Physical Training Nov 2002

The Fighting Cane: armed, elegant and invisible!

By Ted Truscott

Copyright © Ted Truscott 2002. All rights reserved.

Your hometown may be a peaceful and beautiful place to live and to raise children, but if you travel, whether for business or retirement pleasure, some destinations you reach are not so hospitable. A stout cane may be the only weapon allowed as a carry-on on every aircraft since 9-11.  That is because it serves a legitimate purpose other than self defense though it is  very useful for that purpose. Whether you prefer the elegant styling of a straight walking stick or the more dangerous curved fighting cane, you are better prepared to face anti-social encounters. I have visited court rooms and other high security areas and have gone through many airports with my stick and never has it caused a really is the invisible weapon.

Another advantage of carrying a cane is that criminals size up everyone they see for victim potential and when you carry a cane, you look armed and dangerous because they are thinking of such things. They will (maybe) find a less prepared victim. At the same time, to the general public you look totally normal and civilized, even elegant. If you have already trained in cane use and feel competent to defend yourself, this will show in your bearing and body language, which may deter a criminal attack.

But of course, if you never learn how to hit hard, nor develop your hitting power, if you never learn how to keep an aggressor from taking it away from you, your self defense capability is severely impaired. Why wait until you need a cane as a mobility aid to start training in its use for self defense? If you wait until you need a cane to learn its various uses and the self defense aspects, you may not be able to achieve your full potential of skill and will lose out on the many fitness benefits available to the practicing student. Any normally healthy 50+ year old can learn a system for self defense with the cane and get hours of relaxing exercise while learning a skill that will help with your peace of mind when out of your normal experience.

If you want just self defense, look for a teacher that has stripped the art out of the style. If you can't learn the "how to" of a move in three tries, it is probably no good for self defense. If you can't perfect it in ten practice tries, it is also probably too complicated to be practical. If you want an extended exercise system with a lot of exercise and a life time of learning, consider taking a martial art that teaches cane work or even as an add-on to the cane work you have found.

Martial Arts for Seniors?

If your understanding of the martial arts comes from the movies as it does for most people then you can be forgiven for thinking that only 20 year old hard bodies practice the traditional martial arts for fame and fortune. In fact, many over forties train for health and relaxation and to prepare for later years.

One five time winner of the U.S. national karate grand-championships won his division titles while in his sixties having started his training in karate at forty-seven years old because he was double his health weight and had heart problems. His speciality was the bo, a staff length walking stick.

As the fitness generation edges up into their pre-senior years they have kept their attitude about fitness for health and refused to go gently into muscle loss and frailty. In their search for a stronger and healthier retirement they have the support of a number of university studies that have focused on identifying the process of ageing and methods to slow the process down.

Dalhousie University in Halifax reports that after the age of thirty the changes of ageing, loss of muscle mass and strength, brittle bones and tighter joints are inevitable.

Since these changes are exactly the same as the deterioration you suffer from an inactive lifestyle, if you do not exercise into your forties and fifties you are in effect doubling these detrimental body changes.

The good news is that the ageing process can be drastically slowed down by a number of things, one of which is exercise, which also reverses the losses attributed to an easy rider of the easy chair lifestyle.

"Active people decline at a far slower [rate]...That means that people who are physically fit can lead an active life longer. They'll be able to take care of themselves [better than] someone who is sedentary."

This report also claims that it is never too late to gain the benefits of exercise whether you are looking for muscle tone, muscle building [size] or joint loosening. Emotional benefits of starting an active lifestyle at any age include feeling better from the release of stress and tension, decrease in depression and increase in self confidence. Osteoporosis (brittle bones) and balance problems also decrease.

While Victoria doctor Richard Backus, whose credits include the dramatic recovery of Olympic rower Silken Laumann, is mostly involved with the rehabilitation of injuries, he has found that his work translates well into the special problems of the elderly.

"Much of the ageing we see is not an inevitable process but rather a decline due to prolonged inactivity. We need to reactivate these people."

Even if you are presently nursing an old injury, exercise and not rest is one recommended cure.

"Activity is the key to recovery from soft tissue back injuries, not extended bed rest," says Dr. Kelly Flannigan of Victoria's Summit Rehabilitation. Dr. Flannigan is also known for prescribing martial arts techniques to help show clients how to use legs and hips, and not their back.

But why a martial art? My personal point of view:

Self Defense
Martial arts training is deeper than mere self defense although you do become better prepared to defend your family in the training. I have seen a lot of improvement in my mature students over the years. The oldest student I ever taught was eighty-four years old and had significant loss of eyesight. Not having an interest in working through the belt system or self defense, this gentleman started karate training for health reasons and gained significantly in his joint looseness and balance. His strength increased to the point where he started to feel that the self defense aspects of the art might not be outside the limit of his years. He only quit when his eyes failed totally.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a late bloomer, since I started my training when I was in my mid-twenties. "When I realized how old and out of shape I felt at twenty-five, I knew real old age would be a disaster. But I realized that every day putting off the pain of working out would make my life that much more painful later. That started my martial arts career. Now at fifty-five years old with thirty years of training behind me, I am strong, balanced and flexible."

I relate the success of my mature students to the fact that I structure the classes so that everyone only competes against himself and not others. I accept that no person over the age of forty or fifty has the stamina of a twenty year old and usually has different goals. The ability of the club to accommodate a wide range of goals has been a great help to providing service to a wide range of student ages.

The typical club trains for head-banger tournaments and therefore concentrates on the few youngsters capable of bringing glory to the club. I feel that tournament training teaches people to be ego driven, not ego controlled and often brings out their worst side. My focus on non-competitiveness has enabled me to create a club of social support fueled by friendship and fun rather than aggressiveness and win at all costs thinking. The club atmosphere helps to instill the active lifestyle and lifetime learning ideals that the experts have identified as the only way to attain long term goals and end program drop-out.

Martial arts training is a great life time sport
It is ever changing and there is always something new to learn and something old to perfect. A sprained ankle sidelines a volleyball or badminton player but the karate-ka will merely switch to hand drills and the grappling arts for the duration of the injury. Those who play old-timer hockey or slow pitch have an off season and martial arts training can bridge the gap and ease season opening trauma. The training itself is a perfect complement to all other sports, especially those demanding coordination and balance.

Training has stayed fresh for me after thirty years of repetition because the amount of material is beyond anyone's ability to digest (or perfect) in one lifetime. Karate teaches by means of choreographed forms called kata. The learning curve (and therefore the sustained-interest curve) rises steeply into the stratosphere as you become proficient with the basics and learn how to learn the kata. The kata can be done at home in any spare moment.

Martial arts training is perfect for all those who hate the mindless repetition of jogging or aerobics classes. Add in the enjoyment of learning about a new culture, the culture of origin of the style you choose, and another world of learning and opportunity for growth presents itself.

The list of physical improvements you can expect from karate training include: increased anaerobic efficiency and aerobic fitness, increased strength and flexibility, increased endurance and stamina, and increased muscle tone. Increases in balance and coordination will be experienced relatively quickly. These changes will enhance your abilities in all your activities in your broader lifestyle.

Character improvements available in the training include: increased self esteem, self confidence and assertiveness, which is not to be confused with aggressiveness. Relief from the effects of stress are quickly reported. Also the classes themselves tend to teach the (younger) students emotional control, how to work co-operatively in a group, how to lead a group as well as initiative and independent learning. As you can imagine, quick thinking and problem solving become a way of life very quickly.

Now that we all know the truth that the hard body ideal of weight lifting clubs and fitness centers is a genetic matter and not a matter of will power, martial arts works with who you really are and not some superimposed fantasy.

Another fantasy area that impedes training is movies which younger students see as reality causing them to stall and quit when their dreams are dashed. The mature student has come through the fantasies and seeks real gains and achievable goals. For me this makes them the ideal student and a joy to teach.

Of course, if you have been inactive for a long time, I advise that you have a doctor's check-up to ensure that whatever program you start will be safe for you.

Ted Truscott of the Yama Neko Dojo in lovely Happy Valley in Victoria BC, has been involved with the martial arts for over 30 years. He has practiced and taught hard style [karate], soft style [tai chi and bagua], and Filipino stick fighting to many local students. Ted has decided to offer his integrated system of cane work, designed with mature students in mind, to the general public in class form and as a video. This is not a watered down version but a full and coherent system based on the martial arts principles he has been teaching for years. It includes the power aspects of traditional karate weapons work, the fighting rhythms of the Filipino fighting arts, and close quarter combat skills from WWII.

Author of Canadian Law and Self Defense, and past editor of Focus Point magazine, Ted teaches only those skills that have a legal and moral base for their use: no over-kill or killer-spirit techniques are offered.

He offers his "cane for self defense for seniors" video at Raising Canes

Physical Training Nov 2002