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

May 6, 2016

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.




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