While there are many perspectives on the use of a long staff or short staff in fighting, like most other aspects of Martial Arts, in terms of combat, simpler is often better.
There are a great many ways in which to wield a staff. Some cultures and traditions use an end grip, with a majority of the staff used to strike with, others use a thirds grip, effectively dividing the staff in three pieces, which tends to focus on using both ends of the staff. While in certain circumstances each of these maybe appropriate and necessary, it is often true that a simple direct line of attack, that being a thrust, is the best tactic, as this type of attack is both immediate and direct, and as such can take the initiative away from your opponent with a stop-hit.
In this sense, the concepts we’ll discuss below are identical to fencing theory, and also JKD trapping and Centerline theory. While considering these principles, ask yourself when other methods of using the staff as a weapon would be appropriate.
Starting from a Right-hand Dominant Position (gripping the staff with the right hand forward, left hand at the hip, both thumbs pointed towards the offensive end of the staff), we place our staff against that of our opponent from a distance at which we would need to enter in order to strike. Let’s refer to this as Largo Mano with an engagement. Our opponent has adopted an identical stance, both people with their right hand and right foot forward, identical grips. The staves cross at the last 1/4 of the shaft.
This represents a fairly neutral position, and we are presented with a conundrum. If I attempt to thrust at my opponent’s torso or throat, their staff sufficiently occupies Centerline, that I cannot get a direct line to the target. Therefore I must create an opportunity (or seize upon an opportunity if it should arise).
If the opponent rears his weapon back to strike at me, we have a situation not unlike trapping “In absence of resistance, we strike.” Knowing this, therefore, and having this engagement of one staff against the other, we must find a way to create that opening without becoming vulnerable to our opponent’s thrust.
Stage 1 – The Beat
First, we attempt, with a quick sharp strike to the opponent’s weapon, to move their weapon off of Centerline, and create our opportunity to thrust. We must be sure to not create too great an opening in winding up for that beat. Practice this with the thrust.
The empty-hand trapping equivalent of this is a simple Gnoy Pak Da from an outside forearm reference point.
Stage 2 – The Recovery
As we Beat the opponent’s weapon off of Centerline and thrust, they recover Centerline and block the thrust. Practice this to develop the timing for the recovery.
In empty-hand trapping, this would be the equivalent of switching to a Biu Sao outside parry to deflect the Chung Choy that follows the Gnoy Pak Da.
Stage 3 – Positive to Negative
As our opponent recovers Centerline from the Beat, we retract the tip of our staff, to allow their recovery to pass Centerline, opening a line for our thrust on the back side of the opponent’s weapon. It is important here to make sure our body’s movement is singular. We do not rear back to retract our weapon, only the tip retracts, our body continues into the thrust.
In empty-hand trapping, this would be the equivalent of a half-pak, or a one and a half beat attack, which waits for the opponent’s response but voids the line to create the opportunity.
Stage 4 – The Disengagement
Now, instead of a Beat, we Disengage by circling the tip of our staff around to the back side of the opponent’s weapon. We couple this with a Beat from that side to open the Centerline. In class, for safety, we trained a strike at the hand/wrist/thumb instead of a thrust at the throat. Remember to curl & snap the wrist to add power to the strike.
Principle: Disarming one Hand
At this point we discussed the inherent nature of a staff as a weapon. In the category of “Dos Manos” a staff is essentially a two-handed weapon. The advantages of power and reach and leverage we get from this type of use are negated to some extent when one had is removed. The staff then becomes unwieldy.
Stage 5 – Voiding Centerline
In addition to moving the opponent’s weapon off of Centerline, or convincing them to move their weapon off Centerline for you, we can also remove Centerline by adjusting our relative position and leaving the engagement, so as to create a new open line of attack. This method is sometimes referred to as Inquartata.
So you can see that this can also be done as the opponent thrusts at you.
Stage 6 – Mechanical Advantage
Another tactic we have is the use of Mechanical Advantage to create an opportunity to thrust.
By moving our rear hand towards our left, keeping our right arm locked out to create a fulcrum, we create a structure that is strong enough to move our opponent’s weapon off of Centerline. We use this structure by walking into the engagement, using our body weight and leg strength to overcome the opponent’s leverage. The resulting thrust will be more angular.
Remember, both for this technique and for the previous (Stage 5) technique, we must step along the circumference of the opponent’s circle, not along its tangent, lest we be too far to effectively counter.
Stage 7 – Using the Rear of the Weapon
In this technique we use a concept called “Glisade” or to glide along the opponent’s weapon without leaving contact, in order to affect its position and change your own, without creating a vulnerability. This concept can be used in a number of ways. In this case, we raise our left hand over our head, putting the staff above our head like a roof block, while maintaining contact with the opponent’s staff with our own. Making a compasse, or an advancing step with the rear leg, we advance the rear of the staff to cover the opponent’s staff from the back side of their weapon.
In this entry we will use the junction of the staff and our left hand to press the opponent’s arm to their body, effectively serving as an Ipit (pinning trap). We can also use our elbow/forearm for this purpose.
In class, from this position we took the punyo of our staff into the crook of the opponent’s arm in a circular motion, placing the shaft of their staff against our opposite hip, effecting a partial disarm.
My hope is that by learning these concepts, you will have a better appreciation for Fencing, and the similarities of the tactics used in other weapon systems to what we do with the staff. Next class we will begin working with methods and circumstances that don’t involve only the direct thrusting focus.