Quarterstaff fencing

From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Background/History

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The sport of quarterstaff fencing was practiced in some British military academies and fencing schools between the 1870s and early years of the 1900s. It is unknown whether this sport was a linear survival of traditional English quarterstaff fighting, or if it was a revival making use of advances in training and sparring equipment.

The first instructional manual to be produced on quarterstaff fencing was written by Sergeant Thomas A. McCarthy, former Instructor of the 7th R.F. and 65th Regiments of the British Army, in the year 1883. At about the same time, quarterstaff fencing was also being practiced by members of the Physical Training College at the Aldershot Military School.

In 1894, another instructional manual was produced by Rowland George Allanson-Winn as a chapter of his book, Broadsword and Singlestick - with Chapters on Quarter-staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking Stick, Umbrella and other Weapons of Self Defence.

Many quarterstaff fencers are believed to have lost their lives during the First World War, and the sport did not survive the upheavals of the War and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Members of the Boy Scout movement were the last known practitioners of quarterstaff fencing, and the sport was included as an achievement towards the (now defunct) "Master at Arms" badge.

Techniques and Training

All authorities on quarterstaff fencing agreed that the weapon used should be a staff of approximately 8 feet in length, made of a light wood such as ash, privet or bamboo. Competitors wore protective equipment including reinforced and padded fencing masks, padded jackets and gloves and cricket pads on their legs. They also wore short padded aprons as groin and thigh protection.

Quarterstaff fencing competitions were held on wooden platforms surrounded by barrier ropes, similar to boxing rings. Competitors were permitted to strike with either end of the staff to any part of the opponent's body and some versions of the rules also allowed thrusting attacks, though competitors were required to reserve the power of thrusts in order to prevent injuries. Wrestling, grappling and unarmed striking (boxing, kicking etc.) were not allowed.

Training for quarterstaff fencing competition was divided into "set plays" meaning pre-arranged drills performed with a partner, and "loose play" meaning sparring or fencing bouts with the weapons.


Ranks and Progression

There was no formal ranking structure for the sport of quarterstaff fencing.


Contemporary revival

Quarterstaff fencing as practiced during the late 1800s is currently being revived by some members of the international historical fencing community, and tournaments are occasionally organized to compete in and promote the style.

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Links/Resources

http://ejmas.com/jmanly/articles/2001/jmanlyart_mccarthy_0901.htm - Quarter-staff: A Practical Manual by Thomas A. McCarthy (1883)

http://ejmas.com/jmanly/articles/2001/jmanlyart_a-wp-w_0901.htm - The Quarter-staff by R.G. Allanson-Winn

http://ejmas.com/jmanly/articles/2002/jmanlyart_scouts_1102.htm - Boy Scout manual on quarterstaff fencing