Monday, March 23, 2009

'When You Put This Little Crook Around Someone's Neck, Their Whole Attitude Changes Real Fast'

I figure a shotgun blast would always work best, but if a cane is all you have handy, you may as well know how to use it the right way.
Pay no mind to the groans that come with stretching, to hair that is gray or gone altogether. Ignore the cautiousness of their steps and the canes in their hands.

These seniors are ready to fight.

A rainbow of martial arts belts dangles above the mirror along one wall of this small dojo; swords, nunchuks and sickles hang near the front. Punching bags and torso targets line the room, but they'll need none of these. Their weapons are their canes.

At the helm of the class is one of the country's most recognized cane fighters, Mark Shuey, a slight man who, at 62, has hair and skin starting to show signs of age. He has traveled from Lake Tahoe, Nev., to teach this group of 16 how to protect themselves from attackers.

He calls it Cane-Fu.

Cane fighting classes have popped up all over the country, in part due to the influence of Cane Masters, the company Shuey founded that sells wood canes made of harder, thicker wood, to sustain wear and wider crooks to fit around an attacker's neck. Now, it's being offered at dojos and increasingly in senior centers and retirement communities.

"You don't have to be powerful, you don't have to be fast," said Gary Hernandez, who runs the dojo here northeast of Tampa where the session was held and where he teaches cane fighting classes himself. "It's a piece of hard wood. It hurts."
The session starts simply enough, with seniors gathered on the red and black mat twisting this way and that, stretching with their simple wooden canes over their heads and behind their backs. They combine long rubber tension bands with their canes to do bicep curls, leg presses and chest rows — exercises aimed at keeping the seniors fit.

Fitness alone won't ward off those who might hurt them, though, and Shuey talks briefly of recent attacks on elders. His hazel eyes look severe as he points to the cane and delivers his message.

"When you put this little crook around someone's neck, their whole attitude changes real fast," he said.

And in a moment, Shuey shows it. With another instructor, Merle McAlpin, playing the bad guy, Shuey hooks the cane around his neck and thrusts it. The result is a guttural groan of pain from McAlpin.

When it's time for the students to try a bit later, Shuey shouts: "Be gentle!"

In the two-hour session, participants are taught a sampling of moves to use in different situations. The cane can simply be swung in circles, used to grab a foot or neck, and fashioned into a bat or poker. Advanced techniques even show a senior how to use a cane to ward off someone with a gun or knife.

It takes years to master cane fighting like Hernandez or Shuey, but they say they can teach a senior several crucial moves in an hour. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives them confidence that can help them escape a dangerous situation.

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