Quarterstaff

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This article is about the weapon. For the computer game, see Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth.
Quarterstaff Fighting
Quarterstaff line drawing - Project Gutenberg eText 14315.jpg
Quarterstaves in use, from Old English Sports, Pastimes and Customs, published 1891
Focus Weaponry
Country of origin Berkshire, England
Creator unknown
Olympic sport No

A quarterstaff (plural quarterstaves), also short staff or simply staff is a traditional European pole weapon and a technique of stick fighting, especially as in use in England during the Early Modern period.

The term is generally accepted to refer to a shaft of hardwood from 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 m) long, sometimes with a metal tip, ferrule, or spike at one or both ends. The term "short staff" compares this to the "long staff" based on the pike with a length in excess of 11 to 12 feet (3.4 to 3.7 m).

Etymology[edit]

The name "quarterstaff" is first attested in the mid-16th century. The "quarter" probably refers to the means of production, the staff being made from hardwood of a tree split or sawed into quarters (as opposed to a staff of lower quality made from a tree branch).[1]

The possibility that the name derives from the way the staff is held, the right hand grasping it one-quarter of the distance from the lower end is suggested in Encyclopædia Britannica. [2] While this interpretation may have given rise to such positions in 19th-century manuals, it probably arose by popular etymology. The OED in support of its explanation of the "quarter" in origin referring to the way the staff was made points to an early attestation of the term, dated to 1590, Plodding through Aldersgate, all armed as I was, with a quarter Ashe staffe on my shoulder.

George Silver, an English fencer who wrote two books (1599, 1605) including lengthy sections on staff fighting does not use the term "quarterstaff", but instead calls it a "short staff" (as opposed to the "long staff"). Joseph Swetnam, writing in 1615, distinguishes between the "quarterstaff" of 7 or 8 feet (2.1 or 2.4 m) in length and the "long staff" of 12 feet (3.7 m).[3]

History[edit]

Stick fighting was prevalent throughout historical European martial arts and indeed worldwide. The oldest systematic descriptions of stick-fighting methods in Europe date to the 15th century. The oldest surviving English work giving technical information on staff combat dates from the 15th century - it is a brief listing of "strokes of the 2-hand staff", which shares terminology with the preceding "strokes of the 2-hand sword" in the same manuscript.[4] George Silver (1599) explains techniques of short staff combat, and states that the use of other polearms and the two-handed sword are based on the same method. Later authors on the subject included Joseph Swetnam, Zachary Wylde, and Donald McBane. Silver,[5] Swetnam,[3] and Wylde[6] all agreed that the staff was among the best, if not the very best, of all hand weapons.

During the 16th century quarterstaves were favoured as weapons by the London Masters of Defence. Richard Peeke, in 1625, and Zachary Wylde, in 1711, refer to the quarterstaff as a national English weapon. By the 18th century the weapon became popularly associated with gladiatorial prize playing. A modified version of quarterstaff fencing, employing bamboo or ash staves and protective equipment adapted from fencing, boxing and cricket was revived as a sport in some London fencing schools and at the Aldershot Military Training School during the later 19th century. Works on this style were published by Thomas McCarthy and by Allanson-Winn and Phillips-Wolley.

A simplified form of quarterstaff fencing and training was practised by members of the international Boy Scouts during the early decades of the 20th century; this was a tradition passed down to them from the military activities in the Victorian army. However, the Quarterstaff section was omitted from the Boy Scout Handbook in the 21st century due to health risks and reluctance to promote violence.[citation needed]

Historical practice[edit]

Paulus Hector Mair in his martial arts compendium (1540s) details techniques of fighting with the staff in the German school of fencing of the Renaissance (chapter 3).

According to the 16th to 18th century writings of Silver,[5] Swetnam[3] and Wylde,[6] the quarterstaff is held with the back hand at the butt end of the staff and the other hand about a foot to a foot and a half (30 to 45 cm) above it. The body is turned so the forward hand and forward foot are both facing the opponent, the feet taking the same stance as is used in sword or rapier fighting. This basic position, according to Swetnam and Wylde, is known as the low guard. Assuming the butt is gripped with the left hand, moving the staff slightly to the right to defend blows is called the outside guard. Moving it slightly to the left is called the inside guard. Raising the butt end up and pointing the point of the staff at the opponent's face to parry a blow to the head is called the middle guard. Raising the staff directly back over the head letting the tip point back at the ground behind oneself and looking under the butt end of the staff in front of oneself is called the high or hanging guard. The level guard, according to Wylde, is formed by grasping the staff at the thirds and raising it horizontally overhead to ward a direct overhead downward blow.[citation needed]

Of these the low guard is considered the central guard. Blows were primarily delivered downwards either directly or at angles. Parries of blows to the legs were done either by lifting the leg away from the line of attack or by thrusting one end of the staff into the ground and releasing the foremost hand which was in danger of being struck. Thrusts (called "darts" by Wylde) were often performed with the release of the forward hand and a step with the forward leg like a fencing lunge, stretching forward the back hand as far as possible. Longer thrusts were delivered with a full step forward with the back leg accompanying the back hand. It was recommended that when delivering a blow that at the end of it the back leg and foot should be compassed about so as to fall roughly into a line with the front foot and the point of the weapon. The same circling round of the back leg was applied to parries also. Singularly among the three authors, Swetnam recommends preference of thrusting over striking. Silver and Wylde describe striking and thrusting as equally valid attacks.

The position with one hand held at the quarter and the other at the middle of the staff is not found in these early modern manuals, but it is described in the quarterstaff manuals published in the late 19th century, e.g. McCarthy (1883): "both hands should be 2 feet 6 inches [76 cm] apart, and the same distance from each end".

The quarterstaff is also mentioned in England's legend of Robin Hood. In ballads and tales of the famed yeoman, the quarterstaff is often mentioned. For example, in "Robin Hood and the Tinker" and several other tales, the quarterstaff is the weapon in hand as the two engage in a duel, as the Tinker was apparently sent to bring Robin Hood to justice at the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham. This implies that the quarterstaff was in use before and during the 16th and 17th centuries, as the tale of Robin Hood is mostly written of during that time frame.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ OED; "quarterstaff". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved October 25, 2010. 
  2. ^ "quarterstaff(weapon)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Joseph Swetnam, "The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence". London: Nicholas Okre, 1617.
  4. ^ Cotton Titus[clarification needed]
  5. ^ a b George Silver, "Bref Instructions Upon my Paradoxes of Defence". London, 1605. pp.115-24.
  6. ^ a b Zach Wylde, "The English Master of Defence or, the Gentleman's A-la-mode Accomplish". Tork: John White, 1711.