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As a boy growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Ajmal Khan lived with his grandfather, who used a cane for balance and support. Khan admired his grandfather’s gentlemanly use of his cane, not knowing he, too, would someday be using one — and not just for keeping his balance.
What sets Khan apart from the everyday cane user is his training in a new exercise phenomenon known as “Cane Fu.” In specialized martial arts classes, Khan, 68, and his classmates learn ways to easily maneuver their seemingly innocuous wooden canes as weapons in order to protect themselves if they are ever caught in a dangerous situation.
“The cane is no longer a crutch – it’s a complete exercise and self-defense system that you can carry anywhere in the world,” says Mark Shuey, the owner-operator of Cane Masters and the founder of the American Cane System. Shuey, 62, hopes that with Cane Fu, students will release feelings of embarrassment that can come with using a cane. Though some students are skeptical when they first arrive in class, their doubt is short-lived.
“Within five, ten minutes they have a smile on their face like you wouldn’t believe,” Shuey says. “They really get into wanting to learn how to protect themselves.”
Cane Fu has developed a strong following among seniors and is becoming increasingly popular with disabled war veterans and people who have undergone major surgeries, such as Khan, who had orthopedic surgery on his knee.
Khan was encouraged to take up Cane Fu by of one of his four daughters, Karuna Khan-Gordon, a head instructor at Gary Hernandez Martial Arts, where her father takes the classes. Khan-Gordon, whose students range in age from 4 to 68, says that Cane Fu is a far safer alternative to carrying a gun or a knife. “My father can basically divert or dissuade an attacker using however much force is necessary,” Khan-Gordon says.
Participating in classes has kept Khan active while increasing his self-confidence and sense of security. Shuey says that that feeling of safety and improved physical strength develops with the practice of Cane Fu. Students feel inspired to leave the house, go for a walk, and exercise regularly.
“I recommend that everyone exercise at least 20 minutes a day,” Shuey says. “It’s nice to be able to go somewhere, feel good, and the only way to do that is to keep your body moving, supple, and exercised.”
Until recently, Khan worked as an independent grounds contractor. Now, he keeps busy in his garden, tending to avocados, tropical fruit trees, and goats, working with the local Tampa Islamic Center, and, of course, attending Cane Fu classes.
“This keeps you much healthier, keeps you active,” says Khan. “You don’t sit down and depend on anyone. Although I have problem with my knees or what not, I’m up and going.”