By KR “Doc” Dority DO
Since the day humans began using tools and fashioning weapons for hunting and self defense, the humble stick has been a basic option for one’s personal protection. Even as weapons technology evolved, the simple stick or staff, of various lengths and weights, remained a reasonable consideration for most, especially those without means to possess and carry the cutting edge weapons technology of the day. This appears to be fairly universal in that virtually every culture at one point of another seems to have had stick or staff fighting arts at one point or another .Often the lowly stick remained a training adjunct to allow novices to safely train through drills, principles and motions without using more expensive and often more dangerous bladed weapons. In Ireland, the use of various sticks and staffs reached a high level of development by the 1800’s.
The Irishmen were well known for these skills which served them well both in personal self defense and in skirmishes between opposing groups of stick fighters, referred to as “Factions”. Foreign observers often reported on the high degree of Irish faction fighters’ stick handling skills as well as the brutality of the faction fights. These fights could occur anywhere, but often erupted at fairs which seemed to serve as convenient venues for combat between rival groups and families. While it may be a good thing that the days of Faction fighting have passed into history, it is unfortunate that, along with those days, most of the methods and styles of stick handling and fighting have disappeared as well. Fortunately, a very small number of family-based stick fighting methods have been preserved to one degree or another and are being preserved by enthusiastic practitioners.
Antrim Bataireacht is one of the few surviving styles of Bataireacht or Irish Stick Fighting, which has a specific curriculum, rather than being a small collection of stick handling tricks and techniques. The primary weapon is the stick, referred to as the Bata or, by some, the Shillelagh. The fighting stick of Antrim Bataireacht, is traditionally 4 foot in length and may be of varied woods, with blackthorn, oak, ash and hazel appearing to be historically preferred. In modern times, a stick of 3 feet length has come into favor as that approximates the average length of most standard canes and walking sticks in common use today. Antrim Bataireact is, as one might surmise, a blunt impact weapon method. The focus is the use of the weapon as such, making use of the blunt knob or end of the bata, the mid shaft and, the narrower end that may or may not be tipped with a ferrule. Evasive footwork, some grappling, bare knuckle boxing and even conservative kicking skills are used to support the weapon and afford other options during the chaos of combat. It does need to be emphasized that the art always regards the weapon as a stick and never as a means to develop edged weapon skills. Various aspects of the training methodology will definitely develop attributes that would be helpful with the use of other weaponry, but the fact that this weapon relies on blunt trauma is not forgotten.
In considering Antrim Bataireact as an option for modern self defense, several points should be considered:
-The use of any weapon in combat can be considered “use of a deadly force” and, while not as dangerous as a firearm or as fear inspiring as a knife, the use of the bata without appropriate cause can have significant legal and social implications depending on one’s location and culture.
-Bataireacht evolved in an age when firearms were nonexistent to and reached its apex in an age when firearms were still rare and often unreliable. Attributes developed could potentially afford some potentially useful skills and options when accosted by a criminal with a firearm under special circumstances. However, as an art, it does not pretend to be a method capable of countering a well- trained handler of firearms who is mindful and has conditions in his or her favor.
-The skills of Antrim Bataireacht might best exist as one aspect of a person’s complete spectrum of self defense that follows a logical use of force continuum and includes skills with weaponry. While Antrim Bataireacht is an excellent skill set for defense of one’s person, it does not preclude one from developing empty hand combat skills or skill in use of firearms, blades and other defensive tools. This method, as fine as it is, does not claim to answer all situations in all circumstances. There is no requirement for the Antrim Bataireacht practitioner to eschew the carry of the firearm or other weapons.
With the above considerations in mind, Antrim Bataireacht and the Bata have some elements that commend them well as a part of one’s overall defensive skills. First, especially in this day and age, the Bata carried as the walking stick or cane is not often regarded as much more than an ambulatory aid. As long as one does not carry the stick in a manner that appears threatening or combative it may be overlooked by most citizens in one’s proximity. So, one may carry a weapon at ready, in the hand, without worry of inspiring suspicion and agitation amongst others. If questioned about one’s possession of a cane or walking stick it can always be explained away as being used to assist walking due to a lower extremity infirmity or as a tool for discouraging dogs or snakes while out on one’s walks. Practically speaking, a stick of such length often does come in handy for very utilitarian reasons and one may well find possession of a stick often comes in handy for reasons far more common that self defense.
In some cases, potential aggressors may be observant and regard the bata/cane as a credible threat and move on to easier targets. So, the carrying of the stick may in some ways afford a degree of deterrence. However, some may look at the stick as a potential flag signaling vulnerability. In such cases, they may approach with over confidence and inadequate regard for one’s ability which could prove to one’s tactical advantage. As always, the mindful self defense expert has to consider such possibilities. The Bata is a blunt impact weapon and, as such, often does not arouse visions of bloodletting, dismemberment and wounding associated with edged weapons and firearms. This can make it an acceptable option for self defense for someone who would never consider the carry of knives and firearms. For that person, a bata in hand can foster confidence that he or she has a method of personal defense readily in hand should a potential threat is become evident.
For many there is either a psychological or a moral “line in the sand” that will not allow them to choose defensive options that would likely result in evisceration, blood loss and the traumatic “opening” of another’s body. To be sure, the blunt impact weapon is capable of maiming or killing , but one adverse to such things can rationalize that through effective footwork and targeting, they may well diminish and dissuade an attacker without deliberately attempting to permanently injure or even kill their attacker. With the carrying of the bata in hand, one may have an immediate option to deal with a threat while gaining time ,distance and position to bring other options , including the firearm, to bear if necessary.
However, the immediate use of the combative cane or bata might well circumvent the need to move to other options. As always, the prudent self defense practitioner needs to be alert, mindful, situationally aware and observant of his or her environment and circumstance to maximize the effectiveness of the bata. If this mindset of preparedness is not fostered, a situation might arise resulting in the bata being just as useless as the handgun still in its holster during an attack. The challenge to the individual is to develop the mindset and carry of the bata couched in a sense of preparedness along with moral restraint and social sensibility rather than paranoia, aggressiveness and ego. That way, the weapon can be carried and at the ready without threating those one find’s oneself near or engaged with in the community.
There can be some minor considerations with carrying the bata as a routine self defense option. For some ,there is a difficulty in getting used to the constant carry of the stick as it does tie up one hand and can complicate some tasks if one does not devise a method of holding or carrying the stick while using one’s hands for varied mundane tasks. One also has to get past the notion that some will regard anyone carrying a cane as somewhat debilitated or “gimpy”. I expect for “some of us” that are getting older, it can be a bit annoying in one’s mind to know that the cane may make some younger folks regard you as old and infirm. While it may mean your social camouflage is very effective, I’ve had a student that was not keen on that reality and had to put that bit of his ego in check. The final difficulty is that in order for one to ‘fly under the radar’ and remain unnoticed while carrying the bata, the carry of that weapon must be innocuous, nonthreatening and by all means non-martial.
The Basic Ready Stance: This may be with a true or false lead. The bata is held raised in the “High Outside Guard”, which finds the hand positioned approximately 1/3 of the way up the bata, allowing the lower potion to shield the forearm and elbow from attack. The free hand and forearm are held across the body protecting vital areas such as the solar plexus while ready to be used to ward off blow, strike or seize if necessary. This position, combined with footwork, allows for good mobility and excellent use of the reach of the bata. This position is a very strong position for dueling and faction fighting.
The “Hooves of the Horse” position. This one refers to the appearance of some of the movements from this position that resemble the hooves of a horse raising up and smashing down. This position is often used for self defense and when one’s range is collapsed to very close quarters. It allows for use of the mid shaft as well as ends of the bata. The weapon can be used in deflections, uppercuts, pins, violent shoving, downward smashing blows, thrusts with the ends as well as tight slashing attacks as if using ones elbows.
The Two Handed Position. This resembles one holding a sword with two hands. This position allows for use of the bata for powerful thrusts and swinging attacks, creating distance and work against multiple attackers. It also allows for the effective use of longer and heavier bata.
Basic footwork is introduced next. Footwork tends to be simple but effective with an emphasis of moving in and out of range and stepping to positions that take advantage of openings in the opponent’s guard. Typical of all work with weaponry , it is emphasized that one needs to avoid being stationary and should, instead, be able to move quickly to avoid an opponent’s blows as well as to optimize ones position during counter attacks.
Next, striking and deflections are introduced. Strikes are executed with a snapping motion that makes use of the pendulum- like effect created by the root knob at the end of the bata. The strikes shoot out and then quickly return back ready to strike again. The basic angles follow vertical as well as oblique and horizontal lines both on the inside and outside lines of the opponent’s guards along with the linear thrust. The corresponding defenses are quickly taught as well. These are drilled in various combinations and sequences to develop reflexes and appropriate mechanics. This initially gives the impression that the Antrim method is a long range fighting system. While this method capitalizes on mobility and the delivery of multiple blows from a distance, it also is well equipped for close quarters work when the range between two opponents collapses. Initial drills tend to be somewhat symmetrical in that both participants are armed with similar weapons, giving neither an advantage over the other. This forces the student to develop effective footwork, reflexes, tactics and other attributes before moving on to materials where the student faces asymmetrical weapon situations or multiple opponents.
As the primary weapon in Antrim Bataireacht is the Bata, the student is quickly introduced to the concept of defending the stick. It is understood that if possible an opponent may attempt to seize one’s stick and quickly snatch it away, either to remove the weapon as a threat or to turn it against its owner. The student is introduced to drills involving developing reflexive response to the attempted grab as well as the use of footwork, striking and manipulations that counter the seizure of one’s stick. The emphasis generally is to get the stick free and get it into action delivering traumatic blows to the opponent rather than attempting to lock, grapple and submit with the bata.
In Irish Stick Fighting, a primary goal of the various styles was to deliver an incapacitating blow to the head. This could result in simply stunning the opponent or rendering him unconscious, but it could also fracture the skull and create deadly intracranial bleeding. So, the use of the bata in Antrim Bataireacht has very lethal capability. However, the student is taught the appropriate targeting of various points of anatomy that respond in a desirable manner to blunt force trauma. While strikes and thrusts to many areas of the cranium, face and neck can have serious consequences, the Antrim Bataireacht practitioner may choose to target other less dangerous areas that are still quite effective at disabling or dissuading an attacker. He or she may choose to target boney prominences of the body such as fingers, wrists, knee caps, elbows, shins and the clavicles or may apply thrusts to softer targets like the solar plexus, abdomen and groin. The student learns to use footwork and the varied positions to stay out of the reach of an opponent’s weapons be they knives, hands, other stick or polearms while delivering blows to various targets. The practitioner can use these developed skills to either move in to incapacitate an attacker or to create a condition where he or she can escape or, for that matter, the attacker can choose to break off the attack.
Antrim Bataireacht is an excellent choice for one to develop self defense skills. The Bata is a reliable weapon that offers a reasonable response to many unsolicited attacks. It is also fairly cost effective and offers a weapon in hand that one may carry about the community without inspiring anxiety and agitation. The training method is straightforward and easily learned while offering exciting opportunities for development as one works toward “mastery” of the art. The student may achieve effective use of the art for self defense in a relatively short period of time.
About The Author:
K.R. “Doc” Dority DO leads an Irish Stick Fighting group in Dallas- Ft.Worth, Texas, USA focused on Antrim Bataireacht. He continues his training under Maxime Chouinard and Danny Hoskins, both of whom he has been training under for several years. He is a practicing physician and a former member of USAF Special Operations. He has trained in Combat Science, Martial Arts and Combative Sports since 1974 , instructs in four forms of Silat/Pencak Silat and holds teaching credentials in a number of other martial arts.