A Quarterstaff was a kind of pole-weapon that evolved out of the practice of stick-fighting which had been prevalent in European martial arts. It was used by the civilians, often in formal duels as well as people travelling within the country who used it for personal protection. Thus, the weapon was mostly used for personal or sport purposes. Quarterstaves were not exactly effective in serious combat, unless the opponent was also armed with a quarterstaff. If, however, the opponent wielded a more lethal weapon such as a sword or a spear, the quarterstaff proved of little value even in warding off attacks.
Quarterstaff as a weapon referred to a staff made out of hardwood which can vary in length between 6 to 9 feet. In some cases, the staff were tipped with iron on either ends. The name quarterstaff derives from “quarter” and “staff”, Since a quarterstaff was made by the good-quality, hardwood of a tree cut down into quarters, it consequently earned its name. It is also claimed that it derived from the fact that quarterstaff was used for close-quarter combat.
Stick fighting and the use of sticks in formal and informal fights was prevalent in England by the 15th century. This probably led to the use of quarterstaff as a proper weapon which was cheap to produce, extremely easy to wield and came with an amazing versatility of usage. A person could bludgeon the enemy with it, beat him with it, even pierce him with the sharpened iron tips at the ends. By the 16th century, a quarterstaff was a popular weapon all over England and many innovations were used in creating diverse types of Quarterstaves.
A Quarterstaff weapon was mostly used in sport or civilian-defence. It soon came to be used extensively in gladiatorial prize-fighting in England. In the 19th century, England became acquainted with Bamboo with the presence of the British Raj in India. This led to numerous innovations in the design of the quarterstaff which was now increasingly made of bamboo. Bamboo Quarterstaves were particularly useful in sports where they were able to absorb a lot of striking and inflicted little physical harm on the person being hit which wasn’t the aim of quarterstaff fights. It was thus a safe, yet effective form of quarterstaff for sports.
The quarterstaff was traditionally made from the wood of oak, ash or hawthorn. Given its composition of wood, it was very cheap to produce and was traditionally associated with lower classes. However, historically, members of the nobility also made use of Quarterstaves. In 19th century, the quarterstaff was increasingly made from bamboo which was introduced in England through India.
The tradition in England was to make one’s own quarterstaff. This was because a quarterstaff was easy to make and could be customised in design, length and wood-type depending upon the intended use, height and taste of the person who wished to use it. The general elements of the quarterstaff, however, was observed in its production such as the use of a quarter wood, the length of 6 feet or more and the use of iron to tip the ends of the staff.
The quarterstaff, as a weapon, could be used in fighting in many different ways. Given the light-weight of a quarterstaff and the fact that it was easy to wield, a number of fighting techniques emerged. A quarterstaff could be used, for instance, as a simple striking weapon, or it could be used to jab the enemy. A Quarterstaff was also used to bludgeon the enemy or to simply thrust its pointed end into the foe’s body. The sheer versatility of the quarterstaff as a weapon made it unpredictable for the enemy and thus, very effective in certain scenarios.
The Quarterstaff had a wide bevy of advantages for the wielder. It was light-weight and was considered one of the most effective hand weapons. Moving the quarterstaff was easy and so it could be used in many different modes of attack. The quarterstaff could be struck directly, though various techniques were used in striking with a quarterstaff against an opponent also armed with the same weapon. On an enemy armed with a different weapon, a quarterstaff could be used to bludgeon him. Similarly, in a seriously threatening situation, quarterstaff was useful because of ironed ends which could be fatally pierced into the enemy’s body.
One of the key disadvantages of the quarterstaff is that its major composition is wood. And so, it may be very effective against an opponent also armed with a wooden staff but may not be very effective if the enemy is armed with a sword or something made of iron which can easily cleave the wood and leave the wielder undefended. When confronted with an armoured enemy, quarterstaff proved of little use even with the iron-pointed edges. The plate of the armour was made from heavy metal on which quarterstaff made little difference. To add to it, if the enemy wearing armour wielded a sword or a spear, the quarterstaff could break into it at a single stroke of the enemy.
The Quarterstaff evolved out of the medieval tradition of stick-fighting. In England, a quarterstaff became a popular personal weapon by the 16th century where it was used for one-on-one combat as well as for sports purposes. Civilians often kept Quarterstaves to guard themselves on journeys and nobility came to use it as well. The quarterstaff was also repeatedly cited by martial art books in England as a very effective weapon. Of the major advantages which made quarterstaff so popular, was that it was easy to make, cheap to produce and very convenient to wield due to its low weight as compared to iron or steel weapons. Ordinarily, it was effective in striking, jabbing and bludgeoning. By tipping both its ends with iron, it could also be used to inflict more serious damage. However, throughout its history, a quarterstaff was identified with sports and non-fatal combats rather than as a serious weapon meant to harm or kill the enemy.