It grew out of the cane. Every day I twirl with the cane, stretch with it, use it to loosen muscles out, practice dexterity. It's also a tool, like a flashlight or pocketknife, with many uses if you can integrate it into your life. Handy, and always in the hand too. But it's just as much a toy, too... fun to juggle with, fun to play with.
There's not much literature on the daily carrying of a stick, so I ended up using a lot of martial and self-defense materials. These are a mixed lot, but I enjoy seeing how each different instructor carries the stick, handles it, approaches it. From this I got exposed to the use of belts or ropes in Hapkido... the ability to block a blow translates easily (although with the extra variable of the tension on the rope, for a hard bouncing block or a soft yielding block)... while wraps, to control a joint, added a whole new dimension that I still don't understand. Anyway, Hapkido got me thinking about "flexible weapons".
I've been trying to learn about jumping rope, which may be the most efficient cardiovascular workout there is, is very flexible in terms of tasks, and is portable. I've been picking up cowboy books on "trick roping", spinning a loop in various ways, although I haven't worked through it yet. Knots are a rich topic of study, as is how people have use rope in daily life, in rope-using cultures through history. While searching around, I also stumbled upon a new juggling movement, coming out of New Zealand, called poi... the Home of Poi is a good introduction.
Poi spinners use an arm's-length weighted rope in each hand, and spin patterns ambidextrously. The rope can be a chain, or a long sock... the weight can be a heavy knot, a small ball, a glowing ball, or a wick of fire. Many of these folks also spin six-foot staffs or juggle clubs, or practice contact juggling. There's also an overlap with the Chinese martial-arts tools of a rope dart (a 12-15 foot length of rope with a blade or heavy metal hammer on one end) or meteor (a 6-8 foot of rope with a hammer or heavy knot on each end).
There are similarities to cane-spinning, but additional complexities due to the rope needing to stay under tension, or being able to wrap around a joint. A spinning rope also has gyroscopic properties, and changing the plane of motion requires more thought than with a stick. You can also catch, throw, and retrieve the weight on a rope in ways that can't make sense with a static length of stick. But many of the principals of momentum, grips, and patterns of movement around the body practiced in canework can be applied to rope.
My favorite instrument right now is a nine-foot length of rope, with a monkeyfist knot around a small rubber ball at each end. Held in both hands to divide the rope in thirds, you've got a poi-length in each hand, but with a connection between the two hands. Unlike poi, you've also got sliding grips, so that the length can vary. It can also easily be treated like a short rope dart, sliding and wrapping and thrusting, but with either hand, back and forth.
I don't know what you'd call it... the names of the Chinese weapons vary anyway... many of the YouTube videos I've seen of "meteor hammers" are actually for rope dart techniques, with a single weight at one end of a long rope. Most English-speaking people seem to use "meteor hammer" to refer to a dual-weighted six-foot length of rope. What I'm using is not a bolo, which usually has three weights. I've read Marc MacYoung talk about "monkey balls", a Filipino Pananandata technique, but I haven't found much else on the web with this name. Don't know what to call it.
So why do I like working with it? It uses both sides of the body symmetrically, sort of like patting your head while rubbing your belly. Patterns can be added together as I learn them... every little trick adds to the whole ability to flow. There's a cardio element --moving the upper body and body weight in rhythmic motions gets the heartbeat up, the breathing heavy. A nine-foot rope can be used as a jumprope. It can fit into a pocket.
It's just fun to spin stuff, too. And when both sides of the body work, it's a strangely unifying experience.
Anyway, there's lots more I could say about it, although details may be better for another time. I've been having lots of fun with various lengths of rope recently, but have been sort of embarrassed to talk about it. A stick is complex, but a rope is even more complex. I like it.