The Spirit of the Staff
Leader Magazine, May 1989.
A staff is a basic tool for the outdoor traveler. For thousands of years, the walking stick has been
symbol, weapon, record, and support for the tired feet and legs of the wanderer. Even today, on the trail
or in camp, it has a hundred uses.
For centuries, labourers used the staff to support loads and defend themselves against man and beast.
Egyptian hieroglyphics picture travelers with sticks in hand. The Bible is full of references to staffs. The
ancient Druids, who believed each copse had its own living spirit, apologized to a tree before cutting it
for a staff. Banned from owning conventional weapons, the poor of many countries traditionally turned
to the staff for protection.
The staff is also a symbol of authority and power. Moses used his to part the sea and to get water from a
rock. In Egypt, the staff and the shorter rod were the Pharaoh's symbols of office. Today, the mace, an
ornate and stylized version of a staff, symbolizes the power of parliament. At the same time, the staff,
especially a staff with a crook, has always represented the humble shepherd. Truly, this is a stick for all
In B.-P's day, the staff was considered an important part of a Scout's outdoor equipment. Today, a
stylized figure with a staff marks trails in many modern parks and is often used to indicate the
availability of hiking trails in recreation and wilderness areas. In many countries, the same symbol
indicates a hostel - a place of rest for a weary walker.
As a weapon, a stick or cudgel was once a match for the sword, at least in legend. Sensei (master) Frank
Lee of Martial Arts International says two major forms of the staff are used in modern oriental martial
arts, but he also says that "unless a person is trained to know the spirit of the staff, it is just a stick."
Record keeping is one of the oldest uses for a staff. The ancient Norse used a notched stick called a skor
to keep track of numerical information, and the word stuck a