Book Review : “Fighting With Sticks
Author : Nick Evangelista
ISBN : 1559501766
Review by Michael Castellani
Nick Evangelista has written and published many books and articles on the subject of fencing, some of which have become the standard for teaching and instruction on fencing basics. While the United States is sometimes plagued with charlatans and frauds in the fencing community, Mr. Evangelista is an extremely accomplished and talented instructor with the credentials and training to back it up.
Personally, I have been lucky to have been able to read all of his books, which have helped in my training. The book “Fighting with Sticks” is Mr. Evangelista’s attempt to give a basic introduction to the art of Single Stick fighting. While the art is not very common world wide, the book aims to demonstrate to the reader, some of the methods by which one can attempt to practice the art, learn some key techniques and attempt to try an integrate singlestick fighting as a supplement to regular training.
The book begins with a brief explanation on the development of Swordsmanship down through the ages, and how singlestick came to be practiced. While the section, in my opinion, was slightly brief, discussions with the Author lead to the revelation that publishers can, and often do, cut out what they want.
Additionally, the section discussed the development of different schools/types of swordsmanship around the world. This included a brief history of Japanese swordsmanship a topic which, generally cannot be explained in a few short passages. While the section is brief, it does a very clear job of discussing some of the most noteworthy events of Japanese sword history. It includes some discussion of Musashi, specifically some of the common stories that have been passed down from the ages (not all historically accurate – but they are what is passed down / available in English).
The book also introduces the art of Jodo – which in a way is very similar to Singlestick and the development of which seemed to have a common goal/reason for the introduction of the art. The section provides some inaccuracy in discussing Jodo, mainly that it seems to leave out Muso Gonnosuke as the creator/founder of Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo (the most famous and popular style of Jodo, even today).
In addition, the book implies that there are but 2 schools of Jodo (SMR and Seitei), but there are many, spread across Japan. In addition, many schools of Sword and Naginata have sections that deal with Jodo. Seitei isn’t a separate school, rather an attempt by the Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation) to create and regulate a standard set of techniques that everyone can practice exactly the same – all across Japan (as well as practicing their own school). The techniques were created by having several Kenshi (high ranking instructors) from various schools come together and agree on which techniques are of importance, which will demonstrate all the key ideas of Jodo and to discuss how to grade/judge these students the same all over Japan).
The book also briefly mentions Tanjo, which is the art of the using the cane. This section is probably of even greater importance given how close it is to Singlestick, in almost every aspect, from the type of weapon, to usage and techniques, to the reason for the development and accessibility (of carrying the weapon in public). It is understandable that the section is short given the lack of information (in English) on the topic of Tanjo.
Fighting with Sticks, next discusses in great detail the preparations for beginning. The section is very thorough and includes requirements for safe training, how to create or purchase safety gear, and the type of precautions that may be necessary for the reader to understand before beginning. There is a supplementary chapter that further builds on the ideas and takes you through the steps in greater detail.
Finally, you get to the meat and potatoes of the book, the fighting. The section begins with the Basics of holding the stick and proper uses (it is a cutting, not a thrusting, weapon). While the section is a good overview, I found that had I not read other books on Fencing I might have had some difficulty understanding some of the actions. Thus, it would probably be a good idea to have a copy of the Art and Science of Fencing and read thoroughly through the sections on basic techniques, grips and Sabre fencing.
The book seemed at times to rely on the reader having a background on the subject of fencing. Even though there was no use of difficult terminology or technique, in my opinion, if you have the background, the book not only becomes very easy to read, but also very useful. That being said, you don’t need the background to understand the concepts and techniques and integrate them into your training.
Lastly, Fighting with Sticks discusses the original manner in which the game is played. Laying out all the rules, goals and possible strategies one should employ. It also describes variations that you can try and gives guidelines to create newer training methods – with the concept of safety always in the forefront.
Personally, I enjoyed the book and while I felt it would have been good to include more advanced techniques it did help me to understand new ideas. Although I mentioned that it would be good to read Mr. Evangelista’s other books on the subject of fencing, it is not necessary (they are extremely helpful and amazingly well written), but it would be a plus. If you have ever studied Fencing, Jodo or any art incorporating the use of a stick/wooden weapon, I recommend this book. It would be a good supplement, and aid you in understanding the basics of using a stick/wooden weapon.