Gene Barry's Hanbo Cane

When I was a child in the late 1950s, my TV cowboy hero was Bat Masterson. I watched the show every week and never failed to be enthralled. The Bat Masterson show was based on a real character who lived in the old West. Born in 1853 in Quebec, Masterson worked as a US Army Indian fighter, a sports writer, newspaper columnist, and US Marshal. He died in New York City in 1921 at the age of 67.

GeneBarry3_slideshow_604x500 The TV show featured a somewhat fictionalized Bat Masterson as a gunfighter gambler during his days in Dodge City. Actor Gene Barry played Bat with a look distinctive among TV Westerns in the 1950s. Rather than a dust-blown 10 gallon hat, Bat wore a derby. Rather than a cowboy jacket, Bat wore an elegant silk vest. More often than not when it came to fighting, Gene Barry’s TV Bat Masterson preferred to take out attackers with his gold-topped walking stick cane as opposed to shooting a gun. The TV Bat Masterson was cool, incredibly suave for 1950s television, and… well, real different from all the rest.

Even as a 10 year old, I liked that “real different from all the rest.” In a realm of scruffy, unsophisticated, scuffling barroom brawling cowboys, Bat Masterson had class. Bat knew the finer aspects of living, dining, and dressing well. And yet he was one real tough guy (history claims he killed 6 men in one-on-one gunfights, aside from the Indian wars, though legends have him in lots more gunfights).

I bought a souvenir child’s toy Bat Masterson 3-foot cane and got my start at hanbo fight training with a 4th grade school chum in my backyard. We took turns whacking each other with that cowboy hanbo as the other tried to draw and fire his pistol. I liked that silk brocade vest, too, and wore one for my Halloween costume one year dressed as my favorite TV western star.

I still really like different, fifty years after watching Gene Barry’s Bat Masterson on TV. In a martial arts world full of crass scufflers, I want there to be room for a cool but deadly gentleman combatant. In a pay per view realm of screaming profanity, I want there to be a place for a poetically spoken ultimate warrior.

After hanging up the cane weapon and brocade vest, Barry went on to a new TV series where he played police captain Amos Burke who instead of wearing blue serge and driving a cruiser with siren and dome light, travelled in custom tailored suits to crime scenes in a Rolls-Royce. I instantly became a fan of the show Burke’s Law. I couldn’t help it. I really do enjoy “different”.

Actor Gene Barry died peacefully at 90 years old last week.

I still have my hanbo and gold brocade vest and my car – in newer form – maybe just a little bit because Gene Barry’s elegant fighters so impressed me on the small screen of my youth. I salute the wonderful actor for his iconoclast roles that defied a cookie-cutter conformity on an older generation’s TV, and helped prepare me to see that wild possibilities sometimes open up for the bold of spirit.

9 comments to “Gene Barry's Hanbo Cane”

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  1. Very heartfelt and real post. Thanks for giving us this glimpse into your life.

    Btw, I have studied in the BJK for a few years now, but I recently got your DVDs. You are an excellent teacher. You were one of my first introductions into ninjutsu, I should have known that you are still the best. Other than Hatsumi-san, of course. 🙂

    On a different note, I always wondered why there were so many offshoots from Bujinkan, and ex-students founding their own schools. But now I personally wonder if Hatsumi actually intended it. Very similar to San Shin method, no? …In any case it is good to have different points of view.

  2. In our youth we are inspired by hero’s on tv, movies and books. During my highschool years one of those “hero’s” was Stephen K Hayes. I was into the martial arts but when the Ninja burst on the scene with Stephen leading the way, I was hooked. One of the neatest weapons to train with was the Hanbo. It was simple yet powerful. I ordered one from Asian World of Martial arts,( I think). I also ordered a 6 ‘ staff wich I cut down to 5’. Those were fun times.

  3. Scott Workman says: -#1

    It seems like I also have always been out side of the normal. Or like I like to say a little left of center.
    1 Martial Arts, I have studied other Martial Arts But my first and current is Ninpo(Outcast of the Martial arts world)
    2. I am really into German Sheperds But My first was White(out cast of the GSD world)
    3. My spiritual beliefs are not Christian based so alot of people consider you odd.
    4. Growing up I in joyed characters like Karl Kolchak from the Night Stalker movies/show , IT seems I was drawn to characters that did what the felt was right and stood up for what they believed in even if everything around them try to change their minds not that I am against new evidence changing my mind thats fine when that is the case.
    And of course My instructor in Ninpo Anshu Hayes is left of center of what now is considered normal in Ninjutsu Wow I just can not seem to get away from it but I would not change anything. So Mr. Hayes you are not alone.

  4. John Dellinger says: -#1

    I too loved watching him fight using the cane. At the time of the show I’d not gotten into martial arts but looking back I can see he was ahead of his time in showcasing a martial art on television. While I don’t keep a vest (smile) in stock I do have a hanbo inside each doorway in several rooms of our home, just in case.

  5. Greetings,

    When I was a kid I was enthralled by star trek the next generation. I used to watch it with my dad. Ah what can I saw good times.



  6. I , too, remember Bat Masterson. It was a favorite show of mine. Your post brought back many memories of childhood. People today do not realize how fortunate they are to be surrounded by so many different martial arts and to have easy access to learning many of them. Long ago, you picked up martial skill from a television show, comic book or book. You were brave enough to step out of the box and travel to a complete stranger to learn an ancient art. You have risked much in your life for the sake of knowledge. Thank you!

  7. I didn’t know who Bat Masterson was, but I think it’s kind of curious to me that when I first met you I thought of you as a mix of the gutsy Wild Bill Hickock and resourceful Buffalo Bill Cody.

  8. Wow!! Now that brings back memories of my best friend and I in our back yard taking turns to be the cool guy with the hat and cane.
    What made it especially “Cool” was the good guy was the guy with the hat and cane, and the bad guy had to use the old gun. Interesting perception on good and bad, along with not needing a gun to “take care of~” the bad evil guys. Kind of like paraphrasing when you mentioned in bo class about can we help it if those who wish to harm us stand in the path of the bo. Reminds me of how the power of the universe is with those who seek the betterment of good.

    Awesome post An-Shu!!! Always enjoy your wonderful lessons 😉


  9. Say, you don’t happen to know the “Agent Pendergast” (inofficial name, though) books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child? There’s one for gentleman – FBI agent in custom tailored suits, with a Rolls Royce… and awesome mental skills through training in a Tibetan monastery 😉

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