U.S. sailors practice with the singlestick circa Spanish-American War
|Also known as||Single-stick, cudgels|
|Country of origin||Kingdom of Great Britain|
|Olympic sport||Yes (1904 Summer Olympics only)|
Singlestick, also known as cudgels, refers to both a martial art that uses a wooden stick as well as the weapon used in the art. It began as a way of training soldiers in the use of swords such as the sabre. Canne de combat, a French form of stick fighting, is similar to singlestick play, but is more a method of self-defense with a walking stick.
The singlestick itself is a slender, round wooden rod, traditionally of ash, with a basket hilt. Singlesticks are typically around 36 inches (91 cm) in length and 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and thicker at one end than the other. It bears approximately the same relationship to the backsword as the foil to the small sword in being a sporting version of the weapon for safe practice.
The original form of the singlestick was the waster, which appeared in the 16th century and was merely a wooden sword used in practice for the backsword (see sabre), and of the same general shape. By the first quarter of the 17th century wasters had become simple clubs known as cudgels with the addition of a sword guard. When the basket hilt came into general use about twenty five years later, a wicker one was added to the singlestick, replacing the heavy metal hilt of the backsword. The guards, cuts and parries in singlestick play were at first identical with those of backsword play, no thrusts being allowed (see Fencing).
History and technique
In 16th century England, hits below the girdle were considered unfair. In the 18th century, all parts of the person became valid targets. By the turn of the 19th century, the target area had been restricted to the upper body (with the exception of the back of the head) and the upper part of the forward leg. These rules are in use today by the Association for Historical Fencing. Historically, the target area has varied, with bouts sometimes only being decided by the drawing of blood from the head of one of the contestants, in the manner of the Mensur.
Under Kings George I and George II, backsword play with sticks was immensely popular under the names cudgel-play and singlesticking, not only in the cities but in the countryside as well, wrestling being its only rival. Towards the end of the 18th century the play became very restricted. The players were placed near together, the feet remaining immovable and all strokes being delivered with a whip-like action of the wrist from a high hanging guard, the hand being held above the head. Blows on any part of the body above the waist were allowed, but all except those aimed at the head were employed only to gain openings, as each bout was decided only by a broken head, i.e. a cut on the head that drew blood. At first the left hand and arm were used to ward off blows not parried with the stick, but near the close of the 18th century the left hand grasped a scarf tied loosely round the left thigh, the elbow being raised to protect the face. Thomas Hughes's story Tom Brown's School Days contains a spirited description of cudgel-play during the first half of the 19th century. This kind of single-sticking practically died out during the third quarter of that century, but was revived as weapon training for the sabre within some military and civilian academies, the play being essentially the same as for that weapon. The point was introduced and leg hits were allowed.
Singlestick was an event at the 1904 Summer Olympics, but the sport was already in decline. With the introduction of the light Italian fencing sabre in the early 20th century, singlestick play became unnecessary and was subsequently neglected. In the UK, Singlestick competition ceased in the Services in the 1950s, although the skills continue to be passed down from one generation of fencing Professor to the next. Stickplay with wooden swords as a school for the cutlass remained common in some navies.
The art, occasionally practised by a few fencing veterans in the United Kingdom, was revived by the Royal Navy in the 1980s. Within today's martial arts community, a growing interest in traditional Western martial arts has revived interest in this particular form of weapon training.
- Bâton français
- Canne de combat
- Egyptian stick fencing
- Stick fighting
- Jogo do Pau
- Allanson-Winn, Rowland George Allanson; Phillipps-Wolley, Clive (1890). "Chapter IV". Broad-sword and Single-stick, with Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, and Other Weapons of Self-Defence. London: George Bell & Sons.
- "Commentaries and Procedures for the Judging and Directing of Single Stick Bouts". Association for Historical Fencing. 2003-06-18.
- Wolf, Tony (February 2002). "Singlestick fencing: 1787 - 1923". Journal of Western Modern Art (Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and Sciences).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Allanson-Winn, Rowland George Allanson; Clive Phillips-Wolley (1898). Broadsword and Single-stick, with Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, and Other Weapons of Self-Defence. London: George Bell & Sons.
- Manual of Instruction for Singlestick Drill. London: British War Office. 1887.
- Castle, Egerton (1893). Schools and Masters of Fence: From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century.. London: George Bell & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4286-0940-2.
- Hutton, Alfred (1901). The Sword and the Centuries. London. ISBN 1-85367-513-X.
- "Commentaries and Procedures for the Judging and Directing of Single Stick Bouts". Association for Historical Fencing.
- "Begin with Singlestick (basic movements)".