OAKLEY -- Every Monday afternoon, you may hear the loud thumps of wood hitting a pad coming from the Oakley Senior Center and, if you peak inside, that is exactly what you will see -- a group of senior citizens using their walking canes to beat up a rubber dummy they have affectionately named "Bob."
"Anybody can use a cane. It is a tool for self-defense," says John Dexheimer. "And the best canes are made of wood, because wood seeks bone."
Dexheimer is a master of the martial art he calls "Cane-Do" – a form of stick fighting that uses the cane as its main instrument.
"The cane is not a weapon, it is a medical device," Dexheimer explained. "That means I can legally take it to the store, a school, airport."
Classes begin with warmups and stretches. Then comes instruction on how to hold and strike with a cane and also how to use the voice in case of a potential conflict.
"Stop! Leave me alone! I don't want any trouble but I will defend myself if I have to," students yell before delivering a series of strikes.
"You use that same kind of voice with somebody that is coming at you. It makes them sit up and pay attention," Dexheimer said. "And I also teach students situational awareness. Does something look out of place? Maybe I should ask for escort to the car at a grocery. It is all about being safe."
Safety is the number one reason students take the class.
Images of the elderly being attacked on the news and social media have stoked fears but statistics show crimes committed against senior citizens have risen.
In 2022, 16,675 seniors were victims of felony violent crime in California, a 150.8 percent increase since 2000, according to the latest Crime in California report from the state attorney general.
WEBLINK: Crime in California 2022 (PDF)
One of the star pupils of the class is 87-year-old Claudia Correia who says that, before learning how to use her cane, she was a bit shy and timid.
"I was always aware and felt uncomfortable because I felt like I would be a victim," she said. "Before this class, if someone had come up to me, I would freeze."
During this class, she confidently showed off some of her favorite techniques, from the groin strike to a whipping shot to the clavicle.
"And now you know, if somebody messes with, I will disable them," said a confident Correia.
Dexheimer first discovered the form of self-defense after a brain injury left him weak on his left-side more than 20 years ago.
"I was walking with a cane and I saw an advertisement in the paper that there was a teacher teaching self-defense using a cane in San Ramon, so I decided to check it out."
Since then, he has not looked back and he hopes he can help other seniors in his community.
"People say it is empowering," Dexheimer said. "It is something they can use. It gives them a feeling of confidence when they are out and about."
Classes happen every Monday in Oakley and at the Antioch Senior Center, with plans to launch a class at the Dublin Senior Center early next year.
The classes are free but Dexheimer does ask for a small donation.
Those interested in the classes can contact:
Antioch Senior Center (925) 779-7074
Oakley Senior Center (925) 626-7223
Dublin Senior Center (925) 556-4511
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