By Gary Switch
The cane is the reason why erotic flagellation is known as the English Vice. As iconic as the maritime cat-o’-nine-tails, Scottish tawse, fraternity paddle, and the American bullwhip may be, none is so perfectly suited to the task at hand. None possesses the elegant severity of a thin, swishy wand of rattan.
Rattan is the stem of a giant tropical Asian grass, growing over twelve feet tall. Bamboo won’t do. It lacks flexibility and is prone to unexpected splitting, its hollow shaft suddenly sprouting razor-sharp edges — although whipping with split bamboo rods was a form of capital punishment in ancient China. Synthetics (Delrin, Lexan, and fiberglass) make popular canes. They’re available clear, and in black and other colors. They don’t fray or dry out, but they’re denser than rattan, hence too severe; and lack a natural direction of bend, hence harder to control. And they have all the aesthetic appeal of artificial flowers. Nature does it best.
WHY THE CANE?
The cane became the rod of choice during the Victorian era, usurping the birch. There were several contributing factors:
1. Availability. British and Dutch traders opened up the Far East at the end of the eighteenth century and began importing rattan for use in wickerwork and furniture. Nilgiri canes, from a district in eastern India, became the standard instrument of academic correction.
2. Modesty. A birching must be delivered on the bare, and the Victorians were uncomfortable with indecent exposure. As a French commissioner noted, “One is astonished at seeing English masters remove a garment which the prudery of their language hesitates to name.” A cane is effective over the drawers, even over the trousers.
3. Durability. A bundle of birch switches, even soaked in brine, shreds to pieces after a whipping or two. A single cane can see to hundreds of bottoms. When the end begins to split, it is simply trimmed and returned to service.
4. Efficiency. A memorable birching requires dozens upon dozens of strokes, its effect resulting from the cumulative sensation of hundreds of minute cuts and scratches. Six of the best with a cane is sufficient for a brisk but unforgettable experience. Every stroke counts. The cane’s flexibility permits its tip to attain speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
5. Favorable pain-to-damage ratio. The cane’s smooth, round cross-section, lightness, and speed transmit maximal deep-down sensation while causing minimal surface trauma. Intense sting and several days sitting-down discomfort — an ideal reminder for students — may be inflicted leaving only stripes that soon fade. A stringent birching slashes the loins into a bloody shambles. Thus frequent caning is both practical and humane.
In discussions of caning, one case always arises. The civilized pleasure of erotic flagellation bears no relation to the brutal ordeal suffered by American vandal Michael Fay in Singapore. He was dealt four strokes from a rod half an inch thick and four feet long, wielded with maximum force by an executioner using a two-handed grip. (The original sentence was six strokes — Fay had a good lawyer.) Such judicial barbarity results in bloody furrows and permanent scars. Not safe, not sane, not consensual, no fun. Not what we’re talking about. But remember that atrocity was perfectly legal – yet they call people of kink depraved!
So why did British aristocrats crave to recreate their dread schoolboy discipline by patronizing flogging brothels and paying the likes of Alice Kerr-Sutherland (author of A Guide to the correction of Young Gentlemen) and Theresa Berkley (inventor of the Berkley Bench) a guinea a stroke? Because it hurts so good! You and your partner may be enthusiastic spankers ready to try other flavors. Spanking is a thud. Caning is sting and burn, a sharply focused sensation, a compelling excursion into the entertainment potential of your central nervous system. It’s ecstasy for endorphin junkies, heaven for heavy players, paradise for bottoms who’ve learned to process pain into pleasure. Pain is when I stub my toe. Pleasure is when I’m tingling in anticipation of the next stroke. Caning can be severe or sensuous, decadent or decorous, spontaneous or scripted. Incorporating a single implement into your play can add oodles of atmosphere.
SELECTING THE BEST CANE
A practical recreational rod measures about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch in diameter (the narrower, the stingier), and from 24 to 32 inches long. A yard-long school cane is difficult to control without much practice. Considerably less expensive than fancy paddles and floggers, canes have another distinct advantage: their impact makes very little noise, an important consideration if your bedroom has thin walls with nosy neighbors on the other side. (Noise made by the recipient is another matter.)
A good cane need not be straight as an arrow. In selecting one, stroke vertically in its natural direction of bend and beware of any wobble to the left or right. A few gentle swings should reveal its flexibility. Do not attempt to bend the cane into a circle; this will damage it.
The British public school tradition insists on a crook handle for hanging the cane menacingly on the wall, but a loop attached to the end of a straight cane serves the same purpose. Sometimes the end of a cane is steam-bent into a complete turn to form a handle, but the best natural handle is the knob at the root end of a rattan stalk. Knob-handled canes are rare indeed.
Some merciful schoolmasters used to brace the crook against their forearms in a style that prevented any wrist action, also shortening the cane’s effective length. If you purchase a crook-handle cane, be sure the crook is properly aligned relative to the cane’s natural bend to suit your grip and stroking style. Crooks also serve to prevent the cane from flying away, as does a straight-cane handle wrapping. Use a thin leather thong (kangaroo is ideal), racket-handle tape, shrink-wrap, or bicycle handlebar wrap. Electrical tape works too, but lacks elegance.
CARE OF YOUR CANE
Canes are usually sanded to remove some or all of the bark and to smooth the joints. A “peeled” cane with all the heavy bark removed is much less dense, so it’s less severe as well, making it a good cane for beginners. It’s also more fragile and should be frequently examined for splinters. Unsealed, such a cane soaks up bodily fluids like a sponge so its use should be restricted to light play or limited to one particular bottom. Sealing a sanded cane with repeated light coatings of shellac, varnish, or polyurethane prevents it from soaking up bodily fluids. Leaving all the bark on results in a heavy, stiff cane with joints that may cause more bruising than you’d like.
Canes should be stood upright with their business ends in an inch of water and left standing overnight every few months. The fibers will draw in the water, keeping the ends from drying out and splitting. Purists advise sanding and resealing the end each time, but this isn’t necessary if only the very end is left unsealed. The tip should never dig into your target, anyway. A split end may be trimmed off, but be sure to sand it to a smooth, rounded tip before re-use. Taping the tip retards splitting.
It requires remarkably little force to deliver a memorable cane stroke. Think of it as a whip, not a stick. Think badminton, not tennis. Wrist alone (if your wrist is strong and supple) will be enough to satisfy many bottoms. Wrist and forearm combined suffice to deal an exhilarating cut. A wrist flick right at the end of the stroke can be devastating. Chastisers used to hold a book (try a Bible, if you’re very kinky) under their caning arms to limit the power of their strokes. A saber-stroke-style slash with shoulder, elbow, and wrist all fully involved is probably over-doing it.
Practice on a cushion upholstered in a nappy fabric (or a teddy bear) so you can see where you’re striking. Aim a few inches short of the edge of the pillow because a power stroke will reach further and wrap around more. Begin with the cane up next to where you want to strike, tap, draw back, and let it return mostly by its natural recoil, applying very little additional force. Gradually increase the involvement of your wrist and then your elbow. Start the stroke further away from your target but continue to begin each stroke by drawing back, allowing the cane’s end to achieve maximum travel. Your goal is an even impact of about the last third of the cane’s length. You don’t want the tip to cut in. Once consistent accuracy has been attained, you can develop fancier strokes in your own personal style.
After you’ve achieved control, practice on your partner’s clothed hindquarters. Use a wide, thick belt to protect the lower spine and kidneys. Insist on detailed feedback. You’re looking for an “Mmmmm!” You might chalk the end of the cane to tell exactly where your strokes land. British school prefects used to do this as an aid in striking repeatedly in precisely the same spot, a sadistic practice that is extremely painful and may result in deep, long-lasting bruises. Spread your strokes around.
Stand to the side and a bit forward of your target, so that the far buttock won’t receive the brunt of the blow. The ideal is an even stripe across both buttocks. Since this is difficult to achieve, you’ll want to move from your forehand to your backhand side periodically, in order to evenly treat both cheeks. The sulcus, or crease between the buttocks and thighs, is extremely sensitive, as are the backs of the thighs, because they lack the natural padding of the butt. If you intend to stimulate these areas, decrease the force of the strokes you direct there.
There are two main schools of caning technique. English-style traditionalists insist upon power strokes only, with no warm-up, while the West Coast school enjoys inflicting a variety of intensities. Many sources insist that there is no middle ground in caning — that strokes are either wimpy or wicked. Striving to please my partner, Rebecca, who loves to receive the cane but has a low pain threshold, I have proved that moderate strokes are possible with practice and sensitivity to each individual cane’s response.
A cane has a natural rhythm, useful for delivering a massage of rapid pitter-pats. An educated wrist can endlessly vary the intensity, unexpectedly interspersing harder shots to keep the bottom alert. This massaging technique is an excellent way to learn to control the force and to stimulate sensitive but delicate areas where a full stroke would be dangerous, e.g. palms of the hands, soles of the feet (bastinado), insides of the thighs, armpits, belly, breasts, and genitals. The narrow tip of the cane is perfect for tickling those hard-to-reach spots. Such rap-tap-tapping is a great warm-up for power strokes.
Severe strokes demand ceremony, both in giving and receiving. For some, formal ritual is an essential element of caning. The ceremony begins with the commands, “Unbutton. Let down. Assume the position.” Dangling shirttails are “taken up,” tucked or pinned out of the way. The drawers may be slowly, humiliatingly lowered by the chastiser, or left up with a promise to lower them if the culprit proves unruly. A fearsome whistling swipe through the air puts the subject in the proper frame of mind.
The position is usually bent over, so that errant strokes will miss entirely rather than impacting the lower spine. (But aim low to avoid the tailbone.) Bending over tightens the flesh of the buttocks so that the stroke is felt more keenly. Lying prone is a good position for subjects of novice caners because downward strokes are easier to control, and unstretched buttocks are more padded. A pillow may be put on the far side of the target area to harmlessly absorb any wrap-around.
Power strokes must be slowly served and savored. The pain is two-fold: the surface smart at the moment of impact and the delayed internal fire as the compressed nerves spring back. To masochists, the sensation of a perfect stroke is as exquisite as an orgasm, and one has been known to lead to the other. Allow plenty of time for full appreciation of the blooming pain’s slow burn before you deal the next one.
Strokes are awarded in sets of six. Counting by the culprit is key. “One. Thank you Sir/Ma’am. May I have another?” Penalty strokes are awarded for miscounting, flinching out of position, or attempting to shield the target area with a hand. Bondage is seldom employed, since voluntary submission is an essential part of the correction ritual.
It is customary to create a closely spaced grid of parallel stripes, each welt bearing twin red edges, to demonstrate your superb control. An expert caner is capable of producing stripes that will last for hours, days, or weeks, according to the recipient’s pleasure. “Gating” is the fiendish technique of crossing such a pattern with a diagonal stroke, often drawing blood where the stripes intersect. (Obviously, if blood is drawn, the cane must be carefully plastic-bagged and disinfected, but it’s a rare bottom who hasn’t had enough well before this point.) Schoolboys returning to their dormitories after a session with the headmaster, used to rate the severity of their thrashings by having classmates count the number of “stars” on their bottoms, where strokes had crossed.
Afterward, the culprit may be required to hold position and forbidden to rub the afflicted area until permission is granted to rise. It is customary to kiss the cane and express gratitude for the exertions of the chastiser.
“Thank you, Miss, for having corrected me. I ask your pardon for the trouble you have taken, and I promise never to steal again.” — — Harriet Marwood, Governess, by John Glassco
- “The Art of Caning,” by Peter Fisk, Checkmate #13, November, 1995.
- “Sensuous Caning,” by Conrad Hodson, www.sexuality.org
- “Canes and Caning,” by Mitch Kessler, SandMUtopian Guardian, #19
- Thy Rod and Staff, by Edward Anthony
- An Illustrated History of the Rod, by William M. Cooper, B.A.
- A Guide to the Correction of Young Gentlemen, written by a Lady (Alice Kerr-Sutherland)
This article originally appeared in Prometheus, Issue #35. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.