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Spears or Arrows?

I'll preface this by saying I'm not an expert on spears, but since it relates to martial arts it's an interest of mine. I've never studied sojutsu (Japanese spear technique) since I'm not aware of any schools currently teaching it in the area (or even in this country).

At the peak of interest in feudal Japan there were dozens if not hundreds of schools teaching spear technique. The yari took many forms, and collectors divide them into categories based on blade configuration. Spear lengths ranged from six feet - used mostly in man to man combat - up to eighteen or twenty feet - used mostly en masse by low ranking footsoldiers fighting in close ranks - similar to the classical Greek phalanx or the Swiss pikemen of the European renaissance.

The koryu (traditional martial arts schools) in Japan may still have various manuals dealing with the spear, but I'm not aware of any that have been translated into English. There are a few books in English with information on Japanese spear technique - mostly isolated techniques rather than full kata or "forms". A person using a naginata (Japanese glaive) is considered to have a huge advantage over an opponent using a Japanese sword - I heard of a master swordsman saying that a polearm was two or three times faster and always had the edge in combat. (A small movement at the end of the shaft translates into a much larger movement at the business end making it faster and harder to counter.)

In China the spear was known as "the king of weapons" and "king of the battlefield", and was considered superior to many of the other weapons available. There are currently about 350 different styles of Chinese martial arts recoginzed, and many of them incorporate the study of various weapons, resulting in many many differnet spear-fighting styles. I've seen English translations of some of the different Chinese spear forms.

If you're looking for European spear manuals, you can find translations of some on the Internet. George Silver, one of the English Masters-of-Defense during the renaissance wrote a manual with some sections discussing spear technique. Most of these European manuals are concerned with swordplay, but also have a little about the spear - then as now, anyone who wanted to learn self defense wanted to learn as much about all available personal weapons as possible. Sorry to run on so long, if you're interested I'll try to dig up some more specifics for you.

On the topic of European weapons texts, there is a group called the Historical Armed Combat Association. Their website (thehaca.com) has a research and reading section with a fine selection of manuals of arms, some in the original languages, some in translation. Hope this is of interest to some.


[This message has been edited by Outdoors (edited 06-25-2001).]
Snuffy's got a lot of info, to be sure.

I study a koryu style- actually, a system composed of 7 ancient ryu.

So far, we have only studied yari. The typical spear in our school is traditionally 9' long. The spear is held a bit differently than a staff. Bo are all about 6' long, so one roughly divides the staff into three sections, with one third between the user's hands, with palms down. Spears can be considerably longer, so one holds one's hands about a little over shoulder width apart. Since spears are heavier, the front hand is held palm up, to support the much greater weight.
Well, a very skilled spearman could handle a 8' spear. Oda Nobunaga (sp?) used spearmen with blades several feet longer than used previously to help him conquer most of Japan. With very long spears in formation, only a few simple moves- and being able to keep formation- are required to be extremely effective.
A translation of a 15th century pollaxe manual was posted fairly recently at http://www.thehaca.com/spotlight/LEJEUDELAHACHE.htm

A number of the western martial arts manuals online go into spear (I see George Silver's Paradoxes of Defence and Brief Instructions have already been mentioned -- they're online at www.thehaca.com and several other places) but I don't know of any posted that are exclusively devoted to the spear.

The main thing you have to realize is adding a blade at one end of a quarterstaff does not make it any less versatile, or turn it into a weapon that suddenly becomes useless if an enemy comes closer than the length of it....

-Cougar :{)
Use of Weapons

[This message has been edited by Cougar Allen (edited 06-26-2001).]