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Stick fighting is a generic term for martial arts which use simple long slender, blunt, hand-held, generally wooden 'sticks' for fighting such as a staff, cane, walking stick, baton or similar.
Some techniques can also be used with a sturdy umbrella or even a sword in its scabbard, but thicker and/or heavier blunt weapons such as clubs or the mace are outside the scope of 'stick fighting' (since they cannot be wielded with such precision, so sheer force of impact is more important) as are more formed weapons such as the taiaha.
Although many systems are defensive combat techniques, intended for use if attacked whilst lightly armed, others such as kendo (a Japanese discipline using a bamboo 'sword', the shinai) were developed as safe training methods for dangerous weapons. Whatever their history, many lend themselves to being treated as sports.
In addition to martial arts specifically devoted to stick fighting, certain other disciplines include it, either in its own right, as in kung fu (various variations are part of the traditional Chinese weapons), or merely as part of a polyvalent training including other weapons and/or bare hand fighting, e.g. using the Kettukari (staff), Cheruvadi or Muchan (a shorter, also straight stick) and otta (curved stick) in Kerala's Kalarippayattu tradition, where these wooden weapons serve as preliminary training before practice of the more dangerous metal weapons.
Stick fights between individuals or large gatherings between sub-tribes where men fight duels are an important part of the anthropological heritage of various cultures, especially tribes such as the Nilotic Ethiopian Surma people (where donga is a general obsession and the best means of showing off to look for a bride, often naked or nearly) and their more warlike neighbors the Nyangotam (who fight duels bare-chested, the aim being to inflict visible stripes on the back of the adversary, using not plain staffs but sticks with a flexible, whipping tail-end).
Traditional European systems of stick fighting included a wide variety of methods of quarterstaff combat, which were detailed in numerous manuscripts written by masters-at-arms. Many of these methods became extinct but others adapted and survived as folk-sports and self-defence systems. Examples include Portugal's Jogo do Pau, the Juego del Palo of the Canary Islands, France's canne de combat and Italy's scherma di bastone. Giuseppe Cerri's 1854 manual Trattato teorico e pratico della scherma di bastone is influenced by masters of the Italian school of swordsmanship, Achille Marozzo and perhaps Francesco Alfieri.
The French system of la canne is still practised as a competitive sport. A self-defense adaptation of la canne developed by Swiss master-at-arms Pierre Vigny in the early 1900s has been revived as part of the curriculum of Bartitsu.1
In the USA during the early years of the 1900s, fencer and self-defense specialist A. C. Cunningham developed a unique system of stick fighting using a walking stick or umbrella, which he recorded in his book The Cane as a Weapon.
Singlestick was developed as a method of training in the use of backswords such as the cavalry sabre or cutlass. It was a popular pastime in the UK from the 18th to the early 20th century, and was an event at the 1904 Summer Olympics. Although interest in the art declined, a few fencing coaches continued to train with the stick and competitions in this style of stick fighting was re-introduced into the Royal Navy in the 1980s by commander Locker Madden. The art continues to gain a small following amongst the martial art community in the UK, Australia, Canada and the US.
Some of the most advanced stick fighting systems come from the Philippines. Filipino martial arts are known worldwide for their combat stick fighting systems. The weapons, often used interchangeably and alongside open hand-techniques, vary in design, size, weight, materials and methodology. Baston or olisi, eskrima sticks, are traditionally crafted from rattan or kamagong. In many martial arts systems, the stick is used to substitute the sword for practice and safety purposes.
The traditional Indian martial art Gatka is a style of fighting only with single sticks by the Gatka players, intended to simulate a sword, and focuses on infusing physical, spiritual and mental fitness. Now a sport in India, no sharp edged weapons are used in the transformed Gatka game. The Gatka Federation of India (GFI) has adopted conventional sports uniform of track suits as a new dress code for Gatkebaz and opened it to female practitioners as well.