Weapons: The Ziegenhainer Walking Stick

ImageApart from a few late imports, wooden staves or sticks disappear from the printed instructional record of 18th- and 19th-century German martial arts literature.

There’s only one example of a wooden weapon being used in a more or less organized combative context in the early 19th century:

The Ziegenhainer walking stick. 

And even this leaves something to be desired…

by J. Christoph Amberger

Baltimore, MD—From the remnants of wooden swords excavated at the Teutoburg battle site at Kalkriese to the extensive Renaissance literature on the staff, halbert, and dussack of the fencing guilds, wooden weapons feature prominently in the early combative traditions of Germany.

Yet less than a handful of texts bother with the use of Stock or Stange in the 18th and 19th century. And even then, as in the case of Josef Feldmann, the systems described are typically imports from France and Italy. As singlestick, cudgeling and Irish stick fighting thrived among the Brits and Irish, the French engaged in la canne and baston, and the Italians played at bastone, the Germans never got around to turning the ever-present walking stick or cane into a formalized weapon of defense.

There’s only a single category of wooden weapon that appears in a combative context for a short period in the 19th century: The Ziegenhainer walking stick.


Resembling an Irish blackthorn in all but the knobby protrusions, this rustic stick derives its name from the little village of Ziegenhain near Jena in Thuringia, which today is integrated into Jena proper.

The Second’s Weapon

The University of Jena not only is remarkable in German fencing history for the long-lasting role played by the Kreußler fencing master dynasty—later continued by the equally prolific but far more scientific-minded Roux clan. It also represents a special case in view of the fencing traditions of its student body, which adhered to the use of the thrusting sword for Mensuren longer than anywhere else in Germany.

Jena thrust duels would be fought with Stoßdegen (thrusting swords adapted from the late 18th-century French smallsword or dueling épée and called Pariser or Stößer.) The seconds, however, would be armed with their walking sticks—the famous Ziegenhainers.

An ultra-rare set of "Pariser" — leather disk-hilted thrust rapiers used for the Stoßmensur.

This doesn’t mean these sticks played a subordinate role. In fact, the Jena Professor of Philosophy (and prominent advocate for the abolishment of thrust fencing with the elongated “wälsche Banditendolch“—”Frog” bandit dagger) Karl Hermann Scheidler considers the Ziegenhainer-wielding second the crucial part in a Stoßmensur: The active protector and advocate of his fencer, the enforcer of rules—and the man most likely to be grievously wounded by the opponent or his own Paukanten.

(In 1843, Scheidler also relates an incident during which Jena and Leipzig students ended up in a major brawl, during which their walking sticks found ample if unscientific use.)

The original Ziegenhainer is made from  a sapling of the Kornelkirsche or European Cornel (cornus mas), a species of dogwood also known as Cornelian Cherry. This hardwood is more common in southern and southeastern Europe and had found combative usage as material for lance and spear shafts as far back as the Roman Empire.

Ziegenhainer came in both straight and “corkscrew” variations, the latter being produced by the targeted symbiosis of the cherry sapling and a vine that was artfully laid across the growing tree to produce the curvature. (Later versions, often made from chestnut wood, simply cut the “screw” into the wood.) The knob used as the handle is part of the plant’s root stock.

The benefit of this walking stick was two-fold: In thrust Mensuren, a hardwood stick was all that was needed to knock an opponent’s illegal thrust off-target before it hit one’s own Paukanten. And, as part of a fashionable gentleman’s everyday outfit, it could be brought to indoor or outdoor dueling events without putting yet another set of expensive swords at risk of being confiscated by university or police authorities.

11 responses to “Weapons: The Ziegenhainer Walking Stick

  1. Christoph Amberger

    Reblogged this on Die Deutsche Hiebfechtkunst and commented:

    Ein paar Observationen zum Gebrauch des Ziegenhainers als Sekundantenwaffe bei Jenenser Stoßmensuren…

  2. Chris–The persistence of Stossfechten at Jena was a consequence of the university’s political, as well as intellectual, traditions. The thrusting sword was associated with the ideal a liberal, gentlemanly education; Friedrich A. W. L. Roux’ Die Kreussler’sche Stossfechtschule (1849) was openly addresed to the problems that came with nationalism and revolution 1815-1848, especially the radicalization of the Bürschenschaften and abandonment of fencing by those Roux described in his Vorrede as reasonable men–fencing, he said, was in the hands of demagogues (his word). His Kreusslers Revisted was dedicated to the liberal Jena philosopher Karl Hermann Scheidler. We’re actually working on this question here where I teach..but suspect the disappearance of the stick is all tangled up in German cultural politics 1648-1750.

  3. Christoph Amberger

    Bill, I think you’re totally misinterpreting Roux.

    The Art of (thrust) Fencing may have been part of the artes liberales, but that kind of liberal had nothing at all to do with the modern European and/or American meaning of the word. In fact, the Degen being the emblem of the aristocrat, this particular aspect of liberal arts was downright reactionary!

    While proponents of Good Fencing, FAWL Roux and Scheidler were fundamentally opposed to the continuing practice of the Stoßmensur at Jena and in other parts of Germany, and were proponents of the Göttinger Hieber/Schläger, the weapon carried by the Burschenschaft, alongside the black-red-gold Flag of the German Republic at the Wartburgfest. (They even published a separate booklet on this.)

    Even his father, Johann Wilhelm, went out of his way to promote thrust fencing as a “gymnastische Übung” as opposed to an aristocratic duelling skill——which in fact puts it into the absolutely justified and deserving sphere of the pan-German, Republican-oriented Turnvater Friedrich Jahn.

    Of course, being dependent on monarchist stipends, the Roux remained totally monarchist/absolutist in their political outlook.

    You’re also misquoting him, as he paraphrases the “Stubengelehrten” (Monday-morning quarterbacks) as saying “TURNEN (my caps) erzeugt Demagogen, Fechten Duelle und Raufsucht”. He denies that and goes out of his way to state that fencing DOES NOT create republicans (= i.e., non-royalists, democrats) (Footnote p. V)

    (Since my copy is actually signed by Roux, I trust nobody’s messed with the text…)

    Also: One also should be careful not to retroactively transplant the pc lament over the “radicalization” of the Burschenschaft from the willfully ignorant perspective of modern (anti-)German academia.

  4. Gosh, Chris, thanks! Seriously. I apologize for a lengthy reply, but this is a wonderfully urgent subject, a discussion badly needed today, and I am truly grateful for your response. As I am sure you know, we are in our idiosyncratic ways reprising the debate over German dueling between Kevin McAleer and Ute Frevert and what is called the German “Sonderweg”, or special path of German historical development, a sensitive issue here in Germany since the 1980s, but actually a full-blown construction dating from the 19th century (although it drew on ideas to be found earlier)..

    I have read every page of Die Kreussler’sche Stossfechtschule, and done more than just interpret the Vorrede, actually working with the fencing it describes, spent years studying modern German history, and shortly a study group of German fencers will be posting the Roux Vorrede and summarizing his argument at http://www.klassisches-fechten-soest.de/Seminare.html.. You and I alas are unfair to our readers here because we refer to German texts and a body of scholarship in more than one language–including (see below) Czech– apparently dismissed by historical fencers in favor of cavalier, ignorant assertion..

    Anyway, the issue in Roux is not an aristocratic duelling skill but precisely the role of Stossfechten as a bourgeois gymnastic exercise; obviously what German liberalism meant in 1848 differed from the modern American (especially talk radio) usage. In the case of Roux–and earlier the Kreusslers and teachers like Kahn at Goettingen (a university specifically established for the purpose)–the challenge was the education of an administrative class in a modernizing state, not a collection of feudal principalities. There’s a lot of debate today about what that meant, and there was debate back then… ..

    Scheidler was well-known as a contributor to Rotteck and Welcker, “Staatslexicon” (1834-43),called by such German scholars as Fritz Taubert “liberal propaganda.”. Modelled on the Parisian philosophe’s encyclopedia, “Staatslexicon” was intened to promote liberal and especially educational reform. Only wih the suppression of revolution after 1848 were both the Bürschenschaften and the Turnverein movement mobilized for conservative reaction. Faced with repression from above and revolution from below, men like Roux and Scheidler were caught between a rock and a hard place, and reaction won out..

    Sorry, but student duelling was cordoned off in the harmless Mensur, the big boys used the pistol or the blunted (not requiring any skill) sabre, with devastating consequences for German fencing. And of course the persistent myth of authentic knighthood, the warrior, guarding the Rhine and looking to the East remains. Hey! In the same era Americans invented the Western gunfighter and Confederate cavalier for similar reasons…

    I know, for instance, you admire Karl Wassmannsdorff, but from the 1860s on the good professor from Heidelberg was a pamphleteer for this reaction; for example, Gustav Hergsell in (now) Bruenn and Prague had a lot in common with FAWL Roux, and no one can understand Karl Wassmannsdorff’s comments on Hergsell’s Talhoffer without knowing 1.) what Hergsell said about the superiority of Slav foot soldiers over mounted Germans, and 2.) being able to put Wassmannsdorff in the context of conservative German anxiety over both Czech nationalism and the persistence of a großdetusche idea of a united Germany–Hergsell, despite his name was an “Old Czech Party” supporter of liberal reform in Austria-Hungary (you should like him, since his 1467 Talhoffer was dedicated to Crown Prince Rudolph, whose tutor, Carl Menger, is credited with founding the Austrian school of economics). Politics and swordsmanship were inseparable..

    Hergsell was playing on the 15th-century Hussite wars–old, passionate debates now-forgotten need to be recovered to understand fencing writers of the past.. They were not forgotten when Hitler marched into the Sudetenland. There is nothing “anti-German” in writing this–I live here, teach Germans, speak the language every day, and know how rich, complex, and wonderful the past here actually is. There was until 1945 a diverse, a multi-lingual society in East Central Europe, and recovering it after its devatstation by nationalisms of every stripe and by war is I think vital.

    It is a shame that Mark Rector did not see fit in 2000 to give English-speaking readers a rendition of Hergsell’s introduction, which called the swordfighting in Talhoffer “primitive.”. It is greeted with total silence by German historical fencers; perhaps cooperatively you and I could contribute to making such texts as Roux of 1849 available with a sound foundation for understanding? With a thoughtful point-counterpoint? As things stand, I must suggest that your Roux is a caricature the man would not recognize, any more than Gustav Hergsell would recognize how Talhoffer is used today here and on your side of the Atlantic..

    I should add that post-1848 German reaction followed similar movements in France and Italy, well-documented by Robert Nye and Thomas Hughes, to develop fencing and the duel as vehicles for mobilizing middle class males. Like it or not, professional scholarship has a lot to say about swordsmanship. Romantic ideas about aristocratic combat, authentic warriorhood, and so on, coupled with an obsession with a late-19th century cult of national regenerative violence–John Wayne’s or some Siegfried’s–, are old hat. To say so is not anti-German, any more than it is anti-American. You and I have absorbed both societies and their issues. That should not require instant dismissal…..

    For fencing today real history has direct relevance, but I suggest developing both your ideas and mine requires more than a series of squibs online. Once again, I sincerely thank you for opening up a large, complex subject to reasonable discussion.. .

  5. Correction–Steven Hughes…too early in the morning here? No. : An occasion for a postscript. The idea that any of us has a monopoly of truth is a chimera. We sit on a massive literature, written by men in the past who themselves were often unsure. In order to make fencing meaningful, we must all step back and take a larger view of what we do. There isn’t a man-jack of us who slips not, who has not read something–or a lot of somethings. Visitors to the website I suplied a link to above will note a seminar devoted to, of all things, Moliere’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme. For at least a century and a half, the famous line about it being better to give than to receive the point has been misquoted or used out of context by writers who knew more about fencing than any of us alive today. Here we will try to figure out what it means, and even how the line was abused. Will we be “correct?” Hell, no. Will we have a better grasp? I hope so. The same applies to our take on Roux, and to our exploration of the strange career of the stick in Germany.–where this exchange began.

  6. Christoph Amberger


    I’ve found the academic output of all the McAleers/Freverts/Nyes/Hugheses on German fencing and dueling traditions to be, for the most part, hot air and static, that of other self-declared experts such as Stephan Peters as grenzdebil at best or intentionally distortive at worst. (See my polemic on Peters’ ridiculous dissertation on this site.)

    When it comes to understanding Roux’s methodology, his politics are irrelevant, and certainly any “Sonderweg”, no matter what direction, has no effect on the “science of wedge and lever” per se. His judgment on his domestic and international peers is far more interesting from a fencing point, even though, by & large, his opinion on Girard as represented in Kreußler’sches Stoßfechten is hardly different from that of his French and English colleagues about Angelo, or what becomes evident from F. Seemann-Kahne’s marginal notes in Paul Roux’s Das Säbelfechten. Of course, understanding his “political” comments is helped along by an accurate reading of the text, not by the infusion of “Demagogen” where there were none. That’s not claiming a monopoly on truth, just good basics.

    As to Scheidler, who uses the term “wälscher Makel” to describe the Jentscher Stoßcomment (liberally modernized as “Frog fail”): Get a hold of his 1843 “Hieb oder Stoß”—untinged by any 1848’er revolutionary considerations. You will notice that he is firmly on Fichte’s “reactionary, pan-German” ground in his opinions on German unification and the role fencing as gymnastic exercise for a future militarizable pan-German youth needs to play… a position we already find in the 1830’s, proposed by Christmann and Pfeffinger, DESPITE Christmann’s Imperial Guard background. And completely in line w/ Ling’s non-german Scandinavian Wehrgymnastik, or the preambles of the various French masters of the period.

    As to Wassmannsdorff: Hergsell is a Fechtmeister without philological credentials. Wassmannsdorff’s acribically researched criticism of his mistranslations and misinterpretations have nothing do w/ Hergsell’s opinions on Slav foot soldiers but ENTIRELY w/ his lack of deeper knowledge regarding the placement of techniques in the wider German martial arts canon. Owning some of W’s correspondence, it is apparent that he is consumed with accurate quotations from the respective sources.

    As to “anti-“German: I have come to regard a fair bit of modern academic research in Germany (as well as the popular perception of German history in Germany by Germans) as somewhat comparable to the perspective a Maoist Cultural Revolutionary would’ve had of Han Dynasty Chinese history in 1975: An alienated, thoroughly self-serving and politicized retrospective teleology. The coupling of academia with the “Betroffenheitsindustrie” especially to me represents a targeted cultural alienation not unlike that created by Pious Louis by his destruction of pagan monuments and culture.

  7. Uh….Chris, dismissing an enormous, varied body of literature ad hominem? I mean even Karl Marx–a wild Hiebfechter!- learned from Fichte. I’m familiar with most of the sources you refer to, and alas, see them quite differently, especially Scheidler. I would not accuse you of a highly selective–nay, blinkered– reading of them, like a German Sydney Anglo. However, I certainly appreciate your taking the time to respond. By the way, I happen to take a very positive approach to understanding the German past–you are right perhaps for the wrong reasons: the shadow of World War Two looms here still, masking but not oblitering a cultural richness and diversity that actually is still there if you look. No one will see it if historical fencers keep on insisting on an invented, romantic Blut, Boden, und Rittertum and a cult of violence worthy of Ernst Jünger.

  8. Christoph Amberger

    Bill, I’m not sure where you deign to see ad homines. In my dismissal of the trendy, self-serving onanistic claptrap of sociologists about “notions of masculinity” and the “cult of honor”? Well, sure, be that way. (Then again, Ute Frevert being part of them, maybe we should be more sensitive and call it ad hominem/Innen. Just to stay in part?)

    I’m also sure if you look at the actual texts long enough, they will start saying what you think they say, that Scheidler will become a liberal (in whatever sense) concerned about German nationalism & in favor of thrust fencing and that Hergsell’s reading of Talhoffer was right even where he was wrong, because of the Slav foot soldiers.

    (Hey, after all that’s how the current US admin sees economic growth where there is none!)

    But most of all, thank you for your insight on German history, historical diversity and language. As a native speaker who grew up in Germany, studied history, lived the experience the “Stubengelehrten” sociologists are prattling about from afar, and has been collecting, reading, and understanding the texts in question for the past quarter century, all must have somehow eluded me. Thank you for your elucidation. Where would I be w/out you? Golly gee, I see much clearer now without my nationalist blinkers!

    I may have to ask you for introductions, however, as I have yet to meet a historical fencer with romantic Blut & Boden notions. Plenty of declaratively superlative fencers who won’t ever get past the pools at Div III qualifiers because “they weren’t sharp”. (Or not sharp enough? Or because the opponent had legs and used them?) But no Jüngerian Ritter yet…

  9. Gibt es irgendwelche Hinweise oder Belege für den kombativen Gebrauch des Stenz/Ziegenhainers in den Zünften? Sicherlich dient der Ziegenhainer dem Gesellen auf der Walz nicht nur als Wanderstab sondern auch zur Selbstverteidigung.

  10. Christoph Amberger

    Die Dokumentation der inoffiziellen Zunft-Gebräuche ist in Deutschland kaum erschlossen. Die of illustrierten Gesellen- und Meisterbriefe der französischen Compagnons dagegen dokumentieren nicht nur den Kampf mit Stab (baton) und Stenz (canne), sondern auch das den deutschen Studentenbräuchen eigene Farbentragen, sowie Trinkbräuche (Schmollistrinken etc.). Auch hier ist die Forschung spärlich.

  11. Christoph Amberger

    Georg, und natürlich gibt es noch das Bildmaterial in Christmann auf der dt. Seite, welches eindeutig wandernde Handwerksburschen darstellt: https://fencingclassics.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/the-french-connection-christmanns-practical-self-defence/

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