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Traditional Stick Fighting
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The quarterstaff in folk tradition

The quarterstaff features in many popular stories apart from those involving Robin o' the Wood.

The following tale comes from

(Published by Llanerch)


......WHEN Tom and his wife had settled themselves in the giant's castle, they took good care not to allow any one to make a king's highway across their grounds. Tom made the hedges higher, and the gates stronger than ever, and he claimed all the run of land on the sea-side, and enclosed it. Tom's wife, Jane, was a wonderful cleanly body- the castle seemed to be always fresh swept and sanded, while all the pewter plates and platters shone like silver. She never quarreled with Tom; except when he came in from hedging covered with mud; then in a pet she would threaten to go home to her mother. Jane was very famous for her butter and cheese, and Tom became no less so for his fine breed of cattle, so that he fared luxuriously, and all went on happily enough with Tom and his wife. They had plenty of children, and these were such fine healthy babies, that it took two or three of the best cows to feed them, when but a few weeks old. Tom and Jane thought that they had all that part of the world to themselves, and that no one could scale their hedges or break through their gates. They soon found their mistake. Tom was working one morning, not far from the gate, on the Market-jew side of his property, when he heard a terrible rattle upon the bars. Running up, he saw a man with a hammer smashing away, and presently down went the bars, and in walked a travelling tinkeard, with his bag of tools on his back.

"Holla! Where are you bound for?" says Tom.

"Bound to see if the giant, whom they say lives up here, wouldn't let a body pass through where the road ought to be," says the tinkeard.

"Oh, ay! are you?" says Tom.

"He must be a better man than I am who stops me," says the tinkeard. "As you are a fine stout chap, I expect you are the giant's eldest son. I see you are hedging. That's what all the people complain of You are hedging in all the country."

The Tinkeard teaches Tom Single-stick. 61

"Well," says Tom, " if I am his son, I can take my dad's part any way; and we 'll have fair play too. I don't desire better fun than to try my strength with somebody that is a man. Come on.

Any way you like-naked fists, single-stick, wrestling, bowling, slinging, or throwing the quoits."

"Very well," says the tinkeard, "I'll match my blackthorn stick against anything in the way of timber that you can raise on this place."

Tom took the bar which the tinker bad broken from the gate, and said, "I'll try this piece of elm if you don't think it too heavy."

"Don't care if it's heavier. Come on !"

The tinkeard took the thorn-stick in the middle, and made it fly round Tom's head so fast that be couldn't see it. It looked like a wheel whizzing round his ears, and Tom soon got a bloody nose and two black eyes. Tom's blows had no effect on the tinkeard, because he wore such a coat as was never seen in the West Country before. It was made out of a shaggy black bull's hide, dressed whole with the hair on. The skin of the forelegs made the sleeves, the hind quarters only were cut, pieces being let in to make the spread of the skirts, while the neck and skin of the head formed a sort of hood. The whole appeared as hard as iron; and when Tom hit the tinkeard, it sounded, as if the coat roared, like thunder. They fought until Tom got very hungry, and he found he had the worst of it. "I believe thee art the devil, and no man!" says Tom. "Let's see thy feet before thee dost taste any more of my blood."

The tinkeard showed Tom that he had no cloven foot, and told him that it depended more on handiness than strength to conquer with the single-stick ; and that a small man with science could beat a big man with none. The tinkeard then took the clumsy bar of the gate from Tom, gave him his own light and tough blackthorn, and proceeded to teach him to make the easiest passes, cuts, &c. Whilst the two men were thus engaged, Jane had prepared the dinner, and called her husband three times. She wondered what could be keeping Tom, as he was always ready to run to his dinner at the first call. At length she went out of the castle to seek for him, and surprised she was, and-if truth must be told-rather glad to see another man inside the gates, which no one had passed for years. Jane found Tom and the tinkeard tolerable friends by this time, and she begged them both to come into dinner, saying to the tinkeard that she wished she had something better to set before him. She was vexed that Tom hadn't sent her word, that she might have prepared something better.

In some of the old geese dances (guise dances, from danse deguise ) the giant Blun had a very active part. Blunderbuss was always a big-bellied derbuss and Tom performed a very active fellow-his smoke-frock being well stuffed with straw. He fought with a tree, and the other giant with the wheel and axle. The giant is destroyed, as in the story, by falling on the axle. The tinker, of whom we have yet to tell, with his unfailing coat of darkness, comes in and beats Tom, until Jane comes out with the broom and beats the tinker ; and then,-as in nearly all these rude plays,-St George and the Turkish knight come in ; but they have no part in the real story of the drama.-See note, page 66. Appendix E.