Thanks to a San Jose health club, that sweet little old lady with a cane may not be so sweet after all.
The San Jose outpost of the Nifty After Fifty fitness club chain offers a class combining martial arts and balance training, known as Cane Fu.
As the name implies, it's geared toward club patrons who walk with the help of a cane.
Dr. Sheldon Zinberg, the founder of Nifty After Fifty, said club members follow customized fitness schedules. Enhancing balance and preventing falls become a priority for many older adults, he said, particularly ones who need assistance to walk.
"It dawned on me that many people with canes sometimes feel insecure or defenseless when walking on the street," he said.
The club, which has 11 locations in California, consulted with martial arts experts to develop a program of aerobic exercises based on centuries-old defense moves.
"We have some dangerous old ladies," Zinberg said. "We teach them how to break chokeholds, how to defend themselves with thrusts and strikes to the ankles and knees."
A Nevada-based company called Cane Masters also promotes cane-based self-defense classes for seniors across the country. Cane Masters sells wooden canes designed for self-defense, with a larger crook that can slide around an assailant's neck.
However, at Nifty After Fifty, Zinberg said participants work with their regular doctor-issued canes.
"Even on an airline, they can't take that away from you like they can take away a bat or a gun," he said.
Canes with traditionally sized handles are still valuable in breaking chokeholds, he said.
The cane fu classes are very popular, Zinberg said, although they are limited to eight to 12 participants. Like all the club's offerings, it is only available to members.
True to its name, Nifty After Fifty limits its membership to men and women age 50 or older. Zinberg, who is 76, said its oldest member is 94 years old.
The San Jose Nifty After Fifty is located at 255 N. White Road in San Jose. Most of the club's locations are in Southern California.
"We don't have folks in tight shirts with bulging muscles and we don't have gorgeous 20-inch waistlines in tight leotards either," he said. "That's the sort of thing that can be intimidating for older adults."