Exactly how effective is a Quarterstaff as a weapon? How much body strength would a young adult female require to wield one? And, if it isn’t that effective, do you know of any similar weapons?rebelqueenoftheliberator
Let’s just say there’s a reason the Little John of Robin Hood legend carries a quarterstaff.
The quarterstaff is a godly weapon that is the gateway for an entire family of weapons (in some Chinese schools, all weapons), and your female protagonist is going to need endurance far more than strength to wield it for prolonged periods. The basic strike patterns of the staff can be translated into… almost all weapons. This includes: all polearms, the sword, chain weapons like the whip chain/meteor hammer, the great axe/great sword, techniques like half-handing with swords, the list goes on.
The quarterstaff is: Welcome to Weapons, Beginner’s 101. How to use a weapon with a weapon that will not whip around and kill you.
This isn’t to say the quarterstaff isn’t dangerous compared to the others. It is very dangerous, especially in the right hands. However, it’s also the “safest” weapon to learn on which makes it the weapon you get to fuck up on and make mistakes with while you learn about how much contact vibration sucks. This is the weapon were the difference is bruised and broken fingers versus no fingers. Make no mistake, your fingers are target number one for even the most well-meaning training partner. You will hurt your fingers in staff training. It will be your fault because you failed to hold the staff at the right angle, and your opponent’s staff slid right down and… smack.
This is a necessary lesson, without it you’ll never realize how easy it would be for someone to cut your goddamn hand off. Or, how your own failure in technique helped them do it.
You don’t need to be strong to wield a staff, you need to physically be able to hold onto it for prolonged periods. When you strike something, whether this is your opponent’s body or their staff, the weapon will vibrate. Those shock waves will go through your hands, up your arms, and into your body. The harder you strike, the stronger the rebound. You get this with hand to hand too, but the effect is weaker. You can gain greater momentum with the staff, the weapon moves fast, and hits hard on impact. It’s like hitting a steel bell, over and over and over again. You are taking the force of your own strikes into your body, in addition to your opponent’s, when the two collide. You don’t need physical strength, you need endurance. You need to learn how to drive past resistance, how to keep going when your arms want to fall off, and how to mitigate that force through your technique.
There is no better weapon to learn this on than the staff. The weapon you don’t have to worry about keeping sharp, and which will teach you about how someone can deliver the full force of god into you even when you’ve successfully blocked their technique. Best of all? It’s cheap and easy to replace when you break it.
The concept of body-building levels of physical upper body strength being necessary for martial combat is a misconception pushed by video games, pencil & paper RPGs like DnD, and misunderstanding the incredibly heavy parade swords/display weapons versus the weapons used in combat. You’re going to get exhausted enough in prolonged melee without trying to swing around a weapon that weighs thirty to forty pounds. Power from a staff comes from momentum, generated by leverage, and the fact a combat staff is a very sturdy/solid piece of wood.
So, the short answer is: children can wield staves.
Your character’s staff is going to weigh a couple pounds at most. She’s going to need to worry more about having the space to wield her staff depending on location versus being able to pick it up. The skills learned hold up both for using other polearms like the spear, and can be passed on to other weapons like the sword and chain weapons depending on style. The quarterstaff has an advantage over swords in terms of reach (it’s longer), and the staff is one of the best weapons for fighting off multiple opponents. This is due both to the staff’s length and the fact you can transition between wielding from the front to the back and from the middle. It can be upgraded into a spear, which is the king of anti-cavalry weapons, and warfare in general. Also, the staff is an excellent weapon for self-defense. Did I mention you can kill people with it? You can. You can kill your enemies without putting a metal spike on the end, the metal spike just makes it even easier; with more penetration against armored opponents. The techniques flow from one right into the next, the building blocks in your ascension to a whole new world.
You may be wondering about what I mean when I say blocking hard hits is technique. Any idiot can swing a staff, but a trained warrior strikes well and with no wasted motion. That technical aptitude is the difference between high school bully hard and killing blow hard. This is the difference between a several minute long fight, a twenty-five second fight, one that lasts seven seconds, and a half second. This is the same truth for defense. Just like with a strong attack, a strong defense begins with the position of the feet. People like to think fighting is all about the upper body because the upper body is easy to understand, but you don’t want to be the person who skips leg day. Martial combat is about balance, it’s about using force to destabilize your opponent and creating the necessary openings for attack. Poor defense begins in footwork, with bad stances, and a weak base.
If your stances are bad, you halve your delivered force. If your stances are bad, a mediocre blow will break your defense. You can’t spread the incoming force or keep your balance when you’re hit. You’ll take the whole blow in your arms, rather than supporting your arms with your legs, your chest, and your core. When your defense breaks, the follow-up blow is what gets you. People who stumble after one hit? Bad stance. Too shallow, too deep, feet too close together, feet too far apart. The really skilled martial artists start manipulating the triangle, moving your feet to destabilize your opponent on the strike translates into foundational strategy. When this happens, you can’t transition that force into the earth where it belongs and take the brunt of it instead. Whether you can take the blow is dependent on where your feet are, not on the upper body strength of your opponent.
We’re talking about the importance of legs because, when it comes to weapons, writers often get confused and think the importance lies in the weapon itself rather than the person who wields it. After all, 90% of arm wrestling is getting your opponent’s arm on a vector where they can no longer resist. You think it’s about physical strength, but its really all properly applied pressure and angles. Physics, geometry, the “talent” which gets boosted to mystic levels is usually a person who has a phenomenally good grasp of their own body and being able to quickly apply what they see.
We mystify what we don’t understand. You can one hand a staff, from the back end, which is really how you thrust with it. Your other hand is just for guidance. You can spin a wushu staff around your neck, honestly. (I know someone’s going, “I don’t get how that works.” Don’t worry, that’s not a combat move. The neck spin is just a trick move that comes from playing around with speed, spins, and the weapon’s balance point.) The staff is a weapon that can be devastatingly quick in the right hands. It has incredible mobility, switching from high/low to low/high in a few simple motions. When it really gets going, you can hear it whizzing in the air.
If you want to write good fights with staves, you actually need to study staff work. You need an idea of how they move, and how people use/used them. Medieval staff work is going to be more useful to you if you want the quarterstaff. I recommend starting with someone like Lindybeige and moving on to how to videos on YouTube like Hroarr‘s quarterstaff series (keep in mind this is one school of Renaissance quarterstaff), before jumping straight to Sze-Man Tsang in The Iron Monkey. However, if you need confirmation that a 13 year old girl can wield a weapon much larger than themselves then, yes, watch this clip where she plays Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung. Also, if you’ve never seen the upper echelon of child performance martial artists in action… watch. This girl starred opposite Donnie Yen. She is a wushu champion who grew up to become a police officer. Unfortunately, you’re not going to get a lot of choreographed fight scenes outside of Wuxia, East Asian cinema, martial arts communities, and HEMA aficionados.
The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce has a lot of focus on staves and staff work, with the glaive being the protagonist’s preferred weapon. However, keep in mind that Pierce draws heavily from Japanese staff forms and the naginata for her scenes rather than western weaponswork. You’re going to want to do your own HEMA research if the European quarterstaff is what you want versus the many other styles worldwide.
There’s a lot of variance with the staff, and a lot more information readily available for research than there was ten to twenty years ago. One of the things you’re going to want to make sure you do is steer away from the idea of one weapon fits all. Weapons are designed for specific uses and situations. Your character is always going to want to carry a backup sidearm, be it a sword or a dagger or something for the times when their staff is not going to help them or their enemy breaks past it. A true warrior is the master of many weapons because they know they must fight under many different circumstances.
If you haven’t had any exposure to staff combat before, you might be be surprised by it. The staff is a weapon that’s all about momentum and leverage, your favorite word from physics. It hits hard, it’s very quick in the right hands, and changes positions faster than you probably imagined. If you crafted an image in your head of a big, hefty, slow weapon then the quarterstaff is not for you. This is an underrated weapon, but still a gold standard for breaking bones, skulls, and, well, everything else.
Your teenager will find this weapon to be the perfect jumping off point not just for her travels, but also for training in other weapons. All weapon combat is about leverage. If you pay attention to the quarterstaff training videos you’ll find the echoes the techniques in longsword combat. Basically, it’s a great choice.
Check out this video from The Modern Rogue, and remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.”