Whoosh! Issue 17 -February 1997

IAXS project #435
By Donald Plunkett
Copyright © 1997 held by author
1588 words

A Historical Weapon (01-06)
China (07-08)
Japan (09-11)
Elsewhere (12-17)
Amazons? (18)

Gabrielle's Staff Techniques

A Historical Weapon

The origins of

Gab strikes a pose with her staff in an attempt to get a lift in THE PRODIGAL.

[01] Xena is associated with several weapons: chakram, whip, sword, breast dagger, and so on. Gabrielle is generally only associated with one, the staff. The staff is a melee weapon. Melee weapons are an attempt to increase the damage an individual is able to cause over the use of empty hands. They accomplish this through the application of several principles. A melee weapon can increase momentum (rocks), reach (sticks), or damage (blades). The staff increases reach and momentum over the empty hand. Staves are among the earliest of weapons.

[02] The staff has been used through the ages even when more efficient weapons were available, for any number of reasons. The staff is one of the most basic weapons and thus often is a weapon of opportunity. A stout stick or sapling is easy to find in almost any locale. In many periods of history other weapons had been outlawed. It is nearly impossible to outlaw sticks (shovel handles, broom handles, etc., not to mention Gabrielle's own use of a handled farm utensil to whack the distraught Xena on the back in TIES THAT BIND #20).

[03] The staff has often been used as a training weapon to simulate other weapons. By adjusting the length and weight, the staff can be used in place of swords, spears, or polearms. Many of the Chinese techniques were developed by monks who believed the staff was less warlike than other weapons. That's the primary reason Gabrielle uses the staff in preference to swords and the like.

[04] Finally, a staff is cheap. Historically, swords have been terribly expensive. Unless one was inclined to use a sword professionally, the sword was beyond the financial means of most of the population. Anyone can afford a stick.

[05] Staves come in all lengths and sizes as well as many different materials. The length of the staff was often determined by the weapon or tool it represented. A walking stick would start at around 3 feet in length. A staff that simulated a sword would be a bit longer. A staff used in place of a spear would run up to 8 feet in length and one that replaced a polearm might be 12 or more feet long. Staff techniques developed by boatmen using the same poles they used to push their barges could be over twenty feet long.

[06] The weight of the staff was determined by its diameter and the material used. The materials were mostly determined by what was available. Bamboo or rattan make for very light weapons. Hardwoods are the most common staff stuff and range in weight from fairly light to heavy. Gabrielle's staff was likely made of some hardwood, perhaps oak, ash, or yew or something more exotic brought in from Africa. Iron or steel make an extremely heavy staff requiring a very strong person to use effectively.


[07] Every region of the globe has its own staff techniques. The Chinese have numerous wushu (war arts) styles and most of them have several staff types and methods. The double-ended or double-headed staff should usually come up to the eyebrow of the user. As the name suggests both ends of the staff are used. This is closest to the style Gabrielle uses. Traditionally this style of staff fighting was thought of by the Chinese as more for show than real use. The double-ended staff was common to opera companies and dance troupes who were more than happy to let would-be bandits know that it was not just for show. The single-headed staff was used to simulate a spear or polearm. The length was generally to the outstretched middle finger of the user. The staff was gripped toward one end giving it more reach than the double-ended.

[08] Most northern styles of wushu led with the right foot and controlled the staff with the lead hand. Most southern styles led with the left foot and controlled the staff with the rear hand. That distinction was pretty well eliminated when the communists banned the practice of wushu. The northern instructors who fled to the south found their techniques mixed with southern methods. Communist China has since lifted the ban and the northern teachers who remained no longer have to practice in secrecy. The dragon pole of Wing Chun was developed by boatmen and can be up to 21 feet long.


Sushi again?!  I *hate* sushi!

A woodblock portrait of Miyamoto Musashi by Kuniyoshi.

[09] The Japanese use several lengths of staff. The han-bo (half staff) is about 3 feet long. The han-bo was a favorite of the ninja because it appeared to be a harmless walking stick. The bokken (staff-sword) was usually used as a training tool and simulated the length of a sword. Miyamoto Musashi (author of the book of strategy "Go Rin No Sho" - "A Book of Five Rings") is considered by many to be the greatest swordsman in Japanese history. Many of his duels were won using only a bokken. He believed that fencing technique transcended the weapon used.

[10] Muso Gunnosuke was defeated by Musashi and allowed to live. He later developed the jo. The jo is around 4 feet long. This length advantage over the sword allowed Gunnosuke to defeat Musashi in a rematch. He spared Musashi's life but that is the only known defeat suffered by Musashi. The jo and bokken are two of the weapons used in aikido to commemorate that battle.

[11] The bo was adopted by the Japanese when they brought karate up from Okinawa. The Japanese bo tends to be heavier than the Okinawan and is used less flamboyantly. The Japanese monk, Benkei, was sidekick to the hero Yoshitsune. He was a large man and used a tetsu-bo or iron staff. I wonder if there is a connection between sidekicks and staves, hmmm.....


[12] The Okinawans developed kobujutsu (warrior's weapons technique) in response to the Japanese invasion of their islands and subsequent ban of swords. The rokushakubo (roku - six, shaku - approximately a foot, bo - staff) was one of the weapons they used. The Okinawan bo tends to taper at the ends and is slightly lighter than the Japanese bo. The Okinawans use much more spins and leaps than the Japanese, more like the Chinese double-headed staff.

[13] The Koreans call their 5 to 6 foot staff the joong bong. They call their 6 to 7 foot staff the jang bong. Korean staff techniques are very similar to Chinese methods.

[14] The Philippinos call their staff a sibat. The styles of staff and staff fighting in the Philippines are as numerous as the villages and islands. The Philippinos use everything from light rattan to heavy hardwoods (some heavy enough to sink in water) in their staves.

[15] The East Indians call their staff a lathi. Rattan lathi are still used by the police in India. Two of the martial arts in India, Burma, and much of Indonesia are called silat (to defend) and bando. Their staff techniques tend to be alike throughout those areas. In Thailand the staff is called a krabong and is popular for full contact tournaments.

[16] In Europe the English used the quarterstaff. The quarterstaff was commonly eight feet long and sometimes one end was weighted with lead or strengthened with iron strips. The English used their staff in much the same manner as the Chinese single-ended staff. It was a popular weapon in the middle ages and many fencing schools taught the quarterstaff. Henry VIII recommended regular practice with the quarterstaff for all his subjects.

[17] On November 15, 1625 in Sherries, Spain, an Englishman named Peecke from Tavystock in Devonshire put on a demonstration for members of the Spanish royalty. He used a quarterstaff to defeat three experts with rapier and dagger. The Spanish were considered some of the finest and most dangerous swordsmen of their day. Peecke was simply demonstrating what was considered by many English to be a superior weapon to the sword. It was not that big a deal. We watch Gabrielle defeat multiple swordsmen every week. The boy scouts were among the last practitioners of quarterstaff fencing. You don't suppose Gabrielle belonged to the scouts when she was growing up in Poteidaia, do you?


The secret Amazon horseleg shaving ritual.

Ephiny shows Gabrielle how to disable Centaurs in HOOVES AND HARLOTS.

[18] Gabrielle's staff was a gift from the Amazons. They began her training with the staff and she has worked steadily to improve. Gabrielle can now hold her own against all but the most skilled foe and she still, as yet, has not killed anyone. Besides, it makes walking those rough roads just a little easier.


Donald Plunkett Donald Plunkett
I'm former military. I collect knives, swords, and most other types of weapons. I enjoy board games, racquetball, fencing (both foil and kendo), archery, and sport judo. I've tried most types of martial arts but I've been practicing jujitsu and escrima the longest (maybe someday I'll even get them right). My little speckled snake is named "Snake" and my little speckled dog is named Shelby. I live in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39)
Favorite line: Vidalis: "I'm under a lot of pressure here..." BLIND FAITH (#42)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (#H09)
Least favorite episode: Anything with Joxer in it, except those with Callisto in it.

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