La Canne

La canne is a French martial arts weapon. It is a walking-stick designed for fighting. Standardized in 1970s for sporting competition, la canne is light, made of chestnut wood and slightly tapered. A padded suit and a fencing mask are worn for protection.

The use of the cane as a weapon, as originally taught in weapons schools, was codified by the masters of savate so that the cane was taught as a weapon of self-defence.

The French tradition includes techniques of medieval stick fighting, excepting those techniques considered too dangerous to be used in sport. The medieval stick is too heavy a weapon to be used in competition.

Its use has thus been lost and today la canne itself is disappearing. There is, however, a martial tradition passed down to the Swiss Master Pierre Vigny in the 19th century which was used for codification of techniques using the Indian cane at the beginning of the 20th century, forming a separate tradition from the more common sporting cane seen in France today.

The cane, first used for support and then as a gentleman’s accessory, also provided a useful weapon.

A normal walking stick is usually within the boundaries of legal self-defence, but the loaded cane (weighted with lead at one end) may be considered a weapon in some legal systems.

The hickory stick (3/4″ diameter) is stiffer and heavier than the rattan which provides good feedback to your techniques.  The shaft is double laminated which provides greater strength and resistance to warping.   Its best for light or moderate contact training.  The rattan is a lighter, and more flexible, but will take a greater level of contact.  Rattan is naturally a vine, so please don’t expect it to be a perfectly straight material.

Pierre Vigny is considered one of the most innovative masters of la canne. He created a system that could be best described as a mixture of several indigenous European self defence methods, resulting in one of the most complete and effective stick fighting methods ever devised.

Technique: In the modern sporting la canne system found in France, bouts are held inside a ring. The cane is held with one hand but the player can change it from hand to hand during the bout. Strokes are made either horizontally or downward, thrusting or stabbing blows being prohibited. The scoring zones are the calves, the torso and the head.

To count, all strokes must be with the cane, and low blows must have a lunging movement. The bout is won on points, the lightness of the cane and the protective clothing making a knockout impossible. Points are scored for style, according to the correctness of body positions during fighting. Contact with prohibited areas such as the arms are penalized. It is thus possible to win a match without landing a blow on one’s adversary, if he or she accumulates penalties.

La Canne and Pierre Vigny: At the turn of the century, a western European stick fighting method was enjoying the same degree of popularity as Filipino arnis or eskrima are these days. La Canne could be taught as a competitive sport, or as a method of self-defense, or as a combination of both. There were numerous local and regional variants of the system in its early days, involving different striking patterns and body movements.

Many of these depended on the respective teacher’s background and other combative systems, such as foil, saber, broadsword, even epee play, frequently being supplemented with techniques taken from Savate- la boxe francaise, wrestling – even ballet!

In the last decade of the 19th century, one La Canne instructor gained notoriety for his system’s combative effectiveness. His name was Pierre Vigny. Little is known about his life. The little we know is derived mainly from a (nowadays rather rare) manual adapted and published by Superintendent of Agency Police in Kathiwar, Lang for the police constabularies of India.

Lang had studied Vigny’s system in Europe and taught it to numerous Indian policemen and instructors until it became the standard system for Indian police stick fighting, replacing lathi and salambam in the process.

Vigny developed his system from the cutting methods of saber and broadsword, combined with his hands-on experience of hostile encounters with the Apaches – the notorious street thugs of Paris. He writes that during these encounters, he was able to ward off and defeat several street Apaches using only his lightweight umbrella in a sword-like fashion.

For La Canne, Vigny also prefers a lightweight cane with a heavier end to use as a striking tool – if the cane was made from Malacca or ash root with a natural thickening or branch knot at the end. The reason for his choice of a lightweight weapon, he wanted all blows to come from a whipping turn of the wrist, and believed that only a certain weight was required to hit if you attacked body parts that are particularly vulnerable. Vigny also held that good speed  generated power.

Vigny’s system did not include the numerous spins and acrobatic manoeuvres used in the modern sport of La Canne. The footwork and body positions of his system varied, depending on the particular technique he was using. Patterns resemble those of prize fighting and fencing.

At the turn of the century, Vigny emigrated to New Orleans, where his system became quite popular. Teddy Roosevelt reportedly was tutored in the Vigny system.