Quarterstaff, single stick and fencing

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Quarterstaff and Singlestick were both established training in Martial Arts in 1908.  Both were already falling from popularity being dated training programmes. Singlestick was both exercise and specifically practice to use a cutlass. Quarterstaff, whilst universal, was seen as a specifically English form of self defence.

  • Single stick      Or cudgels – a wooden rod with a basket hilt around 36 inches long
  • Quarter staff   Traditional European pole weapon, a shaft of hardwood from 6’ – 9’

However, the equipment was relatively cheap; it sat alongside boxing and wrestling as requiring resolution to take (non fatal) blows; the skill base to teach the moves was established; it was more accessible than the new Ju-Jitsu. 

The last reference in Cambridge is in 1957, and Brown’s catalogue of Books for Boy Scouts offers wall charts for both Singlestick and Quarterstaff certainly up to WW2; although they did tend to carry stock unchanged for many years.

Neither is directly excluded from the latest badge.

Fencing required specialised equipment and training. It is likely that these were not always readily available, despite the later achievements of C L de Beaumont who was Scout, SM and DSM in the District, and the references to fencing are infrequent. There is no reference to C L de Beaumont and fencing within Scouting although he did donate a Boxing Trophy.

Like all Martial Arts the amount of practice required to become proficient was significantly greater than was available in a weekly Scout meeting. It is perhaps relevant that the reference below are generally to troops with their own headquarters or with additional space hired from the District HQ at Grafton Street.

The references to fencing at the 13th Cambridge during WW2 are single line or single word items in the evenings events. The scribe either did not have the terminology or the interest to add more. Fencing training was held on a separate night.

A caption in a 5th Cambridge album labels Singlestick as ‘fencing’. This was clearly not always the case.


A report of a freestyle quarterstick demonstration from 1st Hunts (Hartford) in the 1940’s or 50’s ( a non specific entry in reminiscences) describes substantial wicker helmet and boxing gloves but no leg or side protection. His opponent was badly bruised about the legs and had three days off school. The boys were very scathing of the 1938 Errol Flynn Robin Hood scene on the bridge. The moves were significantly more structured and skilled than shown in the movie.

Master at Arms Badge                     

1919                To obtain the Master at Arms proficiency badge a Scout must:- obtain proficiency in two of the following  Quarter-staff, Single-stick, Boxing, Ju-Jitsu or Wrestling.

1932 13th Cambridge started quarterstaff work alongside tumbling and boxing. A poem in the Troop magazine 1932 gives the lines

If you take up quarter staff, Listen to this hint, If you aint quick to miss that stick Your head will get a dint

1938                Attain proficiency in two of the following subjects:- Single-stick, quarter-staff, fencing, boxing, ju-jitsu, gymnastics, and wrestling.

2018                Attend regular training sessions in a relevant activity like fencing, shooting or archery.     (Air Rifle or Air Pistol)

Later additions to the Master at Arms badge moved away from direct physical contact.

  • Fencing                        A later addition, clearly of martial origin
  • Gymnastics                 A version of ‘tumbling’, long lauded as good training
  • Marksmanship          The separate badge ended in 1967
  • Martial arts                A separate badge from 1991
  • Archery                       Never a separate badge

Cambridge Archives

1911                5th Cambridge Concert display of Boxing, quarterstaff and singlestick

1914 5th Cambridge report both Boxing and Fencing classes

1920                Singlestick displays were seen at the Mediaeval Fayre.

C T Wood’s album and elsewhere Mediaeval Fayre 1920

About the same time fencing played a regular part in displays.

1935 23rd Rovers displaying ‘Fencing’ at District display (A Mixed Bag)

1941                Room at HQ hired to 11th and 13th for fencing between the 11th and 13th Troops                 District Minutes

1944                13th had a fencing match (foils) against Pye Radio and won

13th troop log 1944

1945                Thanks to A W J Edwards (13th) especially as fencing instructor

1946                12th offered fencing display for visit of chief scout

1948                40th Anniversary regatta 60th Ju Ju and ball games  (? Ju Jitsu?)

60th have a photograph of a Singlestick display around this era

1957 12th Cambridge purchased Singlestick equipment for £1/10/0

JWR Archivist Jan 2019