The staff has a long history in both Asian and Western combat arts. Known as the bo in Japan, the guin in China, and the quarterstaff in Europe, it is generally hewn from different varieties of hardwood and six to eight feet in length.
With no sharp edges to cut, nor weighted ends to increase striking damage or penetration, the staff is primarily considered a non-lethal weapon popular with individuals, such as monks or friars, who would typically show mercy (or “quarter,” hence its English namesake) towards their attackers. Mercy, however, is a trait that cannot afforded to the living dead.
The skill required to deliver a single neutralizing blow with a staff, with its lack of an aggressive point and equal weight distribution, is very high indeed. Individuals who can do so consistently have typically trained with this weapon for years.
Given the staff’s weight, dimensions and the skill required to wield it effectively, thrusting attacks to the cranium have limited effect on the undead. It is extremely difficult to penetrate a ghoul’s brain case with a thrust from a staff, even if directed towards vulnerable areas, such as the eye socket. The circumference of the weapon is typically larger than that of the average eye socket, not to mention the precision required to deliver such a blow. Centrifugal attacks will also do minimal damage on the undead skull, mostly superficial in nature depending on your strength and ability to generate momentum with the weapon.
With a limited ability to quickly deliver a neutralizing blow, how useful is this weapon in undead combat? The most effective use of the staff, or any staff-like implement, is using it to obstruct an attacker’s onslaught by using the length of the weapon to keep the ghoul at bay. This can be done by grasping the middle and end of the staff with both hands and forcing the tip into the midsection of the zombie.
In executing this technique, there is a slight chance of the ghoul grabbing or pushing the weapon out of the way. Should this occur, pull back and reset your weapon, and force the tip back into the corpse’s midsection. Most zombies will be too focused on reaching their prey to execute such a defensive maneuver.
Using this strategy, you can keep a zombie at an adequately safe distance indefinitely, as long as you have the strength to continue to do so. Do not underestimate the usefulness of this tactic, as it may provide a small window of time for you or your party to escape. This technique can be also used in coordination with another human to pin the ghoul against a surface while your teammate delivers a finishing blow. If you have a sufficient strength and weight advantage over your attacker, you can also use this technique to maneuver the zombie backward and drive it over a ledge, cliff or embankment.
Given the limited destructive power provided by the staff, it should be your last resort if no other weapons are available. It does provide some advantage over being completely unarmed, and can be used effectively in a team-based operation.
What is the most effective hand-to-hand zombie combat weapon? Is it the Shaolin spade? The Japanese katana? The Swiss halberd? This question has been argued time and again by soldiers and civilians alike. The answer is actually quite simple: the best weapon is the one you have in your hand at the time of attack. A hand-forged samurai sword worth thousands of dollars is useless if it’s lying in your sleeping bag as a zombie clutches your throat. Likewise, a ten-dollar crowbar can provide years of faithful, defensive service if maintained well and used properly.
For an excellent historical example of weapon improvisation, look to Okinawa as a guide. In 1609, the island was captured and occupied by the Japanese Satsuma Clan. Shortly thereafter, the Clan banned possession of swords and firearms by all commoners and the peasant community. In order to defend themselves, the largely farming Okinawan population turned to their everyday agricultural tools, and developed them into the weapons-based martial art known as Kobudo.
Implements that were used to dig furrows (sai), carry baskets (bo), and harvest rice (kama) were transformed into the weapons that are still present and practiced hundreds of years later. Two of the most popular Kobudo weapons seen in the West are the nunchaku, made popular by the late martial artist Bruce Lee, and the tonfa, which has been modified for law enforcement use as the side-handled PR-24 baton.
Okinawan history shows us that it is not necessary or required to spend hundreds of dollars on custom-made weaponry. With a combat mindset, take a walk around your home, your garden, or your garage. You will spot many everyday implements at your disposal that can provide excellent protection against the undead.
Armaments used at this distance fall into one of two categories: Obstructive or destructive:
Obstructive weapons - this category is defined by the fact that it would be very difficult to deliver a killing blow with the weapon, given its weight, length, and physical structure. Although they are long (six feet or more) they lack an offensive fixture (a blade, axehead, or sharpened tip) to realistically neutralize an attacker. As such, fighting techniques are meant largely to delay or obstruct the undead. The obstructive category generally encompasses one type of long-range weapon: the staff.
Destructive weapons - All other weapons in long-range combat fall under the destructive category, as they have the sufficient properties (mass, weight, structure) to deliver vicious blows to the undead. They will have some form of offensive attachment, typically made of iron or steel, that has the ability, given sufficient training by the bearer, to eliminate an attacker from a safe distance. Although engaging in long distance warfare with a ghoul is a relatively safe engagement, using weapons in this class requires more skill and training than any other undead combat range.
At melee combat range, you will engage with your attacker at a modestly safe distance, and most likely employ a weapon that falls into one of two categories:
Bludgeons: weapons in this category include any object that can be used to cause a depressive fracture on the skull and penetrate the brain cavity. They include, but are not limited to formal weapons such as maces, war hammers, and cudgels, in addition to any number of improvised blunt trauma tools.
Blades: any weapon two to three feet in length with a single or double sharpened edge falls into this armament class, and includes swords, machetes, hand axes, and tomahawks.
Bladed weapons of sufficient weight can be used to strike and penetrate the skull. Lighter edged weapons made of thinner steel that may have difficulty penetrating the cranium should focus attacks on the soft tissue of the neck.
While your weapons are the key to offensive attacks against the walking dead, defensive equipment and clothing play an essential part of protecting those areas of your body most vulnerable to a ghoul’s attack. There are many items you can utilize in your every-day attire that will stack the odds in your favor during close combat encounters. If you can add some of the items to your defensive arsenal, you’ll make yourself a much more formidable opponent when facing the undead.
Defensive equipment also plays an integral role in protecting those loved ones who, for whatever reason, may not be able to engage in combat, but will still face hostile situations against the living dead. The protection they have may provide critical seconds for them to avoid infection, evade their attacker, and escape.
In close combat, your weapon needs to be one that can penetrate the zombie’s skull without a great deal of acceleration or momentum, given your proximity to target and the inability to generate a great deal of centrifugal force, and still cause sufficient damage to its brain.
Your weapon needs to be compact, fast, and easily accessible while providing sufficient skull-penetrating power. As such, a knife, or similar stabbing implement is your best choice when fighting in CQC range.
Not every knife, however, will work effectively in a close combat situation with a zombie. There are certain characteristics you should look for when selecting the optimal edged weapon for close range engagements. In future briefings, we will examine each of these characteristics in careful detail.