Irish Stick Fighting
Students of Irish stick fighting, Bhataireacht, (or Bata as it tends to be referred to on this continent) follow a very similar progression to those studying Gráscar Lámh, Irish hand to hand fighting. We understand that, today, there are students who may be interested in studying one or other 'art' but not, necessarily, all.
We are happy to share with students based on their area of interest. We do not require students to study everything in order to learn and progress with us. We do believe that a student will be better at each of the Irish martial arts by studying the wider selection. This is, however, a serious and long term commitment.
Today, many people just want or need a level of training suitable for short term training to meet their personal goals or self protection (Féinchosaint) requirements. Sound, basic, Irish stick fighting skills can be acquired via short duration, high retention training. This can be accomplished through workshops, seminars or compressed weekly training sessions (6-12 weeks at 2 hours per week).
While recognizing each of these as options for various people, we will now give the 'normal' progression for the regular student of Irish Stick Fighting. While it is traditional to start with the walking stick, students also have the option of starting with the 'stick' of their choice. Thus those in law enforcement might choose to start with their baton, etc.
Those interested in learning Bhataireacht, especially those with a previous combatives background, could also learn the Irish Stick Fighting system from DVDs. We will produce such DVDs and offer them through this website as soon as they are available.
Beginners in Irish Stick Fighting usually start with the 'three foot'/36”-39” walking stick, work on their stance, balance and movement/footwork. Their focus is on one and two handed grips. Blocking and striking, using their stick and/or their body. They will perform drills to perfect their movements and to develop both the co-ordination and small muscle control essential to proper stick work.
Stances are easy. In Irish Stick Fighting there is only one! The same stance used in Gráscar Lámh except now we add a stick held in one hand or both. With the stick held in both hands the whole body positioning is identical to the stance in Gráscar Lámh. In essence, it is the boxer's or knife fighter's stance. The body is basically still square on. One foot stays slightly behind the other and maintaining true shoulder width apart.
The heels of both feet are kept slightly off the ground so that the fighter's weight is evenly distributed on the balls of his/her feet. Both knees are kept slightly bent with the body in a slight crouch. The chin is tucked into the chest and the tongue kept on the roof of the mouth. Both shoulders are kept loose and rolled slightly forward.
Both elbows are positioned about a fist's width out from the floating ribs with each aimed slightly in/towards each other. Do not exaggerate this or the hands will separate too much. Both hands are kept up and open if not on the stick. Both hands are positioned with the heels of the hands at chin level. The thumbs of both hands, if extended would just touch each other. All digits maintain loose contact with each other and the thumbs against the index fingers.
In Irish stick fighting, when the stick is placed in the hands it should be level to the ground and parallel to both the shoulders and the hips. With the hands closed on the stick there should be the width of the hand between both hands (remember if you stick your thumbs out they'll just touch each other).
The forearms are 'comfortably extended forward' to provide about a two thirds arm's reach from your hands to your head. (New students invariably want to bring their hands too close to their own face/body. Trust me, that will prove a self correcting error as you'll soon fix it when you keep getting trapped or hit, especially with your opponent's stick.)
Irish Stick Fighting students learn to hold and move the stick in one hand, both, and to alternate hands. Via static drills the various strikes and parries are taught, with an emphasis on proper footwork. Stick work in alternate hands will naturally differ from the ‘dominant’ to the ‘off’ hand.
This is expected and ‘allowed’. Unless you are truly ambidextrous, you could invest a lot of training time into working your off hand only to still have it considered weak. Instead, work on what each hand is ‘naturally’ good at.
In Irish Stick Fighting developing skillful and efficient movement is a lifelong study. Yet, the basic principles of tactical movement can be learned very quickly. In essence, it is a matter of maintaining your stance and balance. Do not allow your legs to cross or pass each other. Maintain the distance between your feet as you move.
When moving, first move the leg/foot closest to the direction you intend to travel. Do this simply by lifting it slightly and allowing gravity to start you in that direction. This can be done when shuffling or when exploding or lunging, in lateral movement or when executing turns or pivots. Your weight stays centered over your hips. Maintain your posture at all times.
When Irish stick fighting, most of the time you will concentrate on forward, aggressive movement. You will also learn to slip and bob your opponent's striking attempts. Movements are very similar to a boxer's but without any tendency to skip or bounce; both will get you swept.
Then we move to pairs pre-arranged drills and mirroring drills. For now, the primary targets are the hands, head, knees, elbows and abdominal areas of their opponent. Students work on:
"The Meeting" - First contact strikes or blocks
"The Rush" (entry) - Close the gap
"The Greeting" - First strike on body
"A Roll On" - Winding contact with stick or body
"A Hug" - Off balancing
"Shake Hands" - Disarm
"Talk to the man" - Close range striking
"Farewell" - Disengage/end the fight
For now, all are done as co-operative drills with an emphasis on engaging the man, not the stick. A real fight needs to be over in seconds. In Irish Stick Fighting, letting a fight stretch is considered show-boating or due to lack of skill. Letting a fight drag on accumulates injuries for both fighters. Focusing on the stick will cause most fights to be extended and result in unnecessary ‘fencing’. This is a tap and go art. His stick is only the door – knock and get in, the faster the better.
In Irish Stick Fighting, stick strikes include contact with any and all parts of the stick; head and ferrule end strikes and thrusts, striking and rolling pressure tactics with the body of the stick at and from all angles of the clock and striking to the rear. Any blocking is to be executed as a strike or a trap. Once inside, we will also strike as per our opportunities with any body part. At this level shin kicking, head butts and elbow strikes are emphasized.
While continuing to work on more detailed understanding and performance of their stances, balance and movement, Irish Stick Fighting students will now add more strikes, blocks and grips. They will begin to 'spar' in a simple three-step format. One student attacks, the other defends and counter attacks. The defender then pauses and becomes the attacker. They do this back and forth until they are both quick and strong in their basics.
Counter attacks now begin to make use of stick, arm and leg trapping and roll-ons. The intention here never becomes that of foregoing the sticks and getting into a grappling contest. Indeed the loss of the stick is considered the loss of the fight or a disgrace. We simply maintain a healthy respect for both the stick and the fighter.
In Irish stick fighting, a stick, in the right hands, is capable of crushing bones, including skulls, disrupting internal organs or severing arteries. We do not engage or we go immediately for the finish. “Having a discussion”/ fencing is a sure way to increase unnecessary injuries, possibly of a very severe nature. Trap, roll-on or strike at every opportunity with your stick and/or body. He will if you don’t!
Irish Stick Fighting drills are arranged to employ alternate single hand stick play as well as two handed stick work. This allows students to develop their own preferences while discovering the pros and cons of each style of stick work at varying ranges. Footwork remains ‘boxer style’. More emphasis is now placed on stance destructions and off-balancing tactics. Elongated, over-extended, or exaggerated stances lend themselves readily to stance destructions and off balancing tactics and are harder to recover when lost.
Targets now include pressure points, shins, knees, feet, head and body targets. Students now work on:
"A severe talkin' to" - A flurry of head-shots
"Talk to the wee man" - A groin shot
"Dancing a jig" - Kicking
"A big kiss" - Head-butt
"Turned on" - Worked up/upset/angry
"Turned off" - In a control to finish
"Windmill" - Disarm or off balance
"Airmail" - Long range striking
"Sendin' a letter" - Telegraphing
"Wavin’" - Raising a hand - quitting
"Fishin’" - Looking for an opening
"Baiting" - A set up (an opening he wants you to take)
"Sailing" - A no contest
Senior students, of Irish Stick Fighting, work on blending their striking and blocking, traps and controls, stick retention and disarms, throws, fighting from standing against a man on the ground; Fighting from the ground against a standing attacker; Ground fighting, Arm, leg and neck restraints; Understanding lethal and non-lethal options and applications. Students work on taking on the line and multiple attackers.
A great many empty hand tactics are even more effective with the added leverage of the stick. This includes joint locks, many throwing variations, neck restraints and rolling pressure tactics. Extreme caution and self constraint are necessary and must be amply demonstrated by a student before allowing them to affect such techniques with the use of a stick. Safety must come first.
For Irish stick fighting, competition happens on the street, not with your training partner while learning these applications. At this point students refer to the Gráscar Lámh syllabus for a list of options.
Irish Stick Fighting was developed for gang type fights and open brawls and is not the 'gentlemanly sport' of the English single-stick. Thus we use multiple attacker and line drills to help emphasize the need to deal with each opponent swiftly and purposefully while not allowing students to become overly focused on any one opponent. There is a fine line between focus and tunnel vision, these drills provide a safe way for students to experience the difference for themselves and prepare for the realities of the street as opposed to the relatively sterile environment of two fighters and a referee.
Remember also that a good many times we used stick grappling skills for subject control, interrogation and enforcement purposes when beating a subject with stick or hand simply would not get the desired results.
Many a man is not afraid of dying or of getting a good thumping; but subject the same man to being systematically taken apart and he’ll often give you what you want. (Brutal perhaps but it’s where these arts came from. Necessity mothered their development not theoretical concepts.)
Likewise with sentry removal, the sound of a blow would carry where swiftly applied stick assisted neck restraints or accurate ferrule thrusts would go unnoticed.
Targets now include specific targets on the head, neck and back as well as rolling applications. Students will now also understand and/or apply:
"A Ceilidh" - A big brawl
"The crack" - A new move (as in "What's the crack" - "What's new?")
"Long linin’" - Using a staff
"Fetchin’ a priest" - Carrying a short stick
"Walkin’" - Using standard walking sticks
"Hiking" - Using hiking sticks
"Pinnin’" - A knife fight
"Treadin’ water" - Unable to move forward
"Drownin’" - Losing - Being forced backwards
"The Dear Hug" - Neck restraints
Advanced Students/Assistant Instructors:
At this level of study of Irish Stick Fighting, students will have achieved a sound level of proficiency with their three foot walking stick (actual sizing is relative to the individual – the ‘norm’ is 39 inches long and one to one and a half inch diameter).
To 'size' a stick correctly for yourself you stand 'up straight', with the stick standing alongside your leg. Drop your arm loose and natural by your side. The top of the stick should be just below your elbow joint. The thickness of the stick should be all that you can comfortably handle. Too thin and it may break. Too thick and it becomes slow and "unwieldy" or tough to handle.
So, for myself at five feet ten inches and one hundred and eighty five pounds, I like a stick 39 inches and about one and a half inches thick for traditional Irish Stick Fighting. If it's not a Blackthorn then I prefer a longer stick that reaches almost to my armpit (4 feet).
The task now is to duplicate this skill using each of the following:
Smachtín Buta Luaidhe -Loaded Butt Short Stick. This is a 1'-2' "fisherman's priest" (Also called Smíste - Cudgel and referring to Smísteoireacht - Using a truncheon or police baton). Usually 18” – 24” with a 30” length of leather, nylon or silk rope attached. Readily concealable yet, in good hands, often empowered its' user to take out multiple targets at considerable speed. One is usually sufficient but two can be deadly efficient.
Bhata mór - Big Stick/Shillelagh a 4'-5' long solid "hiking" stick. These can also be more of a cudgel and up to two inches, or more, diameter at the tip with a very hefty root bulb at the head. Not much chance of concealing one of these but merely producing one would cause many a supposed fighter to suddenly develop dry mouth and remember something more demanding of his/their attentions, elsewhere. What they may lack in speed they make up for in sheer effect (if you can handle them).
Maide Ceathrún - 6'-9' boating pole/quarterstaff. These can be from two inches thick and are more often of relatively uniform diameter throughout their length. There never seems to be one of these around when you’re looking for it but training with them developed awesome speed, power and control for using smaller impact tools and any long stick could be improvised and used with reasonable effect.
Trodóireacht Dó Bhata - Two stick fighting with two short sticks or one short stick and one walking stick. The concept would seem to be similar to the sword and dagger but remember we’ll strike with any part of either stick and perform disarms or traps with one or both as per the opportunities presented. Our stances and movements remain, as always, boxer style.
Improvised impact tools; from newspapers and books to whatever else you can pick up and strike someone with. Do not forget environmental possibilities(i.e. what around you can you drive your opponent against?)
As Irish Stick Fighting students gain proficiency and confidence with various impact tools (sticks) they are encouraged to practice their three step sparring and free sparring against different types and sizes of sticks. This develops an understanding of the strengths and limitations of each, relative to each other.
Irish Stick Fighting instructors free spar with various 'mismatched' weapons to attain fluency with each against the others. They will also now enter the world of Scianóireacht - Knife Arts and add common implements such as:
Scianóireacht - Knife Arts or blade combatives, starting with 3-4 inch fixed blade knives. Then adding both smaller and larger fixed blades and then folding blade knives.
Tuadóireacht - Axe fighting, both single and two handed. Axes are often handy in boat yards or in the fields.
Hammers - Both single and double handed.
Also spades, garden forks, pitchforks and any other edged, available tool.
The goal of both Irish stick fighting and blade combatives being to adapt most objects into improvised weapons and avail oneself of any and all available weapons. Understanding the use of each weapon is a huge advantage in the event you have to defend against it. Remember that the purpose of any tool is to assist you to perform the job more efficiently. You ought still to be able to do the job without the tool.
Celtic Combative Systems