15 Best Martial Arts with Sticks

Martial Arts with Sticks

Sticks are one of the most ancient and simply designed martial arts weapons. But their simplicity doesn’t mean that they are outdated. What they lack in engineering and complexity is more than made up for in their versatility and efficiency.

From long herding staffs to short, thick cudgels, sticks used in martial arts come in every shape and size. That’s why I wanted to celebrate the best martial arts that use sticks as a core part of their teachings. Let’s take a look!

15 Best Martial Arts with Sticks

1. Eskrima

Eskrima, also known as Arnis or Kali, is a martial art from the Philippines renowned for its stick fighting techniques. Eskrima also teaches students how to use various traditional and modern improvised weapons, but the rattan baston stick remains the most common and popular weapon in this martial art.

There are few written records regarding the origin of eskrima. However, it is believed to have incorporated aspects from other martial arts over the years through interaction with other cultures via trade routes and colonialism. These outside influences blended with indigenous fighting techniques over the centuries, resulting in a unique and highly efficient martial art.

Modern eskrima is a popular option for learning self-defense techniques and is a dynamic and exciting sport. Drills and sparring are used in Eskrima training, which allows students to practice and perfect techniques and commit them to muscle memory for use in high-stress situations.

When students have gained weapons proficiency, eskrima teaches other fighting techniques, including empty-handed and grappling techniques, making it an efficient and practical self-defense martial art.

2. Gatka

Gatka is a martial art from the Punjab region of India dating back to the 15th century that uses sticks instead of traditional swords. Gatka has significant cultural importance to the Sikh and other related people of the region and is divided into two distinct styles, one traditional and the other a sport form (Khed).

The traditional form of Gatka is popular during festivals, religious processions, and other special occasions. Khed uses simplified techniques to make it a fun and safe competitive sport. The sticks used in Gatka were originally a substitute for swords, so techniques taught by this martial art resemble sword fighting.

The sticks are typically paired with a small shield and often used in slashing motions. The traditional form of Gatka uses twirling motions and impressive flying leaps. The sport form resembles other sword-fighting martial arts, such as fencing or Kendo, where rules dictate valid strikes on appropriate targets to score points.

3. Canne de Combat

Canne de Combat is a French martial art from the 19th century that taught students how to fight with a cane. Canes were a common accessory for the French upper class of the time, and with training, they could be used as effective weapons for self-defense. Today, Canne de Combat is practiced as a staff combat sport similar to fencing.

In modern Canne de Combat, competitors wear padded armor and fencing helmets. Points are scored by striking opponents with the cane, but thrusts are prohibited. The canes used in modern competitions are made of thin chestnut sticks, but traditional canes could be made out of various woods and occasionally include a weighted tip to increase the strength of strikes.

4. Kung Fu

Kung Fu is an umbrella term encompassing various Chinese martial arts styles, many of which incorporate different stick fighting styles. The staff also called the gun or bang in Chinese, which is considered one of the most important kung fu weapons.

In some traditions, it is called “The Grandfather of all Weapons” and is considered one of the four main weapons, along with the straight sword, spear, and saber.

The exact form of staff techniques in Kung Fu varies from style to style. Some use wide, sweeping movements and spins, such as Shaolin Kung Fu. Others keep movements shorter and tighter for efficient self-defense, such as Jeet Kune Do. There is even a staff-specific subset of Wushu called Gunshu, which teaches 32 different staff forms.

5. Krabi Krabong

Krabi Krabong is a martial art from Thailand whose name translates to “sword and cudgel.” Also one of the best martial arts with swords, this weapons-based martial art teaches students how to use various traditional weapons and empty-handed strikes, throws, and joint locks. Krabi Krabong is popular in Thailand as a form of self-defense and a cultural treasure celebrated at festivals and special occasions.

The sticks used in this martial art are called krabong and phlong. The krabong typically measures from 4-6 feet depending on the user’s height and is often used singly with a shield or dual-wielded.

The phlong is for long stick martial arts and is much longer than the krabong and is usually used in a two-handed style. The phlong is a popular weapon to use during traditional Brahma dances.

6. Donga

Donga, also known as Nguni stick-fighting, is a stick-based martial art and cultural tradition practiced by the Nguni people of South Africa. Donga is traditionally practiced only by men, and it is incorporated into ceremonies, competitions, and a form of self-defense.

Three different kinds of sticks are used in Donga. The induku is a smooth stick around 3 feet in length designed for powerful strikes. The ubhoko measures around 6 feet in length and specializes in defensive techniques.

The umsila is a short stick typically incorporated into a small shield used during Donga competitions. Learning the effective use of these three kinds of sticks gives practitioners great self-defense skills and prepares them for cultural ceremonies and coming-of-age milestones.

7. Okinawan Kobudō

Okinawan Kobudō is an eclectic weapons-based martial art originating in southern Japan. Kobudō incorporates many different improvised weapons into its fighting style, originating from Okinawan peasants learning to defend themselves with everyday tools when forbidden from carrying weapons. Boat oars, farming tools, and several stick weapons are all taught in Kobudō.

Kobudō teaches the use of several different stick weapons. The bō staff is the most famous stick used in martial arts and a popular Kobudō weapon that has even spread to other Asian martial arts. The bō measures around 6 feet long and may have originated as a way to balance and transport buckets.

Kobudō also teaches the use of the hanbō, a 3-foot staff short enough to aid in joint locks, and the tanbō, a short stick used in pairs. Kobudō also teaches using many other stick-like weapons, such as wooden tonfa mill handles and boat oars, making it a versatile martial art to study.

8. Silat

Silat is a system of deadly martial arts that includes many smaller indigenous martial arts practiced in Southeast Asia, including styles from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other nearby countries.

Because it incorporates many smaller martial arts into one collective system, many distinct styles are practiced in Silat, including open-handed and weapons training. In Silat, stick fighting is used primarily by advanced students because of the skill and training it takes to use it effectively against the many other deadly weapons used in this martial art.

In Silat training, sticks for fighting are called Tongkat, which translates to “walking stick.” A traditional tongkat measures around 3 feet and has a curved handle similar in shape to a shepherd’s hook, which can be used to disarm opponents.

A smaller version, called tongkat kecil, is wielded in pairs in a style similar to eskrima. These weapons are incorporated into forms that include tripping or grappling opponents, making it a useful martial art to study for self-defense.

9. Silambam

Silambam is one of the best martial arts with staff and hails from southern India. Written references to Silambam date back to at least the 4th century BC and continued uninterrupted until the British banned it during their colonial rule of India. Today, Silambam is overseen by the World Silambam Federation, which promotes and teaches this important part of the region’s cultural heritage.

This martial art’s main focus (and namesake) is a staff made of bamboo or teak, also called a silambam. In addition to the silambam staff, training often includes various regional weapons, including the maru (a dagger made from blackbuck horns) and curved vaal swords.

10. Banot

Another great martial art using sticks is that of Banot. Also called Juego del Palo, it originates in the Canary Islands, dating back to at least the 15th century. Banot was first mentioned in written literature as a form of ritual combat similar to fencing practiced by the indigenous Guanches people of the Canary Islands.

This martial art experienced a resurgence in the 20th century as part of an effort to preserve and promote the culture of the Canary Islands, and it remains a popular local sport there to this day.

Many different styles of Banot are practiced today, with different styles originating on different islands or passed down through family lineages. The rules vary by style, but all varieties involve back-and-forth striking and blocking with sticks. Three different stick sizes are used in Banot: the small palo chico, the medium-sized palo medio, and the long palo grande.

11. Angampora

Angampora is a martial art from Sri Lanka that incorporates hand-to-hand fighting, grappling, and traditional weapons, including sticks. A unique feature of this rare martial art is using pressure points to injure or paralyze opponents.

The practice of Angampora was almost lost to history during British colonial rule of Sri Lanka when the practice was banned, and practitioners were crippled if British soldiers caught them.

Underground practitioners reemerged in the mid-20th century when British rule over the region ended. Angampora has been protected and promoted since as a part of the country’s history and cultural identity.

Both long and short sticks are included in the 21 main weapons taught in Angampora. They are typically made out of local cane plants. Each size has its own special footwork and striking techniques.

12. Tahtib

Tahtib is a traditional Egyptian stick-fighting martial art and folk dance that dates back at least 4,000 years. The full name of this martial art is Fan A’nazaha Wa-Tahtib, which translates to “The Art of Being Straight and Honest Through The Use of A Stick.” Modern Tahtib is split into two styles: a dance version performed with music and a competitive combat version.

The sticks used in Tahib measure around 4 feet in length and go by several regional names, including asa and nabboot. In competitive Tahtib, rounds are won by scoring either a single strike to the head or several strikes to the body. Techniques in Tahtib emphasize head strikes and defensive techniques due to the vulnerability of the head.

13. Bataireacht

Bataireacht is a form of stick-fighting originating in Ireland. The practice was common as a form of self-defense and for duels between nobles but became associated with gang violence in the 18th and 19th centuries.

By the 20th century, it had almost completely faded from Irish culture. Today, the practice has been revived by Historical European Martial Arts practitioners and people looking for connections to historical Irish culture and traditions.

Bataireacht is practiced using a martial arts stick weapon called the shillelagh, a knobby walking stick typically made from blackwood trees. The shillelagh features a handle, a shiny dark appearance after curing, was sometimes fitted with a lead weight at the tip, and has deep ties to Irish folklore and culture.

When used for fighting using Bataireacht techniques, the shillelagh is gripped in the lower center of the stick rather than by the handle, making blocking easier and allowing the increased mass of the handle to be used for strikes.

14. Jogo do Pau

Jogo do Pau is one of the staff fighting styles from Spain and Portugal that uses sticks for self-defense. Historically, it was also used in duels to resolve disputes and protect family honor. Staffs were common in the area regionally as everyday tools for herding cattle and as walking sticks, making them a readily available weapon against robbers or wild animals.

Jogo do Pau began to decline in the early 20th century as people moved from rural areas to urban centers. It was revived in the 1970s by Pedro Ferreira and Nuno Curvello Russo, who studied and promoted it as a modern martial art and regional sport.

Modern Jogo do Pau training involves three separate training techniques, sarilhos, formas, and séries, all using a long wooden staff approximately 6 feet long. Sarilhos is practicing set forms individually, similar to kata in other martial arts.

Formas are more complicated routines that switch between attack and defense and are practiced in groups. Séries practices the techniques between two people, usually a teacher and a student. Students still seek out this martial art to learn self-defense, connect to past cultures, and self-development.

15. Mau Rākau

Mau Rākau is a martial art from New Zealand that teaches the use of traditional Māori weapons. The introduction of firearms to New Zealand caused interest in Mau Rākau to decline until the 1980s when interest in traditional Māori customs began to grow again.

Interest in Mau Rākau has grown steadily in New Zealand in recent decades as a way for people to take pride in the cultural traditions of their ancestors and pass them on to future generations.

The most popular weapon taught in Mau Rākau is the taiaha. This is one of many types of staffs and is made from either wood or whale bones. While the taiaha resembles a spear, the techniques used to fight with it are closer to quarterstaff techniques than to traditional spear fighting.

The head of the taiaha is often decorated with elaborate carvings or colorful feathers, and traditionally, they were passed down through families for generations as heirlooms. In addition to the taiaha, Mau Rākau teaches other Māori stick weapons, such as the short and thick patu club or the long pouwhenua club.

Best Martial Arts with Sticks – FAQs

What is martial arts with a stick called?

Similar questions I see are “what is the art of fighting with a stick?” and “what is the fighting sport with sticks?”. As you’ll have worked out by now, there is much more than just one martial art that uses sticks as part of its teaching. However, the most famous one is most likely eskrima, AKA kali and arnis.

How do you use a stick in a fight?

It completely depends on what you’ve been taught and the type of stick you are using. Many martial arts use it similarly to a sword, whereas others focus more on thrusting motions. Each martial art will teach you to use a stick in different ways.

How effective is a stick in a fight?

If you’re fighting an untrained opponent, then it would be extremely effective if you’ve had martial arts training. I’d back a skilled stick fighter against any opponent, with the only exception being if they had a ranged weapon.

Where do you hit with a stick?

When you become trained in a stick-based martial art, you’ll have many options on where you can hit your opponent. The crown of the head is often a devastating spot to hit, but the knees and hips are also vulnerable. Another great tactic is to target areas on the arms, such as the wrists and elbows, which can quickly incapacitate an opponent if they’re holding a weapon. 

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Span Chen
Span Chen
I have been practicing karate for more than 6 years, and now at the sixth level (green belt) of the Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karatedo Kugekai. Though I haven’t earned my Black Belt yet, I am deeply passionate about my training.