Title credit: Nate Leipzig.
There are many ways to hold a cane... a surprising number, in fact. Each offers slightly different possibilities. Examples are described below with a plain hook cane in mind, but can be adapted.
First, for support, a cane is usually held in the hand opposite the weak leg, and is positioned on the ground simultaneously with the weak leg. This means that the strong leg is in the middle, and the weak leg has the widest base of support. It's also possible to walk with the cane in the hand on the side of the weak leg, but it doesn't have as wide a base, and the rhythm of walking, particularly up through the shoulders, is odd. (The TV show "House" has a character with a cane who walks off-rhythm like this.)
For walking, you usually hold it at the "top of the hook", the center of the hook's semicricle, so that the width of the palm is perpendicular to the length of the shaft. You can slide forward or backward a little to get different hand angles to reduce fatigue, or to position the cane forward or backward of the weak foot when going uphill or down.
But there are two ways you can hold a cane in one hand at the top of the hook: one has the shaft in front of the thumb, the other has the horn in front of the thumb, and the shaft is on the pinky side of the hand. This holds true for grips at other spots of the cane too: the nature of the grip changes, depending on whether the bulk of the cane comes out of the thumb side, or out of the pinky side. I call it a "forward grip" when the center of the cane is on the thumb side, and a "reverse grip" when the center of the cane is on the pinky side.
Try it: hold a cane at the top of the shaft, just before it starts to curve into the hook. In a forward grip the thumb points towards the center of the cane. It's easy to twist the wrist to describe wide areas of space in front of you. The elbow and wrist can be held low as you point anywhere in front, even towards eye-level. A forward grip, with the thumb pointing down the shaft, is a natural way to use the cane in front, or to point above the head.
Flip it around, so you're still holding at the top of the shaft, but with the pinky closest to the cane center, and the thumb is pointing up towards the horn. When your hand is at rest at your side in a reverse grip, the cane points backwards. You need to raise your elbow to point forwards. This underhand grip is similar to the sword style used in Zatoichi movies -- easy to guard and attack to the sides or rear, unexpected angles for an attacker to anticipate. The shaft can lie against the forearm for strong, supported blocking. Body turns can engage your legs and trunk muscles into a strike. It's harder to operate delicately above waist height in front, but a reverse grip gives strong protection to the back and sides.
Forward and reverse grips take a special meaning towards the center of the cane, where it's easier to think of either "hook towards the front" or "toe towards the front", and the balance remains nearly the same regardless. But for any given spot on the cane, one hand can hold it in either forward or reverse grips, with different dynamics for each.
Those are the basics of walking with a cane -- you're usually up on the hook, one-handed, with the shaft pointing forwards or (less frequently) back. Things get more interesting when gripping the cane in defense.
One hand can grip at varied positions:
- the top of the hook (as for walking)
- the shaft side of the hook (for lateral control of the shaft)
- near the cane's total balance point
- near the center of the shaft (the hook end will be heavier)
- towards the toe of the cane
- it's also possible to hold onto the horn at the end of the hook, but I haven't found much usefulness here yet.
Any of these can be held in either forward or reverse orientations. The grip of the hand can be loose or tight, for twirling (at hook-top) or snapping (where the tightening fingers add angular velocity during a strike).
That's for one hand. There are also two-hand grips, as well as grips which alternate between both hands. Some dual-hand positions which are particularly useful during defense:
- hands about shoulder-width apart on the stick, thumbs facing each other... I like the hook on the right, facing out... a flexible and unthreatening defensive posture
- one hand at top of shaft, the other at the center, thumbs both pointing to the toe... enables parries, thrusts and lunges
- baseball-bat grip, two hands together near an end, shaft coming out the thumbs... if an attacker grabs your stick, they'll probably strike in this fashion
- broom grip, like a bat grip but with thumbs pointing away from the stick's center... very solid on blocking kicks or other low attacks
That first grip is sometimes called "two-handed overhand", and is the key resting position in Masaaki Hatsumi's influential "Stick Fighting" book of 1971. The center of the shaft is very well supported during a block. Either end of the stick can be used for jabs, with strong push/pull force. One hand can release and slide towards the other, actually pushing the stick during a strike. And the hands can be held in various orientations, blocking high or low, or diagonally against an overarm strike, even vertically with one hand above the other.
The second grip is sometimes called an "over-under" grip, because the two hands are in different orientations on the stick... there are many other names as well. By sliding the center hand away from the other you can gain great mechanical advantage at the toe... if your hands are spread over 3/4ths of the cane, then you've got 3:1 leverage against whatever you're pressing with the foot of the cane, and that's not even counting the push/pull action of dual-hand use. It's also very easy to drive the full body weight into a thrust with the tip when the cane is held this way.
One further subtlety with two-handed grips is that either hand can then quickly slide to a new position. If you're comfortable striking with either hand, then it can become very, very difficult for an opponent to guess what you'll do next.
That's an overview of full-hand grips with a cane... you can use either hand, or both... various useful positions on the cane... any grip can be reversed so that the cane comes out of the other end of the hand... shifting between grips changes your options in a flash. Just a line and a semicircle, yet so many possibilities....