of the Zulus. In its 655 pages, I was only able to find one reference to the knobkerrie club or throwing stick. That would seem to indicate that, while knobkerries were present (and survive to this day in auctions of Zulu artifacts), it was not nearly as important to the Zulu way of war as the iKlwa. I did not find the word iWisa in The Washing of the Spears. Other sources I have on the Anglo – Zulu war say little of knobkerries and nothing at all about the Zulu word iWisa. I found iWisa (with a lower case w), instead, in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a good place to start looking, but Wikipedia should never be considered definitive without corroboration from other sources. Digging deeper into Wikipedia articles I have occasionally found that the references cited do not always state what the Wikipedia article claims they do. In this case, though, the Wikipedia article on knobkerries cited Rudolph’s Guide for the Zulu Court Interpreter (see below), which appears to be a definitive, if undated, source. Lacking any linguistic ability of my own (I’m not even sure how to pronounce iKlwa and iWisa), I’ll have to defer to Rudolph’s written expertise.

C. J. Rudolph. A Guide for the Zulu Court Interpreter. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, p. 25.

CID Special Agent Michael “Scottie” Sharpe. Notes from a presentation SA Sharpe gave on the Ft Hood treason during the FBI’s Counterterrorism Investigations and Operations (CTIOps) course, at the Manassas, VA FBI Resident Agency (RA), 15 Feb 2017. Sharpe, a Joint Terrorism Taskforce (JTTF) taskforce officer (TFO), was the FBI’s lead investigator for the 05 Nov 2009 massacre at Ft Hood’s soldier processing center. I was assigned as a TFO to a domestic terrorism squad in the JTTF at the FBI’s Tucson RA. At the CTOps (pronounced “city ops”) course, we got to hear about several terrorist incidents–San Bernardino was another–directly from the investigators who had been there, with their boots in the blood, immediately after the massacres. They also had the “long view,” having seen the investigations through from start to finish, and been privy to information not widely disseminated by the media in the immediate aftermath of such massacres. Unfortunately, some of what we heard in other briefings was classified; my notes from classified briefings went into the shredder when I retired. Apart from protecting intelligence sources, all federal agencies also have a policy of not disclosing investigative methods (other than those which are common knowledge, like lifting fingerprints or collecting DNA from fluids found at crime scenes). Fortunately, not all of the briefings on active violence (a form of terrorism) were classified (despite the FBI’s propensity to slap a classification on just about any information pertaining to terrorism investigations–even previously unclassified reports submitted to them from other agencies). The bottom line is, going prone is not a good idea when the bad guy is in the same room with you. It did not work well for the soldiers at Ft Hood. That sort of information is far from secret, and needs to be widely disseminated if our training people how to respond to close range ambush is to prevent death and injury during these horrible events.

Frank Straub, Jack Cambria, Jane Castor, Ben Gorban, Brett Meade, David Waltemeyer, and Jennifer Zeunik. Rescue, Response, and Resilience: A Critical Incident Review of the Orlando Public Safety Response to the Attack on the Pulse Nightclub. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Critical Response Initiative, 2017. This report is comprehensive, and in many ways authoritative. You can read a copy in the Resources page of Unfortunately the report relies in large part upon news articles, which, like Wikipedia, are notoriously approximate as sources. I’m not bagging on reporters here. My brother and my sweet sister in law were both journalists. The very best intel analyst I ever worked with was a former reporter. But the media usually lacks the bandwidth for detailed analysis. The 20 second sound-byte dumbs information down to a disingenuous level. And the 24 hour news cycle forces journalists to report as fact that which is only unconfirmed rumor, in order to compete with other news organizations. By the time those “facts” are disproven, the story no longer leads, and nobody notices. By then, the erroneous “facts” have become part of the accepted narrative of the event. In his book Columbine, journalist David Cullen devotes an entire chapter to this erroneous, circular reporting phenomenon.

TM9-1005-319-10. Operator’s Manual, Rifle, 5.56-mm, M16A2 W/E. Washington, DC: GPO, Aug 1986.

Special thanks to Debbie H of Woodworkers Source, who helped me select the wood (wenge) for the haft of my replica iKlwa, and then turned and finished it. Wenge is actually a central African hardwood. It is sometimes used for making bows, but due to geography would not likely have been used to make a real iKlwa

Portions of this article were excerpted from a training summary I wrote for a Pediatric First Aid class I taught at a Montessori school. I originally published an abridged version of this article, with the similar title Isandhlwana vs the Pulse Nightclub, on

–George H, I-LIVED instructor