LE BATON – The French Two Handed Long stick
Members of the Gemeiner Academy of European Combat Arts once again supported the Historical Fencing Convention (Australia’s largest western martial arts event) by sending 2 instructors and 1 student to give lessons in baton militarie – the French two handed long stick.
Baton instructor Craig Gemeiner introduced 60 students to skills pertaining to the “Joinville Le Pointe” military baton system.
This particular method of baton contains a history and tradition that can be traced back to the mid 1800s where its use was an important part of both commissioned and non commissioned officers physical training.
During the 1800s a gymnastic curriculum was established at the Joinville le pointe military academy which provided a 4 month compulsory physical conditioning course for soldiers. Fencing, la boxe française –savate, la canne and baton were standard activities at the military academy.
By 1872 graduates of Joinville le pointe were placed into French schools to train boys in military exercises -with the intent to prepare potential soldiers for war. Laws were passed in the early 1880s requiring physical based military training compulsory for girls and boys in both private and church schools. This resulted in the Joinville two handed stick fighting method becoming wide spread through out France.
Not to be confused with ‘grand baton’ which is a total misnomer, the baton militare curriculum is well documented in several historical manuals printed during the 19th century and early 20th century.
The teaching of French baton traditionally preceded that of la canne . The reasoning behind this was the baton educated both hands in movement patterns which were identical to that of la canne. Instruction in the longer weapon provided ample cross training for the single handed walking stick. Students at the convention were introduced to a baton warm up session called “getting to know your stick”. Consisting of a number of callisthenics inter spread with light jogging between various stations; all exercises were performed while holding the baton in one or both hands.
Next a series of stick exercises had participants manipulating the baton through a number of moulinets including en leve, brise, revers brise and horizontal moulints.
These drills are designed to exercise the full range of motion at the shoulder girdle, improve physical co ordination and prepare students for the combative application of le baton.
The base guard structure that makes up the French baton system was covered in detail. Maintaining the traditional teachings of the military system the strong or most co-ordinated side of the body is placed forward. Both hands grip the baton close to one another and the arms are placed tightly against the body line. Unlike the European long sword, which is provided with a cross guard, the French baton has no such guard to protect the hands, hence the arms are kept back to avoid hand cuts.
Next students covered a series of solo and partner foot work drills and then proceeded to train various guards positions in conjunction with passing and stepping.
The moulinet exercises were then worked in conformity with the various foot work patterns. Students moved onto training the prime offensive blows which comprise coup de tete (head strikes), coup de figure (strikes to the side of the face), coup be flanc (strikes to the flank), coup de corps, (strikes to the body) coup de pointe (thrust with the distal end of the baton) and coup de bout de talon (thrust with the butt or proximal end of the baton). All strikes were delivered while use the traditional glisser or sliding action of the lead hand back to the rear. The action of using the glisser increases the range from which attacks can be executed while adding additional force to the blows.
Students were provided with the analogy of holding a baseball bat with both hands joined when swinging at a ball. Once a basic understanding of the strikes was acquired students then moved onto the parries for each attack.
Performed with the hands either joined or spaced the number of parry variants supplied individuals with a large grouping of riposte options. Combinations, while advancing on a half lunge, were covered next.
Students then incorporated their newly learnt combinations into a drill called “ping-pong”. This drill required the defending person to riposte with the exact same combination received from their attacker. This same drill is common in Savate – French boxing and builds confidence along with speed and recall.
Coup de point or thrusting attacks were touched on. Utilizing a pool cue action the stick slides through the lead hand prior to being extended into mid and high line targets.
These are deceptive attacks and difficult to visually track, especially when the distal end of the baton in tapered. Thrust were executed either stationary, from a half lung or a replacement step. Attack combinations deliver on a single passing action was covered next.
Students were taught to deliver the first strike as either a true or false attack during the first half of the passing step. This uncommitted step allows one to abort the full pass (and second attack) should the opponent parry – riposte of counter cut your initial offensive action. The second cut on the full pass was then delivered into an open line.
Participants were then taught how to transfer fully committed cuts into thrust attacks. These deceiving compound attacks once again utilized the glisser action of the point attacks and were difficult to counter once an open line had been created. Skills at corps a corps or close quarters were based on classical French bayonet techniques. Students covered the butt strike and thrust, binding actions along with unarmed integration.
Next an exhibition of baton vs. baton featured instructor Craig Gemeiner against Yasuko Gemeiner in a fast bout of assaut. This husband and wife bout proved that ladies can handle a weapon with just as much intent as a male.
A debriefing session along with a Q&A ended this truly ‘hands on’ class.
Judging by the smiles on everyone’s faces the French baton training session was well received and the Joinville method has gained some new enthusiasts.
The 2005 event was hosted by the Canberra based Finesse Fencing club.