Thursday, July 10, 2014

Singlestick Part 2 – Saber, Roosevelt and Canes

A Substitute for the Light Fencing Sabre
By the late 19th Century singlestick in England was used more as a substitute for saber training. Alfred Hutton, in an entry on singlestick in the 1911 Encyclopedia of Sport and Games, talks about the disappearing practice of singlestick.
“This weapon, as we know it nowadays, is nothing more than a somewhat poor substitute for the light fencing sabre, and there are some among us who are inclined to clamour for its entire abolition; they are not, however, likely to be gratified, as its very cheapness serves as its recommendation to members of many minor schools of arms. Singlestick, or cudgel-play, is, moreover, an honest, manly old English sport, which should rather be encouraged than allowed to sink in to oblivion.”
 First published in 1890, Broad-Sword and Single-Stick by R.G. Allanson-Winn and C. Phillipps-Wolley covered a variety of methods for self-defense. Phillipps-Wolley contributed to the section on singlestick. He encourages the idea that “single-stick is to the sabre what the foil is to the rapier” and considers singlestick to combine styles of both foil and sabre because “the player is taught to use the point whenever he can do so most effectively; but he is also reminded that his sword has an edge, which may on occasion do him good service…It seems to me, then, that single-stick is the most thoroughly practical form of sword-play for use in those ‘tight places’ where men care nothing for rules.”

from Broadsword and Singlestick – Cut and Guard

Phillipps-Wolley also asserts that singlestick is an Englishman’s sport.
 “What the ordinary Englishman wants is…a game in which he may exercise those muscles with which good mother Nature meant him to earn his living, but which custom has condemned to rust, while the brain wears out; a game in which he may hurt someone else, is extremely likely to be hurt himself, and is certain to earn an appetite for dinner…I accept the charge of brutality, merely remarking that it was the national love of hard knocks which made this little island famous, and I for one do not want to be thought any better than the old folk of England’s fighting days.”
He quotes the English/Australian poet Lindsay Gordon:
“No game was ever yet worth a rap,For a rational man to play,Into which no accident, no mishap,Could possibly find its way.”
While brutal, he does emphasize that you are using the weapons of a gentleman and should show courtesy to a “foeman worthy of your steel”.

The Equipment for Singlestick
Phillips-Wolley describes the outfit worn for singlestick players. The helmet is constructed more solidly than that used for foil play, the mesh being wider than that of a fencing mask. The best will have a top of buffalo hide completely covering the head with padded ear pieces.
The jacket is made like a pea jacket, of stout leather with two sleeves.
A leather apron is also worn from the waist to the knee covering both thighs.
He notes that some men wear a cricket pad on the right leg, but he feels this can slow down a person.
The sticks should be ash-plants, about 40 inches in length and as thick as a man’s thumb, without knots and unpeeled. He suggests that you soak them in a trough of water when not being used to keep them supple and from breaking.
The hilt is of wicker or of buffalo hide.
He also recommends a stout elastic ring around the wrist or a good long gauntlet. He prefers the elastic ring as it interferes less with the freedom of the hand and more effectively protects the wrist.

from Broadsword and Singlestick: the Singlestick Outfit
Method of Play
Two guards are used, the hanging guard and the upright guard. He also suggests keeping the left hand through the belt at the back of the waist. The upright guard, or high tierce, has “the right elbow close in to the side, the forearm at right angles to the body, wrist bent, so as to turn the knuckles outward, and the stick pointing upwards.”
In the hanging guard the “point of the stick should be inclined slightly downwards, the knuckles turned upwards, the forearm should be kept slightly bent, the hilt a little outside the right knee, the point of the stick a little low and in the direction of the left front.
The four principal hits according to Phillipps-Wolley are cuts at the left and right cheek, left and right ribs. Cuts 5 & 6 are repetitions of 3 and 4 at a lower level. In addition to the cuts there is the point. Cuts should be executed on the lunge, keeping out of range unless you lunge.
He concludes on the courtesy of sword-play. “Don’t make any remarks either in a competition (this, of course, worst of all) or in an ordinary bout. Don’t argue, except with the sticks. Remember that the beau-ideal swordsman is one who fights hard, with “silent lips and striking hand.””

Bouts are played in a fourteen foot ring. Phillipps-Wolley says that at the Military tournaments the matches are played for the best of three hits. At the German Gymnasium it is the competitor who first scores five hits. Sticks are chalked to ensure a mark on the jacket for each hit, although he cautions athat a pliant stick can whip over and leave a mark that should not be scored. Judges should watch out for this.
The competitors enter the ring and face each other in the hanging guard. The sticks must be fairly crossed and the judge gives the command to begin.

from Broadsword and Singlestick: the Hanging Guard
Hutton and Singlestick
Alfred Hutton in the Cavalry Swordsman from 1867 suggests that the swordsman first learn foil then advance his training with the singlestick.
"We will now suppose that we have taught our pupil all we can, according to our lights, of the use of the foil; so we must advance a step further in the training which is to make him a "sabreur." We place in his hand the singlestick; this weapon represents the sword fairly in most points, excepting in weight and shape. Its cuts, guards, points and feints are precisely the same, and the stick, being a light weapon, is not likely to tire or disgust a beginner, and is from its lightness well adapted to the pupil who has but just passed through his course of fencing-drill. When our pupil has received sufficient lessons and independent practice with the stick, we ought to arm him with the practice-sword; this weapon he should then be encouraged to use as much as possible; fortunately men who are really fond if the fencing-room require but little encouragement to keep to this weapon, for I have generally noticed, that after once or twice playing with it, they never seem to care for the singlestick again."

Hutton describes the cuts as “six in number—two diagonally downwards at the head or shoulders, two diagonally upwards at the legs, and two horizontals at the belly and ribs; but in all well-regulated schools of arms the blow at the inside of the leg is strictly forbidden, on account of its serious consequences; the thrusts are usually delivered with the hand in "pronation."

Captain Alfred Hutton, one of the premiere fencers and historians of fencing in the Victorian Age, wrote about other stick fighting methods in his treatise on Saber called Cold Steel that included articles on the Great Stick and Officer’s Truncheon. The Great Stick is distinguished from the singlestick because it is wielded with two hands instead of one. It is analogous to the English quarter-staff, though he prefers the Italian style that resembles the methods used for the two-handed sword as taught by Achille Marozzo in 1536.

Hutton demonstrating the Great Stick
Singlestick from the Badminton Library
The 1890 Badminton Library volume on fencing by Pollock, Grove and Prevost also has a short chapter on singlestick. They disagree that the singlestick should be a practice weapon for the saber.
“There is, however, a curious fallacy which must now be pointed out. It has been thought not unnaturally that the singlestick may be considered the foil of the sabre, just as the foil may be considered the small sword of practice, and it is very commonly believed that work with the stick enables a man to use the sabre; but unfortunately the analogy is far, very far, from perfect, for, though the fencer who has never handled the practice epee may at first find some difficulty when he exchanges the foil for it, this will be nothing like the difficulty experienced by the singlestick player who first uses a practice saber.”
They explain that the singlestick player cannot distinguish between blows with the flat and the edge of the blade, and that because of this his opponent would “carve him about as he pleased.” For they point out “Nothing more excites the derisive condemnation of a real French swordsman that blows with the flat of the blade by a combatant too clumsy to give the edge.”
Finally, they conclude “with a hint to fencers who may oppose epee to sabre, of foil to stick. And this hint is very brief. Take, if you know it well, the guard, recommended by Captain Hutton, draw, whenever you think you can parry and riposte, your adversary's dropping cut on the forearm ; and never forget that, to extend Captain Godfrey's dictum, it is more easy to make sure of a cut than it is of a thrust in the heat of an encounter. In other words, beware of failing to credit your adversary with this advantage over and above his individual skill.”

A Self Defense Manual
Lt. Col. Baron de Berenger’s 1835 book Helps and Hints How to Protect Life and Property was published in London and treats the stick as a weapon of self-defense. He considers the stick an excellent weapon in the hands of a good spadroon swordsman. He describes the spadroon as a cut and thrust straight sword, lighter than the Highland broadsword. “the mode of fencing with a spadroon is a combination of Highland broadsword practice with that of the small sword, so its application to the defence with the stick is particularly suitable.” He also recommends the stick for the inexperienced broad-swordsman, since the person does not have to rely on making sure the cutting edge makes contact. Berenger does recommend that the cut of a stick should be made similarly to that of a sword as if it had an edge, and suggests, like Phillipps-Wolley, that the stick be chalked with a narrow line in place of the edge of a sword.
"Nevertheless, the cut of a stick should be made similarly to that of a sword; that is, as if it had an edge, wherefore the line of cut or imaginary edge, should always be as if in continuation of the line of the middle joints of your fingers: by using your stick thus, you will hit rather harder, preserve your sword-play free from foul cuts, and you will also promote the action or suppleness of your wrist." 
And echoing Pollock’s criticism of singlestick, he says “but likewise the superiority of this stick practice over the more vulgar practice of single-stick play, and which latter decides in favor of him who gives the greatest number of " broken heads," although inflicted less skilfully, because with any part of the stick.”
Berenger recommends that the best sticks are oak, ash, and hazel saplings, blackthorns and sound ratans. He favors the blackthorn because the many knobs save the knuckles more than a smooth stick. He adds a leather thong to the stick so that it is better secured to the hand.

De Berenger Defense with a Stick
Naval Practice
Pollock says that there are currently several schools of singlestick, the English navy having a school of its own. The singlestick was a popular substitute for the naval cutlass in seaman drills.

Naval Cutlass Drill with Singlesticks
In the Ordnance Instructions of the United States Navy of 1860 article 265 states that the men, and especially the Baorders and Pikemen, should be exercised and encouraged to practice with the single stick and sword as far as circumstances will allow.

In the early career of Admiral David Farragut he served aboard the USS Essex in the War of 1812. He said of the crew
"Every day the crew were exercised at the great guns, small-arms, and single-stick. And I may here mention the fact that I found them to be the best swordsmen on board. They had been so thoroughly trained as boarders that every man was prepared for such an emergency, with his cutlass as sharp as a razor, a dirk made by the ship's armorer out of a file, and a pistol." 
This photo from 1898 depicts sword practice on the USS Maine. The caption reads:
SINGLE-STICK EXERCISE ON THE MAINE-One of the most unexpected happenings in modern naval warfare would be a hand to hand encounter. Battleships are not now captured by boarding as in days gone by, and it is not even found necessary to arm the up-to-date sailor with cutlasses and other small arms. Nevertheless, the healthy and skillful exercise to be gotten out of calisthenics of the above character are not only fostered by the authorities, but thoroughly enjoyed by the ships' crew.

And another picture from the royal Naval Exhibition shows the room of a Naval Lieutenant’s aboard ship complete with tennis-bats, cricket-bats, dumb-bells, boxing gloves, fencing foils and singlesticks.

Other Notes:

Singlestick was featured in public Assault at Arms at the Royal Military Tournament at Islington. Begun in the early 1880’s to display soldierly skill, the events included sword, lance, bayonet, foil and mounted and dismounted singlestick. Baily’s Monthly Magazine of Sports and Pastimes described the tournament in 1887 as “a formidable rival to Buffalo Bill’s exhibition at Earl’s Court.” It was complete with a popular display of cavalry skill called the “Musical Ride”.

In 1904 Albertson Van Zo Post, against two other American competitors (Van Zo Post is often incorrectly identified as Cuban), won the gold medal for singlestick at the Olympic Games held in St. Louis, MO. The style of singlestick, as we’ll discuss further in the article, was probably more akin to the French la canne than the english singlestick.

Dr. Watson notes that Sherlock Holmes is an expert singlestick player, boxer and swordsman in “A Study in Scarlet” their first adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle published in 1887.

One of the original 14 "Badges of Merit" for the Boy Scouts in 1910 was a Master-at-Arms badge that included singlestick, along with boxing, fencing, quarterstaff, ju jitsu and wrestling. It was discontinued in 1911.

And Some Rules for Singlestick Matches:

Spalding's Handbook of Sporting Rules and Training 1886 Stick Fencing
1. The stick shall be made of ash or hickory, five-eigths of an inch at the grip, and tapering at the end, 36 inches long
2. Blows only count on the mask and arms
3. A successful blow must be followed by a pause.
4. If both contestants are hit simultaneously, the count belongs to the competitor who is extended; if both are extended, neither count.
5. A disarm counts one point. If the stick is lost while making an attack and hitting the opponent, the count is not lost.
6. Neither of the competitors must, in any case, allow his hands to come in violent contact with his opponent's body.
7. If a competitor seize his opponent's stick with his hand (his own weapon being free), it shall count one point against him.
8. The number of points shall not be less than five nor more than ten, to be decided by the judges or referee, the competitor first making the full number of points to be declared the winner.

Bayonet-Fencing and Sword Practice by Alfred Hutton Rules for Independent Practice with Sabre or Stick 1882
1. No one to play, on any pretence whatever, without wearing a helmet.
2. Cuts and thrusts are not to be given too strongly: should men appear to be losing their temper, their play is to be stopped at once.
3. No two cuts or thrusts are to be made on the same lunge.
4. The opponents should not both strike at once; should this happen the cut or thrust given in the third position to be considered effective. But should both parties lunge, the hit to count to neither.
5. The act of crossing (and touching) the blades is a guarantee that both parties are ready. Any hit given before this is done, is not to be considered effective. The opponents should always engage out of distance.
6. A disarm to count as a hit to the party effecting it.
7. A hit is only considered effective when given with that part of the stick which represents the edge, or with the point.
8. In stick-play, no hit is to be made at the inside of the leg unless the players wear leg padding, a blow in that part being highly dangerous.
9. When playing with the practice-sword it is necessary to wear full padding, that is, helmet, double-jacket, gauntlet, body-pad, and leg-pad.
10. Players are strongly recommended to fence for a fixed number of hits, say 3,5, or 7, this increases the interest in play, and tends to make men more careful in their fencing.

Teddy Roosevelt & Singlesticks

Roosevelt in the White House

Roosevelt was an avid sportsman, practicing boxing, horseback riding and other athletics while in the White House. Several letters and newspaper articles have accounts of Roosevelt bruised and bloodied from practicing singlesticks in the White House.
One article headline read “Whacked the President with a Singlestick. General Wood raised a lump on Mr. Roosevelt’s forehead” New York Times December 30, 1902

And from the Pittsburgh Press Jan 24, 1903:
“Roosevelt’s Hand Healing Received Hard Thump from General Leonard Wood’s Single-Stick”
Washington, Jan 24 – President Roosevelt’s right wrist is slowly mending from the thump given it by General Leonard Wood’s singlestick. If nothing happens to aggravate the injury, Dr. Lung, who is the attending physician, believes it will get well without any operations. If the inflammation should grow worse, however, it will be necessary to lance through the flesh to the bone.
 “We had broken our lighter sticks,” said the President in describing the accident, “and General Wood called for some heavier ones. He got them, and I got this.”
The President is still able to use his right hand with due caution, shaking hands gingerly with a few of his daily visitors. He can also use his pen.

From the 1904 Reader Magazine is an article called The Human Side: An Estimate of Theodore Roosevelt by George Horton. The article talks about how Roosevelt overcame the infirmities of his youth.
"His love for outdoor sports and rude exercise is but a continuance of habits formed in boyhood. If he is sturdy enough now, he owes that fact to horseback riding, singlesticks, ranching, and bouts with the gloves."
It continues to describe his fencing exercise at the White House.
"A Frenchman, who has taught him fencing, tells me that the President is a poor though enthusiastic fencer. I will not say who it was that added, "His natural weapon is a club." He seemingly takes as much joy in receiving blows as in giving them. When he used to play at singlesticks with General Wood, the latter, remembering that his opponent was President, refrained from hitting him at first, but at last, warming up to the work, would crack him without mercy, for Wood is the President's superior in this exercise. As soon as the blows began to rain upon his body, Mr. Roosevelt would leap about, I am credibly informed, "fairly shrieking with delight...A good crack with a singlestick hurts, but it is probable that the President gets so much sheer physical joy out of a contest of this kind that he is unconscious of the pain."
The Frenchman in question is undoubtedly Maitre Francois Darrieult, who continued his career after instructing President Roosevelt as coach of the United States Olympic Team in 1920 and 1924, and coach at the Naval Academy as well as several schools. Maitre Darrieult was a graduate of the French military academy. It has been argued that Roosevelt probably studied French cane fencing rather than English singlestick, a common confusion in the nineteenth century, where singlestick was a term used for any use of the stick a s a weapon. We'll take a short look at French stick fighting in the next segment.

French Stick Fighting - La Canne de Combat

A well-conceived article by Maxime Chouinard (I Don’t Do Longsword – a Blog for HEMA misfits) called “Single-stick, or is it?” talks about the various forms singlestick took in this period. The blogger and martial artist makes a good case for the confusion of singlestick styles and methods, probably evolving out of two different styles – one based off the English backsword and saber, the other from the French la canne. As is pointed out, English and Americans tended to refer to any martial art using a stick as singlestick, from la canne to Japanese kendo. He also notes that many of the fencing masters in America were French, and they would have studied canne de combat rather than English singlestick. He asserts that this was likely the style of singlestick that Teddy Roosevelt fenced in the White House and that was fenced at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

An article from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica describes Cane Fencing.
Cane Fencing (the Fr. canne) is the art of defending oneself with a walking stick. It may be considered single-stick fencing without a guard for the hand., with the important difference that in cane fencing the thrust is as important as the cut, and thus canne approaches nearer to sabre-play. The cuts are practically identical with those of the single-stick (q.v.), but they are generally given after one or more rapid preliminary flourishes (moulinets, circles) which the lightness of the stick facilitates, and which serve to perplex and disconcert an assailant. The thrusts are similar to those in foil-play, but are often carried out with both hands grasping the stick., giving greater force and enabling it to be used at very close quarters. The canes used in French fencing schools are made of several kinds of tough wood and are about 3 ft. long, tapering towards the point. As very severe blows are exchanged, masks, gloves, padded vests and shin-guards, similar to those used in football, are worn.

Two other methods of stick fighting taught by the French were the Grand Baton, which was a three quarter staff, and the Petite Baton, originally the belaying pins of a sailing ship.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth century la canne and the baton were usually coupled with the French martial art of savate. By the middle of the nineteenth century savate began to get a bad reputation, being associated with the street fighters in the seedy side of Paris. It regained some stature by 1871 as an exercise for soldiers at the fencing academy at the French Military School of Joinville le Pont. A treatise was published by the French Naval Minister in 1875 called the Manuel pour l'enseignement de la gymnastique et de l'escrime. The lessons are for the grand baton, but the chapter finishes by observing that the same lessons are applicable to la canne except that you would use only one hand, the left hand being free and placed behind the back, and switching hands to change the pace.

Baton from Manuel pour l’enseignement de la gymnastique et de l’escrime

Pierre Vigny, a French Master of Arms, adapted stick fighting to his method of self-defense for use with canes and umbrellas. He taught in England at the turn of the nineteenth century. A 1901 article in Sketch Magazine features him as part of Edward Barton-Wright's Bartitsu club in London, teaching stick and savate alongside Japanese champions in jujitsu. He later opened his own school and trained recruits at the Aldershot Military School.
Pierre Vigny

Singlestick of the Victorian Era took many forms and evolved from different sources and for different purposes. As a substitute for fencing swords or a weapon of self-defense, it remained part of the nineteenth century culture of fencing.

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