It really hurts getting whacked on the head by Mark Shuey's cane. I know because it happened to me while I pretended to be a mugger, and he pretended to be an old lady with a purse.
Shuey, 62, is a grand master in "Cane Fu," the self-defense art he invented. He splits his time between Dover and Lake Tahoe, Nev., where he also has a home. He enjoys demonstrating the lethal uses of a cane, which he manufactures on the premises and ships all over the world.
The canes sell from $15 to $400 each depending on the amount of personalization customers request. Inscribed names or initials are popular, for example, and some customers like to embed jewelry.
A square man with piercing pale blue eyes, Shuey has taught self-defense for 10 years. His clients include flight attendants, soldiers, corporate executives, police officers and senior citizens. He has trumpeted his technique on several national television networks including CNN and Fox News, and has flown to Europe to do the same for paying clients. But Shuey seems as if he'd do it for free.
More than 300 instructors around the world have adopted Shuey's "American Cane System," including several in the Tampa Bay area.
Santo Lobello, who owns a self-defense school in Brandon that uses Shuey's methods, said having a cane more than doubles a person's chances against an assailant.
"A cane is a self-defense tool you can carry anywhere in the world," said Lobello, 52. "I guarantee you, if I had a cane on 9/11, that plane wouldn't have gone down."
In a sense, Shuey sells attitude. His Cane Fu may come with risks, but it sure beats staying holed up inside afraid of being robbed. That's his logic, anyway, and it's hard to argue with him.
Shuey can still kick to chest level. He created a series of ritualized movements that account for 22 national and world martial arts titles in "weapons kata." ("Chuck Norris has six titles," said Merle McAlpine, 52, Shuey's training and business sidekick. "We give him crap about that all the time.")
I am 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, and if I turned to crime don't imagine I would worry too much about an elderly person with a cane beating me up. But, for the sake of this article, I put Shuey to the test.
We took our positions on the lawn near his peaceful lake. I pretended to be a purse snatcher. Shuey played an elderly woman. I closed in on his left side like Julius Peppers moving in on a quarterback.
Shuey made a quick move over his shoulder, BAP! Immediately, there was a thick brown oaken cane resting purposefully against the side of my skull. He practices the art of almost-hitting, at which good self-defense teachers excel.
In the next second, Shuey flipped around, placed the hooked end of the cane between my legs and yanked upward, once again stopping just in time.
One of Shuey's former students used these moves once in Atlantic City, only for real. The student had hung his cane on the side of a urinal when a stranger approached from behind with a knife.
Shuey's protege walked away; the mugger didn't.
Shuey began taking martial arts in the 1960s to keep fit. He quickly fell in love with the sport and went on to earn black belts in hapkido and tae kwon do.
The robberies and rapes of three elderly women in Palm Springs, Calif., inspired him to incorporate canes into self-defense 10 years ago.
The attacks saddened and outraged Shuey, who felt they were entirely preventable. He knew enough about weapons to see the value in the canes often carried by the elderly and the disabled.
"Almost every weapon in the martial arts is right here," he said, twirling a cane in figure-eight patterns, as the wind whooshed with each movement.
It takes only 16 pounds of pressure to break a skull, Shuey said. The canes he makes shatter a coconut easily. Imagine what it will do to kneecaps, shins and elbows.
The law considers the walking-stick variety of cane a weapon, and it is illegal to carry them on airplanes. But those provisions often don't apply to canes with curved handles.
In Shuey's hands, a curved-handled cane is probably more dangerous than a straight one. It's good for pulling, snatching and digging. He sharpens the handle's tips into points, which he can dig into an attacker's face, neck or chest. Trust me, that doesn't feel good either.
Public attitudes, it seems, often present bigger obstacles than muggers. Shuey believes that far too few people bother to take self-defense courses. Then, there is the fact that he wants people to use canes in self-defense.
"The hardest part is the stigma," he said. "People don't want to feel like they're old."
For more about Cane Fu, visit www.canemasters.com. Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)892-2248.