Queens seniors learn cane-fu techniques for self-defense

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Photo gallery

Blanche Bergman brandishes her cane as a weapon during a class at the Bayside Senior Center led by Little Neck-based Aikido of Queens. Photo by Christina Santucci
Participants listen to the program. Photo by Christina Santucci
Robert Waltzer (l.), the sensei and director of Aikido of Queens in Little Neck, leads a demonstration of self-defense techniques with Wen Tzeng, 61, at the Bayside Senior Center. Photo by Christina Santucci
The group gets together for a photo at the end of the program. Photo by Nykeema Williams
Bayside resident Blanche Bergman (r.) learns self-defense techniques from Robert Waltzer, the sensei and director at Aikido of Queens in Little Neck. Photo by Christina Santucci
Seniors wield their canes. Photo by Nykeema Williams
Robert Waltzer, (c.) the sensei and director at Aikido of Queens in Little Neck, demonstrates the move to Samuel Goldberg of Little Neck and Blanche Bergman of Bayside. Photo by Christina Santucci
Grace Cascio, 93, tries out the moves with Wen Tzeng, 61. Photo by Christina Santucci

When Robert Waltzer instructed a group of seniors to grab their partners and get ready to practice the footwork he had just taught them, he was not giving foxtrot lessons.

Instead the visitors to the Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens-sponsored CCNS Bayside Senior Center, at 221-15 Horace Harding Expwy., showed up Tuesday for cane-fu, the self-defense class Waltzer volunteered to teach the seniors. The flier read “bring your cane.”

“I’m not here to teach you how to fight,” said Waltzer, 57, sensei at the Aikido of Queens martial-arts school in Little Neck. “If anybody grabs your purse or your wallet, you are never to fight with them. Never resist.”

Waltzer said the dangers to the elderly of falling and risking serious injury are too great for them to jeopardize themselves, but should push ever come to shove, he said many seniors have a lethal weapon at their side.

“It’s an extremely valuable weapon, whether you know it or not. If you know how to use it, it’s pretty deadly,” he said. “This hard piece of wood can do more damage than your fist can because obviously you’re not in your 20s anymore.”

With the help of a sparring partner, 84-year-old Blanche Bergman, Waltzer demonstrated how by lifting a cane straight out in front of himself and bracing it with both hands he could create “maia,” the Japanese word for “proper distance.”

Bergman was eager to learn the moves, which included sliding her hand up the cane in order to strike a would-be mugger in the head.

“Sometimes when it gets to fighting, you don’t think of these things,” she said.

The principles behind Aikido teach students to redirect an aggressor’s force with balance, posture and mental awareness.

“It’s instinctive human behavior to resist and use force against force,” Waltzer said, and demonstrated how if an attacker were to grab his cane, he would push toward him rather than pull away and force his assailant backward. “You cannot try to out-muscle somebody. What we have to do again is use a little knowledge.”

About 20 or so seniors broke up into pairs and practiced breaking out of each other’s grips, using Waltzer’s technique of stepping backward away from an attacker.

“If you can step, you can do this,” he said, and instructed his students on the count of three to give a loud shout — a “kia!” — as they practiced their moves.

“Hey!” shouted Norma Abramowitz, 82, as she removed the hands her friend, 91-year-old Adele Fox, had placed around her neck.

“We got a little confused there for a second who was the aggressor,” Fox said.

The two could hardly hide the fun they had as they practiced, and Abramowitz said she learned some good moves.

“I hope we never have to make practical use of them,” she added.

Waltzer said he volunteers his expertise as a service to his community, and is planning to teach another cane-fu class at the Samuel Field Y, at 58-20 Little Neck Parkway, on March 14.

Grace Cascio, 93, said she does not use a cane — her doctor told her she could get around fine using her push cart.

“Only old people need those,” she concluded.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:30 am, March 2, 2012
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Reader feedback

kg2v from Bayside says:
Sounds like he neglected the hook end of the cane, which, when used the grapple, can be used the break limbs (picture an arm in the hook, and usinging the lever of the cane to twist). Hint, the hook around the neck becomes deadly
March 5, 2012, 8:21 pm

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