WIELD A CANE USING TECHNIQUES OF THE SWORD
I t’s not often that two big-name artists express a willingness to share the spotlight in an article. It’s even less frequent that we see two masters collaborate to create a self-defense system that borrows from each person’s expertise. Because it is so rare, Black Belt jumped at the chance to corral Dana Abbott and Mark Shuey Sr. — both bona fide weapons experts and Black Belt Hall of Famers — so the magazine could provide the public with the lowdown on a new system of practical self-defense.
The editors chose me to research and write this story because I’ve known both martial artists for quite some time — in Abbott’s case, about three years, and in Shuey’s, more than 20.
THE CANE MASTER In the mid-1990s at a tournament in Hawaii, I got my first glimpse of Shuey and his combat cane. He was competing, and I was judging his ring. He seemed a stoic fellow, standing there with his weapon at his side, patiently waiting. When his turn came, he performed flawlessly, demoing a range of ultra-practical cane techniques.
I mused at how refreshing it was to watch a skilled black belt wield a weap- on with an emphasis on combat rather than flashy maneuvers. Later, I asked Shuey how he made his cane routine look so real. “I just visualize that I’m being attacked and that I’ve got to use life-or-death moves,” he said. “I’m out there breaking bones.”
I recount that story because it’s integral to understanding what makes Mark Shuey tick. You see, Shuey developed an entire system based on practical and effective cane fighting. Called American Cane System, it’s propagated through Cane Masters International Association (canemasters.com), an entity he founded in 2000.
The inspiration for many of the moves that make up ACS come from
tang soo do, taekwondo and hapkido, all of which he holds black belts in, as well as various forms of stick fighting. The result is a content-rich eclectic system of cane fighting that includes both linear and circular movements for effectiveness in virtually any selfdefense situation.
“One-hand and two-hand positioning, close quarters, small circle, fencing — we practice it all because you never know how you’ll be attacked,” Shuey says. “The more you know, the better you’ll be able to win a confrontation.”
THE SWORDSMAN The first time I saw Abbott in action was at the 2005 Black Belt Festival of Martial Arts in Los Angeles. He and Frank Shamrock were engaged in a sword-fighting challenge match of sorts using padded weapons. Shamrock gave it his best, but Abbott just toyed with the fish-out-of-water MMA champ. The speed, power and finesse the swordsman displayed left an indelible impression on me.
The first time I met Abbott in person was in 2012. We’ve conversed on numerous occasions since then, and I got to spend several days learning his samurai ways while writing “Zero to 60: How Kenjutsu Master Dana Abbott Transformed 3 Martial Artists With Limited Blade Skills Into Efficient Swordsmen!” for the December 2014/ January 2015 issue of Black Belt.
Abbott has trained in the traditional Japanese sword arts for 40 years. He owns Samurai Sports (samuraisports .com), an organization he uses to market his products and services. Much of what he teaches are time-honored bush
ido tactics and principles that have been passed down in Japan for generations.
Such is the background that Abbott contributed to ACS.
Before digging into the meat and potatoes of ACS, it’s worth discussing the system’s weapon of choice. Word to the wise: If you’re going to train for combat with a cane, you’d better make certain you’ve got one that will withstand abuse in the dojo and potentially on the street.
“Having an inferior cane can get you hurt,” says Shuey, who produces his own line of weapons. “My canes are at least ½ inch bigger around than most canes. If you hit someone with a chintzy drugstore cane, it’s likely to break. If you whack someone with one of mine, it’s likely to break a bone.”
Shuey designs his models with a crook that enables the user to encircle various parts of an opponent’s body — like his arms, legs and neck. “That allows you to use it to crank on someone’s limbs,” he says.
Because it can be used to strike as well as to crank, the cane offers a versatility that’s seldom seen in martial arts weaponry. For instance, you can hang onto either end while swinging it, and you also can jab with the tip, apply pressure with the shaft and entangle with the crook. “There are 26 ways to hold one of my canes, offering you a variety of locks, leverages and strikes — including pressure-point strikes,” Shuey says.
Holding the cane with one hand lets you strike with more power because you can generate greater speed, which can come in handy if you’re ever facing a thug with a knife, Shuey says. “You can hold the cane behind you with one hand, then instantly swing it up to 200 miles an hour. First, you hit the hand holding the knife, then you smash the head.”
In contrast, two-hand grips afford you more control, he says. “You can �ight up close, do multiple strikes and even use the crook to rip the skin off an attacker’s neck or other body parts.”
Such is the versatility that Shuey brought to this martial partnership.
POSITIONING FOR ACTION
Interestingly, much of that versatility is of little concern to Abbott when he teaches the ACS curriculum. Like all students of the Japanese sword, he tends to be a minimalist when it comes to technique. It’s why he prefers to adapt the cane to the sword movements he’s burned into muscle memo-
ry while keeping the number of variations small.
When he wields a cane, Abbott imagines himself with a sword — which is why he always points the weapon at his enemy. As he maneuvers, he can stab at his opponent’s face, neck and chest, or raise the cane overhead before smacking him on the noggin or the hand.
Abbott isn’t into cane design; he’s content to leave that to Shuey. Instead, he focuses on grip and positioning. Relax, re-grip, ready position, guard — those four commands are often heard when Abbott teaches ACS.
Relax refers to your state when you’re using the cane as a walking aid or maneuvering it for no particular purpose. You’re normally grasping the crook, Abbott says.
Re-grip refers to the �irst thing you do when confronting a threat. “Bring both arms down to your sides, loosen your grip on top of the crook and allow your right hand to slide down to where the curve begins,” Abbott says. “Re-grip in this new position.”
Ready position refers to the stance you assume when trouble is unfolding. “Bend your elbows to raise your forearms and the cane,” Abbott says. “Complete the two-hand grip by grasping the shaft with your left hand in front of your right hand, which is close to the crook.” The cane should be held fairly low with the tip aimed at your opponent’s chest.
“Guard is your initial line of defense, which establishes your physical perimeter,” Abbott says. “There are two guard positions: the full guard and the halfguard, both of which are executed from the ready position. In the full guard, your forward arm is parallel to the ground and the tip is pointing toward the aggressor’s throat, keeping him at bay. In the half-guard, your forward arm is bent at the elbow. The half-guard protects your head and shoulders from close-quarters attacks.”
In the guard position, you’re poised to attack, defend or maneuver out of harm’s way, Abbott says. Note that you can execute techniques from the ready position, but most are more efficient and effective when done from the guard.
TECHNIQUES FOR COMBAT When using a cane as a sword, Abbott teaches that you have access to techniques that fall into four categories.
“A strike is a long-distance tool,” Abbott says. “It’s often done from the upward position, where you lift the cane above your shoulders and bring it downward onto your opponent. Direct strikes can target the head, neck, torso, arms, hands or other boney areas. You can use strikes to hit the attacker or just to keep him out of range.
“The jab is for thrusting and stabbing. Target areas are the head, neck, solar plexus and groin.
“A rap is a short-distance strike. Speed and power are generated from the center of your body. It strikes or pushes your opponent away. Target areas include the head, neck, torso, arms and hands.
“A hook is a short-range tool used like an uppercut — for when someone gets too close or has grabbed you.” It uses the crook to make contact, Abbott says.
No matter which of these techniques you use, don’t neglect situational awareness, Shuey says. “Pay attention to your surroundings. Most people who are attacked never see it coming.”
If a �ight erupts, go all-out, Shuey continues. “When you �ight soft, you
get hurt. Put out [maximum] effort until the attacker is down and the threat is gone.”
You’re already an accomplished martial artist. Why should you consider learning ACS for personal defense? The following are among the reasons Shuey suggests:
You can carry a cane anywhere. It’s the only weapon you can legally possess on a plane, in a theme park or wherever.
Your cane will always be in your hand and ready to deploy. You never have to pull it out of a pocket or purse.
The cane’s construction enables you to keep an attacker up to 5 feet away — or generate leverage at close range.
With the right training, you can assume a ready position or guard stance with the cane in front of your body, letting the aggressor know he’s facing a martial artist who’s prepared to defend himself. That alone can deter an attack, which, Shuey and Abbott agree, is always preferable to engaging in an actual �ight.
Black Belt eall of camer Dana Abbott holds his sword in a ready position (1). ee chambers the weapon over his right shoulder (2) before executing a downward cut (3).
Black Belt eall of camer Mark Shuey holds his cane in a half-guard position as he faces the threat (1). then the man becomes aggressive, Shuey chambers the weapon (2) and swings it downward into the exposed part of the opponent’s neck (3).
(1). When the defender is certain that the man plans to attack, he thrusts the tip of the cane into his throat (2). Shuey then steps forward and executes an upward strike to the chin using the crook (3). If the opponent is still a threat, Shuey can chamber the cane over his right shoulder (4) and drive it downward into his chest (5). Shuey has the option to continue with a diagonal strike to the base of the neck (6).
'DQD $EERWW KROGV D WUDLQLQJ FDQH LQ WKH JXDUG SRVLWLRQ (1) $V VRRQ DV KH GHWHU PLQHV WKDW WKH RWKHU PDQ PHDQV WR GR KLP KDUP $EERWW VLPSO\ UDLVHV KLV H[WHQGHG DUPV WR GULYH WKH WLS RI WKH FDQH LQWR WKH DJJUHVVRU ·V WKURDW (2).
Although the cane-as-a-sword techniques that Mark Shuey and aana Abbott have devised will work with any sturdy hooked walking stickI they’re more effective when executed with a specially designed tool like this one from Cane MastersK