Sept. 6, 2012 -- Relying on a cane was once considered a sign of an aging, weakened body. But today, some seniors are finding empowerment through their canes: They're using them as weapons of self-defense through a fighting technique known as "cane fu."
"You can carry it anywhere you want. It's a medical device, so it's always with you," cane fu creator Mark Shuey Jr. told "20/20's" Chris Cuomo. "If you carry a knife, you've got to take it out of the sheath. If you carry a gun, you have to take it out of the holster. [With] a cane, you're already locked and loaded."
Shuey is a 65-year-old martial arts expert and world champion living in Lake Tahoe, Nev. He is trained in all manners of fighting techniques, including weapons, but hadn't applied those skills to a cane until he saw first-hand 10 years ago how the device was being neglected.
He noticed his elderly father refusing to use his cane because of the stigma it created. Around that time, he learned that several elderly people near his brother's house in Palm Springs, Fla., were robbed while carrying their canes.
"I got this epiphany to go out there and let people know what a cane really can do. It can help them," Shuey said.
With that, Shuey developed a specialized martial arts program with seniors in mind.
He also custom makes his own wooden canes, selling them on his website. The canes he makes provide more punch than a store-bought aluminum cane, and also can be fitted with an array of nasty additions such as sharp hooks and ridges if someone needs to dole out maximum pain.
"I have some that are really sharp, so if I have to pull you around, you're going to move for me," Shuey said.
Today, there are more than 300 instructors around the world teaching Shuey's American cane system. Not all cane fu students are senior citizens, but it's still most popular among older folks.
At one class at the Palatka, Fla., senior center, it was clear cane fu was having a major impact.
"This is an opportunity for us to be able to take care of ourselves," cane fu veteran Barbara Fender told "20/20." "Not having the cane with me has made me change where I was going, turn around. With the cane, I feel safe."
"When you shoot someone, they're dead. With the cane, you can defend yourself but, yet, you don't have to kill them," Edward Pacetti added with a chuckle and a mischievous grin.
Laughs notwithstanding, Pacetti, 72, a man of short stature with a fuzzy rim of gray hair framing his mostly bald head, was deadly serious when it came time to demonstrate his cane fu skills against Palatka cane fu instructors Merle McAlpin and Mike Patterson.
"It gives them a feeling of self-reliance," Patterson told "20/20."
At cane fu class, seniors are taught to walk tall and not to look like victims. They're taught to avoid conflict, but also to feel secure that they have a friend -- a cane -- at their side.
"I train the people not to get into a situation," Shuey said, "[to] try to get out of a situation first, definitely, and then, if they have to do something, then take care of business."
It may seem far-fetched -- someone pushing past their 60s taking on a hulking young attacker -- but the added leverage a cane provides, coupled with the proper training, means a senior really can take down a spryer foe.
Chris Cuomo found that out for himself when Shuey took him through some basic techniques. Watch the video here.
"The message is that the cane is no longer a crutch, it's a tool," Shuey said.