Quarterstaffs in use, from Old English Sports, Pastimes and Customs, published 1891
Quarterstaffs in use, from Old English Sports, Pastimes and Customs, published 1891

A quarterstaff is a medieval English variant of the staff weapon, consisting of a long shaft of hardwood, sometimes with metal-reinforced tips. The name is frequently used incorrectly for the fighting staves of other cultures, such as the Japanese bo, Chinese gùn, or French bâton.


The etymology of the weapon's name is uncertain. Any connection to a unit of length called a staff is almost certainly spurious.

One popular theory is that it comes from the way the staff is held: one hand at the center of the staff, and one hand halfway between the center and one end. However, this is probably a folk etymology, as this grip is not actually prescribed in early sources. Another theory links the term to the manner in which the wood is split from the tree.

Because it can be employed as a less-than-lethal weapon, the name may also refer to the act of giving quarter (showing mercy, pity, or pardon to a defeated enemy).


The quarterstaff may be made from many kinds of wood, commonly ash, oak, hazel, or hawthorn. It may have metal spikes or caps at one or both ends; these are depicted or referred to in some Elizabethan and Jacobean sources. The length of the staff varies, typically ranging from 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 metres); in addition, long staves of 12 to as much as 18 feet (3.6 to 5.4 metres) were employed in Early Modern times. The weapon seems to have become shorter and lighter later in its history, though nine-foot staves were still sometimes employed in Victorian England. In this period, the staff was often made from bamboo for safety, since it was mostly used for sport (though self-defence use continued to some extent); quarterstaff fencers wore protective body armour derived from other sports including sabre fencing, boxing and cricket.

The quarterstaff is effectively a long two-handed club, although its weight distribution is generally even throughout its entire length (some forms did have weighted tips, however). It was used both to deliver crushing blows, and to thrust like a spear. The art of using the staff was closely related to that of other polearms, and it was often employed as a training weapon for the latter. Moves include many different forms of blocks, thrusts, strikes, and sweeps.


The staff being a very simple weapon to manufacture, it has a long history of use, and a wide cultural dispersion. The staff is a traditional weapon of many Asian martial arts. The quarterstaff proper was historically a common weapon in England, where it features in the Robin Hood legend as the favorite weapon of Little John. There are also many tools that can easily be used as or quickly converted to a staff.

In popular culture

See also Bo in popular culture.

See also


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