SINGLE-STICK, a slender, round stick of ash about 34 in. long and thicker at one end than the other, used as a weapon of attack and defence, the thicker end being thrust through a cup-shaped hilt of basket-work to protect the hand. The original form of the single-stick was the " waster, " which appeared in the 16th century and was merely a wooden sword used in practice for the back-sword (see SABRE-FENCING), and of the same general shape. By the first quarter of the 17th century wasters had become simple cudgels provided with sword-guards, and when, about twentyfive years later, the basket-hilt came into general use, it was employed with the cudgel also, the heavy metal hilt of the backsword being discarded in favour of one of wicker-work. The guards, cuts and parries in single-stick play were at first identical with those of back-sword play, no thrusts being allowed (see FENCING). The old idea, prevalent in England in the 16th century, that hits below the girdle were unfair, disappeared in the 18th century, and all parts of the person were attacked. Under the first and second Georges back-sword play with sticks was immensely popular under the names " cudgel-play " and " singlesticking," not only in the cities but in the country districts as well, wrestling being its only rival. Towards the end of the 18th century the play became very restricted. The players were placed near together, the feet remaining immovable and all strokes being delivered with a whip-like action of the wrist from a high hanging guard, the hand being held above the head. Blows on any part of the body above the waist were allowed, but all except those aimed at the head were employed only to gain openings, as each bout was decided only by a " broken head," i.e. a cut on the head that drew blood. At first the left hand and arm were used to ward off blows not parried with the stick, but near the close of the 18th century the left hand grasped a scarf tied loosely round the left thigh, the elbow being raised to protect the face. Thomas Hughes's story, Tom Brown's School Days, contains a spirited description of cudgel-play during the first half of the i pth century. This kind of single-sticking practically died out during the third quarter of that century, but was revived as a school for the sabre, the play being essentially the same as for that weapon (see SABRE-FENCING) . The point was introduced and leg hits were allowed. By the beginning of the 20th century singlestick play had become much neglected, the introduction of the light Italian fencing sabre having rendered it less necessary. Stickplay with wooden swords as a school for the cutlas is common in some navies. The French cane-fencing (q.v.) has a general similarity to single-stick play, but is designed more for defence with a walking-stick than as a school for the sabre.
See Broadsword and Single-stick, by R. G. Allanson Winn and C. Phillips-Wolley (London, 1898); Manual of Instruction for Singlestick Drill (London, 1887, British War Office); Schools and Masters of Fence, by Egerton Castle (London, 1892); The Sword and the Centuries, by A. Hutton (London, 1901).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)