Choosing a self-defense weapon is a balancing act. While you definitely want the most potent weapon possible, you also need an option that is appropriate for non-lethal threats. Similarly, you want something that can be conveniently and discreetly carried yet brought into action quickly. Ideally, you also want something this is legally permissible in as many places as possible.

If those requirements seem contradictory, they are. While handguns, knives, purpose-designed impact weapons and pepper spray check some of those boxes, they don’t satisfy others, and none of them pass muster when it comes to lawful carry in non-permissive environments.

One of the few weapons that does meet all of these criteria is the humble cane or walking stick. Throughout history, the cane has served as both a fashion accessory and personal-defense weapon in many cultures, but today most people see it primarily as a mobility aid for the elderly and others with physical limitations. This image of the cane, along with the fact that no formal medical justification is required to use one, makes it the ultimate “politically correct” weapon — provided you wield it with an effective skill set.

STICK IT TO ‘EM — Even with substantially compromised mobility, basic blocks with the hand and strikes with a cane are more than possible, and with proper technique, you can recover into a “ready” position from which devastating counterattacks can be launched.

Defining ‘Practical’

To define a practical cane skill set, it’s important to draw a hard line between the “martial arts” approach to cane tactics and a practical self-defense-oriented approach. Let’s face it: Getting old sucks. With that process comes an inevitable decline in physical capabilities. As such, there’s a significant difference between an able-bodied person who chooses to carry a cane and a person with diminished physical abilities who may need to carry one. The more limited your physical attributes, the smarter, simpler and more logical your tactics need to be.

Sound self-defense techniques should also have a clear goal: stopping your attacker so you can get away safely. The best way to do that is to physically disable your assailant (at least for a short time) or cause enough intense, unavoidable pain that he or she no longer regards you as a suitable victim. “Martial artsy” techniques that involve tying your assailant up in a complicated joint lock while you hope he or she finds religion do not support that goal. Also, while the cane’s length offers the advantage of reach, it makes it challenging to wield in the confines of many real-world environments. Good cane tactics must acknowledge this and provide options for cramped quarters.

Based on these guidelines, the sad truth is that many cane programs are too physically demanding and too complicated to qualify as practical self-defense — especially for anyone who actually relies on a cane as a mobility aid. To provide a better, more practical solution, I created Martial Cane Concepts (MCC). MCC is structured so it can be learned quickly, so it’s simple enough to retain and apply without much regular practice, and — most importantly — so it’s achievable by people with limited physical attributes. People who are able-bodied can obviously do MCC with greater power and effect while their attributes allow it. If, over time, their physical abilities diminish, they can then modify their tactics as necessary.

KEEP IT SIMPLE — The core philosophy of MCC is “have a plan and work your plan.” To that end, it uses a simple, easily learned sequence of movements as the basis for a wide variety of combative applications.

Keep Using a Cane in Self-Defense Simple

The core philosophy of MCC is “have a plan and work your plan.” To that end, it uses a simple, easily learned sequence of movements as the basis for a wide variety of combative applications. Very importantly, it capitalizes on the “physiological potential” of all of the motions of the sequence to create a flexible, adaptable system of techniques.

The starting point for MCC’s core combination is the guard position. To assume the MCC guard from a right-hand-dominant perspective, put your left foot forward with your feet about shoulder-width apart and slightly staggered. Grip the cane shaft near the handle, with your right hand in a natural “fist” grip, and raise the tip to about eye level. With your left hand, grasp the shaft of the cane about one-third up from the tip with a palm-down grip, keeping your thumb and all four fingers on top of the shaft. Your right elbow should be tucked close to your body, with your right hand near your hip. In this guard, the cane functions as a shield against incoming attacks and is perfectly positioned for effective striking.

The MCC’s basic six-count sequence.

From the guard, MCC’s basic six-count sequence is performed as follows:

  • Drop your weight slightly and execute a sharp, two-handed downward motion with the tip of the cane, lowering it to about solar plexus height.
  • Thrust forward at a slightly upward angle, driving with the power of both arms. A small step forward adds power to this thrust.
  • Slide your left hand down the shaft and place it on the thumb side of your right wrist for support. This enables you to grip the cane with one hand yet swing it with the power of both. It also serves as a “brake” when managing the follow-through of a strike.
  • Execute a fast forehand swing targeting the attacker’s knees or shins and follow through to your left side, letting the cane wrap around to stop at your left shoulder.
  • Execute a fast backhand swing, again targeting the attacker’s knees/ shins. Follow through to your right side and turn your right palm up to allow the cane to stop at your right shoulder.
  • Lower the tip of the cane and return to the guard position.

Defensive Applications

To understand the defensive potential of this sequence, let’s consider several plausible scenarios. If you assume a guard in response to a perceived threat, it’s very possible he or she may try to grab the tip of your cane. The abrupt downward snap of the first motion can either preemptively strike your attacker’s incoming hand or break his or her grip. In the latter case, it will also jerk your attacker forward into the second movement — the two-handed thrust — which you can deliver to the solar plexus, sternum, throat or face. That impact creates an opportunity for your finishing strike to his or her knees or shins to achieve a “mobility kill.” By targeting your attacker’s legs, you destroy not only his or her capacity to stand and attack but also his or her ability to pursue you as you escape. This is particularly important if you truly use your cane as a mobility aid.

Striking the lower legs is also a prime MCC tactic because they are easy for you to hit and difficult for your attacker to protect. High, swinging strikes to the head or neck are easily blocked and could result in you being disarmed. If your environment doesn’t allow space for strikes to the legs, replace them in your sequence with compact, linear, two-handed thrusts to the groin.

DON’T TAKE THE HIGH ROAD — Strike low as shown at left. High strikes, as shown being attempted at right, are easily blocked and can end in disaster.

Punch Defense

Many traditional cane-fighting systems teach parrying punches with the shaft of the cane. This is a difficult way to defend against such an attack and requires considerable speed and wrist strength — attributes a real cane user may not possess.

Instead, use the standard sequence and some common sense. Since your empty hand moves faster and more naturally than the cane, parry the punch with your left hand and raise the cane straight up as if assuming the guard position, striking the attacker in the groin as you do (as shown above). Then, assume your guard and continue the sequence if necessary.

If you’re able to assume a guard before the punch is thrown, use the initial downward motion to strike the fist or forearm of the attacker’s incoming hand. Even better, jump ahead to the two-handed thrust and use it as a “stop hit” to the attacker’s shoulder or chest. This will stop his or her punch cold — and it illustrates that you don’t have to use all of the movements of the sequence. Start late or end early as the situation requires.

Frontal Attacks

If you are grabbed or choked from the front, you know exactly where the assailant’s hands are, and you know they are “occupied.” Step back into your guard position and proceed directly to the two-handed thrust to the sternum or throat to drive your assailant back and break his or her grip. Once the attacker’s grip is broken, complete the sequence and finish the job with a “mobility kill” strike to the shins. If you’re in confined quarters and swinging at his or her shins isn’t feasible, substitute a second two-handed thrust to the groin.

In the MCC guard position, the cane also makes a very effective shield. Against a strike with a weapon such as a stick or tire iron, pivot toward the strike and use the initial downward snap as a block. As you do, protect your fingers by opening your hand so only the palm contacts the cane. After blocking the strike, repeat the downward snapping motion, sliding down your assailant’s weapon to smash his or her fingers. Then complete the rest of the sequence to end the encounter.

Self-Defense Cane: Always There For You

The cane is an extremely capable weapon that you can carry in-hand virtually everywhere you go. As long as you have the balance and strength to wield it with the basic MCC striking sequence, you’ve always got a serious first line of defense in your arsenal and at your fingertips.

The ‘Alice Roosevelt Cane’

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, made headlines when she brought back a bamboo cane with a silver ferrule and head from a trip to Cuba and carried it twice to White House garden parties. It became the talk of the Capitol, and every young lady had to have one. The cane craze spread throughout the U.S.; in New York and other cities, the stylish cane was nicknamed the “Alice Roosevelt cane.” This fad paid off for one woman. On Sept. 3, 1903, a roughly dressed man confronted Mrs. Charles P. Elliot at the intersection of Chicago’s 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue and demanded her purse. She refused. “Give me your purchase,” the mugger ordered, “or I’ll wring your pretty neck.” Mrs. Elliot responded by jabbing the robber in the stomach and then in the face with the steel tip of her cane, causing him to writhe in pain, panic and flee. “I shall not go anywhere without my walking stick after this,” she later told one newspaper reporter.

— Frank Jastrzembski, Contributing Editor