Physical Training Dec 2004

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The Sporting Revival of a Forgotten Culture

Copyright Frederic Morin © 2004 all rights reserved

The canne and the staff had, for a long time, a particular place in human life. This is true in many countries, but also, and maybe especially, in France.

The canne is an instrument of support, defense or parade, without even mentionning the vestimentary object of ornament when it is manufactured. The staff does not have the same social virtue and seems more like a useful instrument (to direct a herd with the crook of the shepherd, to walk with the walking stick of the pilgrim, to support). According to the times, the geographical area and the type of vegetation, one will find similarities between the staff's styles, the main purpose being based on experiment and orally transmitted by a family, a clan or a corporation. Thus one will choose the blood dogwood (knotty dense wood, very resistant and used to make handles for tools), ash (clear of knots, flexible and hard, used for the handles of pickaxes), the holly wood (whitish, heavy and very hard), the hazel tree (flexible and rather resistant), and chestnut (dent resistant, flexible, light, absorbs shocks well). 

In terms of combat with canne and staff (or club), few technical sources exist before the 14th century.  The first treatise' date from the end of the Dark Ages. At this time the staff was often associated with the handling of the sword (with two hands).

The German, and thereafter the Italian and Spanish schools of fencing in particular, were the basis of the armed combat for very a long time. The canne had little place in feudal life. With the renaissance on the other hand, the canne, the canne with system or the blowpipe (imported from the Americas to send tickets and dragees to the ladies) remained in the hands of nobles, courtiers and kings, while the staff accompanied churls, louts and travellers. The various Edicts of prohibition of duels with the sword allowed certainly the palliative use of the cannes to regulate the conflicts.

At the 19th century, the presence of the canne (as a weapon and a vestimentary complement) becomes more and more common.   Various materials were now used (ivory, horn of Rhinoceros, snap ring, rotang, bamboo, wood of iron).   

Paris at that time included many Academies of Boxing, in which the professors taught French boxing (slipper), but also the canne (a 96 cm length, 3 cm diameter and a weight of 530g for certain cannes in dogwood). It is clear that under these conditions, the least mistakes in practice became particularly devastating.   Not far from the Boulevard of Crime one found the sporting prowess professional combatants who controlled the fight using slipper and canne, according to the combat range. Some of these specialists were able to give 80 blows in less than 15 seconds!  

For the staff, the engagements between rival Companions Societies, reported since the end of the 18th century, also tend to prove a certain coding of the techniques (ranks of Provost and Master existed).

The staff (1,4 m length, diameter from 1,5 to 2,5 cm and weight of approximately 450 G) was taught in the French Army at the dawn of the 20th century (as had the bayonet).   The police force also had on its part a slipper-canne practice (with the famous "Brigades du Tigre de Clémenceau").  After the two world wars, the practice of the canne or staff in combat practically disappeared, in spite of a return of the exotic wood canne (Ebony, "macassar", "amourette"...) in the Art Déco period . 

Today the canne of combat or fighting canne as well as the staff, has reappeared as a combat sport. This very codified practice has found a place in a society which has evolved.   Respect of the adversary, of his physical integrity, controlled blows, making safe parades, control of the weapon in space are all emphasized. It is certainly the sporting aspect which will make it possible to reach a large audience in search of emotion, play and also esthetism.  

The canne of combat in competition as the staff are, in general, disciplines associated with French Boxing but can be also taught in certain specialized clubs. ASCA Paris is one of those.

Frederic Morin - President ASCA PARIS 11 (Sports Association of French Canne)

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Physical Training Dec 2004