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Pocket-Sand Self-Defense Gurus Can’t Be Serious, Can They?

What started as harmless fun on ‘King of the Hill’ has now seemingly morphed into an actual defense strategy for these dudes

Twenty-three-year-old Zachariah is always prepared for an attack. Not because he’s trained in self-defense, nor because he carries a weapon — training is unnecessary, and a weapon would get him stopped by security. Rather, Zachariah carries a small handful of sand in his pocket at all times, so as to launch it into the face of his attacker. Kind of like this:

He calls it “pocket sand,” and he, along with a few others, believes it’s the perfect tool for self-defense. “Most people laugh when I tell them about my pocket sand,” he says. “But when you try to come at me and get sanded, well, I’ll be the one who escapes and you’ll be the one with sand in your eyes.”

Zachariah, it seems, takes his pocket sand very seriously. But should he?

I spoke to him after seeing how often he posted in r/PocketSand, the subreddit dedicated to all things pocket sand. At first glance, the subreddit, which boasts nearly 45,000 subscribers, is littered with memes and jokes about pocket sand that more or less align with how pocket sand is defined on Know Your Meme and on King of the Hill (where the character Dale Gribble is famous for pocket sand attacks). 

According to Know Your Meme, people have remixed and memed the use of Gribble’s pocket sand in various ways since 2004, including this 10-minute version of the video above (now at 41,000 views and counting)

In other words, it’s hard to take pocket-sand enthusiasts seriously. Surely these guys are just goofing around, or merely imitating Dale Gribble for laughs? But dig deeper into posts like “How to Have the Upper Hand at the Beach?” and “Why Is Glitter Discouraged?,” and you’ll find guys like Zachariah offering legitimate, well-argued responses. 

For example, why does the community discourage putting glitter in pocket sand? “My main concern with glitter is it will leave major evidence. Once you release it from your hand to paralyze your target, the remains will stick to your hands and even clothing,” one user explains. “If authorities bring you down for questioning, you’ll be done as soon as light hits you.”

“When I pocket that sand every day, I’m praying I won’t be put in a position to use it,” adds another. “Glitter can cause long-term eye damage via micro cuts to the retina, or even worse for someone with contacts.”

With such serious responses to such seemingly silly questions, I can’t help but think that at least some of these guys are serious. In fact, it’s probably these very guys who have decried the subreddit’s devolution into jokes and memes:

[META] On the state of /r/pocketsand from pocketsand

Not to mention, they continue to make posts about the U.S. military listing pocket sand as a viable line of defense, or that it’s sold on self-defense websites as a legitimate self-defense tool (despite the pouch having Dale Gribble’s face on the front). After all, if it can stop Frank Dux in Bloodsport and even a superhero like Luke Cage, why can’t it work for them, too? 

That’s certainly Zachariah’s story — and he’s definitely sticking to it. “I don’t ever want to willingly hurt anybody, unless they’re willingly about to hurt me,” he explains. “If I can deploy some sand to either deter my assailants from attacking me, or give me enough time to get away from them, then that will be my course of action.”  

“Generally, I’ll have enough in my pocket to grab an emergency pinch without any trouble, but if I can feel the weight of the sand in my pocket, I’m carrying too much,” he continues. “There’s a fine line of not enough and too much pocket sand.”

He’s unbothered, too, by having to clean the unused sand out of his pockets on a daily basis: “It’s worth it for the peace of mind — especially in public places. Neither airport, nor concert security has ever told me to take the sand out of my pockets, so the slight inconvenience of sand in my pockets is worth the knowledge I’ll be able to buy some time to escape or stun someone if necessary.” 

Is it an effective self-defense technique, though? 

Well, it’s not the worst idea, as far as improvised weapons go, says Corbett Everidge, a self-defense instructor who specializes in “non-traditional self-defense.” “Any weapon is better than no weapon at all if you’re confronted,” he explains. “You’re just looking to create enough time to get away and sand to the face will do that.” 

Yet he’s sure to add, “It looks great in the movies, but it’s different in reality. I always teach people that violence is fast, brutal, messy and unpredictable. You may have a plan, but as soon as you get punched in the face, your plan goes out the window.”

And a surprising amount of planning goes into using pocket sand, per Mike Gillette, an expert in self-defense and former bodyguard for Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Sylvester Stallone. Things like: 

  • Can you access it under stress? 
  • How much did you bring? 
  • Do you know how much would be needed to cause the intended effect? 
  • Have you ever thrown sand in a practice scenario? 
  • What if it’s windy?

“I don’t mean to crap all over what may have merely been intended to be a ‘fun’ topic,” Gillette says, “but I have zero belief in the functionality of sand as a defense tool.” 

What you should really be focused on, he continues, is “de-incentivizing the attacker from continuing the attack, which is accomplished with an immediate, overwhelmingly savage response.”

And so, keys, pens, nail-polish remover and/or small flashlights are much better options. “Anything that can be held in the hand needs to be able to be inserted into the eyes or ears,” Gillette advises. “If the defender is empty-handed, then bury digits into the eyes or ears. Failing that, grasp as much face as possible and pull it as far away from its original location as possible. Or bite. Repeat as needed. Grim? Yes. But occasionally necessary.”

The best defense, then, is having the mental capacity (and calm) to handle such a situation — sand or no sand. “It won’t be your attacker’s first time attacking someone, but it’ll likely be your first time being attacked,” says Everidge. “The only way to reconcile that is by going to a few self-defense classes. There isn’t a boogeyman hiding in every bush, but the least you can do is be prepared if there is.”