Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Stick and The Sword - An Experiment in a Bind

Sometime ago I contemplated some of the real life scenarios where longsword fencing skills may prove to be useful, despite the fact that the majority of us no longer carry such weapons on our persons during the day-to-day bustle. My mind eventually took me to the humble walking stick, a companion for many fancy lads and lasses alike regardless of health status. Surely such a tool could be utilized like a sword with proper translation of techniques, right? I decided to test this theory out by buying a couple rattan sticks and using them with techniques from the Codex Wallerstein, and this what I eventually came to understand as a result. 

Unfortunately the stick and the sword are two very different animals, both in design features and basic geometry. Swords have distinctive blade cross-sections which vary from sword type to sword type, but they are never spherical. A spherical sword would be, essentially, an edgeless (and pointless) metal baton. Fighting sticks, on the other hand, almost always have a spherical cross-section or sometimes one that is a semi-oval shape. Design-wise swords generally have hilts (of greater or lesser prominence) or ricossa that afford protection to the hand. This is not the case for sticks, except perhaps for the sticks used by the English for their broadsword practice ("single-stick"). These geometrical and design differences play a large role in utilizing the walking stick as you would a sword, and I will now explain why.    

The stick cannot be used in the same way as you would use a longsword or messer (langes oder krieg) for a very straightforward reason: you will get your hand smashed without wounding your opponent. With so much of Medieval and Renassiance fencing utilizing single-time parries, the stick simply lacks the hand protection and geometry to be used in the same fashion. To illustrate this point I have chosen four plates from the Codex Wallerstein*, all of which work great with swords but are absolutely useless with sticks.

In this plate we see two swordsmen in the bind, probably from doing zornhaus at the same time. What we see is that one swordsman, I believe the individual on the right side, is using his reach (from being balanced and extending his arms) to threaten his opponent from the bind while protecting himself from the sword of his opponent. This is a single-time parry. 

In this plate we see the swordsman on the left offending his opponent from the bind by winding and thrusting into the neck. This should be done nearly single-time.

In this plate the swordsman on the right has attacked the lower opening of his opponent from the bind, after both had wound up at each other from the bind.  

In this plate there is some good messer work being done. The swordsman on the left has deflected a blow on his flat and hilt, and hit his foe on the arm with his pommel causing a cut to the neck. 

Why do these techniques not work with stick fighting? There are three factors that I have observed: displacement on the blade, the bind, and blade geometry.

When fencing with swords, a blow can be displaced using the weak or the strong of the blade. A blow to the weak can displace the blow but it will generally not stop the blow in its tracks. A blow to the strong can displace the blow and stop it from touching you. Therefore, as some Masters have said, the weak is for attacking and the strong is for defending. With this in mind, you will only get your hand smashed from displacing a stick blow in the same way you would a sword. If you stop the blow with the weak of the stick, the foe's stick will slide or bump off your stick and continue onto your person. If you stop the blow with the strong of the stick, you may stop the blow but you also might just end up stopping the blow with your hand (as you lack a hilt of any kind).

But let us assume you parry a blow using the strong of your stick and it stops the stick dead, and you find yourself in the bind. What can you do from here using your stick? There are some useful techniques to be used here (which I will go over in a moment) but a large amount of your sword techniques cannot be used. To make things more bothersome, your stick fighting foe will most likely be fighting in a dui tempo manner. That is to say, your foe will seek to hit you once and then rapidly leave the bind to "chamber" his stick for another attack. This means that unlike in the pictorial examples before, your opponent has no desire to stay in the bind with you for any amount of time. With a sword this would be dangerous for him but with a stick it is not, and this is due to blade geometry.

The geometry of a blade can allow you to cut and thrust from the bind (without having to re-chamber it in a striking ward) so when two swordsmen get into the bind they usually do not retreat or maneuver to re-chamber their weapons and strike a riposte (which is what stick fighters almost always do). Attacking with a cut or thrust from the bind with a stick, however, is almost entirely useless. These attacks will lack serious power from the bind and won't stop someone who is either retreating, side-stepping, or moving in to grapple. 

Though many single-time parries and attacks from the bind are useless with a stick, not all of them are. Here are four examples of techniques from the bind that are useful for a stick.

In this plate we see a double leg takedown being performed. The grappling swordsman has wound up at the opponent, as if to offend him, while using this feint to set up the takedown.

In this plate we see the swordsman on the left taking command of his opponent's arm and striking without fear at his opponent's upper opening. 

In this plate the swordsman on the right has displaced a blow from his opponent, enticing the foe to strike a second time with better luck, so that he may cut off his foe's hand at the wrist.   

One fighter performs a trick that seems to be a combination of an arm-bar and disarm. 

What makes these four techniques better than the previous four? Simply put, they are operating on different principles. Instead of operating on the principle of thrusting or cutting from the bind, these techniques are essentially using the bind as a set up for grappling. Even if your opponent does not want to remain in the bind with you, you can cox him to do so by maintaining constant pressure (swarming him) and forcing him to continually riposte at you until you grab a hold of him. You can also do this by using the environment to your advantage, in that by controlling his movement (backwards or wherever) you can push him into a wall or a large object and forcing him into the bind and into your hands. 

If you are to take anything from this posting it is the following. Due to inherent differences in geometry and construction, the stick is an inferior weapon to the longsword or basically any sword really. You cannot use a stick to learn how to fight with a sword because of these differences and anyone who claims otherwise has probably not done any full contact sparring with a blunt steel sword. They are simply different animals. But a stick can be used as a sword as long as you control the engagement by closing the distance, commanding your opponent's weapon, and initiating strong wrestling. Either that or you can take a hint from Fiore and just use your stick as the means to an end for stabbing your opponent with a dagger! 

*Please don't nab these images, I host them myself and I use these photographs for my own scholarly purposes. Thanks. 

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