TRADITIONAL STICK FIGHTING: COMMON THEMES OCEANS APART Burton Richardson
SINCE THE DAWN of time when two untrained human beings have picked up sticks and attempted to grievously harm one another, the resulting bludgeon-fest has always been predictable. They put the stick hands behind them, lower their heads, and step in with repeated forehand strikes to the noggin. Not pretty. Have two seasoned stick fighters spar, and you will see unique approaches unfold. Some styles will stay relatively stationary, some will circle on the periphery, and others will cut distinct angles. Certain styles call for a fighter to stand tall, and still others to crouch or kneel — all depending on environmental factors, such as the slope or the slipperiness of the ground beneath them. Methods from areas with a high rate of rainfall often prefer lower stances and simple
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footwork to mitigate slipping and falling, which can prove to be fatal during combat. The characteristics of the weapons used will also influence the style. Weight, length, and balance determine how the sticks are most efficiently wielded. One swings the massive Samoan “nifo’oti” war club with different body mechanics than a short Irish shillelagh. Cultural values also make an impact. In some regions, standing your ground “to battle it out” is the most fearless approach. Another group may esteem simplicity and efficacy, so movement and subterfuge are valued and emphasized. The range of possible factors give us distinct arts from which we can all appreciate and learn. But there are specific aspects common to traditional stick fighting systems, regardless of where in the world they originated.