There are some people who come into my self-defense school for one reason or another and need self-defense skills immediately, but don’t have a lot of time for training. It may be a mother who is sending her daughter off to college in a week, or a businessman who just received a call from his boss saying he wants him to travel to a dangerous part of the world to complete a business deal by this weekend. Whatever the reason is, it got me thinking, how do I teach someone who has only one or two hours to learn self-defense? Besides wanting to teach them techniques to end procrastination, and get their butts in a self-defense class, it really did challenge me as an instructor. The one main answer that came to my mind was to teach them how to properly use pepper spray.

The second article of this two part series does cover situations when you may not have a weapon, such as pepper spray. However, I want to specifically focus on pepper spray right now, and here is why: Pepper spray is the ultimate self-defense tool. Why? It needs minimum training, but has maximum leverage. I’ll explain these reasons in a second, however, I ran into a major problem, especially with those who already carry the stuff! Although I don’t have any scientific data to support what I’m about to say, I want you to do your own test so you can prove my point. Go up to anybody who carries pepper spray around on their key chain, in their purse, in their car, or in their pocket and ask them the following questions (you may have to ask yourself as you may be the one carrying it):

  1. How many SHU’s does your spray have, or what percentage of your spray is OC?
  2. How does your dispenser actually disperse, and what is the distance it can spray?
  3. When is the last time you’ve trained with your sprayer, and how did you do it?

After getting the patent “deer in headlights” stare, you’ll see my motivation for writing this article. The bottom line is that most people carrying pepper spray simply don’t know answers to any of these basic questions. This is a problem for many reasons but mainly because people are carrying around a valuable self-defense tool, and actually have a false sense of security, which they won’t learn until it is too late. Being ineffective, they’ll blame it on the spray, saying it doesn’t work. No it wasn’t the spray that did not work, you did not work! Then on the other hand, I ran into the problem of those who never even thought of carrying this agent. They usually didn’t because they were totally misinformed about it. As a result, I was fighting a multi front war. Through my research, I found out that most people don’t know the effects of pepper spray, which make them question why they should even bother carrying it, much less get training with it.


So why is pepper spray the ultimate self-defense tool, and why should you carry it? Here is the deal… assume you are the attacker and after you get sprayed you cannot see the person you were attacking, catch your breath to get energy for the attack, and feel like your skin, nasal passages, and throat are on fire, plus it keeps on getting worse every second! Will you keep on attacking a person? The answer is no, as we have sprayed people and tested its result, we found it was impossible to keep on doing anything, much less continue to attack someone!

People need to understand that effective self-defense happens when the attacker cares more about their own safety, then the original reason they attacked you (rob, rape, assault). Pepper spray takes a short cut to that result, by taking the attacker’s focus off of you, and onto their own pain and discomfort. This creates an opportunity for you to escape and survive, whether the attacker is a lot bigger than you, has a weapon, or even a partner in crime. How is this simple spray so powerful? Read on…


Civilians seem to be the most under trained and misinformed, so the following will focus on them.
The best place to start is the first question of three asked before: “How many SHU’s is your spray, or what percentage of your spray is OC?” First, let’s realize that we are talking about what is called OC here, which stands for Oleoresin Capsicum. This is the part of a hot cayenne (red) pepper, which actually makes it “hot”. Therefore, OC Spray is not mace, or tear gas, which are mostly irritants. People have tolerances to irritants; therefore some people won’t be affected. OC Spray is actually an inflammatory agent. That means whether a person likes it or not, whether they’re drunk or sober, on or off drugs, young or old, they will be affected. Although everyone will respond at different intensities, everyone WILL respond to OC.

SHU’s stand for Scoville Heat Units, which is a scale that can measure the level of “hotness” of the spray. Most sprays range from 500,000 to 2 million units. Although there are spays which go higher, 2 million units will give you the stopping power you need. The percentage given on these products relates to the percentage of actual OC in the spray, so it has nothing to do with its intensity. This usually ranges from 2-18%, but because this really doesn’t have to do anything with the hotness, 10% will do just fine.


Up until this point, I’ve referred to pepper “spray”, but all dispensers “spray” differently. There are three specific types of dispersal forms: foam, stream, and cone. Each has their positive points and drawbacks. See the table below for an easy to follow guide on what is right for your situation:

TypeFoamStreamConeBest Choice
Distance - How far it shootsShoots 6-10 feet, which comes out like shaving creamDisperses in a 8-14+ feet liquid streamFires in a 3-8 feet “shot gun like” fogStream
Inhalation - How easily does it effect attacker, if not sprayed directly in eyes/mouth areaNot easily inhaledSemi easily inhaledVery easily inhaledCone
Aiming - How good of a shot do you need to beVery good aiming skills needDecent aiming skills neededLittle aiming skills neededCone
Contamination - How easily can it get back on youEasily, especially if it is thrown back at you intentionally, or rubbed off on youEasily, if it splashes back at youEasily, if you stay in the same area you sprayed, or if strong wind blows it back at youAh, the golden question…

To expand on the final point of contamination, let us dispel some myths, talk about some specific scenarios, and then focus on what you need for self-defense purposes. The average citizen who gets attacked needs a quickly inhaled product, without a great amount of aiming skill, but also realizes they should not hang around the area or perpetrator after spraying them. Taking these things into account, cone would be the best choice for your average citizen.


Step 1: Awareness, awareness, awareness! Regardless of what type you have, or how you will actually spray it, having the sprayer out is very important. Therefore, if you take a short cut through a dark alleyway, or see a man start approaching you as you get to your car in a near empty parking lot – get it out!

Step 2: After realizing there is a threat, and going for your sprayer, face your opponent with a bladed side stance, and keep your hands up. This will let you stay balanced, and quickly move back after the attacker advances. In addition, having your hand up will help you spray faster, and protect yourself if need be.

Step 3: The next step is to warn or notify the attacker. Many times this will stop the motivation of the attacker immediately (or give you enough time to escape). Yell out, “I have pepper spray!”, “I’m going to spray you!”, and/or “Get back, or I’m going to use this pepper spray!”.

Step 4: If the attacker is dumb enough to continue their onslaught, you have to combine the next two instructions – spray and move.When spraying with a foam or stream always spray in a zig zag pattern, as aiming is important with these types, so the more area coverage is better. If using cone, simply spray in the direction of the attacker’s face. However, never spray and stay in the same place, regardless of what type you are using. As stated in the grid before, foam can actually be used as a weapon back at you, as many police have had it thrown back in their face after missing the intended target. Stream types sometimes have what is called a “splash back” effect, where the pepper spray can actually splash back at you. Cone types can obviously be blown back in one’s face after spraying (especially if you are outside), so whatever you use, SPRAY and MOVE.


There are a couple things to keep in mind as you start, continue, or change your pepper spray training. Keep these things as a priority, and you’ll be effective if a situation arises:

  1. Train realistically. I know it seems obvious, but make sure you include movement, an aggressive attacker (who really tries to grab and hit you), and a variety of training environments (wet asphalt, dark room, etc.) in your training. Train three times a week for a month, and then maintain your skills by training once a month to keep sharp.
  2. Escape not punishment. Use OC Spray as means of escape. Never spray someone and continue to beat or punish him or her. Furthermore, only use OC Spray as a substitute for a defensive punch, kick, weapon’s strike, or a situation that calls for a defensive use of a firearm. Never spray someone simply because they are verbally insulting you.
  3. Tool vs. Weapon. You are the weapon; the pepper spray is the tool. Develop other tools, such as one step strikes to follow up if needed, or use solely if you can’t get to or don’t have spray available. (See below for more information to help you with this training tip.)
  4. Get the right tool. There are a lot of choices out there when buying pepper sprayers. Find one which is small enough, powerful enough, and easy to use in high stress situations. For more information check out


One of the quickest ways to get an edge, especially against attackers who are bigger, stronger, and more skilled than you, is through a defensive tool (weapon). Among the tools a person can carry, there are five popular choices: a firearm, knife, baton (or another blunt weapon), stun gun (or “air taser”), and pepper spray. No one doubts that each of these weapons is very effective, however, they include aspects you have to keep in mind.

On the next page is a quick reference table below to explain the pros and cons of each:

ToolLethalityConcealment Ability/Ease of Being CarriedEfficiency/ReadinessTraining
Additional Notes
FirearmVery lethal, which could lead to unimaginable lawsuits due to misuse (and even proper use) of the weapon.Even though there have been great improvements in holsters, most are still bulky and uncomfortable in some positions.In most cases one cannot really pull this tool until there is a threat, therefore, it is not easily ready on command when concealed.A decent amount of training is needed to effectively use firearms.Carrying firearms is illegal in many states, in addition to some people having personal issues against it.
KnifePotentially lethal dependant on the skill of the attacker and defendant.Easily concealed and easy to carry.Fairly ready for use, and efficient to pull out for use.A good amount of training is needed to become proficient with this tool.Laws vary from state to state when carrying a knife. When using it, one needs a particular mindset to carry out cutting another human.
Baton or Other Striking WeaponMost strikes are not lethal, and some are hardly noticeable when carried out by a smaller or weaker person.Most batons are not easily concealed, and are too uncomfortable for people to carry on a regular basis.Fairly ready, and efficient for use.Just as a knife, a decent amount of training is needed for this tool, and even more so in some cases.Strikes to invulnerable targets may only enrage an attacker even more. Blunt weapons need multiple strikes to be effective in many cases.
Stun or Taser GunNot lethal, but effects people as if it was lethal.Most stun guns and tasers are not easy to conceal because of their size, nor are they easy to carry for most people.Fairly ready, and efficient for use. However stun guns need a closer distance, and air tasers give you only one chance to hit your opponent.Training is needed to use this weapon correctly.One needs to be in very close proximity (or in the case of tasers you only have one or two shots), varying effects due to the size/ pain tolerance of opponent, and the fact that one has to stay around long enough to render the maximum effect.
OC SprayNot lethal, but effects people as if it was lethal.Dependant on the product, as some canisters definitely are not easily concealed, however some are, such as Spitfire’s.Very ready, and efficient for use.Minimum training needed to render a significant response.See below.

The bottom line is that OC Spray presents a near perfect self-defense tool, regardless of what your level of self-defense skill may be. Only a couple states (NY, MA, MI, and WI) have restrictions about OC Spray and where one can obtain it (although it is legal in all states), so make sure you check into your own state laws before buying anything. When you combine the best product with realistic training, attackers should be aware. The worst option is ignorance. Do not carry a sprayer without knowing how to work it, and do not use any excuse for not looking into this easy and effective device. Remember… pepper, it’s the spice of living – and staying alive!

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