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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Walking Sticks Correctly

My wife has graduated to a cane during her recovery from foot surgery. I researched how to use them. I also thought this could be an interesting Steampunk article as canes and walking sticks were popular in the 1800s. So much so one article I found advised that if you walked behind man with his stick under his armpit, pointed at your eye, it was both polite and in the interest of public safety to gently push the tip down. Easy big fella, you could poke an eye out.

Origins of the Stick

As I learned ages ago, canes as self protection evolved from carrying swords. It was no longer legal or fashionable to carry a blade, so the cane came about. Turns out many of the same fencing moves still work. As I’m not writing a detailed treatise, check out the References.

My Leg Hurts

We googled for the proper way to limp around with a cane. It turns out; you carry the cane on the side of the good leg. That’s was counter intuitive. You plant the tip of the cane with the stride of the injured leg. This has you leaning away from the bad leg, reducing the weight on it. If you use the cane on the side of the bad leg, you would be less stable and carrying more weight on that side to complete the step.

Costume Concerns

I am an old hand at dressing up for RenFair, and over the years, realized one simple truism. Whatever props you bring in your hand, you will have to carry the entire day. Case in point, the fine walking stick I purchased for my steampunk outfit fell from the counter and landed on its head, denting the finish on the day I bought it. Ouch.

Back when my mother was alive, she had a metal pronged cane for walking on ice. There was a small clamped on addition to it that extended from the shaft an inch or two and had a rubber sole. This enabled resting that sole on a table edge, keeping the cane upright and available. Any steampunk worth their salt should be able to come up with a similar contrivance for their walking stick. I’ll note here that I haven’t come up with quite the right addition for mine. I did however find the actual product my mother had and there’s a link in the References section. I am amused that it is the spitting image of a device she purchased more than thirty years ago and one I hadn’t seen in twenty.

Another solution I’ve seen in historical texts is hanging the stick on a button. I cannot find greater explanation. I imagine a regular walking stick with a strap hung on a button on my person, and see it bouncing around. If someone knows what this is about, add a comment and I can add it to the article as a solution.

Without a solution, take care when you set it down to make purchases or when dining. I have seen remarks that tucking a cane under the arm is gauche, but I find that’s safer than leaning it on the shop counter. If you do tuck it under, put the top behind you, with the point down. That is as safe as can be mustered while being respectful of others.

Self Defence

There are old manuals on the subject, and videos online. I considered writing defense moves down, but I feel that martial arts are best learned under an instructor. There’s safety concerns and bad habits to avoid developing. Bartitsu, Hapkido, and Systema feature cane work. Styles like Ishinryu that I trained in also feature a jo, a short stick of cane length. The techniques from that apply to canes.

I will give you this legal tip. Do not say you are carrying a cane for defense. That makes it a weapon. It’s either a walking aid, or a fashion statement. Check the laws in your land for whether carrying something not specifically a weapon is legal. Believe it or not, in some states, if you have a hockey stick and aren’t coming or going to a hockey rink, it’s considered a weapon. A gentleman pays attention to rules both social and legal.

Caning With Style

Woops, that heading might not mean what I think it means. Let’s assume you’re a gentleman and want the right amount of swagger without breaking the fine china as you strut about.

Seek a cane that isn’t too light or too heavy. One you can carry all day without tiring, yet has enough weight it doesn’t fly out of your hand by its feather weight. The height should be tall enough that you aren’t stooping to use it, nor arching your back to strut like a “bantam cock” as one article put it.

The next step is knowing one wears a cane rather than carries one. It is part of your attire, not an accessory. It should fit your outfit, which should fit the setting you plan to find yourself in. A stroll about the park is not the same as dinner and opera. The latter requiring your most formal garb.

Now to the actual wearing of a cane. Fred Astaire is described as best demonstrating the flare one should have. I suspect that the tap dancing is optional. I studied as much footage and photos of cane wearers as I could, including a Kardashian beau.

Modest Usage

For those looking to safely operate your cane, this section is for you. I will teach you the safe way to look dashing without attracting too much attention.

The Gripping

You might strike a pose with the cane held in hand by the shaft. If your cane has a handle, you would grip it like a pistol. Palm on top, middle finger and smaller wrapped around. Your index finger may align and point down along the shaft, or reach past the shaft to wrap around the frontis piece. If you have a knob style handle, that is a rounded head, your palm goes on top with your fingers reaching down around on all sides. Your index finger should align to the front side.

The Walking

Similar to using it with a bad leg, the cane follows the opposite leg’s movement. As you step out, it reaches out, both foot and cane land in unison. It stays in place as you advance until your back foot comes up off the ground and you begin anew.

The Pointing

Remember the joke about the dirty end of the stick? While it is rude to point, a time may come when you need to gesture in a direction. If using your cane, remember that the end must never be higher than the head. So when pointing at things low, you grip it by the head and point with the tip. When gesturing at something high, you grip the cane by the shaft and gesture with the head. Bringing the point up is a dirty or offensive move.

Putting on the Ritz

I can’t keep up with Fred’s moves, but with some practice, and spatial awareness so you avoid whacking somebody, you can spice up your look by knowing how to handle your cane. That might be a double entendre. Either way, I am certain this is what the old articles were complaining about men with canes swinging them about. I found a video that moves slower, to follow the moves and style.

Try those with a cheap cane, outdoors, away from anything you might break.

Check out the rest of my Steampunk Gentleman series at


Besides having trained in martial arts with sticks, I also know how to use Google. Here’s what I found.

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