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A History of Cane Self-Defense in America: 1798-1930


A History of Cane Self-Defense in America:



During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, America could be a dangerous place, and knowledge of self-defense was often necessary for use in both urban and rural environments. To those ends, fencing masters and instructors often modified and applied fencing techniques to the cane or walking stick, creating their own systems of self-defense. This article proposes to look at various methods of cane defense, taught by fencing masters and instructors, that were specifically intended for practical use in self-defense encounters in the everyday world.

The individuals who taught such techniques hailed from a variety of backgrounds—from England, France, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, and Germany—and specifically discussed the cane’s efficacy in defending against other potentially deadly weapons such as the sword, sword-cane, stick, dirk, Spanish knife, Bowie knife, bayonet-rifle, boarding pike, and revolver. These fencing methods were applied to canes both with and without hooks, and included techniques designed to defend against multiple attackers, variously utilizing both single and double-handed grips.

In some cases, these methods of defense were influenced by one or more other formalized systems of saber, broadsword, singlestick, bayonet, French la canne, and canne royale. Although combative methods of singlestick (that is, the training weapon), la canne, canne royale, and Irish shillelagh were also used in America, and may have impacted these techniques, methods belonging explicitly to those systems are beyond the scope of this article. Moreover, they have already been written about extensively, and can be read about here and here.

Historical Background:

Eighteenth Century America and Europe


An extensive study of colonial American fencing schools known to exist up to the year 1800 suggests that instruction in practical cane defense was not offered in the United States until 1798. Prior to this time, as the sword was still worn and carried as a personal sidearm as well as an article of dress, the walking-stick may have been regarded as a superfluous instrument for self-defense—even though it, too, was carried as a common article. That does not mean, however, that sticks were never used for combative purposes. Games, or combat sports, of “cudgeling” often made their appearances at fairs and gatherings in colonial America, and “cudgels” were often used as non-lethal instruments for settling disputes. Fencing instructors often used the cane or singlestick as a training tool for the backsword, broadsword and sabre in various salles des armes. The following crude illustration, sketched by Sir Benjamin Thompson, depicts young fencers training with singlesticks in the school of the Boston-based Scottish fencing instructor Donald McAlpine, and is currently the earliest known illustration of fencing technique in America:

Dec. 20, 1773, Boston Post-Boy

Dec. 20, 1773, Boston Post-Boy

By contrast, during the 1730s, authors in Europe were already writing of applying fencing theory to the cane or walking stick. In 1736, the French fencing master P. F. Girard wrote of using the cane in conjunction with the sword as an auxiliary weapon—that is, wielded in place of the dagger. And in 1771, British fencing instructor Andrew Lonnergan wrote,

“If your desire still leads you after a knowledge of the use of any other weapon, I would prefer that of our English broad, or back-sword, to dagger, lance, cloak, or dark-lanthorn fighting; for being only armed with a stick or a cane, when insulted or attacked, it would be very needless to seek for any of those instruments of cowardly defence, whilst you may disengage yourself from even a superior weapon by the one you undesignedly carry, especially when furnished with, some lessons of its use.”

Lonnergan also explains how the cane is to be used differently than the sword:

“If your weapon be blunt, such as a cane or stick, either batter or whip when you defend, and intend this cut so that you may have more room for your blow and that it may be more powerful.”

During this same period, other European fencers were known to wield their canes in self-defense when necessary. In the second volume of The Reminiscences of Henry Angelo, the author describes how his father, the renowned fencing master Domenico Angelo, successfully used his cane to defend against the attack of a stick-wielding Irishman named Redman, ultimately “breaking” the latter’s head. Likewise, in Domenico’s seminal 1787 work, The School of Fencing, the author records the following techniques:

“In case of need, one might defend one’s self against a sword with a cane and cloak; for after having parried a thrust of the sword with a cane, one should close in at the same time, without quitting his blade, and cover his head with the cloak. To perform this operation well, one ought to be well skilled in fencing, very cool and resolute.” (p. 97)


The Chevalier Saint-Georges

The Chevalier Saint-Georges, one of the most famous fencers of the eighteenth century, also employed the use of the cane or walking-stick in an encounter with multiple adversaries, as reported in The Journal General de France on February 23, 1790:

“The Chevalier was peacefully walking to Greenwich one night where he was going to make music in a house where he was awaited when he was suddenly attacked by four men armed with pistols. Nevertheless he managed to drive them off with the help of his stick.”

Taking such European sources into consideration, it is possible that instruction in cane self-defense was also offered in America during the middle and late eighteenth century. However, exactly what form this may have taken, or to what degree it may have existed, available evidence is not yet forthcoming.

ROBERT HEWES (1751-1830)

“He teaches the art of Bone Breaking—genteely.”

In the United States, the first fencing instructor that we know of to publicly advertise instruction in cane defense was Robert Hewes, a native of Boston, Massachusetts. Described by his contemporaries as an “extraordinary” and “ingenious” man, Hewes engaged in a number of professions, including glass-making (for which he became renowned), hog-butchery, hardware retail, soap making, and glue manufacturing. He was also described by the Boston press as a surgeon, as well as a “celebrated bone-setter and fencing master.” In acknowledgement of this fact, Hewes hung a sign outside his residence which humorously read, “Bone breaker and bone-setter.”  According to Hewes himself, his training in fencing began about 1770, at which time he entered the school of the aforementioned Donald McAlpine. In 1808, Hewes recounted:

I do understand what the Broad Sword is scientifically; having learnt it of the famous DONALD MCALPIN, a Scotch Highlander, above thirty eight years ago; and I have had the honor and pleasure of teaching it to many of the Officers of our Revolutionary Army, in Roxbury and Cambridge, in the year 1775—and have done it at times, ever since.

During the 1770s, Hewes was also a member of the secret revolutionary society, the Sons of Liberty. At this time, an incident occurred involving Hewes’ first cousin, George Robert Twelves Hewes, which may very well have impressed upon Robert the cane’s efficacy as a weapon, and the necessity for civilian self-defense training. The memoir of George (who later became famed as one of the oldest survivors of the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre) refers to “Robert Hewes, my cousin” and recounts the following incident, which occurred shortly after the Boston massacre:


George Robert Twelves Hewes

“One day…as I was returning from dinner, I met a man by the name of John Malcom, who was a custom-house officer, and a small boy, pushing his sled along, before him; and just as I was passing the boy, he said to Malcom, what, sir, did you throw my chips into the snow for, yesterday? Upon which Malcom angrily replied, do you speak to me, you rascal; and, as he raised a cane he had in his hand, aiming it at the head of the boy, I spoke to Malcom, and said to him, you are not about to strike that boy with your cudgel, you may kill him; upon my saying that, he was suddenly diverted from the boy, and turning upon me, says, you d—d rascal, do you presume too, to speak to me? I replied to him, I am no rascal, sir, be it known to you; whereupon he struck me across the head with his cane, and knocked me down, and by the blow cut a hole in my hat two inches in length.”

While his attacker was promptly pursued, flogged, tarred and feathered, the unconscious Hewes was conveyed to the noted Doctor Joseph Warren, who dressed his wound and told him upon awakening, “it can be considered no misfortune that [you] had a thick skull, for had not yours been very strong, said he, it would have been broke; you have come within a hair’s breath of loosing your life.”

The increasing local mob mentality, as well as the profusion of gang warfare (involving clubs, staves, and swords) in eighteenth century Boston, may have further convinced Robert Hewes of the need to make self-defense training available to civilians. A relative later recounted that Hewes “taught the Scotch Highland broad sword to the officers of the army in the Revolution.” However, as far as we know, Hewes did not begin publicly advertising his services as a fencing instructor until 1798, at which time he began keeping a “regular school,” which provided instruction in the “Broad Sword, or Sabre,” and the “Manly and Wholesome Art of Defence” three days a week at the Royal Exchange Tavern on State Street. Hewes’s earliest advertisement noted that “the above art will enable a person to defend himself with a cane.”

The Royal Exchange Tavern (white building at center) on State Street, where Hewes taught cane fencing three days per week

The Royal Exchange Tavern (white building at center) on State Street, where Hewes taught cane fencing three days per week

In a 1799 advertisement Hewes further stated that with his “system of defence…a person attacked can defend himself against the Small Sword, Broad Sword, Sabre, Gun and Bayonet, cane or small Stick of Wood.” Later notices by Hewes added the “spaderoon,” “Claymoor,” and “rapier,” to the list of weapons taught, and the “boarding pike” to the list of weapons which the cane was capable of defending against. Hewes further explained:

“According to the present appearance of things, and as Effeminacy forms no part of the American Character—Mr. HEWES has Reason to Expect a full Employ—even Invalids had better Learn to wield the Sabre, than swing the Dumbells—for health, Rosey health is in Exercise found.”

1798-10-27_Hewes_Cane _ Columbian Centinel CAPTURE

The first known mention of cane fencing instruction in America, Columbian Centinel, Oct. 27, 1798.

In 1798, Hewes also offered to teach “the true Highland stile, as taught by the late famous Donald McAlpin.” An avid collector of fencing treatises (his bookshelf contained Angelo’s, among others), Hewes later claimed to have united the “French, Scotch, and Austrian Methods into one System.” Regarding the specific use of the cane, which he typically referred to as “Cane Fighting, or the Art of Personal Defence,” Hewes stated:

“Some private gentlemen content themselves with carrying a large knotted cane—cost perhaps five dollars. All that may be very fashionable and very well; but a little attention and practice with Master HEWES, at the head play and knock-down lessons, would make that cane look more graceful, and feel more agreeable in the hand than before…Other private gentleman will not carry a cane, or any other weapon of defence—but depend upon their own good behaviour and civil deportment for protection; which is really a good sentiment, and will almost always answer the purpose: But there are times when all that goodness will not protect them against the attacks of a ruffian, but be rather an incentive… therefore the art of defence is necessary.” (Columbian Centinel, Oct 27, 1802)

Another notice by Hewes in the Centinel, April 20, 1805

Another notice by Hewes in the Centinel, April 20, 1805

Hewes would go on to republish a number of books on fencing and military tactics, including the 1796 saber treatise, Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry by Major-General John Gaspard Le Marchant, which, according to the title page, Hewes had “revised and corrected.” Later in the century, Hewes’s edition did not escape the notice of fencing scholar Egerton Castle, who included it in the bibliography of his landmark Schools and Masters of Fence, from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century.

1807-5-1 - Newburyport Herald HEWES books

Given that Hewes frequently relates his method of cane defense to fencing with the broadsword and saber in his numerous advertisements, it is worth taking a brief look at the Rules and Regulations. The text describes six cuts, eight guards, “the modes of parrying,” and defense against cavalry, bayonet, as well as “the defence of one man against two.” It notes that all cuts are to be made from the wrist, “without giving action to the elbow,” and exhorts practitioners

“not to hold their swords too tight; but to allow the hilt to play in the hand, by the second, third, and fourth fingers being distended or contracted, as may be necessary to accord with the motion of the blade; taking care invariably to hold the gripe firm with the fore-finger and thumb.”

Hewes felt strongly enough about his edition to send a copy to President Thomas Jefferson, to whom he urged its adoption in the American military, complaining that “our Cavalry are truely Millitary Monsters haveing no Sistem of Exercise.”


The “six cuts” from the “Rules and regulations”, which was revised and corrected by Hewes

One of the six cuts, illustrating the articulation of the hand

Plate showing Cut 4


One of several illustrations showing the articulation of the hands and fingers

Hewes continued to teach cane defense, as well as fencing “in all its various branches,” for several decades in the Boston area, posting his last known advertisement in 1826. One of his last notices contains an eloquent passage on self-defense training, interspersed with Hewes’s characteristic humor:

To cure the body the mind must be pleased by the exercise—for instance, learning the art of defence…has restored many young gentlemen in this city to health and strength. The mind being pleased with the theory, the body naturally gains strength with the practice, and when masters of the art, they may defend themselves scientifically, save their limbs and perhaps their lives by their skill. But some will say that in a government like ours, the law is our protection—in carrying a civil deportment and gentleman-like appearance we are safe enough; a great mistake in both arguments. In the first place, the law cannot protect you at the moment of attack, is expensive and troublesome, and you cannot expect to have a constable always at your heels, padding after you, like Corporal Trim after Uncle Toby. In the next place, your mild and genteel appearance, does not but invite the attack of the foot pad or ruffian; they mark you as their prey, as the hawk does the dove…therefore the art of defence is necessary, and if you come and learn, it will answer two good purposes, viz: it will cure you of bodily weakness and me–of the Mal de Pouch, if you pay me for it, as Lope Toco says to Roque. Please apply to ROBERT HEWES, Corner of Essex street, where he practices the art of Bone Setting—or at his Fencing Room, Boylston Market, where he teaches the art of Bone Breaking—genteely.

Hewes’s many business ventures seem to have paid off, for in later years he was regarded in Boston as a “gentleman of leisure,” living in a “large house, with a spacious court, and magnificent shade trees” on the corner of Essex and Washington streets. He also became known as  something of an eccentric, and was often seen in his dressing-gown “playing with the peacocks and paroquets in his yard.” It was related that in 1826, he told his housekeeper, Sally, “I am 75 years old today, and I can handle a broad sword better than any young man in Boston.” Hewes passed away in 1830, and is buried next to an unmarked stone in Boston Common.



The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the number of cane fencing instructors in the United States. That the walking-cane was employed in earnest in street encounters can be verified by a number of news reports, of which the following is only one example:

“Baltimore, Feb. 2.  An attack was made upon a gentleman last evening about nine o’clock in High, near Stiles street, no doubt with the view of obtaining plunder—the gentlemen received a severe blow over his right eye, but being somewhat on the lookout, made a good defence with his cane—the ruffian then attacked him with large stones, but was compelled to retreat into an alley between Albermarls and President streets and thus effected his escape.” (New York Evening Post, 1830)

In the years following the appearance of Robert Hewes, a number of other instructors in “cane defence” and “cane fighting” publicly offered their services. Seven of these individuals appear to trace their fencing lineage to a single source: the Military School of Colonel Irénée Amelot De la Croix.


De La Croix was a former nobleman of Flemish, French, and German ancestry, a member of the ancien régime, and a decorated military veteran. His voluminous 1814 biography describes many of his incredible feats and adventures, noting that in the course of his career, the Colonel had impressively “been fourteen times wounded severely…and has been in fifty-six regular battles, besides near fifteen hundred affairs of out-posts and skirmishes.” (Baron de Vanden Boègard, Portrait of Colonel I.A. de la Croix, Baltimore: Printed by Bell & Cook, 1814). De La Croix arrived in the United States in 1806, where he “married an American lady” and opened a military school in Boston, “where he taught many.” Later De La Croix moved his school to Newburyport, then to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and from thence to New York City and Baltimore. In New York alone he had “thirty scholars.” During his time in America, he authored several treatises on the art of warfare, and corresponded with Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

June 20, 1809, Salem Gazette

June 20, 1809, Salem Gazette

At least seven of the Colonel’s former students, or students’ students—including Michel (later William) Tromelle, Jean B. Girard, Phillip Haussy, Mr. Nichols, Peter Trinque, Thomas Ryan, and George Gray—would go on to teach “cane fighting,” sometimes referred to as “Norman cudgelling,” the “Norman mode of defence,” or, as Nichols stated simply, “a powerful defence with the cane” (curiously, Trinque and Haussy would at one point describe it as, “the mode of using the single Stick, as practiced by the Romans”). An advertisement by Tromelle, published in Boston in 1810, described De La Croix’s system, and its benefits, as follows:


“The great advantages attendant upon this mode of defence, and the benefits arising from these lessons, where persons are exposed to the insults of disorderly and unprincipled men, as well as an attack by a desperate villain, must be a sufficient argument to attract the attention of most men. It is a fact generally credited by gentlemen who have a knowledge of this defence with a cane, that a person is capable of conquering an attack of six men (with the same weapons), if they should not have a knowledge of this play. And to substantiate this fact, we have been very credibly informed that a gentleman who was taught the Norman mode of Defence, in Boston, has obtained a considerable sum of money by overpowering and driving three as hardy and courageous men as could be obtained to combat against him. We further have the pleasure of asserting that gentlemen who have become acquainted with the Stick Fighting feel more than amply rewarded for all their time and money spent in learning.”(Columbian Centinel, Oct. 6, 1810)

As De Le Croix’s students refer to his method as “Norman,” it may be that it was an early form of, or precursor to, French La Canne. However, as the specific techniques of formal systems of La Canne were not documented until the early 1840s, it is difficult to say how much De La Croix’s method may have resembled mid-nineteenth century French systems. As noted previously, cane fencing had certainly existed in France long before this time, where it took on different forms. According to his biography, De La Croix had studied at the military schools at Chalons, Metz, and Brienne, and served in the French Marines—a fact which may give insight to future researchers.

The Exchange Coffee House in Boston, where Tromelle and Girard taught and exhibited cane defense

The Exchange Coffee House in Boston, where De La Croix’s students Tromelle and Girard publicly demonstrated cane self-defense

Whatever the case, students of De La Croix’s cane method nearly always stressed its efficacy in combating large numbers of simultaneous attackers. Jean B. Girard, one of De La Croix’s first assistant-instructors, explained,

Mr. Girard will…teach Cudgelling, in the Normand manner, not yet known in this country. If the American gentlemen were acquainted with the utility of this manly exercise, how easily it is obtained, he feels sensible that he would meet with great encouragement; as he has no doubt, that he can enable a pupil, in three months, to make an effectual defence against six assailants. (Boston Commercial Gazette, Nov. 16, 1809)

In 1812, in Baltimore, at a demonstration of “stick exercise or cane fighting” given by “Tromelle & Co.,” it was stated that

“A proficient in the stick exercises, may defend himself with safety, from the attack of four with broadswords at the same time.”

And in 1813, a former Baltimore student of De La Croix, George Gray, gave demonstrations in pugilism, fencing, and the “Norman cane,” and the next year, opened a fencing school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, of which he noted,

“A proficient in the Norman cane exercise will defend himself against the attack of six men at the same time with the same weapons.”

As late as 1824, Gray’s former colleague, Thomas Ryan, was teaching “Boxiana” and “the use of the cane” at his own School of Arms in Baltimore.

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, July 12, 1813

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, July 12, 1813

In 1818, after parting ways with fellow instructors Jean Girard and Peter Trinque, the aforementioned William Tromelle took to the Boston press to announce his “co-partnership” with a new fencing master—Antonio Cannata of Italy. Together, Tromelle and Cannata would teach defense with the “stick,” as well as “fencing, in all its various parts” for the next year at No. 3 Cornhill Square. Of especial note is an advertisement published jointly by the two on April 21, 1818, in the Boston Daily Advertiser (see below). This notice contains a crude illustration, similar to those found in other American fencing advertisements of the period, except for one important difference: whereas others depict fencers engaging, or lunging, with clearly hilted foils or smallswords, the one published by Tromelle and Cannata shows two fencers facing each other out of lunge distance, with hiltless weapons—possibly sticks or canes. As this same advertisement listed the “Broad Sword,” “Small Sword,” “Cut and Thrust,” and “Stick” as weapons taught, this was certainly one of the possibilities.

Although, given the crudeness of the illustration, it is difficult to say with certainty, this advertisement may possibly represent not only De La Croix’s method of “Norman cane,” but the earliest visual depiction of cane fencing technique published in America.

Roughly one year later, in the spring of 1819, Cannata parted ways with Tromelle (possibly due to the ill-health of the latter, who would pass away in 1822), and announced the “re-opening” of his own solo school. An advertisement for Cannata at this time shows a different image, of fencers lunging and parrying with hilted swords.


Another French instructor that appeared in America about this time—though not connected to De La Croix—was G. M. Coulon, who, in 1826, “lately arrived in [New York] city from England.” In 1827, Coulon announced the following in the Evening Post:

“The manly foils and broadsword taught upon the most approved method by Mr. C. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday…Self defence with a stick, against any ruffianly attack, taught in six lessons.”

Unfortunately Coulon’s school was not to last, as he unexpectedly passed away in November of the same year.

Dec. 3, 1839, Charleston Southern Patriot

The years between 1837 and 1840 saw a number of additonal French fencing masters advertising the “use of the Cane and Stick.” The first was François George Baugé, of New York City and Charleston, and who produced at least two subsequent cane fencing instructors, Charton and Chabriel, all originally “of the Royal Academy of Paris.” Although Baugé published a series of illustrations on the art of fencing, these did not, unfortunately, include the cane. Other French instructors of “cane defence” during this same period was H. Hautonville, who appeared in Charleston in 1840, and E. Raux, who ran an “Academy of Arms” in Richmond, Virginia, in 1849 . These individuals all neglected to describe their methods of cane defense, and may very well have been teaching French La Canne, the technique of which would begin to be documented in France during the 1840s.

1840-5-25 - Southern Patriot - Charleston

Approximately two decades later, in 1865, a Captain Arthur De Pelgrom, a Belgian who had evidently instructed soldiers in the Union Army, also offered practical self-defense in the use of the walking stick:

Daily Inter Ocean, Sept. 23, 1865

Daily Inter Ocean, Sept. 23, 1865

At the same period, a few instructors hailing from other nations appeared, who deserve mention.


Another colorful character worthy of mention, and who hailed from Italy, is “Signior Manfredi,” described as an “Artist of Agility,” and “astonishing man who has lately arrived in this country from Saddlers Wells,” who performed feats of strength and balance, as well as demonstrations of cane defense.

1808-2-20 - City Gazette - Charleston - Manfredi

Manfredi, who claimed to have previously exhibited in London, Saint Petersburg, and Constantinople, gave demonstrations in the American cities of Portsmouth, Albany, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Charleston from the years 1803 thru 1808. As Manfredi’s events were billed as a “Grand Display of Entertainment,” and also included “tumblings,” “feats of strength,” “tricks,” balancing acts, feats on horseback, and other acrobatics, it is unclear whether Manfredi’s stick demonstrations were actual exhibitions of self-defense techniques, or were merely staged entertainments. Whatever the case, audiences were impressed:

1807 depiction of Manfredi on tightrope with balancing pole

1807 depiction of Manfredi on tightrope with balancing pole

Signor MANFREDI has indeed already performed feats calculated both to “surprise and astonish.” The manner in which he went through his exhibitions on Monday evening was in the highest degree satisfactory to the audience, who testified their opinions by repeated and long-continued shouts of applause. He is so evidently a master of his business, and with such entire ease and dexterity does he requit himself, that the spectator may view his feats without having his sensations of pleasurable emotion disturbed by apprehensions for his safety.

Curiously, in one Maryland advertisement, Manfredi’s stick is described as “Dutch” rather than Italian. Most of Manfredi’s notices mention the use of the stick against multiple opponents—a feature which echoes the advertisements of De La Croix’s many students.

1805-7-29 - New York Commercial Advertiser - Manfredi


Captain Alexander Ryliski of Poland was another obscure figure, who taught cane defense in New Haven, Connecticut, at No. 31 Barney Hall on Chapel Street. Lest anyone doubt his experience, Ryliski noted in his advertisements:

“As a guaranty that Mr. Ryliski understands perfectly the above arts, he would only remark that for fifteen years he has served as an officer in the Polish army.” January 7, 1839, New Haven Daily Herald

1839-5-29 - Daily Herald - New Haven

Interstingly, Ryliski noted that he kept two separate schools—one a designated “Fencing School,” in which he taught the foil, broadsword, and bayonet, and the other “a School for exercise with the cane, for self defense against many.”


“Against Swords, Dirks, or Bowie Knives”

Springfield Republican, May 15, 1845

Springfield Republican, May 15, 1845

A particularly notable cane instructor of the same period was Major R. I. Dunn, “Professor and Teacher of Military Science,” a former citizen of Ireland who would become a noted American military officer. Although Dunn had begun teaching fencing in America in 1812, it was not until the 1840s that his military academies in New Orleans, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Kentucky became well-known. In an advertisement for his New Orleans academy, Dunn claimed that his “art of Personal Defence,” or method of fencing

“is a combination of the broad sword, small sword, single-stick or quarterstaff, with the manner of disarming an antagonist…and renders [the practitioner] fully capable of attacking and defending himself against sword (broad or small), bayonet, dirk, or stick, and when even only armed with a walking stick.”

An 1847 advertisement for Dunn’s school in Frankfort, Kentucky, appropriately added the “Bowie knife”—a popular local sidearm—to the list:

1848-1-27 - Frankfort Daily Commonwealth - KY

The particular mention of the cane used to defend against a Bowie knife is an unusual one, prompting one to wonder if such encounters in earnest ever actually occurred. The answer is yes. According to the Baltimore Sun of August 14, 1856, when one Edward Morton ambushed a Mr. Ben Debar in the streets of St. Louis,

As Debar passed [Morton] jumped out at him and endeavoured to stab him with a Bowie knife; DeBar’s alertness and skill at fencing saved his life. He knocked off the blow with his cane, and then grappled Morton until a policeman came.

It appears that Major Dunn himself had experience using the cane to defend himself in serious combative encounters. In what can only be described as a highly unusual occurrence, the Major is reported as having engaged in a pre-arranged combat with canes and pistols, fought in earnest. According to the May 24, 1844 issue of the Richmond Whig:

A rencontre took place at the Prentiss House, between Major Dunn, well known in this City as a teacher of the art of boxing, fencing, cudgel playing, &c. and Major Anderson Miller with Canes. Dunn it seems wielded his stick “most scientifically.” The parties afterwards met and fired at each other with pistols, but without effect.

In 1841, Dunn published his Condensed Military Pocket Manual. This book contains a chapter on the “Infantry Sword, or Cut and Thrust,” on which Dunn largely based his method of cane defense—with the important modification of eliminating all thrusts while using the cane. Dunn mentions that the infantry sword is lighter than that used by the cavalry, and thus, “much more agility is necessary.” He includes six cuts and a number of “guards,” including “the position of St. George.” Dunn instructs his readers as follows:

The position of the [fencers] will be fronting each other, and placed about four full paces apart, the right foot will be advanced about half a pace, the point of the toe, sword-arm, and right side only, presented to each other, the left hand on the hip, arm a-kimbo, swords crossing each other, in a diagonal position, taking care to keep the sword-hand on the right eye as much as possible, which is the general guard; the cuts will be made with a stiff arm, using the wrist instead of the elbow… When the opponent is a strong and vigorous man, and assaults with rapidity, act on the defensive, retreating a little if too hard pressed; but on discovering that he begins to slacken or get fatigued, then will be the proper time to become the assailant with advantage.

The book contains a small passage on the specific application of these techniques to the cane, which notes an interesting method used to protect one’s hand and fingers:

“In the exercise and use of the cane…the same rules will be adopted as in the cut and thrust sword, with the exception of giving point, which will be unnecessary. It will be advisable (if there should be time) to wrap the hand embracing the cane in a pocket handkerchief, which will guard the knuckles and secure the cane at the same time; the handkerchief must not be tight, as it would confine the cane too much, but crossed lightly from right to left, over the hand.”


“Almost anything can be made into a weapon if properly used…”


Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery was one of the most celebrated American fencing masters of his time, and the first to write extensively about the use of the cane as a method of self-defense. When it came to combat, Monstery had an impressive resume. He had fought under twelve flags in numerous wars and revolutions, had survived participation in more than fifty duels with the sword, knife, and pistol, and had twenty-two scars on his body to prove it. In 1878, Monstery expounded upon his method of cane defense in a series of articles published in the New York press, following his chapters on boxing, grappling, and kicking. More specifically, Monstery treats of a hickory walking-stick, which he describes as “the proper companion of every gentleman”—good against knives, sword-canes, and even guns:

“Boxing will get a gentleman out of a great many scrapes into which he may fall, but in some parts of the Union he will come across men who habitually carry knives or pistols and in such a case a stout walking-stick, if he knows how to use it, may save his own life, and—what I consider more important—prevent the necessity of his taking the life of another. It may seem strange to some that I, who have passed my time in the profession of arms, and have lived so much in Spanish-America, where the use of weapons is universal and duels of everyday occurrence, should have a horror of taking life; and yet I can honestly say that I have always avoided it, except where there was an absolute certainty that the question lay between my own life and that of another who sought to kill me…Many are the pistols and knives that I have struck from the hands of men by a smart blow on the wrist with a cane, and many are the murderous brawls I have prevented in this way. As a queller of disturbances, I know of nothing better than a hickory or ash stick.” (Chapter 12)

To prove the cane’s efficacy as a personal sidearm, Monstery includes a thrilling anecdote regarding an incident when he was attacked by three knife-wielding members of the Spanish secret service, who were intent on assassinating him. Using only his hickory cane, Monstery was able to successfully defend himself, until his attackers eventually fled into the night.


One of several illustrations from Monstery’s chapters on cane defense

Monstery describes his cane system as being based on the same fencing principles as the saber or broadsword, but with some important modifications to account for the lack of a guard to protect the hand. The parts of the body that he targets are also different than those targeted with the sword, due to the concussive (rather than cutting) nature of the cane. Monstery also notes:

“The hook is an important part of the cane. It doubles its usefulness, serves as a handle to rest on when it is used as a staff, prevents its slipping out of the hand when it is used as a weapon, and serves as a sling when you do not wish to handle the cane. With a hook to his cane, no man need ever abandon it, for he can always hang it over his left arm when not in use, so as to be ready to catch it instantly with the right.” (Chapter 12)

IMG_2604 - Copy

Monstery also eschews the use of single-handed thrusts, which, he states, are “easily parried,” expose the fencer, and can only hurt or disable an opponent in two spots. Although Monstery notes that the case is different with two-handed thrusts, he reserves these techniques for his subsequent chapters on the use of the quarterstaff.

Throughout his life in America, in addition to his New York City academy, Monstery also ran schools in Baltimore, Oakland, San Francisco, and, in his final years, Chicago.


In 1898, an article on cane self-defense was published by Justin Bonnafous, the American-born son of a French maitre d’armes of the same name. The elder Bonnafous had been a well-known “sword master” at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. In 1883, Bonnafous Jr. succeeded his father as instructor at the Fencing and Sparring Club of Philadelphia, where he would continue to teach for several decades. In 1898, after having traveled to and returned from Paris, where he had studied fencing, Bonnafous authored a short treatise on self-defense with the cane. It was published in Volume 31 of Outing magazine, and accompanied by nine photographs. Bonnafous’s method shows the influence of French la canne, and includes techniques to defend against knife-wielding thugs as well as multiple attackers, and utilizes both single and double-handed grips. Following is one of several techniques described by Bonnafous:

“If an assailant comes at you armed with a knife or razor, cut for the arm, and, on his dropping it, proceed with treatment as before (see Figures 5 and 9). The thrust for the eye is sometimes used, but should only be resorted to as an extreme measure, for it might prove fatal.”


Bonnafous directs the reader to use a cane “of thoroughly seasoned, straight grained hickory, tapered like a billiard cue, about one and a half inches at the butt, down to three-fourths of an inch at the point. The butt should be surmounted by a knob of silver or other heavy metal, and the point protected by a heavy ferrule.” Unlike Monstery, Bonnafous cautions against using a cane with a hook, for, he warns, “it is apt to become entangled in the clothing at the critical moment, and in such melees every second counts.”


Bonnafous’s article, as far as we currently, know, is the last to treat of cane defense during the nineteenth century.



“The complete defense that lies in a cane…”


Louis Tronchet, a French maitre d’armes, arrived in the United States in 1887, and by April of 1888, had moved from New York to San Francisco, where he began giving fencing lessons at the distinguished Olympic Club, which had been co-founded by Monstery. Tronchet was an exponent of the French school of classical fencing, and had graduated from the military academy of Joinville-le-Pont at the head of his graduating class numbering six hundred. According to his colleague (and occasional rival) Henri Ansot, Tronchet dismissed “wild fencing” in favor of “the more classic style of fencing,” which soon “took the supremacy, under his correct and graceful style of tuition.” This style had evidently served Tronchet well, for in 1887 he defeated the noted New York fencing master Regis Senac in a prominent contest at Cosmopolitan Hall, while adhering throughout to a “faultlessly classical position.”

Tronchet was also a known expert at French savate, and offered instruction in cane self-defense for use in the street. In 1903, after teaching, contesting, and demonstrating fencing in the United States for more than fifteen years, Tronchet published several techniques of cane self-defense in the pages of the San Francisco Call, showing how to ward off several types of armed attack by a “footpad or ruffian.”

“It has remained for Professor Tronchet, instructor of fencing at the Olympic Club, to teach the complete defense that lies in a cane.”

The article, however, does not cover such a complete defense, but, rather, “illustrates a few of the simpler movements and foils which with little practice can be made use of to the advantage of Mr. Footpad by any man of average strength and adroitness.”


The article thus shows a handful of cane defense techniques, utilizing both single and double handed grips, and mostly executed versus a masked attacker armed with a pistol. Tronchet instructs the person accosted to put his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender, but all the while still holding the cane—assuming a position of readiness designed to give the illusion of submission. He proceeds to describe various ways to attack the shins, wrist, and head. For instance, Tronchet instructs,

The simple blow on the wrist is as effective as any blow can be. A right swing of the body and a quick, strong blow across the wrist with the cane causes the footpad’s hand to instantly relinquish the weapon and leaves an opening for an attack with the advantage in favor of the peaceful homegoing citizen. However, he is not quite ready for the homegoing yet. He prefers to see his footpad eating humble pie first.


After advocating several such defenses, including the use of a head butt, throws, and chokes, the article notes that

Professor Tronchet has many more swings and thrusts and tilts of the simple walking cane wherewith to bring the footpad to confusion, but the more difficult ones would require much practice and a close perusal of the rules set down in some pamphlet on fencing…as steady nerve, a cool head, and a quick action are the three requisites–given the walking cane and the ability to use it properly.


The article thus concludes,

Should the cane become a popular weapon of defense against footpads, and according to Professor Tronchet, there is no reason why it should not, it will be necessary for the footpad who wishes to be successful in his chosen profession to take the art of fencing. Otherwise he will find it pleasanter to earn his own living than to depend upon others to earn it for him.


“When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick…”

Bartitsu was an English hybrid martial art developed by Edward William Barton-Wright, and which was practiced in Great Britain between the years 1898 and 1902. Although relatively short-lived, the techniques of Bartitsu were documented extensively in various journals and magazines, which saw widespread distribution. Although much of Bartitsu’s unarmed techniques (particularly grappling) were borrowed from Japanese martial arts, its method of cane self-defense was largely influenced by a style of la canne developed by the Swiss maitre d’armes Pierre Vigny.

Although, as far as we know, Bartitsu was never practiced in America (prior to a late twentieth century revival), its techniques did see publication in America, and are worthy of mention. On August 30, 1903, a lengthy illustrated article appeared in the New York Tribune, under the following heading:



The piece was accompanied by seven illustrations, excerpted from The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, a British journal. The text of the Tribune article, however, is original, and offers a fascinating glimpse into how New Yorkers viewed the criminal threat at the turn of the century, as well as emphasizing the importance of learning self defense with a cane:

When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick. A revolver is likely to harm him more than to help. As soon as a man reaches for his weapon, his adversary has the right to shoot, and the accomplished criminal is almost sure to have his weapon ready first. The stick is the better weapon, because it is quicker. It is in one’s hand already. It is always “loaded”…Should a New-Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time.

The article also offers an interesting look at the perceived fighting styles of various local “thugs” of Anglo-Saxon, Spanish, Italian, and German origin, and offers advice for defending oneself against assaults with the fist, foot, stick, knife, and gun.


“One advantage of the cane as a weapon is the facility with which a blow may be delivered…In fact, a blow may be delivered with a cane perhaps almost quicker than with the fist. For this reason such a blow is hard to dodge.”

In 1911, another instructional article on self-defense with the cane appeared in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. The author, writing under the name of “The Marquis of Queensberry,” was none other than Lord Percy Sholto Douglas (1868-1920), 10th Marquess of Queensberry, and the second son of John Sholto Douglas, the Scottish nobleman best known for lending his name and patronage to the “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” that formed the basis of modern boxing.


Most of Douglas’s previous columns pertained to boxing and jiu-jitsu; he did, however, include one on self-defense with the cane, and another on the use of the umbrella or parasol (intended for women), both of which were accompanied by a number of photographs, some of which included Douglas himself, and drawings. Like the methods of Hewes and Monstery, as well as the cane techniques set down by fellow Briton R. G. Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron of Headley, Douglas grounded his cane defense firmly on the fencing techniques normally applied to the broadsword and saber.


Douglas’s articles are highly interesting, and probably most useful in their simplicity. They are intended for a general audience, as well as for fencers looking to apply their preexisting knowledge of the sword to common household articles such as the cane and umbrella. From a pedagogical standpoint, Douglas’s series is perhaps also notable for its inclusion of footwork diagrams in its section on the umbrella.


CunninghamIn 1912, another treatise on cane self-defense appeared, published in the form of a short pamphlet by Andrew Chase Cunningham of the United States Navy. Much has already been written about this text, which is also widely available.  Suffice it to say that Cunningham was president of the Washington D.C. Fencing Organization, and the author of a fencing text, Sabre and Bayonet (1906). According to this article by Maxime Chouinard, Cunningham had been a student of the elder instructor Antoine J. Corbesier, who had served in the Belgian and French militaries before immigrating to America, where he became instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. According to Chouinard, Cunningham’s cane defense techniques bear some resemblances to Corbersier’s method of Belgian Canne Royale. Cunningham’s The Cane as a Weapon contains eighteen pages of text, as well as twelve photographs.


“Nothing justifies fighting at any time or place except defence.”

In 1915, bodybuilder and physical culturalist Dr. Benjamin Franklin Roller, M.D., published a series of articles on exercise, diet, healthy living, and self-defense in the New York press. Roller propounded a unique unarmed method of self-defense, which combined savate, boxing, Cornish wrestling, and American catch wrestling (this last being Roller’s specialty) for use against unarmed assailants, as well as those wielding a knife or gun.

Defense against knife.

Roller’s unarmed defense against knife: “Parry the stabbing arm with the palm of the left hand. Step boldly inward, forward, and to the left. Spring from the right foot and throw the entire weight, of the body behind a right hand blow to the assailant’s chin.”

In addition, Roller describes what he considers to be the “Eight Essential Exercises,” which includes fencing:

Eight things should every boy be able to do (until he can do every one of them fairly well he is not a man complete)—to run, to jump, to ride, to shoot, to wrestle, to box, to swim and to fence. You don’t have to be an expert in all, or even in any one. These are the fundamental studies of self-defence, and the more you can learn about all of them the more you will increase in ability which some time you may badly need.

Roller's "rules"

Roller’s “rules”

Regarding fencing in particular, Roller explains:

Fencing is one of the most beneficial of exercises, great fun and a very effective means of defence. Get the singlesticks, with mask and glove, at any sporting goods house, or you can practise the movement with any old stick. I never took a lesson in this work in my life, but I became so efficient in singlestick fencing that I defeated the best professional fencer on the Pacific coast and twice saved my life by knocking a gun or a knife out of an assailant’s hand by means of an ordinary cane.

The vast portion of Roller’s instructional material treats of his special hybrid method of unarmed self-defense. He does, however, describe and photograph one technique using a hooked cane:


Roller (on right) demonstrating self-defense with a cane.

Roller explains this technique as follows:

“Fig. 4.—-A fencing stroke in self defence. The author saved his life in Indiana once by this exact stroke, disarming the assailant and breaking his hand. Step backward and a little to the left. Execute a complete circle from below upward and to the left with the forearm and wrist. The movement is as quick as a flash and very powerful if executed chiefly with the wrist, the elbow being elevated slightly to make the blow more effective.”


“The cane is the most practical form of sword play for use in those tight places where men care nothing for rules…”


In 1920, another treatise was published containing self-defense techniques applied to the cane. The author was George Heintz, Junior, an instructor at the United States Naval Academy, who included his method in the Naval Academy’s Manual of Athletic Requirements. A number of sources indicate that Heintz had learned fencing from his father, George Heintz, Sr., a German immigrant who had also taught fencing at Annapolis, Maryland, and was well-known in German fencing circles and Turner societies. His son, George Heintz Jr., was a national saber champion in 1890, and was appointed Assistant Swordmaster at the Naval Academy in 1903, taking over as Head Swordmaster from his father in 1915.

In his text, Heintz, Jr., propounds a method that is heavily based on fencing theory, and which is executed “in the same manner as [the] Sword Exercise.” It utilizes a saber grip, moulinets, as well as double-handed parries and thrusts. He outlines his method as follows:

“Remarks. — The cane is the most practical form of sword play for use in those tight places where men care nothing for rules, but only want to make the most out of the weapon which the chance of the moment has put in their hands; should the weapon in hand be an umbrella, the most effective use of the same would be the thrusts with both hands. Bayonet tactics can also be used with the cane or umbrella, such as Long and Short Thrusts, combined with the use of the knee or foot.”

Following are a selection of plates from Heintz’s chapter on the use of the cane:

manualofathletic00rich_0152 - Copy


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George Heintz Jr. continued to serve as “Swordmaster” and head instructor at the Naval Academy until 1932.

MARCEL CABIJOS (1893-1964)

cabijos-lehighpic-1947-crop21About this same period, another fencing master, of French origin, also began offering cane instruction in the northeastern United States.

Born in France, in 1893, Marcel Cabijos served in the French Navy throughout World War I. He was a combat instructor and served in the Fusiliers Marins, a combat unit that was deployed to the land from ships. During his enlistment he founded a fencing society aboard his ship, and became the fencing champion of the French navy. After the war, he received his Maître d’Armes (master of arms) diploma and taught in the south of France for several years before emigrating to New York City in 1924. In addition to his rank as a fencing master, Cabijos was also an instructor in judo and savate. In 1926, Cabijos attained great renown by defeating the sabre and épée champion of the United States, Leo Nunes, with only a twelve-inch dagger against Nunes’s dueling sword.

In New York, Cabijos taught fencing at a large number of schools and institutions. Among these, Cabijos is recorded as having specifically taught cane self-defense at Vassar College, Lehigh University, the J. Sanford Saltus Club, and the Salle d’Armes Henry IV. The following article, culled from the archives of Lehigh University, and published in the magazine Brown and White, impresses upon the reader an idea of Cabijos’s prowess with the cane:

CABIJOS - Brown and White - Lehigh U - 12-15-1943

A number of accounts of Cabijos’s cane demonstrations appear in the Vassar Miscellaney, such as the following from February 2, 1929, which was held “before an enthusiastic gathering of about a hundred people”:

CABIJOS - Vassar - February 2, 1929

Again, in 1930, another account was published:

CABIJOS - Vassar Miscellany News- March 15 1930

Unfortunately, as far as anyone knows, Cabijos never wrote any treatises or articles about his method of cane self defense. However, additional accounts of Cabijos and his fencing exhibitions can be accessed in the following collection on Pinterest.


The history of cane self-defense in America would not be complete without mentioning Frederick Rohdes, a German fencing master who taught the art and science of fencing in New York City in the old tradition.

Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes, pictured with a schlaeger, one of the weapons taught at his academy, during the late 1970s.

Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes, pictured with a schlaeger, one of the weapons taught at his academy, during the late 1970s.

Born in 1897 in Western Prussia, Rohdes taught fencing as an assistant instructor on the American west coast for some time during the 1920s before moving to New York City. He trained under several notable fencing masters, among them Maestri Luigi Barbasetti and Aurelio Greco eventually becoming Provost and Master under Marcel Cabijos (see above). Maître Rohdes opened his own fencing academy in 1948, which was located above the Loew’s Orpheum building on 169 East 86th Street in New York City.

Although he passed away in 1984, Rohdes’s fencing systems and techniques were passed down to his protégé Maestro Ramon Martinez, who continues to teach them today at the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City. Among the many methods passed from Rohdes to Maestro Martinez include some techniques of cane self-defense. Maestro Martinez has since integrated these techniques into his own method of cane defense. For the purposes of this article, we asked Maestro Martinez to provide a description of his cane defense method. He responded,

“It is not a fencing system or a fighting system; it is a method of pure self-defense. However, it is informed by the knowledge of fencing that I have, as well as other personal martial experience. My objective is to keep it as simple as possible, so that it can be learned quickly. It is intended to be used against both armed and unarmed adversaries.”


In conclusion, it is important to note that the numerous fencing instructors and schools mentioned throughout this article do not, in all likelihood, represent a complete picture of what existed in America during the periods covered. It is highly probable that many instructors never advertised their services, and that there existed additional masters and instructors in America during these times who have escaped the eye of history altogether. It must be understood, therefore, that the corpus of surviving records represents a window through which one can glimpse only a part of the historical reality. It is to be hoped that, in the future, other researchers will uncover additional evidence of schools and masters of cane fencing in America.

Text of this article, except where quoted, © 2016 by Ben Miller.

Classical Fencing Defeats “Wild and Irregular” Fencing: The Tronchet-Senac Contest of 1887

Tronchet vs. Senac, in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

Tronchet vs. Senac, in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

“There is no doubt but that it was the finest match seen in America…”


During the late nineteenth century, Maitre d’Armes Regis Senac was one of America’s most widely-known fencing masters. A native of France, Senac had arrived in New York City in 1872, and had set up a fencing school on University Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The Frenchman had reportedly fought three actual duels in France and had emerged victorious from all.

Regis Senac

Regis Senac

In New York City, Senac engaged in a number of high-profile, controversial fencing contests which were reported on by many major American newspapers. Although he had always emerged as the technical victor, many of these victories occurred by default when distinguished adversaries such as Colonel Thomas Monstery and Maestro Eugenio Pini stormed off the stage with disgust at Senac’s tactics and at the manner in which such contests were being scored. In 1884, during another contest between Senac and fencer Albert Vaughn, the latter walked off the stage after Senac disabled his sword arm with a vicious cut, with Vaughn alleging that Senac “was not disposed to act in a fair and gentlemanly manner.” Whatever criticism could be leveled at Senac, it is clear that within the context of a public fencing contest, he was a dangerous, or at least a puzzling, adversary.

Then, in 1887, Louis Tronchet arrived in New York City.

Tronchet was a formidable fencing master who had graduated from the famous French military academy of Joinville-le-Pont, at the head of his graduating class of six hundred. He was also a known expert at French savate, and offered instruction in cane self-defense for use in the street.


Louis Tronchet

Notably, Tronchet was also an exponent of the French school of classical fencing—a style which, according to a number of nineteenth century fencing texts, strongly adhered to the approach, principles, form, and refined technique embodied by earlier fencing masters such as La Boëssière, Jean Louis Michel, Gomard, Grisier, Cordelois, and others—and which stood in contrast to other fencing styles of the period, variously referred to as “romantic” and “irregular.” In 1892, a brief English language definition of the “classical fencer” was provided by Maître Louis Rondelle, who wrote in his book Foil and Sabre:

“The Classical Fencer. – A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and ripostes executed with precision. One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it. It is then a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.”

At least five separate period sources describe, or refer to, Tronchet’s fencing as being classical. This included Tronchet’s colleague (and occasional rival) Henri Ansot, who recounted that Tronchet dismissed “wild fencing” in favor of “the more classic style of fencing,” which soon “took the supremacy, under his correct and graceful style of tuition.” Another was Tronchet’s protege, Emilio Lastreto, who would later describe his master as a “classical swordsman.” A third source was the New York Times, which stated that “Tronchet’s style is classical,” and a fourth—which shall be reprinted below in full—is Outing’s account of Tronchet’s 1887 match with Senac, which describes Tronchet as adhering to a “faultlessly classical position” throughout. Likewise, the San Francisco Chronicle noted,

“Tronchet’s style is essentially ‘classic.’ By this is meant that he fences in strict accordance with known, fixed and positive rules. Many men have peculiar and individual styles, following no rules and going it haphazard as they think best, and while these happy-go-lucky fellows sometimes attain considerable proficiency, they never reach a high degree of skill.”


In March of 1887, Senac reportedly made the comment that the recently-arrived Tronchet “knew nothing about fencing.” Tronchet overheard, or got wind, of the comment, and promptly challenged Senac—who claimed the title of “Champion of the Two Americas”—to a public contest of arms. The stakes were set at $1,000 dollars and the championship title of America. Senac accepted, and the contest was arranged to be held in Cosmopolitan Hall on March 28th.


Cosmopolitan Hall, located on 41st Street and Broadway, hosted concerts, as well as a variety of events pertaining to subjects as diverse as flowers, ice skating, and horsemanship. A large building, it boasted a frontage of 90½ feet on Broadway, a depth of 157 feet on 41st street, and a backing of 100 feet on Seventh Avenue. In mid-1887, the theater’s interior would be reconstructed and the entire edifice renamed the Broadway Theatre, although the walls of the old building would remain the same.

Cosmopolitan Hall on 41st Street, in its later incarnation as the Broadway Theatre

Corbesier-OutingThe night of the contest, both men dressed in “black velvet suits,” red belts, and white gauntlets. The conditions of the event were two fifteen minute assaults with foils, with a five minute intermission, to be followed by an assault with “triangular duelling swords”—that is, the épée de combat—after a ten minutes’ rest. During the assault with épées, the fencing became so fierce that at one point Senac broke off the end of his sword, and referee Antoine J. Corbesier (Sword-Master of the U.S. Naval Academy) received a cut across his hand that drew blood, prompting him to “use a sword to defend himself as he looked on.”


The most detailed account of the fencing contest between Tronchet and Senac, published in Outing Magazine, and reprinted below in full, sheds light on the different styles of fencing that existed in America during the late nineteenth century.


Outing. May, 1887.

This match, which took place on March 28th, at the Cosmopolitan Hall, has been the talk of the town for a month. The daily papers were full of it and gave extended and picturesque descriptions of the contest. Unfortunately, these descriptions were written by reporters who, clever and imaginative though they be, know nothing about the art of fencing, and would be very much distressed were they to be asked the difference between a seconde and a quinte. They praised the gracefulness of one man and extolled the agility of the other; they proclaimed that the first was superior in forcing the combat, and stoutly maintained that the second was the better in rapidly retreating when danger was near. All these statements, hashed up with different sauces to suit the partisan tastes of the reporters, and served hot next morning, were gobbled up with satisfaction by an ignorant public, but proved very repugnant to connoisseurs.

And first, as to the men themselves. Senac is at least by four inches the taller, and was continually doing what is known among fencers as “tendre la perche;” in other words, not attempting to parry a thrust, but relying on the greater length of his arm, he endeavored to stop Tronchet before the latter’s sword could get to his body. This is poor fencing, though often successful. Tronchet, however, was not to be caught by such beginner’s tricks, and, by his superior agility, managed in every case but one to evade the threatening point. Besides, Senac is far more slender than Tronchet, thus affording less striking surface.

As to Senac’s much-vaunted gracefulness, it brings a smile of amusement to the lips of every friand de la lame. Why? Because in fencing, correctness of position is the first thing, gracefulness the second. If the position be both correct and graceful, then the highest art is reached. But for a position to be merely graceful is not enough. An Oscar Wilde position may be very graceful in a drawing-room, but it cannot be called so in fencing, because it is not a position sous les armes. Therefore, Senac’s position was not a graceful fencing position, because it was not a fencing position at all. He stood straight up instead of bending his knees and having his body rest well on his hips. He never used his left arm to balance himself when lunging, and therefore, being unable to retreat promptly after thrusting, was often hit by a clever ripost. He usually rested his left hand on his hips, as if he were practicing broadsword, and even went so far as to let it hang idly by his side. His chest, instead of being well expanded and held straight, was always bent forward; Tronchet, on the contrary, unaffected by the interests at stake, maintained, during the whole length of the assault, a faultlessly classical position. Against a man who had the tremendous advantage of size, he made a clever use of the only means of balancing such a glaring inequality, that of his wonderful agility. Senac’s fencing was wild and irregular; Tronchet’s was ever regulated by the most approved methods and governed by the best and most correct principles. Even when retreating he always presented the point of his foil to the breast or his adversary, menacing him constantly in his advance.

There is one thing we must say right here. We did not have really good fencing on either side; the interests at stake were too large to insure the calmness and equanimity which are absolutely necessary to first-rate fencing; the championship of America and the stake money of a thousand dollars depended on a few touches, and the two contestants were too excited to make use of all the means within their power. Were they to fence again, but in a salle d’armes, with nothing dependent on their skill but the honor of the victory, we would doubtless see marvelous work. Even as things turned out, there is no doubt but that it was the finest match seen in America, and, as The Times very correctly said, the first that was free of ante-contestive arrangements.

The one mistake of the assault was to permit disarmament to count as a touch. This is never allowed in France, and a man striking another in a duel, after having disarmed him, would be guilty of murder. As Senac thinks his disarmaments one of his best shots, he insisted upon counting it, and Tronchet, unwilling to retard the match in any way, consented, under protest. Now that Tronchet is champion, however, he will be able to impose his own conditions, and refuse to consent to such an antiquated absurdity.

To resume this criticism. Tronchet owes his victory to the correctness of his principles acquired in the best school in the world, that of Joinville-le-Pont, the Military Academy of France. In order to beat such a formidable adversary as Senac, he had to make use of rare skill and perfect method, and his victory is as much due to the simple and beautiful principles of the new school as to his own expertness and bravery. Senac, on the other hand, is personally an excellent fencer, his lunge is tremendous, his rapidity remarkable, his bottes are skillful, but his parries are weak, and his fencing belongs to the old school—it is wild, erratic, and without method—and to that he owes his defeat.

The referee, Prof. Courbisier, of Annapolis, was a good referee as far as perfect impartiality was concerned, but he made several mistakes, and they all happened to be in favor of Senac. The most palpable of these was at the end of the second bout with the foil, when he declared that Tronchet was disarmed before he had touched his opponent. As Senac had parried en quinte, and as Tronchet’s sword left a beautiful, white, round spot on Senac’s breast, this was a physical impossibility, and the audience hissed the referee. The seconds did their arduous duties well. Tronchet was represented by Mr. Eugene Van Schaick, the President of the Knickerbocker Fencing Club, and by Maurice Bernhardt [the son of actress Sarah Bernhardt], and Messrs. Ronald Thomas and William Lawson acted for Senac.



Tronchet demonstrates giving fencing lessons to Elizabeth Forbes in San Francisco, 1902. San Francisco Call.


1. Ben Miller, The Monstery-Senac Fencing Contest of 1876.

2. New York Clipper, April 12, 1884.

3. H. Ansot, “The Metamorphosis of Fencing” in Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 144, December 1894; 566-575.

4. Emilio Lastreto, “Fencing,” in The Making of a Man (San Francisco: H.S. Crocker, 1915), 68.

5. Louis Rondelle, Foil and Sabre: A Grammar of Fencing (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1892), 189.

6. New York Herald, March 15, 1887.

7. Watertown Daily Times, April 9, 1887.

8. New York Herald, March 26, 1887.

9. New York Times, March 29, 1887.

10. New York Herald, March 29, 1887.

11. New York Sun, March 29, 1887.

12. San Francisco Bulletin, March 29, 1887.

13. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 9, 1887.

14. Outing, May 1887, Vol. X, No. 2.

15. Courrier des Etats-Unis, December 11, 1887.

16. San Francisco Chronicle, November 18, 1888.

17. San Francisco Call, July 6, 1902.

Cane and Umbrella Self-Defense, by the Marquis of Queensberry

During the fall of 1911, the following series of articles on self-defense appeared in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. The author, writing under the name of “The Marquis of Queensberry,” was none other than Lord Percy Sholto Douglas (1868-1920), 10th Marquess of Queensberry, and the second son of John Sholto Douglas, the Scottish nobleman best known for lending his name and patronage to the “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” that formed the basis of modern boxing.



During his youth, Percy Douglas served as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, then in the British Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Militia Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, from 1889 to 1891. After spending time in London, Australia, Canada, and Mauritania, Douglas traveled to America in August of 1911. That September, he began writing a series of sporting columns and instructional articles on self-defense for the Chicago Tribune. Most of Douglas’s columns pertained to boxing; he did, however, include two unique articles on self-defense with the cane (intended for men) and the umbrella or parasol (intended for women), both of which were accompanied by a number of photographs, some of which included Douglas himself, and drawings.

Notably, only ten years prior, Chicago had seen the passing of one of its most renowned martial residents, the duelist, swordsman, and fencing master Colonel Thomas Monstery, who had also written a treatise on self-defense with the cane. The collection of techniques presented in Douglas’s articles is not as sophisticated as Monstery’s system, however, his techniques do bear some resemblances (as well as some differences), and are founded upon similar principles. Like Monstery’s system, as well as the cane techniques set down by fellow Briton R. G. Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron of Headley, Douglas based his cane defense on fencing techniques normally applied to the broadsword and saber. Similarly, his umbrella technique is based on the “deadly…edgeless sword,” which Douglas erroneously terms the “rapier,” but is actually a reference to the dueling sword, or épée de combat.

Douglas’s articles are highly interesting, and probably most useful in their simplicity. They are intended for a general audience, as well as for fencers looking to apply their preexisting knowledge of the sword to common household articles such as the cane and umbrella. From a pedagogical standpoint, Douglas’s series is perhaps also notable for its inclusion of footwork diagrams in its section on the umbrella.

Following are Douglas’s two articles, presented together sequentially and in full, for the first time in more than one hundred years.




The Ordinary Walking Stick Can Be Used in Self Defense if Properly

Handled. Here Are some Methods of Using Your Cane if Attacked on Street.

The fist is the most natural human weapon and in competent hands, or rather, on competent hands, is a most deadly weapon. But competent hands are rare. Men in these days are too indolent and too secure, or fancy themselves so to be. They are not interested in boxing sufficiently to practice the art. Their attitude toward this sort of thing in general is that of the spectator. Being men of reasonable sobriety and temper, they do not look forward to physical encounters.

But in times of peace prepare for war. You never can be sure that some raw red ruffian is not going to mistake you for an intimate enemy and implant upon you a blow modeled upon the kick of a steam hammer. It is interesting to note that of a party of twenty-five clubmen assembled one evening recently, twenty-three had either been held up on the street or had suffered burglary at home. Of the twenty three only two had made any resistance.

For those men who are not exports with their fists the cane presents itself as a serviceable weapon of self defense. The walking stick is not as good as a sword or a club and its utility is limited, but it happens to be the only weapon a man ordinarily carries and so a consideration of its possibilities is worth while.

* *

Useful Cane Must Have Weight.

In the first place, remember there are canes and canes. A swagger stick would be of little use against an intoxicated human ox who wanted to remove 50 cents from your person by force. So also of the husky looking but brittle canes that are so deceptive. A cane to be useful in a row must have weight and elasticity. A walking stick of snakewood may be admirable. A mahogany stick or any of the strong, heavy woods will do, as will also some of those with steel backbones. There should be no fancy handle screwed or glued in place. The handle should be a continuation of the wood. It should also be a bent handle, so that in striking it cannot fly out of the grasp or be jerked from the hand by some one coming up from behind.

The cane, as has been said, has its limitations. The saber or the rapier can reach any part effectively, but the cane has neither edge nor point. It also lacks the concentrated weight of a club. The clothes protect against it and take something from the severity of the blow. At two points, and two only, can the cane be relied on for deadly work. These are the side of the head and the back of the hand. A quick, strong blow at either of these points is almost sure to disable an assailant.

* *

Blow on Top of Head Wasted.

Don’t waste your precious moment by hitting your assailant on top of the head. His hat will protect him there and, besides, his skull is too thick. The blow upon the hand, especially upon the back of it, will paralyse that member. If some rough comes at you with a knife in his hand, or a bludgeon, of even a revolver, you can disarm him. In the case of the revolver, of course, do not think he will not shoot. If you find yourself covered it is too late to act unless you are willing to take a chance. But there is sometimes an instant after the thug springs upon you before he really has you covered. If you are sure of yourself and quick enough you may be able to disarm him. It is almost impossible for any man who has received such a blow across the back of the hand to retain his hold. There is a small chance that he could pull the trigger—unless, and don’t overlook this possibility—he pulls it an instant before the blow lands.

There are several other vulnerable spots. A blow across the forearm, on the thumb aide, may disable if it is heavy enough. There is also the point on the upper arm where the muscles leave the bone unprotected; this is favorite clubbing spot for the policeman. You could jab a man in the stomach but the effect is not likely to be great, especially as the thug more often than not operates on an empty stomach. A jab in the face likewise might help: You can’t hurt his legs because, for one thing, you can’t get at them. The crazy bone is also out of your reach. The back of the neck is likely to be protected by the coat collar.

* *

Cane for Quick Work.

One advantage of the cane as a weapon is the facility with which a blow may be delivered. It is not necessary to chop wood with it. A short blow is necessary for quick work, and nothing but quick work is of avail. A short swing of the arm with plenty of wrist play is what is wanted. It is the wrist that brings the blow home. In fact, a blow may be delivered with a cane perhaps almost quicker than with the fist. For this reason such a blow is hard to dodge.

An active man with a good cane need not fear an assailant with an ax or a spade. The ax is unwieldy and its reach is not great, The spade is probably the more dangerous. You could not parry a blow from either with a cane, but you could §get in a whack across the temporal bone or the back of the hand before your rampant assailant could swing his implement.

The cane is at a disadvantage against a club or a piece of lead pipe These have the advantages of concentrated weight, heft in a lump, whereas the weight of the cane is too generally distributed. A man trained in the use of a stick should be able to give a good account of himself against a ruffian with a knife. But in all these cases it is necessary to strike first, if you are knocked down don’t try to use your cane afterwards. Unless you are on your feet you can do nothing with it.

Above all things don’t let the other fellow get hold of your stick. You may not be able to recover it and he may jerk you into reach of his corrugated knuckles before you know what has happened. If you strike quick and hard it will be difficult for any man to grab your cane. After your blow has landed remove the stick out of his reach instantly. The cane can also be used to a certain extant to ward off blows. Of course this cannot be done against a weapon of weight, but against another cane it may be used almost as a sword would be in fencing.

It may be remarked by some people that the average man doesn’t carry a cane, but to this I would reply that in any big city it does not pay to go out at night without a stick of some kind. This, however, would doubtless be hard to impress upon the mind of most men because of the general belief that only the dandy carries a walking stick.

* *

1. If a ruffian grabs you by the wrist bring your cane down across the back of his hand, put a lot of wrist motion into the blow. It will paralyze his hand for the moment and he cannot hold you.


2. If he strikes straight down at you with his own stick, guard your head as with a sword. Hold your cane more nearly horizontal than a sword, however, for it has no guard and his blow may be deflected against your fingers. Stand with your right foot forward, weight about equally divided, leaning slightly forward and stiffening yourself. You can parry a blow for your temple in the same way, only holding the cane vertically.


3. After you have stopped his blow at your own head you have a chance to hit him in return over the ear. The instant you feel the contact of his stick start your counter blow. His cane will be stopped and you can whirl your own cane out in a swinging blow against his temple. In striking, keep your thumb out along the back of your cane, as you can guide your blow better in that way.


4. If he springs out upon you with a weapon from your right, hit him across the back of his hand. He will drop whatever he is holding. Don’t waste time by raising your cane too high; put the force into it with the wrist. But strike hard. If he raises his hand he will expose the back of it for an instant. That is your time. If he holds a revolver be sure that you strike before he has you covered.


5. If your assailant springs upon you from your left you cannot reach the vulnerable part of his hand. If, on the instant, you jab him in the chin you may bewilder him long enough to enable you to follow up with a blow across the side of his head or the back of the hand holding the weapon. But you are at something of a disadvantage.


* *

Story of Ginger and Pepper.

I can almost remember when the cane was the generul thing and when few men went without them at night, and many people in good circumstances carried them in broad daylight, and they were people who were by no means “dandies.”

One can never tell when an attack win come. They come usually when least expected, as that seems to be one of the fortifications the thief takes—taking his intended victim by surprise.

I am reminded of a story I heard when in Australia which applies in this case. An old townsman had been advised in his youth to carry a small quantity of red pepper concealed about his person at all times to defend himself against the possible attack of mad bull, this being a big cattle district. He was also advised to carry some ginger to throw into a mad dog’s face. He carried the ginger religiously for many years, but did not see fit to carry the pepper, as he claimed his animals were harmless.

It so chanced that he was walking in his pasture one day whan a mad bull attacked him and almost gored him to death. He did not have the pepper when he wanted it, and he had been told that the ginger would have no effect on a mad bovine. This story illustrates thti value of being prepared.

In my article next week I am going to give some photos and diagrams showing how women may defend themselves with an ordinary parasol or umbrella in case of attack on the street. Women have been known to fatally wound assailants with the timely use of the umbrella rod, and I have gone into this carefully and have found the best and most simple rules to follow out.

Do not lot your pride hold you back in preparing yourself for the use of the cane. When you are cracked on the head some fine night you might regret the inability to use your cane effectively, or the absence of any cane, and then you will remember what I have said here.

* *


By The Marquis of Queensberry.

There Are Three Possible Movements With the Sharp Steel Rod of The Ordinary Umbrella That Will Disable An Assailant, If The Umbrella is Handled Properly.

Diagrams Showing How Women Practice These Movements.

WHY should women not learn to defend themselves? The “manly” art of self defense may be for men only—there is a difference of opinion as to this. In some households—but there are other methods besides the fist. The hatpin has been used upon occasion with terrible effect, and the steel rod umbrella or parasol in proper hands may be almost as deadly as the rapier.

The present attitude of American women invites aggression. Remember the parable of the dog and the cat. The dog may regard the cat with amiable indifference until the cat starts to run away. Then, the moment the cat shows fear and weakness, the savage instinct of the chase is roused and the dog attacks.

The instinct is primal. Few of us but feel it. The weak are their own worst enemies. Given, therefore, a dark, deserted street, a woman glancing timidly from side to side, a vagabond, perhaps well dressed, probably inflamed with alcohol, and the stage is set for robbery and tragedy,

* *

All Women Not Defenseless.

Women should not go out at night alone. But this cannot always be avoided. Some are forced to take the risk by their employment, others by unforeseen circumstances. Still others, and these form the greater number of those who come to grief, take the risk for no adequate reason. They find it stupid to stay at home, there is no man handy to escort them, and they go alone.

The woman who finds herself obliged to pass through the streets unattended owe a duty to the public—she should learn to defend herself to the best of her ability. Not all women are defenseless creatures; the news reports show that. More than one has successfully fought off or captured a highwayman where her husband or brother would have stood tamely and surrendered. At the age of 10 the average girl is almost a match for the average boy of the same age. There is no reason, save only mental attitude and hobble skirts, why an active young woman should not defend herself and her property with effect.

The carrying of firearms concealed is a misdemeanor. But prominent men have advocated it for women. The story is still new of the policemen’s wife in a western city who carried her revolver in a paper big and winged the miscreant who attacked her at a dark corner. Women have an odd fear of firearms, but all women can and do carry a parasol or an umbrella. In the umbrella the woman of courage and skill has a weapon of considerable merit. It is always at hand, for one thing, and its efficiency is shown by half a dozen reports of men killed by its thrust.

The steel rod parasol or umbrella, to be an efficient weapon must be used as a rapier. This straight, edgeless sword in the hands of the gentlemen experts of another day was a most deadly weapon; its thrust meant death. The parasol of today has many of its qualities. It is sharp and light and, when of sufficiently good quality, it is strong. It is the opinion of competent swordsmen that in skillful hands and with force behind it, the sharp point might be driven through the clothing and walls of the chest. Certainly there is no question that it will inflict painful injury upon the face and throat. Should the point penetrate the opening at the back of the eye socket—as it sometimes has—it would mean instant death.

The woman who wishes to defend herself with her umbrella must learn two things: to thrust with speed, force, and precision, and to have perfect command of her feet. The first can be acquired by a little instruction and a good deal of practice. The second is hardly possible with the narrow skirt. But fortunately by the time one is learned the other will have gone out of fashion.

* *

Preparedness Assurance of Victory.

One who is always prepared for attack will come out victorious under almost every circumstance. Suppose you are passing through a deserted street. A man comes toward you. You do not like his appearance—the fact he is well dressed does not guarantee anything—and you prepare to defend yourself. When the enemy is a few yards distant you shift your usual uncertain grasp to a firm grip on about the center of the handle, the fingers around the handle and the thumb toward the point. As the man approaches with some hostile demonstration the umbrella, generally used as a defense against a downpour, flies forward in a businesslike manner, the steel point toward the enemy. You, behind the point, have drawn a circle of safety about yourself for a few seconds.

Happy are you if you wear on this occasion an old fashioned skirt, for a perfect freedom of movement is most important. But your left hand is free and you must do your best to get your skirt up out of the way. The enemy has been surprised by your stand and the quicker you can deliver your thrust the better. Do not try to thrash him with your umbrella as with a barrel slat. Leave that to the vaudeville comedians. You cannot hurt him that way. You must use the point. Thrust out boldly and bravely, adding the weight of your body to the strength of your arm. Try your best to deliver this thrust right in his face. Don’t be afraid of spoiling his beauty, as he deserves to be marked by a woman’s hand.


Should your unexpected attack fail to produce the expected result be sure to recover yourself quicker than the surprised enemy. Don’t, don’t, don’t stand there and let him grab your umbrella. Retire quickly into the position of defense—a back step or two will do—and thrust again. Should the men attempt to strike you with a cane or something of the sort you may be forced to parry his blow. Hold your umbrella or parasol with the point up and in such a manner that his stick will strike across it and be deflected to one side or the other without touching you.

Umbrella6* *

Three Stages in Advancing.

Your foot work is of supreme importance. It is not hard, but it cannot be managed by one who has not practiced. A girl who dances should find no difficulty. Never cross your feet if you can help it and do not lose your balance.

In advancing there are three stages:

1. The step—Your right foot is forward, your weight about equally divided. The left foot is brought forward quickly to the right. The right is advanced. In the diagram, the shaded imprint represents first positions.


2. The Jump—In order to come into striking distance quickly spring forward with both feet at once. To get the force bend the knees somewhat more than in ordinary position.


3. The attack—Keep the left foot in position and lunge forward till the left limb is straight. Land with the right foot so far forward that the knee forms a right angle.


In sidestepping move so as to keep the point of your umbrella always toward your assailant. You can move to either side. Move the left foot first and follow with the right.


To retreat, reverse the movements of the advance. In springing backward remember your skirt—remember your skirt! In stepping backward, start with the right foot. When it is behind the left, move the left back so that the relative position is maintained with the right foot toward the enemy.


1. Lunge for his face. Grasp the parasol or umbrella firmly, with the thumb extended along the handle to guide the thrust. As you lunge you are standing with your right foot somewhat forward. The left foot remains as it is. Throw yourself forward on it, and plant the right foot as far forward as you can. This sends your umbrella point forward with great force. Your right knee should form a right angle; your left limb should be straight out behind you.


2. Do not let him grab your weapon. The instant your thrust lands or misses step back and raise the umbrella out of danger. Either jump back or step back, the right foot first. Remember your skirt and keep it clear.


3. If he strikes with a sidewise swing of his cane at your head you can duck the blow and thrust at the same time. As he strikes step back with your left foot as far as you can without changing your right. Drop your head forward. This will bring you under his swing. At the same time direct a thrust with all the force of your arm toward the enemy’s face or unprotected neck.



A “New System of Defence with the Bowie Knife” and the Strange Case of Mons. Bobij

Martial Arts New York

On Sunday, March 22, 1840, the following unusual notice appeared in the Times-Picayune:

Sunday, March 22, 1840 - Times-Picayune BOWIE

Mons. Bobji–or Bobij, as he was more widely known–was an extraordinary character who had recently arrived in America from Europe. French by ancestry, Polish by birth, and a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish army, he had taken part in a failed revolution in his homeland, then enlisted in the Russian military, escaped again, and traveled throughout Europe, where, pursued by “evil genius,” he survived multiple assassination attempts, one of which left “a large scar from a poniard directly over [his] left eye”. Bobij finally fled to the United States, where he offered instruction in fencing, and gave public exhibitions demonstrating the use of the broadsword, smallsword, bayonet, Bowie knife, dirk, dagger, quarterstaff, lance, and most notably, “two swords, one in each hand.” Especially tantalizing was Bobij’s announcement that he was presenting a “new system of defence with the Bowie…

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The Life-Saving Techniques of Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery

“You need never despair of saving life till you have tried faithfully for at least an hour and a half…”


Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.


The following interesting article, which details methods for resuscitation and “the saving of life,” originally appeared in the New York Spirit of the Times, in May of 1878.


The author was the noted swordsman, soldier, and adventurer, Colonel Thomas H. Monstery, who reportedly fought more than fifty duels and served under twelve flags. Monstery also taught a system of self-defense that included punching, kicking, grappling, head-butting, and other techniques of unarmed and armed self-defense, as detailed in his martial arts treatise, recently republished as Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

Monstery, who had trained at both the the Central Institute of Physical Culture (Kungliga Gymnastiska Centralinstitutet) in Stockholm and the Royal Military Gymnastic Institute (Kongelige Militaire Gymnastiske Institut) at Copenhagen, later settled in the United States, where he opened a number of academies that provided instruction in the arts of fencing, boxing, self-defense, and swimming.

Regarding the following life-saving techniques, Monstery stated that such instruction was neccessary, because “hardly ten men in any State of the Union know how to save the life of another without danger to their own safety.” Notably, Monstery’s techniques utilize such unusual tools as string, rubber-bands, bricks, driftwood, hot bottles, and “a glass of the best spirits procurable.”

This additional article, not included in the republication of Monstery’s martial arts treatise, gives additional insight into the life, mind, and techniques of this remarkable character.

By Colonel Thomas H. Monstery.

Graduate of the Royal Military Institute of Gymnastics and Arms
in Denmark, and Professor Ling’s Central Gymnastic Institute of
Stockholm; Professor of Arms in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Russia;
in the Service of Spain, Central and South America, and the Mexican
Republic; formerly of Baltimore, and late Eight Years Instructor
in the San Francisco Olympic Club.

Life saving motions are taught in scientific swimming-schools by a regular drill, so as to give confidence to the swimmer and accustom him to go to work in the right way, with the least danger to himself and with the best chance of saving his comrade. They are compounded of backswimming and tread-water motions, and best performed on the back, with both feet and one hand, the other hand being used to support the drowning person. The position of the body is oblique in the water, the motion of the legs and arm the same as in tread-water, but owing to the oblique position of the body, progress is made by the motions. To become familiar with the saving motions, assume the oblique tread-water position, keeping one arm hugged close to the breast, and swim in all directions till you have mastered the secret, after which, change hands, and practice swimming with the other arm hugged to the breast. Observe that the feet move alternately, as in tread-water. Simultaneous motions, as in the common breast and back swimming, cause too much rising and falling in the water from the oblique position, to be practiced in life-saving.


When these motions are thoroughly learned, you will come to the real practice of saving, beginning by the carrying of weights. Procure, if convenient, a straw sack, with enough weights—stones or similar articles—in the bottom, to make the lower part heaviest, and the whole sack a little heavier than the water. This “dummy” is to represent the drowning person, and you must remember that you cannot safely tow a drowning person to shore unless he or she be as quiet and unresisting as the dummy. Practice with the dummy in the same manner as without it, hugging it to the breast with the arm that was before idle, letting the lower part of the sack fall between your feet, and practicing swimming to and fro with it till you can carry it without any distress a hundred yards or so.

What can be done by a swimmer carrying a burden in this way is shown by an instance which I heard of at Copenhagen, where a certain brewer swam in this manner, carrying another man a full Danish mile, that is more than three of oar miles. It is true that this swimmer was very muscular and fleshy, and floated easily, but under any circumstances it was a tremendous feat, which in the end caused the swimmer to lose his health for life from the effects of his exertions. By no other way of swimming could he possibly have accomplished the task.


“If you can catch him by both arms, between the shoulder and elbow, from behind, you will have the best chance to escape his clutch…”

Having practiced with the dummy, the saving of life becomes comparatively easy, and only requires a little advice and a knowledge of the usual behavior of drowning persons. In saving you must be careful not to approach the drowning person in front, as he is sure to clutch at you and try to mount to the surface on your shoulders in the wild instinct of despair, being moreover in a stupefied condition. Approach him, therefore, from the rear, and if he tries to seize your limbs, keep away. If you can catch him by both arms, between the shoulder and elbow, from behind, you will have the best chance to escape his clutch. Let him sink twice, if he is strong, and do not attempt to save him till he comes up the third time, when he is nearly senseless and quits quiet. If you are caught by him, endeavor to duck his head under the water till he lets go. Try to get your knees up between him and you, and then push him away with knees and feet, and you will surely break from his hold. In fact, a desperate drowning person must be more than half drowned before it is safe to approach him. An exhausted swimmer sinking is not so dangerous, as he generally keeps his presence of mind when he feels a friendly hand seizing him, and allows himself to be supported. As soon as the person to be saved is quiet, take him round the body, under the arms, lying with his back on your breast, which will tend to restore confidence if he has any sense left. Do this in the same manner as that in which you carried the dummy. Then take him to shore, keeping his mouth above water. What to do with him when ashore will be shown next.

“As long as the limbs are flexible and the body is not cold and stiff, a prospect remains of restoring life…”

It has often happened that persons have lost their lives from having been under water less than five minutes, owing to the ignorance of the people who tried to restore consciousness by improper methods. On the other hand, instances have been known in which drowned persons have been restored to life after being under water for fifteen or twenty minutes, in a few cases even longer. The fact is that science has been unable to determine exactly at what moment life becomes entirely extinct in a body, and the process of recalling animation to an apparently lifeless body is not entirely hopeless until every method has been tried for several hoars. As long as the limbs are flexible and the body is not cold and stiff, a prospect remains of restoring life. Every person who learns to swim should therefore never be satisfied unless he knows how to save the life of a drowning person, first by bringing bim ashore, second by reviving him.

“If you have a rubber band in your pocket, pull out the tongue of the drowned person and pass the band round tongue and chin…”

As soon as the body is brought to shore it should be rubbed dry with a coarse towel and vigorous friction. Lay it on the ground immediately, while this is being done or before it, face downward, the pit of the stomach resting on a hard pillow, six or eight inches high, made up of anything you can find in a moment. A folded coat, on a stone or piece of driftwood, will answer the purpose. Press, with quick jerks, on the back of the body with the palms of the hands, forcing the stomach and diaphragm against the pillow. This discharges the water that has been swallowed almost instantly.

In the directions which follow I have detailed the method used by Dr. Silvester, of England, and published by the Royal Humane Society. It’s great merit is that it can be employed by a single person in case of no help being near. If obedient assistants are available they make the work easier.

Turn the body on its back on the same pillow, chest arched upwards. Clean out and dry the mouth with a dry handkerchief, and draw forward the tongue, which must be kept projecting beyond the lips, so that it not fall back and cover the windpipe. There are several ways to effect this. If you have a rubber band in your pocket, pull out the tongue of the drowned person and pass the band round tongue and chin. If no band is forthcoming, a string will do the business. If nothing else is at hand, close the lower jaw on the tongue, so as to keep it from falling back. The upper part of the body must be stripped of everything tight, if not already naked. Now you are ready to imitate the movements of breathing.

“This is the whole secret of artificial breathing…”

Kneel down by the head of the drowned person, and take the arms just above the elbow. Draw them up above the head, and keep them there for two seconds. Then turn them down, and press them firmly, and as hard as you can, against the sides for the same period.


This is the whole secret of artificial breathing: The arms are to be worked up and down slowly and regularly, ending each stroke with a strong pressure on the sides. The pressure forces out the air from the lungs, while working the arms up draws it in. There are several ways of inducing this artificial breathing, such as slowly turning the body on the face, working one arm up, then over on the side again. I have chosen the method above detailed as the simplest of all, and because it requires only one person. If there are more helpers, one can take each arm and work it, while the rest irritate the nerves. All the rubbing should be done toward the heart, to stimulate the return of the blood in the veins. Hot bottles and bricks can be placed to the body to restore warmth.

All these measures, however, are useless till the breathing is restored, and the artificial respiration must therefore be continued without ceasing. Instances have been known where persons have been restored by artificial respiration after three hours work, so that you need never despair of saving life till you have tried faithfully for at least an hour and a half.

Never allow a body to be carried with the head down, or rolled on a barrel, as is the common superstition of ignorant people living by the waterside. Either practice is nearly certain to kill the patient. The most common of all superstitions is that the drowned person has swallowed a great deal of water, which must come out. This is a grave mistake. Very little water is really swallowed, and it is only the small quantity in the windpipe that must be pressed out by squeezing the body on the pillow, as described above.

“As soon as natural breathing recurs, a glass of the best spirits procurable, half water, and hot, if possible, should be given…”

The first indication of returning life is a sound between a gasp and a groan, and indescribably painful to hear. As soon as this occurs, hurry the side pressures, and work the arms more rapidly. Let the pressures be lighter but more rapid as respiration returns. The next indication of life will be a movement of the eyelids. As soon as this takes place, give a teaspoonful of some strong spirit, and continue the artificial breathing, but with slighter pressures, till natural breathing takes place. The friction of the body must be continued, after breathing returns, with more energy. As soon as natural breathing recurs, a glass of the best spirits procurable, half water, and hot, if possible, should be given, after which the patient should be wrapped in blankets, and made warm and comfortable, and allowed to sleep. The general idea of restoring drowned persons is, it will be seen, first to restore respiration, and, when that is accomplished, to bring back sensation.

I think that I can hardly do better than to close this series of articles by some general hints on the subject of accidents.

“Never allow a sea to break over you, but always dive head first through it…”

Always bathe at flood-tide any time before the full, as the tow is then toward the shore. When the tide is ebbing, the under tow eels out, and that is the time of danger for swimmers. Therefore, during ebb-tide, if you bathe at all, never venture out of your depth, or you may be swept out to sea by the undertow. Never allow a sea to break over you, but always dive head first through it. After a moment, turn up your head and you will find yourself on the other side of the wave. Avoid confusion if you chance to be struck by a breaker, and remember that it only lasts for a moment. Risk nothing for mere pleasure, and remember that even the best swimmer may be drowned by an attack of cramp while swimming. If you are subject to cramp avoid bathing out of your depth but, if you chance to be taken with it unawares, strike out the cramped limb with violence, turn your toes up to the shin, fight hard against the contraction, and above all never lose your presence of mind. Remember always that you can swim with your hands alone, your feet alone, or on your back with hardly any motion of any limb.

“The last and best rule on the water is ‘Always keep your presence of mind…'”

If you are out boating and get capsized, knocked overboard by a swinging boom, or in any manner find yourself in the water with all your clothes on, the first thing to do is to get your boots off and, inasmuch as boots are to get off, I should recommend you always to wear low shoes when out boating, in case of such accidents. If you jump overboard to save a drowning comrade kick off your shoes and throw aside all the clothes you possibly can before you leap. If there is a coil of rope lying loose, take the end with you when you leap, as it may save two lives when you reach the drowning person. Anything loose that will float may be thrown to the drowning person before you leap, as it increases the chances for both of you. Start the cry of “man overboard” at once, so that the helmsman can luff up and stop the vessel’s way as soon as possible. If a man falls off a wharf always shout before you jump, to attract help. If a man falls overboard from the bow of a paddle steamer it is useless to leap after him from thence. Better run to the stern, stripping as you go, and jump off there, shouting “Man overboard!” If you jump off forward, there are two men under the paddle wheels, and the chances are that both will be stunned and drowned. By running to the stern you have a chance to save a senseless man. Besides this, you will probably run along the veesel’s deck a little faster than the vessel and the man pass each other, and so will gain time and distance on both, coming nearer to the man who is in danger. The last and best rule on the water is “Always keep your presence of mind.”

FURTHER READING:9781583948682

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

Additional articles about Thomas H. Monstery can be found here as well.


First News of Kung Fu Arrives in America, 1830

Sword dancer in the old city of Shanghai

Sword dancer in the old city of Shanghai

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the history of martial arts in the United States was purely western, encompassing European-style pugilism, wrestling, fencing, as well as a diverse assortment of indigenous Native martial arts.

That changed on July 2, 1830, when the New York Evening Post printed a vivid report entitled “Pugilism in China.” This article appears to be the first account published in America regarding the existence of Kung Fu, and is reprinted here:

The art of self defence is regularly taught in China…The first lesson for a Chinese boxer consists in winding his long tail tight around his head, stripping himself to the buff, then placing his right foot foremost, and with all his might giving a heavy thrust with his right fist against a bag suspended for that purpose. He is directed to change hands and feet alternately, restraining his breath, and boxing the bag of sand right and left for hours together. This exercise the fancy call ‘throwing down walls and overturning parapets.’ In the second lesson the pugilist grasps in each hand a heavy mass of stone, and having stripped, and arranged his tail as before, he practices thrusting out at arms’ lengths these weights, right and left, till he is tired. This lesson is called ‘the golden dragon thrusting out his claws.’ Next comes ‘a crow stretching out his wings—a dragon issuing forth from his door—a drunken China-man knocking at your door—a hungry tiger seizing a lamb—a hawk clawing a sparrow—a crane and muscle reciprocally embarrassed,’ and other specimens of fanciful nomenclature, for divers feats of pugilism.”

The article in the Evening Post  indicated that the original text had appeared in the Canton Register

Sword dancer in San Francisco's Chinatown, by Arthur Genthe, 1896-1906

Sword dancer in San Francisco’s Chinatown, by Arthur Genthe, 1896-1906

Although it is possible that the first arrivals from China may have brought such martial practices with them to America at about this time (the 1820s and 1830s), for the next fifty years, the media remained silent as to their existence. It would be nearly 60 years–not until February 27, 1890–that the first exhibition of Kung Fu in the United States would be unveiled to the American public.

KungFuMagNOTE: A greatly expanded version of this article, covering other Kung Fu contests and practitioners of the same period, and accompanied by photographs, appears in the 2015 March/April issue of Kung Fu Magazine, under the title Kung Fu in Early America.

If you liked this article, you may also be interested in the following, also about the early history of Chinese martial arts in America:

The First Exhibition of Kung Fu and Chinese Martial Arts in America: Brooklyn, 1890

First Report of a Bare-Knuckle Kung Fu Contest in New York City’s Chinatown, 1891

An American reports from China on Kung Fu eye-gouging contests, 1891

Vivid Report of Chinese “Gladiators” Reaches New York in 1891

The Martinez Academy of Arms’ Academia

Although this article details an event held in New Orleans, it was held by the New York City-based Martinez Academy of Arms (featured on this site), and provides a nice firsthand account of a rare classical and traditional fencing event in our modern era.

Columbia Classical Fencing, LLC

Recently, I was privileged to participate in the first ever Martinez Academy of Arms Academia in New Orleans, Louisiana. This was a gathering of all the MAA schools and academies, including Palm Beach Classical Fencing, Côte du Golfe School of Fencing, Salle St. George, and Destreza Pacifica School of Arms. And it was one of the most impressive fencing scenes I have ever witnessed.

Before continuing, I should make a full disclosure: I am not officially a member of the Martinez Academy of Arms or any of its affiliated academies or schools. Moreover, I did not learn to fence under Maestro Ramon Martinez or Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez, and was introduced to the maestri only a few years ago. Nonetheless, I cannot say that I am unbiased.

Since meeting them, Maestri Martinez and Acosta-Martinez have been unimaginably generous to me:  teaching me whenever possible, gently correcting my faults, and encouraging me. Unfortunately, due…

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