The cudgel

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)


We live in a dangerous world, just as men have done throughout the ages. In some times and places, the dangers may be obvious and clear, and in others, they may be less obvious, yet they remain.

The saying “walk softly and carry a big stick” is a good adage for it is not always convenient, or legal, to carry a gun, of whatever size or type. In the days of old the weapon of the gentleman, more often that not, was the sword, but that was for gentlemen. The poor could (a) not afford one and (b), theoretically, were also not allowed to carry one.

The answer, however, came in the humble cudgel and our predecessors have provided us with elegant (and effective) solutions for these situations.

One of the oldest, most versatile, and satisfying bits of manly equipage is found in the simple cudgel. At times this may also be referred to as a truncheon, sap, bludgeon, or shillelagh. But in truth a cudgel is a cudgel and a truncheon, for instance, which is known as a Billy Club in the US or a Nightstick, is a policeman's weapon. A sap is not a wooden cudgel or club but something rather different and a shillelagh is a knob-handled walking stick, much like the African knobkerrie.

The wooden thing often referred to as a shillelagh, resembling somewhat of a wooden hammer, is nothing of the kind and just a silly invention of the Irish tourist industry.

The ordinary cudgel is perhaps the simplest of all weapons. It is essentially a short stout stick, usually made of some hardwood, and wielded as a weapon, with one hand.

What could be more convenient? Or natural?

As we all know, the male of our species are, almost mystically, attracted to wood, to sticks. Take your kids for a walk in the woods and the boys, no doubt, and the Dad probably too, will pick up a stick to use either as a walking aid or will sparring with them in stick fighting, even if they have never come across this before. It is just like instinct; like a distant memory.

When during the time of King John I the people of England were no longer allowed to carry “fighting” weapons all that was left to them was the cudgel, the walking stick, and the quarterstaff. The latter two, especially, could be claimed to be used for walking and little could be said or done about it.

Under British law today most that you carry could be misconstrued by a law enfarcement officer as an “offensive weapon” and thus a disguise is needed. No, not you are to wear a disguise; the weapon needs to be disguised, and ideally thus it be a walking stick or knobkerrie rather than the shorter cudgel, unless you can think of a way of discribing it away, so to speak.

Another nice thing about cudgels is that they can be so easily crafted to reflect the nature and personality of their owners. Admittedly, many cudgels, in use, are weapons of opportunity but I believe, though, that most men will want to have their own personal cudgels, and I recommend this as an excellent weekend or evening project to undertake.

The old countrymen of days gone by used to watch their cudgels grow, literally, for they would chose the right branch out there in the copse (coppice) while it was still growing and earmarked it, so to speak, for harvest at the right time.

Some would drill a hole into the working end – the larger part – of the cudgel when they had finished fashioning it and filled it with lead, then plugging the hole with a wooden plug. Personally I do not think that this is, actually, necessary and carrying one filled with lead would definitely land you in hot and deep water with the law in most places in the UK.

Keep it simply wood and then it's good... well, more or less...

© 2013