The stick and staff, as a weapon is found throughout the world
“At a White House reception the other day, the president (Teddy Roosevelt) appeared with his arm bandaged, and it then developed that he and General Leonhard Wood, during rainy days, were getting their exercise by having bouts at single-stick in the upper rooms of the Executive Mansion.”
- Harper's Weekly 1905
Most forget that the Stick along with the stone are the Adam and Eve of both tools and weapons within human culture. The stick and staff, as a weapon is found throughout the world. No less so, then in European Martial arts. Now, similarities in technique and influence between FMA and European Martial arts stick in usage may be circumstantial, but these cannot be over looked. So we shall examine the arts of Staff, Single-stick, cane, and cane and dagger.
As an equal opportunity iconoclast, I have decided to start with the staff. It is true in the Philippines, staff and spears predate the Spanish colonial era, and European staff and pole-arm methods have little and or no influence on what we now understand as FMA. However, it should be noted that the Spanish governor of the Philippines throughout the colonial era always had an honor guard composed of men carrying Halberds. Think of the Popes Swiss guard in a ceremonial dress, as an example of this type of honor guard. Later, when Aguinaldo declared himself President of the Philippines, he reinstated this honor guard for himself.
The staff also appears; like the platypus to argue against a linear evolution from ancient art to the modern sport form of fencing. In actual fighting the staff usually proved itself superior to the sword, “John Peeke of Travistock fought three Spanish rapier-and-dagger men at once in the presence of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia at Xeres and defeated them all.” (J.D. Aylwand The English Master of Arms, Routledge 1936). To Paraphrase J. Christoph Amberger, sport fencing would be more about pole-arms and staff work if it reflected combat reality.
Single stick and walking cane developed from the methods of Saber/cut and thrust play of military fencing. By the 19th century, training with a dull or live sword for the purpose of training no longer became cost effective, not to mention the fact that even with a dull training sword the chance for injury is still great. The most cost effective option became the adoption of the stick, with a guard made of either wicker work or Buffalo hide (the former colony known as the United States was offering a cheap supply of the stuff). (see pictures) Later, the Gentlemen’s cane became the main training tool for saber fencing, as well as the fencing method being adapted for personal self-defense with the cane. Here in the United States on May 22, 1856 Representative Preston Brook of South Carolina attacked Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane on the floor of the U.S. Congress, beating him savagely with his walking stick, the best weapon he had at hand. Unfortunately, this act of personal and political violence had terrible repercussions for more than just the two men involved, though I add this as an example of just how fearsome a weapon, a walking stick could be...
Later the gentlemen’s cane held the added surprise of a sword or a knife within. For the most part the shaft of the cane became the primary weapon, held in the right hand and wielded like a Saber, while the knife was used in the left hand. This sounds suspiciously like FMA stick and dagger work, though connections between these two methods may be hard to locate within FMA history. It should also be noted that FMA has many more constituent parts than just WMA and I shall be writing further articles about these other parts as well.