How to disturb a man’s philosophy: Instruction in singlestick

This article was originally published in the Sportsman’s Magazine, September 6, 1845. It uses the same model as Donald Walker’s Defensive exercises, published 5 years earlier, but with some differences.


A game of singlestick at Shepton Mallet. Note the protective sleeves worn by both fighters


In the play of singlestick the sticks used are somewhat heavier and stouter than in broadsword exercises, and the players usually strip to the shirt. In some parts of the country, Wilts, Berks and Somerset, paddings are used to save the arms, particularly the point of the elbow; but this is not usual in London.


The left hand grasps a handkerchief or band which is passed round under the thigh; the elbow is elevated and thrown forward to protect the head. Our best players stand with the right foot forward, but some very difficult men to get at prefer the left. The right arm is held nearly straight, the hand above the level of the shoulder, and opposite the forehead; some good players keep it considerably higher, the stick slanting towards the left side.

This is undoubtedly the best and most defensive position, as the head is thoroughly protected. This is the principal point of attack, as first blood from it, or the neck, above the level of the jaw, is decisive of a game.

Now before you can cleverly get the head of your adversary, it is clear he must be got somehow or other out of this position. The ordinary method is by attacking him under the arm, on the end of his elbow, or upon the ribs. Some players prefer waiting until they are attacked, and then try to strike in upon the antagonist’s head before he can recover his guard.

The tyro must be careful always to strike by means of the wrist, the great science of the play being shown in making the blows as quickly as possible, and getting back to the first position before your competitor can drop in upon it.

The simplest and most usual blow at the head is here represented (fig.2.). The right hand is suddenly reversed by a twist of the wrist, the outer edge of the hand (which in the first position, was uppermost), is now brought underneath by a half turn of the wrist, the point of the stick describing a half circle round the head.
To foil this kind intent raise the hand a few inches diagonally (fig.2.) To return the compliment the movement precisely resembles the attack. Striking at the ribs or “whipping” as it is provincially termed, is generally adopted with a view of fatiguing and wearing out the adversary, and of inducing him to bring down his hand, in such a way as to expose his head. The right is the only side attacked, the ribs on that side of the corpus alone suffering the onslaught. The majority of players guard against this unpleasant visitation by throwing the stick down and outward, but we have seen many of the best players, Stone, (of Somerset), Stacey, Davis, and especially Harlott, jun., of Berks, entirely despise the guard, and at once follow up an attempt at whipping by going straight in at the head. At the Windsor Revel on Monday last, (August 18th), in a set-to of great skill, (and some ill-temper) young Harlott stole a march on the old standing champion Stone of Somerset, and got at his head for the first time; the veteran thus losing first prize and his temper together.

The cut (fig.3.) represents the blow at the ribs and its guard; and figure 4, the counter hit on the nob (sic).

What is called “striking over” is done when through fatigue, or by oversight, the adversary suffers his hand to sink below the level of his head. This blow is made by sharply and suddenly bringing the stick about a quarter turn, so as to pass it close over your opponent’s hand; but be careful not to twist the wrist too much. It is best managed when the stick, having reached the level of the player’s head, moves altogether horizontally, and then makes a slanting drop from left to right. It is a complicated movement but an effective one, and the arm moves considerably. The step for this is raising the hand suddenly, a little inclining to the left; and an instant return may be effected by striking smartly at the side of the face, a retort which is by no means easy for one to parry who had thus laid himself open.



The right elbow and fore-arm are also very favourite points of visitation. A smart rap on the inner side of the elbow, just in the cavity formed between the joint bones, is marvelously unpleasant, as most persons have experienced. This is owing to the deadening of the ulnar nerve, which produces a tingling numbness in the third and little fingers. This not only disturbs a man’s philosophy, but often prevents, however great a stoic he may be in despising mere pain, the player from feeling his stick; hence the annoying “triangulation” is followed by the more serious evil of a cracked crown.

We here lay down our pen, trusting that in this brief sketch we have made singlestick tolerably plain to the humblest capacities. Further observations would be superfluous when we come to treat upon fencing and the broadsword, which we also propose, by the sporting public’s favour, to describe and illustrate in our columns.

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