The Mighty Sjambok

For the money, this has to be about the most effective and underrated Self-defense weapon ever. Once again, I missed out when the animal hide Sjamboks were being imported in very limited quantities by Cold Steel, Inc., so I ordered the next best thing when I found out the leather ones were not available.

I have not ordered James Loriegaís book, "Scourge of The Dark Continent: The Martial Use of The Sjambok" yet. I remember having some exchanges with him on James Keatingís old Riddle of Steel Forum and he and James Keating had some great ideas on the Sjambok. Mr. Loriega had some very interesting and viable ideas on using the Sjambok with two hands as a semi-flexible weapon in extreme close quarters. Thanks to him for giving me the heads up on that.

I believe it was James Keating who addressed one person who said something to the effect;

"Itís a pretty cool weapon and effective, but you canít carry the thing concealed..."

To which there were several responses and I believe it was James Keating who suggested that a person warm up the plastic Sjambok and either feed it through the belt loops and carry it that way, or warm it up and run it up one sleeve, across the shoulders and down the other. In that way, the Sjambok would not only be concealed, but fast on the draw. Iíve tried it, it is extremely fast if you want to carry one.

Cold Steelís literature on the Sjambok lists the leather as Hippo-Hide. I have heard that they are more likely to be made from Rhino hide...and have heard Elephant hide has also been used. The modern renditions are plastic. And before all of you people who hate Glock handguns start rolling your eyes in disgust, let me clear something up for you...

These things, plastic or not, will light you on fire. Trust me. I figured I would play with them, they would break, then I would move onward in my attempt at finding some real, leather Sjamboks.

Well, after about 6 years of whacking heavy bags, focus mitts, vines, even branches...not a split...not a crack...not a sign of breaking. Very impressive.

If you obtain one of these plastic terrors, the first thing you need to do after you open the package is roll up your pants leg to expose your calf and give it a glancing blow at about 15% of the power you could muster. Youíre going to notice two things immediately;

1. It hurts like hell and it is quite obvious if you really got hit with one from someone that meant to do you harm, the pain would be blinding...

2. You now have a raised, red welt.

The plastic Sjamboks from Cold Steel come in three lengths, 36, 41 and 54 inches. I can only speak for the 36 inch model, I have two of them. I want to get a few more of the 36 inch models and a few of the 54 inch models eventually...

On Cold Steelís video, "Proof," you see Lynn Thompson and another Gentleman wailing on a dummy in the form of a man, splitting [exploding] an aluminum soft-drink can, and busting an egg, which I would imagine is to illustrate how accurate you can become with one of them.

At one point in the video, Thompson attacks a cardboard human silhouette. While you are not going to behead or amputate limbs, the mere fact he can go through that cardboard with one of these things is frightening, to say the least.

The Cold Steel Synthetic Sjambok comes with an absolutely horrible, red, nylon sleeve. The ridges on it are about as user friendly as thumbtacks sticking out of the handle. "Well, they enhance the grip, you see..." Yeah? So would thumbtacks sticking out, theyíre still uncomfortable.


So, the first thing you want to do is rip those ridged sleeves off. Then, have your drill handy and some ParaCord [550 Cord or 3mm Kernmantle Cord].

With your drill and a 1/8th inch drill bit, drill one hole about one half inch from the lanyard hole in the Sjambok. Drill another hole further up the Sjambok, where you want the cord wrapped handle to end. Do not drill it so far up that it weakens the Sjambok. You want to keep holes where the Sjambok is thick.

Tie a knot in the end of the Cord so the knot is larger than the hole you drilled. You can use a drill bit smaller than 1/8 in diameter if you wish to thread the ParaCord through with a straightened coat hanger or other improvised tool.

Knot the end and then burn it.

Run the Cord through the hole furthest from the butt end of the Sjambok.

Pull the Cord through until it has reached the limit of its travel [the other end is knotted] and then, pull it taught, as hard as you can. Using a blunt Dental Pick or a Marlinspike, tie a knot to prevent the Cord from slipping.

Begin a simple spiral wrap of the handle area. All the way down the length of the shaft until you reach the other hole you drilled.

Run the end of the Cord through this hole, pull it as tightly as you can and then knot it on the other side to prevent it from slipping.

Run the Cord through the original lanyard hole now...

You can then create a lanyard and you can slip your thumb through and with the Sjambok hanging with the lanyard across the back of your hand, swing the Sjambok up into the hand for use. This literally locks the Sjambok in place. It is rock solid. You have a straight whip that is connected to your skeletal system.

I have toyed with the idea of taking a round file and very lightly, only about 2mm deep, creating areas where the Cord can be gripped and not slip along the length of the spiral wrap.

I have also considered taking a very sharp pocketknife and flattening two side of the handle area to wrap the handle alaí Strider Knives. This would probably give the best feel of all. But you would have to be very careful not to remove too much material from this area. If too much material is removed, you would weaken the Sjambok. You would also have to drill another hole as well.

Another idea was to screw a semi-pointed bolt into the butt of the weapon and use epoxy to secure it. This would be vicious in close as "skull-crusher pommel."

A Demonized Tool

Before we get into the actual use of this type of whip, I think I have to say something here...

I have heard people say, "I could never own one, look at how they are used in South Africa by ĎRiot Police...í"

I have no concerns with that. The Sjambok, like any other type of weapon, is merely an inanimate object to me. The Sjambok might be a "symbol of violence" in parts of Africa, that much is true. When it comes right down to it, however, I reject the idea that good people should disregard a potentially life-saving tool because some people use it for extremely violent purposes elsewhere. The parallel is with firearms. Of course some bad people use firearms! Theyíre effective, thatís why they are used. However, I would not limit my own options and blame an inanimate object for the sins or crimes of bad people who use them for evil purposes. The Sjambok has an absolutely horrible reputation. In some areas of Africa, they are literally used to torture people. Thatís not good.

Thatís also a side issue and has absolutely nothing to do with what we are talking about now.

What is often buried in all of the "Human Rights" reports is the fact that not only "Riot Police" and other Governmental Agencies use them. The populace does as well. There are stories online of "Sjambok Vigilantes" and countless stories of Sjamboks being used by civilians as well the Government.

The Sjambok is so prevalent today, there are actually "Sjambok Injury, Patient Management Protocols" listed from hospitals in Africa. The use of the Sjambok is that widespread and it is that dangerous on the person targeted.

What looks like a plastic piece of garbage, is indeed, a very awesome, powerful, fast and accurate weapon.

I understand the negative aspects of the Sjambok and I understand why some people get worked up over it and do not want to be associated with it. To me, this is symbolism over substance and I believe that demonizing inanimate objects for the actions of human beings carries with it the potential for greater harm to society. You see, the Sjambok could even be banned, but rubber hoses would take its place instantly. So, I do not care to delve into this mindset personally. It is a dead end street, it is the avenue of "compassion and understanding" and of bowing to demonization of inanimate objects who have no good or evil in the plastic or leather that they are constructed of. Only deliberate indifference. Like the steel in gun or knife, the leather or plastic of a Sjambok is indifferent, it is neutral.

The way I approach the Defensive/Offensive use of the Sjambok is very simple. Everything you need to know to be brutally effective is contained in the Filipino Martial Arts. I add more, however...

The Basic Concept of Movement

First of all, letís deal with the Filipino Stick Movements that you can use with the Sjambok...all descriptions are for the right hand.

Everyone should be familiar with the basic striking angles. Basically, you have a multiplication symbol or, "x" superimposed over an addition symbol, or, "+."

The basic striking angles can be picked up from anyone with any experience in the Filipino Arts and you should seek those people out. If that is not possible due to your location, purchase a few quality videotapes and then use a life-size, cardboard silhouette and using a yardstick and permanent marker, draw the angles right onto the target and slowly trace them over and over. Pick up speed slowly, pay attention to the Instructors, and both speed and power will develop.

If you stick with it, you will develop some degree of skill. Do not execute the movements like a robot or like you would see in a hard art like Karate with "One-Two" movements, be fluid. Fluidity is true speed. Pay attention to the body mechanics involved, if someone like James Keating or Kelly Worden takes the time to put it on one of their videotapes where time is critical, take heed and do what they say. They know more than you do if you are a Beginner. They put it on the tape for a reason. That goes for any quality instructional videotape.

A horizontal line, illustrated in Fig. 1 by lines #3 and #4, this is sometimes referred to as banda banda, the #3 and #4 line can be performed high, middle and low. Meaning, head or neck, stomach to chest level, then the low line from belt level down. These are just generalizations. The knees are a low-line target as well.

Do not be lazy when you do this movement side to side. When you strike from right to left and you return, your palm will rotate from palm up [forehand] to palm down [backhand] on the return. Do not be lazy and simply reach out with stick, knife or Sjambok and simply use a "swish-swish," type of swatting movement.

Coming up on the #9 line in the illustration, your thumb will basically be pointed towards the ground and your palm [again, for right handed people] will face right.

Coming down on the #6 line, your thumb will be up and your palm will be facing to the left. Do not neglect the rotation of the wrist/palm. If you are lazy, you will not learn this properly.

The #1 and #2 lines are downward diagonals. Performed fluidly, one following the other, they form a Figure "8." The #7 and #8 lines are the upwards diagonal lines, done fluidly, it is a Figure "8" in reverse. An infinity symbol is a better descriptor of both of these actions for some people. Sometimes, the diagonal lines are referred to as rompida.

It would be impossible to put into words what you can do with these angles, and the levels at which they can be performed on. After you memorize them all and you have a natural, fluid feel to them, begin to mix the angles up. You do not want to be predictable. This will lead to the most proficient performance possible.

The Advanced Concept of Movement

One of the most effective opening movements with a Sjambok is abanico, or "fanning." This is a quick one-quarter to one-half [in some cases more] rotation of the wrist and palm. I use a combination of abanico and reversa, reversa is striking from reverse lines. The best one with the Sjambok is to be chambered for a #2 strike, which is a back-handed strike where your right hand is chambered for that #2 and your right hand is near your left pectoral muscle. The Sjambok would be over the left shoulder. Instead of striking the #2 angle, you strike a #1 in a very fast manner using abanico, a fanning motion. It is very, very fast and incredibly deceptive. If the person has any idea whatsoever of "chambering" and what that might hint at, he is probably going to expect the weapon to come from the line the chambering "hints" at. And he is going to instantly try to address that if he sees as much as a flinch, and it will be too late. From the attackerís view, he thinks, "He is going to try to hit me on the right side of my face..." you are going to hit the opposite side.

The second one is to be chambered for a #1 angle strike. The right hand is chambered back in the general vicinity of the right pectoral, etc., and the Sjambok will be over the right shoulder. Instead of cutting downwards on that angle, your right elbow goes high instantly and you strike a #2 angle. The same effect as above will happen. Once you are practiced in this method of striking, in abanico and reversa, and you can do them very fast, accurate and powerful, it is almost a certainty that the Sjambok will land.

The Sjambok is more deceptive than the stick. The Sjambok is flexible and the force generated through the fanning movements are great. The other thing to consider is, the tip of the Sjambok will be on the target, striking it, from a relatively very small movement of the wrist, this leads to non-telegraphic movement. Which is precisely what you want to have. You want the person hit before they can realize it and respond to it. Then you want to hit them multiple times with the more powerful follow-up strikes before they can recover from the initial shock being hit.

There are many different types of abanico as well, and I suggest you purchase an excellent book and video on the subject to explore it. It will open your eyes instantly as to how brutally effective this can be. By all means, get some hands on training if any is available in your area. But know that with an eye towards detail and perseverance, you can learn how to do this from other materials, you just have to want it badly enough. Your progression might be a bit slower, you might stumble and fall in your search, but you can learn.

The next thing to explore is multiple, lightning fast strikes using the Sjambok, again, taking from the Filipino Martial Arts. Centrifugal Force and Multiple Strikes are effortless once these movements are mastered.

Redondo is a circle that repeats, if you strike a #1, you can repeat that several times, very fast. Redondo can be on any angle.

Florette, "the flower," this is a series of strikes, two or more, that generate centrifugal force and also leads to multiple hits on target. It is a flurry, the strikes are circular, but they are of different size. If you can picture this, this should be a good example of florette in action;

If you are chambered for a #1 strike, the Sjambok over your right shoulder and held in the right hand...

Letís say, for example, an attacker has presented a knife. Perhaps he takes a slash at air just to give you the idea he "means business."

The florette could from the angle #1 chambering, strike the side of the face, the side of the face again, the knife hand, and then you could repeat the knife hand strike again...almost going into redondo.

When the Sjambok reaches Zero Pressure, the limit of its travel, it can come back and the same thing can be done back-handed. You could then strike the other side of the head, face or neck, perhaps the attackerís other hand as it comes up to guard and protect. This might be extremely difficult to envision, but once you have seen it, and you have witnessed the power and speed that can be generated, it is quite the eye-opener. The florette in motion, is almost like a Cowboyís Lariat, but it does not follow the same circle over and over, that is redondo, it is also not merely horizontal or vertical, it is usually done on a medium to high line, however...

The Mongoose

The Mongoose strikes incredibly fast. Considering a Mongoose can kill a Cobra, one can imagine and look at wonder with regard to the speed and the precision with which this can be carried out. Next to Man, the Mongoose is the most dangerous to the continued health of a deadly Cobra.

When confronted with a Cobra, be a Mongoose. When confronted with a Mongoose, be a Malaysian Spitting Cobra.

Here is something I consider to be a "Mongoose Tactic."

With the Sjambok in your right hand, you hold it low. The Sjambokís tip will probably be touching the ground.

The back of your right hand will be against the outside of your thigh, this will seem unnatural at first, having your wrist twisted like this. You must not only focus on grip strength, but flexibility as well. This is torque, it is a coiled spring and once unleashed, leads to whipping, centrifugal force on a stick or a Sjambok.

Your palm will be facing directly behind you, in slow motion, this is the movement:

If the Sjambok was a sinuous razor blade, you would be cutting yourself, the back and outside of your own leg, your right arm lifts, the right hand still has the palm facing rearward and the thumb oriented to the ground.

When the right hand reaches shoulder height, the wrist/palm begins to rotate, the palm turns to face the ground for an instant, the thumb faces forward. This is unleashing the coil spring. The rotation continues to the point the palm is facing up and the spin of the Sjambok turns into an upward diagonal, horizontal or downward diagonal strike. This is an absolutely horrendous strike if it lands. And it has to be practiced to the point it is 100% fluid and lightning fast. The return stroke would instantly follow backhanded. This could be a repeated redondo or a flurry backhanded using florette.

The Cobra

And more accurately, a Spitting Cobra.

The Cobra is swift and deadly. The Cobraís head seems to float, waiting for the perfect moment in time. Sometimes, the Cobra harasses the Mongoose, trying for a hit, and if unsuccessful in making that hit...trying to create an opening. The Cobra moves, and some Cobras continue to move, that is where they get their fluid feeling...and in that alive feeling they have, they are very deceptive.

The Mongoose tends to wait for a fatal mistake from its enemy, the Cobra tries to create the mistake and then capitalize on it.

This is why you have to have role reversal in many aspects of combat. When faced with someone who patiently waits, harass him. When faced with the attacker who harasses, hold back and do not fall for the feints. It is not an easy thing to do. Remember the old saying, "Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread..."

The Cobras that spit venom are incredibly nasty reptiles. This is what you want to be with a Sjambok. You constantly want to target the eyes of the attacker. People fear having their eyes struck, and rightly so. Lightly moving your hand, and the tip of the Sjambok, keeping it out of the line of fire from the attacker, you want it to dance and taunt the attacker, you want to harass the facial area and make them fear for the safety of their eyes. That is NOT to say that you ignore the weapon hand of the adversary if he leaves it out there for you to strike.

[Further, please realize, if you are in a non-lethal force situation, you are not going to be able to legally walk away from striking someone in the face or eyes with a Sjambok. Weíre talking about maiming here...use your intelligence. If someone has a weapon and they are advancing, do what you have to do. Donít explode someoneís eye because they called you a name or shoved you, etc.]

Miyamoto Musashi wrote in the Water Scroll, in The Book of Five Rings;

"When you are even with an opponent, it is essential to keep thinking of stabbing him in the face with the tip of your sword in the intervals between the opponentís sword blows and your own sword blows. When you have the intention of stabbing your opponent in the face, he will try to get both his face and body out of the way. When you can get your opponent to shrink away, there are various advantages of which you can avail yourself to win. You should work this out thoroughly.

In the midst of battle, as soon as the opponent tries to get out of the way, you have already won. Therefore it is imperative not to forget about the tactic of Ďstabbing the face.í This should be cultivated in the course of practicing martial arts."


"Crushing the eyes," a blinder. The Spitting Cobraís projectile venom might be the tip of the Sjambok directed at the eyes. Or it might be the can of 10% O.C. Pepper Spray that you have in your other hand...

In some environments, it could be your shoe, scraping up some earth to kick into the face of the attacker...or possibly a SureFire really does not matter. It could literally be you spitting into the eyes to gain the advantage. Use your imagination. Itís a concept, not a Commandment.


Does the Sjambok really have a place in the arsenal of the serious Student of Self-defense? Or is this merely a "toy" for those that like weapons?

I think only the most diehard advocate of the Sjambok would take the suggestions of Keating and Loriega as to concealment and carry. That is fine. I do not consider that to be "extremist." You decide what is best for you.

Since this weapon is in the realm of the whip and not in the prohibited category so often shoved down our collective throats by the fools running this country into the ground, I would think it is legal anywhere a regular whip is. Buggy Whip to Bull Whip.

Like the Crook-head Cane, it can be a welcome companion on your walks. As I write this, I hear in the background noise coming from the living room, a story of a woman in my State who broke up a fight between two dogs. She is now in the hospital. With a simple piece of plastic and a $45.00 Spyderco folder to back up the piece of plastic, she may have not ended up in the hospital. Iím not second guessing her at all. Iím merely giving food for thought here...

There are so many dog attacks in this country, and quite a few fatalities from same, I would imagine that if a Police Officer did ask you, "Hey, what is that and what are you carrying it for?" You could honestly respond, "Just a piece of plastic." If pressed, "Well, there are alot of dog attacks, I thought I should have something while walking in case one comes after me, I cannot outrun a dog."

Now, the Officer might think youíre a nut, but I think most would shake their head and tell you to stay out of trouble. I donít know and do not advise you to say that either. You know your area, act accordingly.

What about camping and hiking? How about fishing? Remember, the Sjambok is known as a snake-killer. Thatís another use. Unfortunately, in alot of State Parks, one cannot carry anything but the most utilitarian of knives, and "fighters" are a no-no in many areas just as firearms are.

The Sjambok is not only potent against snakes, it is against people as well. Backed up with even the most innocuous folders, say, two Spyderco Enduras, you have something at your disposal to defend yourself with effectively.

In fact, the Cold Steel, Inc. catalog offers quite a selection of weapons for the camper to be used in areas that are oppressive when it comes to weapons. Something so simply as the Cold Steel copy of the Spetsnaz Shovel or a Tomahawk, can go a long way towards your safety. These are things that will not be questioned in most areas. A small shovel and hatchet, or even two of each around the tent or campfire are basically going to be a non-issue in most areas.

The Mandatory Warning and Disclaimer

This is a standard for everything I write. This is for information purposes only. I do not advocate ANYTHING. Everything you read is here for the purpose of informing people. I advocate NOTHING. I am not responsible if you blow your eye out of socket with a Sjambok. For one thing, any time you train with weapons, from knives to firearms, you should have high quality eye protection. If a set of good safety glasses costs you $50.00 and you should scoff, remember, your eyes cannot be replaced. $50.00 to save your eyes is such a small cost. Please be careful if you do anything on your own. Itís common sense. Be smart and not the guy moaning lowly in the Emergency Room waiting for the Doctor...

You will hear of other modifications that can be done to Bull Whips, Coach Whips and Sjamboks if you look hard enough. I will NOT list them here. They are that dangerous. Iím talking about people who operate on an almost Supernatural level of skill with flexible weapons like Whips. Do not attempt to do these things...they are for the people who make "Experts" look like novices.

[Drawings are altered from U.S. Army Combatives Manual, Public Domain]

Don Rearic

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