Throughout history, the cane has been a fashion accessory and personal-defense weapon in many cultures; however, in modern times, it is primarily regarded as a mobility aid for people with physical disabilities or injuries. This image of the cane, along with the fact that no medical justification is required to use one, qualify it as the ultimate “PC” weapon—but only if it is powered by a functional skill set.

Before we examine practical cane technique, let’s accept the fact that we all get old. As such, we need to understand the difference between being an able-bodied person who chooses to carry a cane and being an older person who may need to carry one. Obviously, the more limited your physical attributes, the simpler and more effective your tactics need to be.

We also need to draw a hard line between “martial arts” and actual “self-defense.” Self-defense is simple: It is all about stopping your attacker from hurting you by either disabling him or causing enough direct, unavoidable pain that he chooses to quit. Conversely, holding him in a complicated martial-artsy joint lock while you hope he finds religion is not a direct route to personal safety.
With all that in mind, the unfortunate truth is that most cane “systems” being taught today are far too complicated and too physically intense to qualify as practical self-defense—especially for someone who relies on a cane as a mobility aid. Faced with that truth, I set out to develop a cane system that could be learned with a minimum of training time, be simple enough to remember without much regular practice, and, most importantly, be physically achievable by people with limited physical attributes. Building on these requirements, I also wanted the system to be versatile enough so that folks who do have the benefit of greater strength can pursue a higher skill set if they choose to. As they age, if their physical abilities diminish, they can “scale” their tactics accordingly. That system is known as Martial Cane Concepts or MCC for short.

MCC is based on the idea of using simple, easily learned sequences of movement as the basis for a wide variety of combative applications. The idea is to “have a plan and work your plan.” By understanding that all motions have multiple potential applications, you can learn, apply and adapt techniques to real defensive situations very quickly.

The Guard

The basic MCC combination begins from the guard position, which is adapted from the Filipino stick fighting art of De Cuerdas Eskrima. If you are right handed, place your left foot forward so your feet are about shoulder width apart and slightly staggered. Grip the shaft of the cane near the handle with your right hand in a natural “fist” grip and raise the tip of the cane in front of your body. 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 cane shaft. Draw your right elbow in close to your body so your right hand is near your hip and center the tip of the cane in front of your face at eye level. In this guard, the cane functions as a shield against incoming attacks and is perfectly positioned for effective striking.

The Basic MCC Sequence

The core of the MCC system is a basic sequence of six movements. From the guard position, this 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 slight shuffle step forward will increase the power of this thrust.

• Loosen the grip of your left hand and slide it toward your right as you point the cane straight up. Place your left hand on the thumb side of your right wrist for support. This allows you to grip the cane with one hand, yet swing it with the power of both.

• Execute a fast forehand swing (like swinging a baseball bat) targeting the attacker’s knees or shins and follow through to your left side, letting the cane wrap around you and stop at your left shoulder.

• Execute a fast backhand swing, again targeting the attacker’s knees or shins. Follow through to your right side, turning your right hand palm up and allowing the cane to stop at your right shoulder.

• Lower the tip of the cane and return to the guard position.

Defensive Applications

Now that we understand the basic MCC sequence, let’s see how it can be applied defensively. One very likely possibility is that when you assume your guard position, your attacker will grab the tip of your cane. The abrupt downward snap of the first motion of the sequence uses the strength of both arms and your body weight to break that grip. This action will also pull your attacker forward into the second movement: the two-handed thrust, which has great effect when targeted at the solar plexus, sternum, throat or face. It will also send your attacker reeling backward and create an opportunity for the finishing blow: a full-power swing to the knee, shin or ankle. This “mobility kill” is central to the MCC system for two reasons: First, by damaging the legs, you destroy the attacker’s ability to stand and fight, as well as his ability to pursue you when you escape.

The lower legs are also a preferred target because they are very easy for you to hit and exceedingly difficult for your attacker to protect. High strikes—to the head or neck—are easily blocked, but strikes to the legs take best advantage of the length and power of the cane and are very difficult to stop.

Punch Defense

One technique often taught in traditional cane systems is to parry an incoming punch by whipping the tip end of the cane upward with a snap of the wrist. This requires great speed, wrist strength, and timing—all things that a real cane user may not possess.

Instead, use the standard sequence. The initial downward motion can be used to strike the fist or forearm of the incoming hand or, even better, the two-handed thrust can be used as a “stop-hit” to the attacker’s shoulder or chest. Skip the initial motion altogether and just thrust into the chest to stop the punch cold. This also illustrates the fact that you don’t have to use all the movements of the sequence; feel free to start late or end early as the situation requires.

Remember, just because you have a cane, it doesn’t mean that your empty-hand tactics won’t work. Since your hand moves faster and more naturally that the cane, parry the punch with your left hand and raise the cane straight up into the attacker’s groin. Functionally, those movements are identical to raising the cane into the basic guard position, so they still qualify as part of the basic sequence.

Chokes and Grabs

If an attacker manages to grab you or choke you, you know exactly where his hands are and you know for a fact that they are “busy.” Step back into your guard position and proceed directly to the two-handed thrust to the sternum or throat to drive him back and break his grip. Once his grip is broken, complete the sequence and break his shinbones as well.

Weapon Defense

What if the attack is a strike with a weapon like a tire iron? In this case, use the cane as a shield by pivoting in the direction of the strike and opening your left hand as you snap the shaft forward to block the weapon. Opening your hand so only the palm contacts the cane protects your fingers while still blocking with the power of both arms.

Once the attacker’s weapon has been stopped, turn back to center and slide your cane down the length of his weapon to smash his fingers, potentially disarming him. Then, simply complete the rest of the sequence to end the encounter.

If all this sounds too simple, we’re on the right track, because self-defense should be simple. The cane is an incredibly potent weapon and one of the few personal-defense tools capable of “flying below the radar” virtually anywhere you go. Power it with a practical system of tactics that you can count on for the rest of your life and you’ll never walk alone again.

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