A short illustrated history of la canne

By Luc Cerutti ©2003


Since its origin, man has utilized and improved the stick in fields as varied as walking and hiking, entertainment, personal combat, gymnastics and of course a fashion accessory…throughout history the stick has also served as a symbol of power, justice and punishment.


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During this period the walking stick replaced the sword of the gentleman and became recognized as an ornament for men of fashion and distinction .For men of status it manifests nobility, strength and authority which was completely the opposite for the simple stick of the rural world.

During the French Revolution , the walking stick which was the symbol capacity of monarchy became the peoples weapon of defence. .

Tradesmen (metal workers, stone cutters, carpenters etc) were called “companions” during this era, and often travelled to various regions of France to train and increase their knowledge under master tradesmen. The companions would a carry a walking stick with specialised markings sculptured into the wood this made it possible for others to identify the trade they were associated with.

Companions were taught to recognize the intentions of fellow tradesman by their body language and by the way they carried their walking stick, interpreting gestures became a very accurate way to distinguish mistrust, confidence, mistaken provocation or devotion to one another. In some instances companions would pay a former soldier to school them in the use of la canne for attack and defence. The walking stick was a frightening weapon in the hands of certain companion brotherhoods bent on doing harm to others.

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During this period the streets of Paris were very dangerous and anyone who walked them could expect to defend themselves against impending danger . The teaching of personal defence was practised in many fencing salles . The practice of la canne was associated with boxe Francaise savate which was born towards 1830 from the association of closed fist punches of English boxing and the kicks of “la savate” .

During the 1800s three professors each publish a handbook about la canne.

1) 1843 “Théorie pour apprendre à tirer de la canne en 25 leçons” by Louis Leboucher

Louis Leboucher was a professor of la canne, baton, English boxing and French savate, he proposed a method that could be learnt in 25 lessons which was useful for both personal defence and gymnastics.

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This method explains the riposte you must do after a parry of a blow. Leboucher writes,

“To bend the arm so that it describes a circle with the stick because all the blows developed with the wrist cannot have strength “.

For personal defence he recommends that the blows must be doubled or tripled so as to strike again before the opponent can react. He also specifies that this method of la canne is good training for young people who will handle the sabre later as soldiers.

2) 1856 Nouvelle théorie du jeu de la canne by Larribeau

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Larribeau was a former sailor in the navy and a professor of la canne , fencing and savate , His method is original because the pupil is placed in front of a striking pad shaped like a man for all the exercises. This method explains the various offensive blows and the corresponding parry’s. His method is also useful for personal defence, gymnastics and moreover he considers that la canne is a derivative of fencing

3) 1899 L’art de la Boxe Française et de la canne by Joseph Charlemont

Joseph Charlemont was a Master of savate; his method explains the complete sequences that is to say, attacks, parries and riposte.

Charlemont writes

” The driving force of projections to be put in action are, the shoulder, the arm, the wrist and the hand “

They are the basis of modern canne.

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Military teaching

1871. La canne along with savate and the baton was taught in the famous military school, the “Gymnastics and Fencing School of Joinville Le Pont”. It was a specialised system called “four sides method ” which may have been similar to the kata used in karate. Unfortunately there are no documents that explain exactly when this method of la canne may have been used for the first time.

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In 1875 the treatise “Manuel pour l’enseignement de la gymnastique et de l’escrime” was published by the French Military Navy Minister. It was the first military handbook written for the teaching of gymnastics and fencing, along with baton and savate .In this handbook, the movements patterns of la canne are not described, it is only indicated that they are identical to those of the two hand stick(le baton) .On the other hand, in the chapter “fencing with saber”,the exact same terminology and movements used to describe the cuts and parry’s of the sword are taken directly from la canne .One can explain this by the fact that the stick was used for saber introduction in the cavalry.


1900 – Today

The end of the 1800s and the beginning of 20th century is an interesting time for the use of la canne for personal defence, competition and gymnastics (civil or military).

La canne was represented in the 1900 Olympic Games of Paris mainly in the form of gymnastics exercises because it was considered too violent and without educational value to be displayed as a combat sport.

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From 1900 to 1912 many treatises and news paper articles were written about personal defence, It becomes a fashion and was termed “Defense dans la rue” .This method of French street defence was influenced by the disciplines of la canne , savate and supplemented with ju jitsu. La canne remaining the safest method because you were not directly in contact with the opponent . Emile Andre, George Dubois, and Jean Joseph Renaud were all fencers and rivals ,each wrote one or more handbooks about “Defense dans la rue” and the use of la canne .

1903 – Establishment of the first rules for la canne competition, as in fencing the fighter’s stop after receiving a good hit and then go back en guard.

From 1914 to 1945, a great many military teachers were killed or wounded during the wars and la canne along savate was almost forgotten, it was however presented in some handbooks of gymnastics, physical education and encyclopaedias.

In spite of this, the practice of la canne and savate continued in several salles and its renaissance really began in 1965.

1945 Le Panaché

Roger Lafond created a method of personal defence called “Le Panaché” which associates fencing, karate, savate, and la canne. Based on efficiency and speed Lafond’s method of la canne uses mainly the forearm and wrist and not the larger developments to deliver the blows. This approach would later be in contradiction with that of Maurice Sarry’s, which was centred more on competition.

1971 Défense et illustration de la boxe française by Bernard Plasait

La canne is shown like a combat sport with several blows for defence in the street. The movements are performed by moulinets using a full development of the arm. Some elementary rules for competition were also described.

1978 La canne , arme de défense , sport de combat by Maurice Sarry .

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This method mainly centered on technic’s and tactics for competition, blows with the butt of the cane along with thrusts and reverse strikes were considered to dangerous and eliminated from the sport . All the attack movements must be made with the complete development of the arm and the weapon bearing hand must pass back behind the spinal column. Target selection includes the low line, between the ankle and knee – middle line, the bust and the high line , the sides and top of the head. All the hits in the low line must be performed with one flexed leg as in lunging .

2000 Modern stick fighting

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Maurice Sarry’s system is the standard method used in modern la canne competition, there are six basis blows

Vertical blows:

Le brisé: circular movement: low to high: top of head

L’enlevé: circular movement: high to low: leg between ankle and knee

Obliques blows:

Croisé tête: oblique circular movement: low to high: top of head

Croisé bas: oblique circular movement: high to low: leg between ankle and

Horizontal blows:

Latéral extérieur: outside horizontal circular movement: sides of head, bust, leg between ankle and knee

Latéral croisé: inside horizontal circular movement: sides of head, bust, leg between ankle and knee.

All these blows can be performed while turning or jumping. Since the 1980s hits in the low line can be delivered with the front leg extended and the rear leg flexed your choice of movement is often dictated by the distance of your opponent.

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For competition you wear a jacket, gloves, fencing mask and trousers which are all padded, a cane measuring 95cm’s long and weighing 120 grams completes the outfit.


The competition takes place in two concentric circles of six and nine meters diameter, all scoring hits are counted when both feet are inside the first circle (6 m.), if you have a one or both feet between the two circles your successful scoring blows are not counted, if you place one or both feet outside the 9 m circle you receive one warning, four warnings result in disqualified.


The competitors don’t stop after receiving a good hit, instead they continue to fight for a two minute round (less for children) , there is one minute rest between each round and fight lasts between two to four rounds


All successful scoring hits are counted as one point ,until a few time and before there was a referee , three judges with small coloured flags which correspond with the colour of the competitors uniform, and a scorer .When seeing a good hit the judges raise their flag of the fighter who was scored upon. With this method it was compulsory to have many flags of different colours. Now a fighter has a blue mark on his mask and the other a yellow one . At each good hit of the fighters the judges raise the blue or the yellow flag and there is two scorers , one for each colour .The winner is the one who has the higher score at the end of the fight.



The sport is practiced by men, women and children for competition or leisure and is rarely practiced as a method of self-defence. While the sport is not well known, membership continues to grow each year as more and more people take up the practise of la canne.


For the first time a world champion-ship will take place on the 16 th and 17 th of October 2004 on the Reunion island



Luc%20Luc Cerutti lives in France and is a national judge, referee and Federal instructor of Savate Boxe Francaise. A practitioner of la Canne and le Baton, Luc is a collector and highly respected historian in all three disciplines.


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