Q&A: Self-Defense Staves

Is it possible to get into how would someone train if they were to choose a staff as a weapon? In my story, I have a young girl that wants to learn basic self defense and staff training sounds plausible enough, I don’t want her to be an absolute badass and she’s just learning in case of an emergency. I hope this makes sense ):

You can gain sufficient skill with the staff to use it as a self-defense weapon within a few weeks. You won’t master it in a month, but it’s conceivable to fight with it. It is one of the fastest, simplest, and easiest weapons to learn. The most important thing she’ll need to remember to do is maintain her body’s conditioning (exercise) and keep her basic skills sharp (practice). Self-defense doesn’t work as a one off training and forget, it’s a situation where you either use it or lose it.

The holistic martial arts discipline where you progress through hand to hand to weapons combat is a mostly Eastern tradition in martial arts, this includes India. European tradition isn’t anywhere near as structured, you can start with the staff. Unlike other weapon types, staff training often begins with a real wooden staff, and if we’re going with European tradition then the weapon will most likely be made out of oak. Oak is heavy, heavy staves hurt when they hit you… a lot. You will get hit in training… a lot. In weapon’s training with a partner, we pay for our mistakes with bruises. Getting past the fear of being hit is one of the major components of this training type. Your partner’s weapon can easily slip, slide down the shaft, and hit your unprotected fingers. Learning how to stop that from happening is part of the training.

This is the truth of every weapon type in training: the weapon will punish you when you make mistakes with it. The more dangerous the weapon, the more detrimental the initial injuries.

The staff starts with deep bruises and, if you’re truly unlucky, broken bones (especially broken fingers). Broken collarbones are not outside the range of unusual. This is nothing compared to a weapon like the three sectioned staff where even beginner’s training can net you a concussion.

Unironically, the post I made recently about Nine Steps for Training Techniques applies to how we go about training on weapons. The staff has a straightforward basic move set, the strikes form a cross-shaped pattern across the body high (head) low (thigh) to low (thigh) high (head), then thrust to stomach, bring down on top of head or low the other way into the groin. When partnered with another human being, you practice these strikes together with one person performing the strikes and the other the blocks. The blocks for the staff are matching to the cross-shaped pattern, high low to low high, then bring the staff up horizontal to catch the strike to the top of the head, and a half step back from the thrust to knock it away with the tip of the staff. You can also bring the staff across the body to strike either side of the rib cage. A practiced staff user can shift between all these strikes without the pattern.

The staff is sized to the wielder, usually coming up to around their forehead rather than the top of the head. Your hands on the staff act like a fulcrum, redirecting as you go. You want your hands set wide enough to keep a solid, balanced, and controlled grip on the weapon while also providing you with the freedom to go at speed. This is difficult because your hands are going to want to naturally come together as you practice

The most important thing to remember about the staff is that both ends are weapons. Unless you’re gripping it by it’s bottom, one end is always going to be moving behind you. Most common staff injury when training is bruised knuckles. You can also break your fingers. When sparring with a heavy staff, you will be wearing pads and you will still get bruises. Those bruises may be deep, and sometimes go all the way down to the bone.

Never forget, your weapon senses your weakness. Soft defense leads to debilitating injury, even just in practice. You must be firm, fierce, focused, and unafraid of the pain you will inevitably receive. Learn to be stalwart. (Yes, this is a learned attitude and not one we start with.)

A weapon is never safe.

After practice, your arms will be tired due not just to moving but being on the receiving end of impact when the staves clash. There is no way to avoid this, you simply build resistance via experience. Learning how to keep hold of your staff in the middle of conflict that is trying to knock the weapon from them with each hit made by you or your enemy is necessary. Vibration will travel down the length of the staff to your hands, and that’s what you need to worry about wearing your arms out rather than weight.

Staves can and do break or fracture bones on impact when moving at speed, arms, legs, ribs, heads, feet, etc. They are bludgeoning weapons. When moving at speed in a practice bout, this can happen to you especially if you’re not wearing protection. (Wear protection.) This is not a gentle weapon or a soft one. It is useful too because of its range advantage over shorter weapons, but keep in mind that range means range. The closer the enemy comes, the less useful the staff gets. Your character is responsible for maintaining the fight range at which her weapon is useful. She’s going to need to get creative if the fight starts right next to her.

She’s gonna get her staff knocked out of her hands by whoever is instructing her the first few times because holding onto it does hurt a lot more than we anticipate when we start practicing defense. They’re going to teach her how to defend first though. You learn techniques then ratchet up at a steady pace to ferret out holes in defense.

It is natural for her to be nervous or even afraid of the weapon in the beginning, though she’ll overcome that. No one likes pain, and pain is an unavoidable side effect of weapon’s training. Hand to hand works it’s way up to basic injuries, but weapon’s will nail you coming and going. We’ll hit ourselves, our partner will hit us, we’ll make mistakes, and we pay for them. Usually, it’s just bruises.

There are, of course, stances and footwork associated with staff training but that’s ironically more complex than it needs to get right now.

For endurance training with the staff, outdoors on a variety of terrain is helpful. This includes beaches, on uneven terrain, in forests, in fields, in rivers, etc. All these will help the student learn to navigate different terrain and learn the detriments of fighting in various environments. They also build strength. Sand and water will both sap away strength due to the focus required to maintain balance on soft surfaces and water’s resistance/drag when it comes to movement. They may also teach her how to fight on stairs.

Staff training will provide her with the base necessary to move on to polearms like spears or even some swords if she wants to in the future. Staves with their heads and butts shod in iron as a defense against blades (and extra damage) were also common.

Due to this being self-defense, the focus of her training is going to be on using her staff to create escape opportunities rather than engaging in prolonged conflict.

For more on this topic, you can check out our staff training tag.

-Michi

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