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Frank Docherty: English QuarterStaff


Frank Docherty

Mr. Docherty, living in North London (UK), is a man whom has always been training one way or another. With a background in many Asian martial arts styles such as Jodo or Iaito, he decided to give himself to the revival of the ancient English fighting ways. 

What is your martial arts background?

My martial arts background goes back about twenty years, it started with Judo then went on to the chinese style of Five animals kung fu, the style was Hap Kun Do under Dave Lea, in which I reached a black sash grade, I also studied kick boxing for many years under dave Lea. I studied Jodo and Iaido under Tony Leon, and Charles Wheaton, two excellent japanese style instructors, where I reached Shodan in jodo, and Iaido. I also Taught my own self defense style for about seven years, which I called Integrated systems, which was an amalgamation of Kickboxing, and the chinese styles I had trained in, I also boxed for many many years, and worked as a door steward in clubs, and as a martial arts bodyguard for a few years at this time, to gain a practical working knowledge of the arts I trained in.

During this time, I began to visit the British library, trying to find out about English and European Martial arts, as I thought nations with a history as violent as the English and Europe in general must have had fighting arts of their own. and I came across the Pugilistic and weapon arts of the 16th and 17th century,s books by George Silver, Wylde, Lonnergon, also many books by foreign teachers, such as Saviolo, and Digrassi. And all of a sudden, I just stopped dead. I stopped training in Eastern arts, and devoted myself entirely to trying to recreate the bare fist arts of my own culture. I did this for about two years, then I happened to buy a martial arts magazine calle d fighters and in it was a small advert asking for a limited number of students to learn and study the English martial arts, I contacted the teacher through the number provided, and made contact with Maister Terry Brown, and I have been learning and studying with him for about eleven years now,I am his senior student and have studied intensively, weapons and bare fist fighting, Terry is probably ther most knowledgable man in the western martial arts today, and I think the most practical when it comes to translating these arts to self defense for todays world.

Terry_Brown, posing for his book: English Martial arts
Terry Brown, featured on his book cover.

Can you describe the physical aspect of the English quarterstaff?

The Quarterstaff is a physically demanding weapon, given that it is a staff of between seven and nine foot long. although the stage gladiators of the seventeen hundreds did use staffs of about six feet in length, as did the boy scouts. Many of these staffs were tipped with iron, to make them a more deadly weapon, and these were called tipstaffs. The Quarterstaff has been known by many names, and throughout history has adopted them all at one time or another, some of them are:

  • The Stave
  • Balkstaff
  • Shortstaff
  • Tipstaff
  • Cudgel
  • Club

    The Quarterstaff was for centuries considered the weapon of the lower sections of society, although the nobility had a healthy respect for the Quarterstaff, which they also practiced. In reality Quarterstaffing, as a fighting art reigned supreme in England for many centuries.

    The quarterstaff was, and is an extremely versatile weapon, it can be used as freely as the staff man wishes to use it. When used to strike or hit it is like a sword or battle axe, when used to thrust it becomes like a spear, strikes and thrusts can be from either side of the body. This makes it very difficult for any opponent to respond quickly to these attacks, that can change so readily from side to side, and from thrust to strike without pause.

    George Silver wrote about the quarterstaff as a reality. It was a weapon he used to fight and defend his honour with. His experiences of English quarterstaff fighting were from experience. 

    Who is George Silver?

    George Silver was an English Gentleman who was an advocate of the English martial arts. In 1599 two books he wrote called Brief Instructions, and Paradoxes of defense were published, in them he explained the principles of the true fight, as well as explaining the perfect length of weapons, as well as his many thoughts on the Noble Science, and the many foreign instructors in England at the time.

    With his brother Toby Silver, George Silver erected a stage in London, and offered to fight any foreign instructor who purported to teach the martial arts. 
    Identified as george silver
    George Silver
  • Picture taken from

    Is there a difference between a quarterstaff and a normal staff?

    There are many reasons given as to why the quarterstaff is called the quarterstaff. All quarterstaves were made to the individuals stature, a description for measuring the length of a quarterstaff required for the individual was given by George Silver.

    " You shall stand upright, holding the staff upright close to your body with your left hand, reaching with your right hand your staff as high as you can, and then allow to that length a space to set both your hands when you come to fight, wherein you may conveniently strike, thrust and ward, and that is your just length to be made according to your stature. And this note, that those lengths will commonly fall out to be eight or nine feet long " ll Quarterstaf

    How do you train with the quarterstaff? 

    In training with the Quarterstaff, Yes we do use forms, these are done solo, and as two man forms. We use the terms Loose play, fixed play, etc, these are the old English terms used. We use techniques, both solo, and as two man exercises and we spar, without armour, and usually at speed and with power. We concentrate on the principles of the art, these are the part of the art, that give it its effectivenes, these principles are all important, much more so than techniques, and forms. techniques and forms can turn into patterns that sink into the subconscious mind that can lead to problems when a physical confrontation occurs, whereas if you learn the principles of your art, you will be in a much better situation. take for example the true time, which are some of the principles used in the English martial Arts these are:

    The true times are:
  • The time of the hand
  • The time of the hand and body
  • The time of the hand body anf foot
  • The time of the hand body and feet

    The false times are:
  • Time of the foot
  • Time of the foot and body
  • Time of the foot body and hand
  • Time of the feet body and hand
  • These are the slowest times

    The idea of these sets of times is common sense, it is a way of telling a person the fastest, and safest and the slowest and riskiest way of using your body in a fight.

    Just by knowing these times, gives you an advantage in a dangerous situation. 

    two men fighting with quarterstaff

  • Are there any practical uses of quarterstaff fighting in our modern world? 

    The art of the quarterstaff is a very practical system. Apart from the practicality of the weapon itself, which is formidable, the training in English martial arts gives you certain things. That is a grasp of the principles of fighting, which cover all weapons in the English system, as well as the unarmed side, so yes training in the English system does give you a practical outlook as regards modern self defense. 

    How did you manage to revive the long lost art of English quarterstaff fights?

    The Art of the Quarterstaff has been revived by translating manuscripts, books, and years and years of looking at plays, poems, sagas, pictures etc, etc. Movies never play a part in reconstructing authentic martial arts, neither does re enactment, or fight directors. It relys purely on the old masters, and what they have left behind for us. Although I have done many years of research into this system and its weapons myself, the Quarterstaff happens to be my favourite weapon, without a doubt the foremost expert is maister Terry Brown. Now I say this not out of loyalty to my teacher, but out of the knowldge that he has been studying, and researching this weapon and system for over twenty years. 

    Quarter-staff From the Old Ballad of Robin Hood and the Tanner
    photo taken from

    Of all the weapons available, why do the English prefer the quarterstaff? I mean, it isn't a spear all the same except it has more thrusting power and could cut when used in a slash motion?

    Yes the English do have a liking for the Quarterstaff, and this weapon has become synonymous with the English, that is purely because it is a very practical and efficient weapon. Although I do not think they prefer it over all other weapons. Weapons like the sword single, the Falchion, the threshals, the Bill hook, were also weapons that the English were well known for.

    The reason I said that the Quarterstaff can thrust like a spear, and strike like a sword, was purely to explain it's versatility as a weapon, that it is a long range weapon, as well as a short range weapon.

    Do your forms ressemble those of the shaolin monks? 

    Our forms and techniques are based on the reality of fighting, forms, although practised, are done as in a loose play, so that although the basic moves are the same, the execution of the form is different every time, ( except when first learning ) an example would be, using different footwork every time, using vaults, flying in and out etc. but above all the principles of the art must be adhered to, to keep the art a functional fighting art, and the forms fighting forms. 

    What period of time was the quarterstaff mostly used? 

    The Quarterstaff has a long history, and can be found in literature stretching far back into history, and as recent as now. The weapon was very popular with the stage gladiators of the seventeen hundreds, george Silver, in his books Paradoxes of defense, and Brief instructions written in 1599 intimates that the Quarterstaff was a weapon par excellence. The boy scout movement used the Quarterstaff for many years. The Quarterstaff was always a travellers companion in days of old. So it is hard to say when the Quarterstaff as a weapon was at its most prolific, but we can be sure that a weapon as effective and as practical as the Quarterstaff was in general use everywhere, especially among the peasent classes.

    To learn more about Mr. Docherty and English quarterstaff, check out New Albion: English culture and heritage
    Last Updated on Monday, 22 March 2010 12:26  

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