French Cane Fighting

Excerpt from Salem Assli’s upcoming book ‘Savate, French Boxing and Cane’

... In the 18th and 19th centuries, the cane (la canne) accompanied the French gentlemen every time he went out. The streets of France were often insecure especially at night and most men would never think of stepping out and crossing town without some type of weapon. Because of the frequent duels, carrying a sword became forbidden and the bourgeois and noblemen alike replaced it with the cane. This type of cane were never intended to be used as a walking support, but rather as a tool of pageantry and an elegant accessory to their costumes to quickly become a tool for self-defense. So aside from being stylistic, the cane turned out to be a deadly weapon in the hands of those who knew how to manipulate it during unfriendly encounters.

Using a stick, cane or a staff was not the exclusive property of the French, of course. Many countries in Europe, as well as the rest of the world, had developed a more or less sophisticated system of combat using the stick or the cane, but the French are credited with having codified cane fighting and making it a true modern competition sport with precise technical blows and rules. The first well-known masters of cane and French boxing/savate wrote initial manuals in this spirit, as early as 1840. Leboucher, who only sought techniques proven to work in a street fight, and who penned a manual on Boxe Francaise, wrote the “Theorie pour Apprendre a Tirer La Canne” (Theory on How to Fight with the Cane) in 1843. Larribeau, another professor, wrote in 1856, “Nouvelle Theorie du Jeu de la Canne” (A New Theory on the Game of Cane), and later so did Joseph Charlemont, with his book “Theorie de la Boxe Francaise et de La Canne” in 1899.

Coming into its own since the end of the 19th century, the cane was taught by many fighting masters, especially the experts of Boxe Francaise Savate, who quickly realized the advantages of such a weapon. Since everyone was carrying a cane, it was logical to not only learn how to use it, but how to defend against it. La canne, le baton, le grand baton, and BF Savate are historically linked, and were all taught and practiced together as a means of self-defense, until becoming a sport of their own.

The cane present several distinct advantages over other weapons, first and foremost, it is perfectly legal. You can carry a cane anywhere, anytime, but in some states, if you carry a stick you can get arrested for felony. Secondly, it’s length. The reach will certainly give the advantage to the cane fighter over someone armed with a knife for instance. Its weight, being light, give the cane a lightning speed, and combine with fakes it is very difficult for a non-initiated to deal with its speed. An expert in French cane fighting is also an expert in fakes.  While some fighter can cut themselves with their own sword, this can’t happen with the cane, so you are solely focus on the strikes without fear of your own safety. In France, where they held nunchaku competition, the exponents must look out for the return of their own weapon, this problem does not occur in cane combat. So needless to say that in the street, the cane present many distinct advantages as a support for self-defense.

As a general rule, a single cane is enough to practice this art. La Canne allows one to have fun very quickly while learning many important attributes for the martial arts in general, such as timing, precision and dexterity. La Canne reunites all the elements that used to attract the nobility in the old days. Simple yet sophisticated, efficient and aesthetic.

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