La Canne (thing)
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|At the turn of the century, a western European stick fighting system was enjoying the same degree of popularity as Eastern martial arts are today: The French system of La Canne ('The Cane')could be taught as a competitive sport, as a method of self-defence, or as a combination of both. There are numerous local and regional variants of the system in its early days, involving different striking patterns and body movements.
Many of these depended upon the respective teacher’s background and other combative systems, such as foil, sabre, broadsword (even epee play) frequently being supplemented with techniques taken from French boxing, wrestling and even ballet.
In the last decades 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. That which we know is derived mainly from a (very rare) manual adapted and published by the 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, displaying lathi and Salambam in the process.
Vigny developed his system from the cutting methods of sabre and broadsword, combined with his hands, from the notorious street thugs of Paris and encounters with hostile Apaches. He writes that during these encounters, he was able to ward off and defeat several Apaches using only his lightweight umbrella in a sword-like fashion.
In La Canne, Vigny 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 rationale for his choice of a lightweight weapon: He wished all blows to come from a whipping turn of the wrist, believing that only a certain weight was required to hit if you attacked body parts that are particularly vulnerable. He thus 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, nor did he advocate shifting the stick from one hand to the other in combat. The footwork and body positions of his system varied, depending on the particular technique he was using. Patterns resemble those of prizefighting and fencing.
At the turn of the century, Vigny immigrated to New Orleans, where his system became rather popular. It is rumoured that Teddy Roosevelt was tutored in the Vigny system.
Several fundamental techniques:
This writer has taught strong supporters of both lathi and cudgel play, who were experts in their use. They commenced their course of instruction with little faith in the use of the cane, but long before they completed their course, they had entirely changed their opinion, and departed, after their course, renouncing forever their former unwieldy weapons.