Understanding and Employing Man's Oldest Weapon - ITS Tactical

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Understanding and Employing Man’s Oldest Weapon

By George Matheis

Not long after early men hit each other with fists, they picked up the first weapon, a stick.

Typically when I talk about weapon use, it takes the logical progressing of selection, carry, deployment and use. For early man, the idea of selecting the perfect stick was more simplified than it is these days. They had the good fortune of not being subjected to tactical marketing.

I was lucky enough, at least in my opinion, to actually hit people with sticks early in my Law Enforcement career and see what worked and what didn’t. During my career, I carried the Koga Stick, PR-24, and several different size ASPS. Each stick had its pros and cons, mostly due to carry issues. I’ve continued to be a fan of the straight stick, a tool that in my honest opinion continues to be misunderstood, underutilized, and overlooked.

Selection and Carry

As you read this, please understand that it’s written from my point of view. I’m now retired from law enforcement and this information is for use by anyone, especially the citizen.

My favorite stick is your average plain jane 26 inch Rattan Escrima Stick, which are inexpensive, lightweight and durable. Many people like heavy sticks, not because of actual use, but for the simple reason that they just like them. The rattan is light and responsive and that fits into how I use them. I don’t count on one big strike to stop the action of an attacker, but rather a succession of strikes at specific targets based on human anatomy.

When it comes to carry, we obviously can’t walk around with a stick in our hand…or can we?   When my wife and I go for a walk around the neighborhood, I carry a stick. Where I live, this is more for protection from four legged threats than the two legged variety. In every vehicle I ride in, there is a stick next to both the driver and passenger seats. A stick also sits just inside both doors to my home. You can probably see where I am going with this.


Image by Pho-Tac

Deploying the stick is pretty straight forward, you simply pick it up. If you give most people a stick and tell them to hold it so that they can hit somebody with it, they will usually hold it up over their head. This position attracts a lot of attention, appears threatening and limits your strikes to the front. Our ready position is with the stick at our side. Because of appearance, many people will totally dismiss this as a threat.

This position allows for a powerful backhand strike that allows you to strike a wide range of targets from your center line to your far right, as if you are confronted by more than one attacker.

Using Combative Anatomy, we attack the target like a machine, first doing damage to systems that stop the threat fast, not kill them eventually. With the stick, you focus on the Central Nervous System (comprised of the brain and spine) and the Structural System (comprised of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.)  For our purposes, we’re going to narrow it down even more to the head, clavicle, elbows, knees, wrists, hands and the ball of the ankle. The idea is to combat failure with redundancy by attacking these targets in rapid succession.


Image by Pho-Tac

Any strike to the face/head will cause thought pattern interruption. A faint to the groin will cause your attacker to bend forward and bring their hands down to block; this opens the door to a shot under the jaw or side of the head. The anatomical response to this will be their hands coming up to their face; this opens the door to a strike on the side of the knee, or ball of the ankle. This simple combination is likely to discontinue the threat.

Because of reach, the stick excels at defending against a knife. I found this out the hard way after a Taser failure during a SWAT call out. The woman with the knife was at a disadvantaged position (sitting in a closet). When the Taser failed to deploy, I dropped and transitioned to my ASP. Two strikes to her wrist caused her to drop the knife and saved her life.

Sadly, what is taught to most police in reference to stick work is a failure. That is why you have officers striking people over and over again. Police are taught to target large muscle groups. As a rule, edged weapons seek flesh, impact weapons seek bone. Changing this rule for liability purposes, does not change the fact that muscle strikes fail.


For the citizen, it’s important to understand that strikes to the areas previously mentioned are likely to save your life, no matter what stick you are using.

So in closing, I urge you to get yourself a friend and a couple of sticks and have some fun. You can make inexpensive trainers by sliding pipe insulation over the stick and wrapping it in a few spots with tape. By the way, everything discussed here can be done with the open hand using the same principles.


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  • Pepper13

    Great article about an often overlooked weapon, I have trained in Escrima, Arnis and other Filipino stick fighting styles. The great advantage to knowing your way around stick fighting techniques is the fact that pretty much no matter where you are you can find one, be it a car antenna, a sign post or a chair leg. making it another way to be prepared for any situation. Thanks George!

  • Kevin Zuniga

    Good caveat, “By the way, everything discussed here can be done with the open hand using the same principles.”

    Great read and highlights a place where a lot of us fall short. I’ve had my primary go down and had to make quick use of field expedient items, but it was purely fight or flight; had I trained on some simpler items I could have been much more at ease with the circumstances.

    (Long story short someone else intervened and saved my ass.)

  • Jackel

    Great article! Your point about using the same techniques with open hands is well taken. One of the underlying principles of karate that is often not taught until students are well past beginner level is that we study kata to understand how best to attack our opponents joints, pressure points and other vulnerable areas in order to disable the attacker and stop fights quickly. Having access to a stick certainly makes that job easier and safer!

  • Madnet

    Great article. I received my intial baton training from Don Koga and still carry my “Koga” issued baton to this day………23 years later. I’m a firm believer in the straight baton and have seen many PR-24 users revert back to straight stick mentality in use of force situations. It comes back to “train like you fight, fight like you train”!!!

  • thanks for the great article. I will be teaching my daughters the virtues of sticks, for certain.

    I’ve been a student of what is essentially a stick-fighting art (much as we dont like to think of it that way, kendo is just a -representation- of sword fighting) for some time. I’ve also had to good fortune to watch considerable amounts of jodo and train briefly with some bujinkan people here in Melbourne. There is so much to be said for the simplicity, and everyday nature of the common stick.

    So much time in human history has been given to working out what works, what doesn’t, what hurts and what stops people, its always grand to see people coming back to the simple stick. I prefer a bokken in my hand, when it comes to whacking-time, ( as Maddnet says above ““train like you fight, fight like you train”!!!”) but am just as happy to apply that to pen, ruler, chair leg, broom-stick, pool que or what have you.

    My father, who was a VietNam vet, was always very disparaging of my kendo, as it wasn’t “real” as i’d never have a sword on hand in an alley to protect myself, but I would suggest that its the mind that makes the man, not what is carried in the hand.

    • Tackman

      As a teacher of iaijutsu and a past student of Kendo, I can say that Kendo is a sport and nothing more. It does not prepare you for the practical use of the sword.

      I can suggest since you live in Melbourne is too look up Komei Juku iaijutsu and see how use a sword in a practical manner that been taught for almost 500 years.

      That being said, I teach that the sword is an extension of your body; sword techniques can be applied to short swords, knives, sticks and all the way down to the empty hand.

    • Chris

      >I will be teaching my daughters the virtues of sticks, for certain.

      Why don’t you take a seat over there…

  • D. Hide

    Underestimated indeed, but that may be one of the benefits!

    Ever since I started taking self-defense seriously, my first armament was the staff, and then the stick (after some unarmed practice). I now carry a few knives and a firearm, and I allocate them appropriately, but a 26″ ASP baton (really 25″) is fully integrated into my system. I particularly like it for its compactness, reach, and materials. It is on the heavy side, but I still carry it every day in a manner where it is immediately accessible.

    I’m about as good with the staff, too (which is to say, needs more practice). A sort of “walking stick” doesn’t really fit into my style (I’m a young guy, semi-urban locale). I would still like something of that sort on me, though. Does anyone have any suggestions? I could put it in a vehicle, and that works, but something more on my person would be nice. Any help is appreciated!


    • Otter

      I recently bought an Irish fighting stick – a shillelagh, direct from a craftsman in Shillelagh, Ireland. They’re made from Blackthorn because they have the highest lightness to hardness ratio of all wood. This makes them light, but this beast doesn’t bounce off like rattan, it goes through. With the fighting sticks they also put lead in the head of it to cause extra destruction. They also make clubs, cudgels, staffs and walking sticks. You can find it at http://misticshillelagh.tripod.com/index.html .

  • Cool article George.

    In addition to the escrima stick, a 4C maglite works wonderfully for this application, and has the advantage of being perfectly legal, and genuinely useful, especially with the drop in LED upgrade. It weighs a bit less than a pound, so its perfectly comfortable for swinging around, but is made of very tough machined aluminum. They can be had for around $2o shipped from Amazon, and best of all they fit comfortably in a backpack or briefcase.

  • Thanks guys, glad you enjoyed the article. I was also trained in Koga while attending the Baltimore City Police Academy, and obviously remain a straight stick fan. The #1 thing the ASP has going for it is that it doesn’t get left behind in the car when you jump out. I also used it closed a lot.

    I plan to write a follow up (Part II) to this article showing what else can be done with the stick besides striking which is just so offensive:)- George

  • MHinGA

    This was an excellent introductory article.

  • I like the article I just think it is important to realize that in some states and/or cities, having a ‘club’ as a weapon is illegal.

  • I have carried a PR-24 and Autolock on duty and will always carry a stick. It is a versatile tool. I have studied Escrima and think baton skills are necessary for all officers. I ding half Filipino, I may be biased.


  • I think that is important to have the mindset that sticks are everywhere and could save your life. Break down pool cues, umbrellas, rolled up newspaper with rubber bands around it.

    Pretty much anything you pick up and hit/stab/cut somebody would be construed as a deadly weapon by the court, most likely as a lesser included charge.

    I am not suggesting that anyone carry anything illegal, what I am advocating is seeing anything, and everything as a potential weapon, purpose driven or otherwise.- George

  • BTJ Non-Master

    Outstanding article. The system of self defense I study uses Escrima and Arnis as 2 of the systems. In fact, the man that developed the system I study, studied under Dan Inosanto. Sticks are a fantastic weapon, but as you mention in your article, I think the most important part of sticks is understanding that the techniques you learn with a stick in your hand can be as effectively utilized without the stick. We also practice Siniwali with the Escrima sticks. Great tool for developing peripheral vision.

  • Nick

    “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far” – Theodore Roosevelt

  • MJ

    Great article. I am new to this forum, and I have a question about using a stick or club such as described above. When I was a teen I had a sawed off pool cue with a loop of rope for a wrist strap. Thoughts on having a wrist loop? Thanks!

  • Ray Longford

    Good article! i would also like to point out a very overlooked natural weapon, that is the cane. While i know this might seem strange, like an escrima stick the cane can be effectively wielded and used to strike an opponent. The dojo i trained at briefly before responsibilities took all my time taught ways to use the cane both with single handedly and with two hands. Also no one can really say anything about you walking around with one either, which makes its a good low key implement to carry around.

  • AL Linwood

    Excellent article.

  • g-money

    As a lifelong student of self defense, I am usually disappointed at the crap people spew. This article does NOT fall into that category. This was brilliant. Short and sweet, but brilliant…

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