Matt Ross class bolsters seniors’ balance, self-defense

08/05/2014 3:23 PM

08/05/2014 3:23 PM

For eight Johnson County senior citizens, a cane isn’t just a way to get around anymore: It’s also a method of self-defense.

They’re part of a new class at Overland Park’s Matt Ross Community Center called Cane-Fu.

The first, and perhaps most essential, part of Cane-Fu is staying balanced while standing without using the cane. Instructor Bennie Bolton said it’s no good to know fancy maneuvers with a cane if you fall over before you can do them.

She starts her class with a series of exercises that help strengthen feet and ankles, which participants can do while seated.

“At my age, frankly, I need good health, exercise and to learn something. This just fit the bill,” said Leawood resident Clifford Rovelto.

Some of the participants are more dependent on their canes than others.

“I don’t use a cane all the time, but I’m starting to stumble,” said Mike Costello of Olathe.

Costello had heard about similar classes in other parts of the country and said he thinks it will be useful both for self-defense and developing better balance.

Bolton, a former occupational therapist, does an assessment of each person and how he or she walks before she moves on to other exercises. She said that not everyone will be able to do every exercise she teaches — but that’s OK. It all depends on each individual’s physical ability and sense of balance.

“I won’t teach you how to harm someone — this is just self-defense,” she said. “I’m going to give you the basic defense stuff you can use, not the fancy stuff. The purpose of this class is to increase the strength of your whole body.”

Bolton encourages participants to walk more slowly, to decrease the risk of catching a foot on the floor and tripping. She also emphasizes good posture in walking to improve balance.

Another suggestion Bolton gave participants was not be distracted by headphones or talking on a cellphone while walking, both for increased awareness of their surroundings and paying attention to how they’re walking.

Most of the students said they hadn’t yet been in a situation where they felt they needed to know self-defense moves but agreed it couldn’t hurt to be prepared.

Jan Hull of Kansas City, Kan., said she once had to use her cane in a sweeping motion in front of her to get a German shepherd to back off. She’s glad to be learning more skills to keep safe.

“This is more fun than aqua aerobics,” said Hull. “(Bolton) seems to really know her stuff about balance.”

The first class mainly focused on balance, but Bolton did teach one defense maneuver to use when someone is getting too close and invading your personal space. The foundation of it is to make sure you’ve got steady balance without leaning on the cane.

Next, you lift up your cane so your arm is close to your body, and the cane is out straight and parallel to the floor. Finally, you step forward and push the cane firmly, with the end pressing into the center of your attacker’s chest.

Getting the aim right is key — too far to the left or right of the other person’s body, and the cane could slip. Again, the idea is not necessarily to injure the other person, just to make them back off and leave you alone.

“(Attackers) don’t look for trouble. They’re looking for weakness,” Bolton said.

If you don’t seem like a weak victim, an attacker may decide it’s not worth the effort to deal with you.

“Some people think, ‘Oh, it’s a senior citizen. I can mess with them anytime,’” Bolton said. “They’re wrong.”

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