Whoosh! Issue 21 - June 1998


IAXS project #440
By Terry Fines
Copyright © 1998 held by author
2861 words

Introduction (01)
Choosing a Weapon (02-09)
     SINS OF THE PAST (02)
     DREAMWORKER (03-05)
Learning a Weapon (10-18)
     THE GREATER GOOD (14-18)
Improper Use of a Weapon (19)
     FORGET ME NOT (19)
Patterns of Usage (20-21)
Conclusion (22-24)

A Battlin' Bard:
Gabrielle and Staff Combat Techniques

You want me to do *what* with this?

It looks like Gabrielle, but it's really Hope, in SACRIFICE 2.

But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out and meet it.
    -- Thucydides

I sing of Gabrielle, bard of much skill, and master of the staff!


[1] We all know Xena is a master of sword, chakram, and numerous other weapons, including her fingertips, but what about her faithful friend and our favorite bard, Gabrielle? She, as you may have guessed, is a master of the staff! But, how did she come by this particular weapon, how has she learned and improved her skills, how does she use the staff, and where may she be going with or without it? These questions are the focus of this paper. I am not going to attempt to describe in detail, from a technical point of view, all the moves Gabrielle makes with her staff. I will, however, concentrate on my interpretation of her skills and techniques, and how she uses the staff in her adventures with Xena every week. But first, a wee bit o' background.

Choosing a Weapon



Xena uses a staff in SINS OF THE PAST, as Gabrielle looks on.

[2] In SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), Gabrielle initially meets Xena, who comes to the rescue of the residents of Poteidaia. Gabrielle is obviously very impressed with Xena. Gabrielle makes a decision then and there to follow Xena, and to become a warrior. In the course of events, Gabrielle has a ringside seat in Amphipolis as she watches Xena defeat Draco in what should have been a battle to the death, although no one is killed (well, at least the major participants are not killed). The weapon Xena uses to accomplish this task is the staff! Gabrielle, being the extremely bright individual she is, would have taken this in, and this event surely must have planted a seed in her mind! This was the first small step on the road to acquiring the staff. Gabrielle then proceeds to convince Xena to allow her to accompany Xena on her adventures, and they go off together.


[3] In order for Gabrielle to be a traveling companion to someone like Xena, she is going to need a weapon for defense. We all know, even at this early point, that Gabrielle is a skilled talker, and this is obviously her first and best defense. But, in a world full of warlords, cutthroats, thieves, and other assorted ruffians armed with all sorts of sharp objects, Gabrielle is going to need a physical weapon of some type. Gabrielle herself realizes this in DREAMWORKER (03/103).

[4] She lets Xena know that she is very interested in learning how to defend herself, but is equally as adamant about not killing! Xena tells her, "When you pick up a sword, you have to be ready to kill". Very soon after, Gabrielle gets an impromptu lesson in self-defense when a bunch of thugs attack Xena. Gabrielle, being the person she is, wants to help, and picks up a fallen sword. As soon as she does, she is attacked, and quickly has to be rescued by Xena. After the battle is over, Gabrielle says, "They came right for me when I picked up the sword"! Xena tells her, "The moment you pick up a sword, you become a target".

[5] Later, Gabrielle is forced to use a sword again to defend herself, but she manages to do so without killing, even though she is "encouraged" by the priest of Morpheus to kill. Thus, Gabrielle learns that the sword may not be the weapon for her!



Gabrielle learned initial staff technique from Eponin.

[6] Gabrielle continues on her journey with Xena, and eventually, almost by accident, she comes to a decision about her weapon. In HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), Gabrielle, while traveling through a forest, decides to pick herself up a "walking stick". She shows it off to Xena, who takes it and gives her a little show of some "moves." Gabrielle is impressed! She is another step closer to the choice she will eventually make.

[7] In the course of events which follow, Gabrielle receives the "Right of Caste" from the dying Terreis, an Amazon Princess, for her attempts to shield Terreis from a volley of arrows with her own body. Subsequently, Gabrielle must be taught to be an Amazon Princess herself, and this includes training with weapons. In the beginning of her training, Gabrielle must choose a weapon to learn. She passes on the sword, as previous experience has made her dislike that weapon. She passes on the bow, as she admits that she cannot shoot a bow. Then, she comes to the staff, is interested and picks it up. She is told it is a "fighting staff."

[8] The choice made, Gabrielle then receives training in making "moves" and in the general handling of the staff. She is not all that skillful at first. When asked by Ephiny how it is coming along, Gabrielle says that it is "fun." Then, to show her the seriousness of the whole thing, Ephiny demonstrates how to disable and kill a Centaur with the staff. Gabrielle is now very aware that using a staff is not "fun!"

[9] Later on, in the fight between the combined force of Amazons and Centaurs against Krykus' men, Gabrielle has her first taste of battle. She fights alongside Ephiny, and even manages to save Ephiny from an attacker. Gabrielle has learned some skills already, but she gets in a few "lucky" hits too -- while defending herself from one attacker, she manages to unwittingly whack another behind her, quickly taking him out of the fight!. In the end, she has impressed Ephiny (and us!) with her skills, and in doing so, Ephiny's gives Gabrielle her mother's staff as a gift. Gabrielle is now armed and ready for anything!

Learning a Weapon


[10] Now that Gabrielle has her weapon, how will she deploy it? At this early stage, it will be a weapon for self-defense, and she must learn how to use it. As mentioned before, in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), she receives a basic lesson on staff use from an Amazon. Then, Ephiny gives her a lesson in how to disable and kill a Centaur. Gabrielle then gets to test her newly acquired skills during the fight between the combined Amazon/Centaur force against Krykus' men. She fights alongside Ephiny, and manages to hold her own. For her first taste of combat, she does quite well, showing a lot of courage and levelheadedness. Gabrielle also demonstrates her intelligence and coordination by being so quick to pick up the skills and put them to good use in a stressful and dangerous situation.


[11] In BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (12/112), Gabrielle faces her second battle as she and Xena are forced to fight through the Greek lines to get into Troy. Even though she is unprepared for this fight, having only a few minutes to rest and look at the situation before Xena makes the decision to go for it, Gabrielle does quite well, keeping her head, defending herself well, and even contributing to the cause. When Xena charges into the lines, Gabrielle is forced to try to keep up, fighting the professional Greek soldiers who appear around her.

[12] This approach by Xena shows that she has confidence in Gabrielle's ability to defend herself. Even though Xena may be drawing most of the attention, Gabrielle has to fend off a number of serious attacks. She uses all the skills she has to make effective hits and to ward off her attackers. Her technique? She holds one end of her staff close into her body, and swings it using her body as a pivot, delivering solid hits every time. She "pokes" with the staff, knocking the wind out of her opponents, another very effective method. She also uses the staff to knock her attackers off their feet, taking them out of the fight, and making them easier targets for more solid hits. All in all, Gabrielle does an admirable job of defending herself and being a very useful ally to Xena, helping to take some of the "heat" off her friend.


[13] In MORTAL BELOVED (16/116), we see Gabrielle fight with her staff only briefly, and, in the end, get "beaten", but she does an admirable job of facing a foe as frightening as Atyminius. When he appears suddenly in front of her after removing Hades' "helmet of invisibility", Gabrielle is quite afraid. She faces an evil-looking man wielding a large knife! He immediately attacks her and she must defend herself. Although initially unarmed and "helpless," Gabrielle quickly regains her composure and grabs her staff, fending off the knife blows and protecting herself, much to the surprise of Atyminius. Thus, we see her ability to fight for her life, even when faced with a situation where a person could easily be overwhelmed by fear and "freeze."


And here we have an example of a Pre-Mycenaean Breck Girl.

Gabrielle shows off her staff techniques to a nonplussed Argo in THE GREATER GOOD.

[14] As Gabrielle and Xena continue on their adventures, Gabrielle becomes more proficient in the use of her staff. In THE GREATER GOOD (21/121), we see Gabrielle "practicing" her moves on Argo! Although she is only facing a mock enemy, Gabrielle shows us she is becoming quite handy with her staff and has some "moves" down pat. In this episode, she appears to be more relaxed and the staff is more of an extension of her body, and she shows this with her spinning of the staff, being able to change hands, and move it all around her body quickly. These skills will come in handy very soon!

[15] As time passes, Xena ends up in a sticky situation: she has been poisoned by a dart, and is succumbing to the effects during a fight with the warlord Talmadeus. Eventually, as Gabrielle watches from a hiding place nearby, Xena is rendered almost completely helpless, and Talmadeus stands over her with sword raised high, about to strike the final deathblow. But, our quick-thinking Gabrielle grabs her staff, takes a running start, and accurately throws it like a javelin, hitting the sword and knocking it from Talmadeus' hands, allowing Xena to escape! Thus, Gabrielle has gone from defensive use to offensive use of her staff by mounting her first real attack.

[16] As their adventure continues, Talmadeus is about to have Xena's "dead" body torn apart. Gabrielle, in a completely offensive mode, charges in, staff in hand, ready to save her friend's 'body' from mutilation. She attacks a group of about seven or eight of Talmadeus' men, and soundly defeats them all! During this battle, Gabrielle shows her courage and her much improved skill with the staff.

[17] First, as she is surrounded by foes, she holds one end of the staff tightly in to the side of her body and, using her body as a pivot and using her natural momentum, swings in one direction, switches sides with the staff, then swings the other direction, hitting the men chest-high and sending them flying, two at a time! As they start to get up in ones and twos to attack again, Gabrielle, with feet planted and holding the staff in both hands, swings it and hits some of them in the mid-section, knocking the wind out of them, then hits them again in the head to knock them completely to the ground. She hits others in the legs, stopping their advances, and then hits them in the chest and head area to knock them down. She is even able to defend herself from rear attacks without looking back. She "senses" the approach of an attacker, firmly jabs the staff back into his mid-section to stop his advance, then jabs back and up to deliver a blow to the chest to knock him down. Gabrielle does all this in the space of seconds, showing her increased skill and her confidence in the handling of her staff.

[18] Gabrielle will follow this pattern of use and technique for most of the battles in which she uses the staff, be they offensive or defensive actions. She also generally makes short work of her foes. In addition, she uses the staff in an unconventional way: as a pole vault to launch herself over a fallen foe toward her target, Talmadeus. In the end she is captured briefly, but wow, what a fight! Now, during this whole battle, none of the men Gabrielle attacked are killed or seriously injured, which is in keeping with her desire not to take life.

Improper Use of a Weapon


'Down boy!'

Gabrielle wants a piece of Ares in FORGET ME NOT.

[19] Gabrielle, although much improved in her fighting skills, can also fail to use her staff properly. In FORGET ME NOT (63/317), we see that Gabrielle can become blinded by rage, and be fairly ineffective in her use of the staff. As she fights "Ares", Gabrielle holds the staff somewhat like a baseball bat, swinging wildly, not aiming at the usual points of legs then head/chest to knock her enemy out of the fight. She lands no solid hits, doing little to injure her foe. But, beyond this particular failure, she is now a very effective warrior.

Patterns of Usage

[20] We have seen a fairly clear pattern to Gabrielle's use of the staff, whether it is in a defensive or in an offensive action. First, she will hit her foe(s) in the legs or mid-section to stop their advance. Second, she will hit her foe(s) in the chest or head to knock them out of the fight. Third, if necessary, she will hit her foe(s) again while they are down to prevent them from rising and attacking once more. All these methods were taught to her during her stay with the Amazons, and have proved quite useful since.

[21] Gabrielle also uses the staff in some more unconventional ways: as a javelin to hit a distant target, as a pole vault to leap over obstacles, as a walking stick, and as a gymnastic-type bar to practice flips, as in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)! There are many more examples of Gabrielle's use of her staff in the many different adventures she and Xena share, but the pattern of usage is fairly consistent in them all, attesting to the solid and effective technique she has acquired.


[22] In conclusion, it is easy to see why we are so impressed with Gabrielle's skill with the staff. But, will she continue to use it as her main physical weapon, or will she "graduate" to a more lethal and offensive weapon of some sort, say, for example, a sword? It would make some sense, now that Gabrielle has more fighting experience under her belt, now that she is able to take on an offensive role in battles, and now that she is more physical, to have her decide to wield a sword. But, the staff is still the weapon best suited to her philosophy of non-lethal violence, and fits her peaceful bard personality better than a "threatening" sword would.

[23] Perhaps, she will use the staff less, and her own body more. She is becoming more and more physically able to use her own body as a weapon. She has been in unarmed combat a number of times, and even done quite well. For example, in BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302), Xena takes Gabrielle's staff away from her in the middle of a large fight to use as a surveying tool! Although Gabrielle is suddenly disarmed, and even asks for help from Xena, she does a fine job of defending herself.

[24] Who knows what changes may be in store for Gabrielle with regard to weapons as she changes and her character grows in future? At present, I would have to say we all know and love Gabrielle as the staff-wielding bard of Poteidaia!


Terry Fines Terry Fines
I reside in Canada, near Toronto. I am a big Xena fan, and that takes up a lot of my time! The rest of my time is usually spent at work at the Chrysler Canada Bramalea Assembly Plant, on the assembly line. I occasionally boat and cycle, and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. I also spend a lot of time on the internet either looking at Xena sites, or chatting with fellow Xenites! In fact, Xena was what got me on the net in the first place! Go figure!
Favorite line: "I'll rise, but I refuse to shine!" BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302)
First episode seen: SINS OF THE PAST (01/101)
Least favorite episode: FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS (64/318)

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