QUARTER-STAFF, a staff of wood from 6 to 9 ft. in length, used as a means of attack and defence; originally no doubt it was the cudgel or sapling with which many heroes are described by early writers as being armed. The quarter-staff attained great popularity in England in the middle ages. It was usually made of oak, the ends often shod with iron, and it was held with both hands, the right hand grasping it one quarter of the distance from the lower end (whence the name) and the left at about the middle.
Egerton Castle (Schools and Masters of Fence) says that the staff was the “foil,” or practice-substitute for the long sword, or two-hander. In earlier times it may also have been used as a practice Weapon for the spear and bill. In the prints illustrative of the life of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (1382–1459), reproduced in Joseph Strutt’s Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits, &c. of the Inhabitants of England, may be seen a combat between two knights after they have splintered their lances and dismounted, in which both are fighting with pointed staves about as long as a quarter-staff and held in the same manner. In the 17th century the staff was still popular in England.
At the present time the quarter-staff is used to a limited extent in military circles as a school for bayonet play. It is somewhat lighter than the old weapon, being usually made of bamboo and about 8 ft. long. Sabre-masks, gloves, padded jackets and shin-guards are worn. Another kind of staff, called by Captain A. Hutton (Cold Steel) the Great Stick, about 5 ft. long and made of stout rattan, is used in the French and Italian armies in general gymnastic exercises and as a school for bayonet play. The Italian method rather resembles that of the old two-handed sword, while the French approaches more closely to English quarter-staff play.
See Quarter-Staff, by T. A. McCarthy (London, 1883); Broadsword and Singlestick, by R. G. Allanson-Winn and C. Phillips-Wolley (London, 1898).