The Circa 1970 Revival of Umbrella and Walking Stick Self-Defence

  • Originally published on the site on Sunday, 23rd April 2017

Much like the first decade of the 20th century, the late 1960s and early ’70s saw an increased general interest in self-defence due to a perceived rise in street crime and a cultural shift towards feminism.

 In 1967, a young Los Angeles radio producer named Jill Maina developed her own basic self-defence system.  A fencer since the age of nine, she observed that the then-trendy martial arts of judo and karate both required body contact with an assailant, and so she advocated the use of umbrellas and walking sticks as defensive weapons to keep muggers at bay.

Although she may well not have been aware of it, her new system re-joined a long-broken tradition dating back to the mid-19th century, which had last been in vogue during the first decade of the 1900s due to the work of E.W. Barton-Wright, Pierre and Marguerite Vigny and others.

Miss Maina’s system favoured thrusts, primarily with the double-handed bayonet grip but occasionally with the regular fencing grip, targeting the attacker’s throat, groin and stomach.  Strikes were reserved for disarming blows to the hand or wrist, should the assailant be armed.

Throughout this period, newspaper and magazine articles re-popularised the notion of using umbrellas and walking sticks as weapons of self-defence.  By 1971 Mr. Norman Simon, the owner of Uncle Sam’s Umbrellas in New York City, was reporting that 30-40 customers per week were asking for weighted walking sticks.

While noting the illegality of purpose-built “weapon canes”, such as those concealing guns or blades, Mr. Simon said that his employees were happy to drill holes into canes and fill the holes with buckshot for extra heft.  Uncle Sam’s Umbrellas sold spike-tipped “hiking” canes, ebony canes with steel ball handles and even a “fencing cane” that looked like wood, but was made of tapered steel.

Interestingly, Mr. Simon was also reported as having sold a “book on stick fighting”, which was probably either Bruce Tegner’s Stick Fighting for Self-Defense: Yawara, Police Club, Aikido, Cane, Quarter-Staff, with a Special Section of Defenses for the Blind and Otherwise Handicapped Persons (1961) or Hatsumi and Chambers’ Stick Fighting: Techniques of Self-Defense (1971).

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