Internal logic and principles of cane fighting

, by Julien Falconnet

Cane fighting is sometime described as complex or complicated. The techniques are not natural, the rules of competition are numerous and arbitration is often a headache. Yet all this is based on what is sometimes called the "internal logic of the cane fighting."

But this logic is still to be explained or described. If many years of practice and reflection allow usually to feel it, it is often difficult to grasp for beginners, and even for some advanced.

Since I am National Judge/Referee, I’m often asked for clarification on arbitration. In my club, I organize mini-training on the theoretical points such as arbitration. After many explanations, I finally noticed some points that allow me to justify the apparently weird rules. This is what I call here the "principles of cane."

 Principle 1: Destruction power

I often use this principle to justify the choice of the basic techniques of our discipline. It appears to me that the six specific techniques that we have kept all share the same objective: do maximum damage by maximum inertia. Our weapon is a blunt weapon, so only inertia is hurtful. The inertia is factor of the mass and velocity. So we will search for a maximum velocity of the impact point of the weapon. It could also increase the mass of the impact point but would contradict the second principle.

From there, the techniques are derived naturally. The quest for speed is achieved by:

  • A complete rotation of the weapon (circumduction) to pick up speed.
  • The planar motion is necessary for optimal acceleration. Any parasite movements would interfere with it.
  • The armé that allows to increase the speed even with the back-forward movement and increase the amplitude.
  • To maximize the speed the deployement (after the armé), it has to be done as far as possible from the chest (the point of rotation). So it is necessary that the arm is extended at the earliest (deploy) and fully deployed at the striking point (alignment of the cane and the arm).
  • The cane’s extremity has the highest speed, therefore the more inertia and therefore will be most effective in hitting the target.

The objective of destruction also leads to reduce the contact surface between the weapon and the target area to maximize the trauma at the impact point. Indeed it is easier to "break" a bone by striking at a very specific point than spreading the impact over a large area. So, to strike the tibia bones at perpendicular angle, a fente is the only way.

Of course all configuration that could block/constrain/slow-down the movement must be avoided, so we left shoulder in a configuration free to develop maximum power (obligation of open-angle).

Given the obligation to complete rotation of the weapon in a plane that can not pass through the body, we can mechanically decline the six basic techniques:

  • 2 directions of rotation
  • 3 planes (left, right, above)
    Only the brisé and the enlevé are special cases, because of the folded arm.

We note that with the simple objective of destructive potential, there are already 7 of the 10 validity criteria of a technique explained.

Aside on thrusting/piercing blows: If their potential power is no doubt, to me, it is difficult to evaluate parameters. To be certain that a powerful, is it enough for it to come from far away? How to assess the weight that should be put in the impact? This has surely participate in the elimination of competitive practices, but less than the following principle.

 Principle 2: Safety

The goal of being able to compete in conditions of safety also involve limiting the strike zones and limit the force actually deployed in the impact. It will also limit the inertia using lighter and less resistant canes. The armé by giving a large amplitude movement improves the overall control. To me, this control objective also implies the elimination of the thrusting/piercing blows. This safety principle governs all arbitration commands about protection of physical integrity of the players.

In short, we see that with this goal to retain only the strikes that are both potentially the most destructive and both controllable to be safe, we naturally justify 9 of the 10 criteria of validity of a strike. Of course one might find contradictory to both search the most damaging blows and searching perfect safety but it is the problem of all combat sports.

To justify the tenth criterion of validity, one must take in consideration a third principle.

 Principle 3: "Touch without getting hit" or "civil fight spirit"

Somehow in cane fighting, there is research of (symbolic) absolute superiority. Not only do we try to let the other lying on the floor (symbolically) but we try to do it without getting hurt. I think here we find an gentleman objective who must be on time for his bridge game without being disheveled despite the villains that could block his path. And I must admit that I like it. This is what I call the spirit of civil fight. Civil as opposed to military or martial, who accepts or promotes the notion of sacrifice: sacrifice to save his nation, his companions, where death of some can allow others to win or just to survive. "The Way of the Samurai is in death," said the Hagakure [1], it is not the canniste’s way. Cane’s founders has chosen to deny the individual sacrifice and broad spectrum of arbitration will naturally ensue, beginning with:

  • Rule of the parry/strike-back (parade/riposte).

If a fighter attacks without defending himself before, he (symbolically) commits suicide. The rule of parade before the strike-back is the best known, but with time and a better understanding of situations competitions many other cases applications were born:

  • Dodge/strike-back: if I do not obviate the attack, I have to dodge
  • Anticipation: if I’m faster than my opponent, he must not touch me after.
  • The anti-jeu: I should not invalidate a strike by breaking the distance
  • Defensive obstruction : I must not accept a strike even invalid by the rules

 Complementary principle: the confrontation of principles

One could multiply the principles, but with those three, we see that we already covers most of the technical and arbitration rules. However, since we have three principles, there are as many possible conflicts between these principles and we will have to acquire an additional principle to break the tie.

The arbitration has stated. Indeed, it is now settled in arbitration that will employ the following order of priority to assess the gravity of each of various faults:

  • # Protecting the physical integrity of player ("safety")
  • # Respect of the expression of tactical player ("fight spirit")
  • # Compliance with the cane techniques (symbolic "destruction" )

This solve many problems. And in compliance with that, striking a forbidden surface (safety) is considered more important that masking.

To continue this example, it has also caused drifts where it became interesting to let a hand on its side, to present the neck after an attack in the leg, and so on. We see here that the confrontation of "Safety" and "Fight spirit" forces to make a choice that is not without consequence but which nevertheless remains probably the least bad.

Also on this example, the evolution of the discipline that allowed strikes to be posed, and thus not integrity threats anymore, has raised the problem. It became a little more complex but also helped to correct the drift. Indeed once posing strike on a forbidden surface is generally no longer a threat to physical integrity, the tactical error of masking a legal zone could be reapplied. To the most trained referees this situation only arose two questions: was the strike was dangerous? and was there a masking? If answered yes to the first, the priority is given to the lack of safety. If answered no to the first and yes to the second tactical error prevailed.

It may seem strange for beginners that technical faults are considered negligible by the referee. It takes to understand the logic that these technical faults are actually the judges responsibility who will "punish" a technically flawed player by not giving him a point.


Many other principles are also involved in the understanding of the cane and its regulations:

  • Democracy for the distribution of power between a referee and judges.
  • The adjustment of techniques to target surface (and possibly Article Compétition et diversité technique I)
  • The human imperfection and perceptions
  • The fulfillment of a certain history
  • And I probably forget ...

But much of the spirit of the cane, its practice and its regulation is due, I believe, to the three principles I have described and which I summarize in more advertising way by:

  • Safety
  • Tactical domination
  • Potential power


This article is a translation and may be erroneous, any comment to improve it is welcomed.

This article has nothing absolute, it is only the fruit of my observations and my thoughts, and as such relect only my opinion.

I thank everyone I’ve met and whose discussions allowed me to move in this reflection.


[1The Hagakure is a reference text on Bushido