The Cornered Cat
I blame MacGyver

This is something I’ve thought about a bit. And the conclusion I’ve come to (for now) is something like this: it is one thing to use whatever you have, however you can, to save your own life in the heat of the moment.

But it is another thing entirely to plan to use something known to be less than ideal.

This holds true with holsters and carry guns, with safety protocols, with medical supplies, and with a whole lot of other things.


Improvising isn’t a plan.

It’s what you do when you’ve failed to plan.


Examples? Sure.

Holster: Even though a gun could be carried without a modern holster, just by jamming it into the waistband or dropping it uncovered into a pocket, that’s not a great thing to do. It leaves the trigger exposed, and the waistband trick exposes the user to the risk of the gun slithering down the pants leg and escaping into the wild. There are better ways to carry a gun. So even though a person might do something like that in an emergency, it surely isn’t something we’d plan to do.

Safety Protocols: In the heat of a life-threatening emergency a person might inadvertently (or even deliberately) allow the gun to point at an interior wall that wouldn’t stop a bullet. But a smart person surely wouldn’t plan to do that in a classroom where they knew they’d be handling guns. Even unloaded ones. Instead, if a person were planning to handle guns in that environment, they would set it up so that they  could trust that they had a genuine safe direction that would definitely stop an unexpected bullet.

Medical Gear: A tampon is not designed to stop blood flow, although it does make the blood less likely to pour out onto the floor. What does stop bleeding? Direct pressure. And a tampon is not designed to administer direct pressure, either. (It is rather explicitly designed not to put a lot of pressure on surrounding tissues, in fact.) Packing the wound with gauze designed for the task, and covering it with a compression bandage, works a lot better. If you’re going to carry something with you to stop bleeding, carry a thing that works.

Same thing with tourniquets. Someone did a study not too long ago and found that an improvised tourniquet without a windlass failed to stop the bleeding 99% of the time. Even with an windlass of some sort, improvised tourniquets failed 31% of the time — and are considerably slower to apply. Fortunately, a person can easily carry a true tourniquet on their belt (the PHLster Flatpack is a great product that I can recommend). And true tourniquets save lives. Ankle carriers for tourniquets are available, and range bags and car kits can easily carry one. A person can plan ahead so they don’t have to improvise this crucial piece of lifesaving gear.

I could go on, but perhaps you’ve gotten my point by now. Improvising isn’t a plan. It’s what we do when we’ve failed to plan.

2 Responses to I blame MacGyver

  1. prcek.veliky says:

    I agree with you, that “I will improvise” is not (good) plan, but here in CZ we have saying stating that fortune helps prepared men. As I can’t carry all the equipment all the time what I can carry is knowledge that i.e. “when I come across the bleeding victim without proper tourniquet in my pocket I can a) use t-shirt + stick to improvise it b) can stop car with first aid kit (mandatory here) c) can use pressure by my fingers directly in wound” is kind of plan. And yes, responsible person always have boundaries to not step over, like carry without holster, or pointing gun at drywall. (personally I could understand that when someone didn’t planed to transport a gun but has to he will move it unloaded in fishing rods bag)

    • Kathy Jackson says:

      Strong agreement on chance favoring the prepared person — and that carrying knowledge is more important than carrying physical tools.

      The thing a lot of people miss is, the best (most efficient, easiest) way to learn how to improvise is to learn how to do the thing properly in the first place.

      This is true when it comes to tourniquets. What I say is, first learn how to use (and when not to use) a proper tourniquet, including how & why they work, and then the idea of improvising becomes more possible. But a lot of people think they have the idea and could improvise without any trouble. But the same people have never tried to occlude a vessel or measure how effective that occlusion is even with a tool designed to do that job. They don’t know how tough that is to do or how to change things around to make it work if the first thing they try doesn’t do it.

      Because they don’t have the experience of doing a thing the “easy” way with a tool designed for the task, they are far less likely to be effective when they try to improvise. (Also: a person who has had experience and practice using a real tourniquet is also more likely to carry a tool designed to do the job, because they know how even a few seconds’ delay in gathering materials can cost someone their life; that’s a different point but an important one.) But someone who has learned how to do the thing in the first place can often find a way to do it even when the tailor-made tool isn’t there.

      This goes for improvised self-defense tools, too, by the way.

      There are a limited number of ways to use any object in self defense — there are tools that work best for bopping someone (striking tools), tools that work best for poking or slashing holes in someone (stabbing tools), tools that work best for distracting someone (most of the zapping devices fall under this category), and so on. A person who understands how weapons work can find an amazing variety of really good weapons in almost any manmade or natural environment. But a person who has not made a study of that is unlikely to pick a good improvised tool, and also unlikely to use that tool with good effectiveness.

      A person who studies a defensive art that includes a lot of work with knives may be better prepared to use a screwdriver to stop an assailant than someone who has not. Not because it’s all that complicated to figure out that the sharp end goes into the assailant, but because the person who has spent some time studying with a knife knows exactly where to stab and how to create the opening that lets them do it.

      Lots more to think about here. Thanks.

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