Tag Archives: staff

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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Two young (say, early 20s) female fighters square off against each other. One is fighting with a bo-staff, the other with a rapier. I understand that these two fighting styles couldn’t be more different, but is there any possible way for it to be a fair fight? Or would one style greatly/laughably overpower the other?

Oh, one of these is definitely going to laughably overpower the other. I’m just not sure which one it’d be. The staff has reach, the rapier has speed and has the advantage of stabby stabby over blunt force trauma. It’s really going to be a question of whether or not both fighters know how to use their weapon’s advantages to the fullest extent. What’s going to keep it a “fair” in the understanding that any non-same weapons used in a fight is never fair, then it’s going to come down a question of skill.

The staff wielder is going to have the advantage so long as she can keep the other woman with the rapier at a distance. The woman with the rapier will have the advantage if she can find a way to maneuver herself into striking range without taking too much debilitating damage from staff strikes. The rapier has to be aggressive in this situation, while the staff wielder is fighting a battle of attrition. All they need to do is wear their opponent down and keep giving them knocks until they can’t lift the sword anymore. They can also attack the legs and feet more readily and safely than the one with the rapier.

All I can say is whoever takes the initiative here is going to keep it and that’s not at all helpful, I know.

I’d look at Scholagladitoria’s Quarterstaff vs Sword, pt 2, pt 3.

Then, look at this video from EnglishMartialArts in response to those videos about the merits of the quarterstaff.

Now, these are about quaterstaffs versus sword because the quarterstaff is the standard European staff and the bo-staff is a Japanese staff.

When I’m responding in these videos, I’m basically assuming that these two women are training in the same style. It should go without saying that bojutsu and other styles are meant for combat against weapons from their same region. On some level, there’s going to be a lot of similarities with staff techniques (though looking at the wide variety of usages and developments of the weapon worldwide, that’s not necessarily true) but what a weapon style was designed to deal with will obviously massively effect the techniques used. There is no comparative sword to the rapier in Japanese martial arts. Whereas techniques with the European quarterstaff involve the skills and strategies for facing a wide variety of swords because there was a greater likelihood of facing one. So, the movement patterns one might use to fend off a katana won’t completely translate (at all) when faced with a rapier.

So, I’m just throwing that out there.

One of the trickiest aspects of writing with weapons is realizing that most of them, even if there is a similar version present in another culture, are limited by what their practitioners expected to face. If you’re using from a weapon that comes from a culture with a lot of cross-pollination and a lot of variance because it’s people were constantly dealing with different cultures or a lot of massively different styles of combat then it’s going to have an inherent advantage over a weapon and style that comes from a culture that doesn’t have that. (That weapon will probaby still have an advantage in it’s home environment though.) There’s more expectation of the unexpected, more variance, more likelihood you may be facing a kind of opposition or new tactic that you’ve never seen before.

I am, however, assuming that these two are from the same school and trained in the same style, they are just using different weapons.

-Michi

how can you floor someone when both characters are participating in a fight using wooden staffs?

There are a lot of ways to do that honestly. You can sweep them. You can knock them on the head. You can jab them in the stomach and then crack them across the head. (Assuming that no one is wearing protective gear, even if they are, they just need to be struck hard enough to be knocked back/unbalanced so they fall over.)

The problem you’re having is you may not know how one fights with a staff, what the patterns are, or even how it moves while in combat. The average staff length is for it to be around the same height as the wielder, if slightly shorter. How long they are is balanced to height, so this results in most being different lengths. While the staff is usually wood, they can also be made of metal (though the wielder may wish to take precautions due to strikes causing greater vibration) which are also often hollow. Wooden staffs, such as the quarter staff, where the user knows they may be facing armed or armored opponents were often plated with metal strips to defend the wood from bladed/cutting strikes and shod on both ends with a metal for greater damage.

The greatest force is present in both tips of the staff and the ends are what you use to strike/do damage with.

There are a lot of different styles and techniques that use a variety of approaches, so I’m just going to go with the very basic beginners one I know.

Basic staff attacks begin on an X pattern. The staff moves in front of the body. It goes high, low, low, high.

Strike high to the head, then low the the thigh, this allows you to switch ends, strike low again to the other thigh (which previously struck high), then high to the head. However, when this completes you’ll find yourself in the opposite side of the X. In order to get back to beginning position, you either reverse rotation (you struck high, so low, low, high) or the staff rotates over to strike the top of the head. Then, this creates an opening to thrust forward.

Here are some basic strikes with the bo staff.

What is most important for you to notice and keep in mind: when the bo comes across the body, it must strike with the opposite side come back. The strikes also come across the body, to the outer sides. This is very important for you as the writer, because with writing staff combat these two aspects are often neglected. That the strikes primarily come to the outside of the body, the usage of both ends of the staff, and that the staff must rotate in order to be in a position to strike high or low and from the left side to the right side.

More. Helpful. Staff. Videos (plus a playlist).

The Kung Fu/Shaolin staff, for comparison.

The Renaissance quarter staff. If you’re leaning closer to European styles. More quarterstaff. Scholagladitoria on how to hold a quarterstaff. And while you didn’t ask for it: his video on quarterstaff versus sword part 1, 2, and 3.

One of the best book series I’ve run across that describes staff combat is Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small. Mainly because it involves a lot of details about training which are routinely skipped and you need to know. I’ll point out, however, Pierce has a preference for Japanese martial arts in these novels and they were written in a time which coincided with increased interest in and popularity of Japanese history/culture and before the internet made it easier to access information on revived European martial styles. (Basic assumptions that were/are common in the history community and at large about Medieval European hand to hand/martial arts in comparison to Japanese ones are at play here.) Essentially, “Japan is cool” is a theme running through the novel. So, take it with a grain of salt before importing the attitudes wholesale.

It should be noted that none of these videos will teach you how to actually fight with a staff. If you’re interested in learning martial arts, my personal recommendation will always be to seek out a qualified instructor in your area and sign up for classes. On this blog, we always use videos from instructors and other professionals as a means to helping you as a writer learn the theory and to help your visualization.

-Michi