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The key to using keys in self defense

You’ve probably heard it before — put your keys between your fingers to better arm yourself against an attacker during a self defense situation. Those wickedly jagged keys poking out from your hand do look menacing, but will they really help?

It’s an automatic plus if you have the quickness of mind to take any kind of action when confronted or scared. Putting the keys between your fingers demonstrates to the attacker, “I’m ready sucka.” And quite frankly, looking down at those jagged points coming out of your fist is rather empowering.

(Need some simple self defense moves? Check out my article here.)

One problem is many people who haven’t trained in boxing, combat, or martial arts don’t have powerhouse punches. If this is so, any punch delivered with or without the keys could be ineffective — except for collecting the attacker’s DNA.


Keys in the top photo are too unstable. Try the other ways of holding them instead.

Secondly, the keys have to be held correctly, or they will deflect away from the target. Try this — hold most of the keys and key ring inside your hand and put two keys on either side of your middle finger (top photo). Now go up to a hard surface and apply (gently!) the points of the keys to the surface. Slowly push harder.

Do the keys stay in place, driving forward into the surface or do they move around?

I gave a set of keys to my octogenarian mother and asked her to do the same. As she put the keys on the flat surface, one key went off to the side and the other started to dig a little into her skin. Unhurt, she looked at me as if I had played a joke on her, “Well this doesn’t work.” I smiled and said, “I know.” She threw a pillow at me. (My mom’s feisty.)

If you are in danger and decide to fight back in an attack, these will be better choices if you want to use your keys:

1) Stable key
Place the two outwardly pointing keys’ heads deeper into your fist, heads flat against your palm (middle photo). Use the fold of your palm at the crease as a back stop and stabilizing area. Now try slowly applying pressure to the same surface, adjusting the keys to find the most secure placement so they don’t move.

2) Prying key
Use the thumb and finger placement for prying something open. The bulk of the keys are stabilized inside the fist while a single key blade points out (bottom photo). The thumb pushes downward on the key so it is stable for slashing, raking, or gouging.

3) Hammering key
In the last photo, a second key extends out of the bottom of the hand. By letting go of the prying key and more firmly gripping the fist, this second key can also stab and slash.

Targets for the keys include the eyes, groin, scalp, throat, or backs of hands.

Play around with the three ways of holding the keys (bottom two photos) and decide which you prefer. Then practice how fast you can load up your fist with them. You want to get comfortable doing this now, so grab up your keys and give it a go!

If you liked this article, you’ll appreciate this one, too:   Simple Self Defense Moves Anyone Can Do

Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • janice June 10, 2009, 12:12 pm

    Thank you so much. These are tips are wonderful! I hope you truly realise what a gift you’re giving to the world with these posts, Lori. I’m sharing them with my son and my teenage daughter and her friends. Any time you’d like to do a guest post over at my blog, I’d be honoured.

  • Lori Hoeck June 10, 2009, 3:40 pm

    Hi Janice,
    It’s always encouraging for me to know people like you, your kids, and their friends choose to learn self defense skills and become safer. Thank you for the offer to guest post! I’ll think about a topic and email you.

  • Caroline June 10, 2009, 10:21 pm

    OK…I usually hold them like the top photo! Yikes. Good to know some other positions. Thank you for the great post and insights today.

  • Lori Hoeck June 11, 2009, 2:17 pm

    Hi Caroline,
    I’m glad you liked the information and hope you get some practice time in to decide which you like best.

  • John W. Zimmer June 19, 2009, 10:33 pm

    Hi Lori,

    You make good points about the knock out power of non-trained people using punches or with keys.

    Have you considered the distraction value of a key punch to the eyes or face?

    I generally try to get people doing something even if it might not be optimal so once the decision is made to fight back, punching, poking, kicking will distract the attacker enough to give the woman a chance to get away if one of them land.

    I like your website!

  • Lori Hoeck June 20, 2009, 7:44 am

    Hi John,
    Thank you for commenting and visiting!
    Distraction is a formidable tool, I agree! That whole topic is a post or two in and of itself, since a person can use verbal, visual, and tactile distractions. And then there’s the mental distractions that I call “getting off the attack track.” Self defense is a rich and amazing topic!

  • Dave N July 13, 2009, 8:40 pm

    Striking with keys can be effective. Just be aware that your using your KEYS!
    These are the things that are going to get you into your home, car or other safe place. One mis-strike and their flying into a snow-bank or sewer or something.

  • Lori Hoeck July 13, 2009, 9:01 pm

    Hi Dave,
    Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    Keys can be lost or damaged, that’s true.Violence is such a fluid thing, it’s hard to predict what will happen. If the keys are only weapon you know or have, then that’s what you got to roll with. I’d hope any damage or loss, though, would be inflicted on the attacker. 🙂

  • Surgere September 23, 2009, 1:37 pm

    It’s great that you bring this up; thank you. I’ve seen way to many commercials and self-defense materials that espouse the use of keys as shown in the top image. The middle option would still tear up the skin in between your fingers, though, since no strike should ever be assumed to be without fault.
    The bottom option seems to be the best in my trials for a number of reasons: (1) It is the option least likely to make a police officer suspect that you wanted to use unnecessary force, rather than just defending yourself; (2) You can still unlock and turn on your car with the key in this position (this becomes especially useful since you will almost absolutely lose all fine motor control in a violent situation, one of the many effects of a surge of adrenaline); and (3) You can walk to your car with the key already in this defensible position without attracting unwanted (and most likely negative) attention from the average citizen.

  • Lori Hoeck September 23, 2009, 2:11 pm

    Hi Surgere,
    You make some good points. I find adrenaline masks the pain of small things like those skin tears — survival has a way of over-riding things like that. The middle option is far more stable and usable than the hold in the top photo, but the bottom option has more flexibility.