Whacked the President with a Single Stick

A forgotten and dangerous cousin to modern day fencing, single stick fighting involves a short and inflexible piece of wood. Ouch. Early 20th century notions of physical therapy were obviously different than today as evidenced by President Theodore Roosevelt using single stick fighting as a way to recover from a carriage accident. Here’s how the New York Times covered his unusual PT sessions:


Gen. Wood Raised a Lump on Mr. Roosevelt’s Forehead

Special to the New York Times.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29–President Roosevelt has not been wounded in the forehead with a rapier wielded by Gen. Wood, nor has he been swinging a broad sword at that officer, as reported in New York today; but he has been whacking his military friend over the head with a single-stick, and Gen. Wood has been returning the compliment. As a result the President is wearing a bruise on his forehead just over the left eye.

For the last month the President and Gen. Wood have been accustomed to repair daily, or almost daily, to a room in the White House where they are free from interruption and have a bout at single-stick. This ancient English exercise used to have as its point the drawing of blood. Neither the ex-Colonel nor the ex-Lieutenant Colonel of the Rough Riders has aimed a making this point, but both havve confined themselves to developing their skill with the weapon and getting as much exercise and fun out of the game as possible.

Notwithstanding this, it is impossible to play with single-sticks without occasionally getting hurt, and both the President and his ex-superior officer have daily given and received some pretty severe raps. Lumps have appeared at frequent intervals on the head of each. The one which the President received the other day, however, was worse than usual and more visible to the casual observer. As a result the wildest kind of rumors were started, finally culminating in the broadsword and rapier story. This led to the discovery of the secret which the President and his friend have guarded so successfully for a month or more.

The PT must of worked since, ten years later, not letting an assassination attempt get in the way, Roosevelt was able to deliver a 90 minute speech after being shot in the chest.

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  1. This is bizarre. But, I suppose it is as sensible as boxers pummeling each other or football players delivering blows that leave the other person brain-damaged after enough abuse. Men have weird ways of having fun.

  2. From the martial arts world, using a stick is nothing new. The Philipino (sp.?) arts of escrima & kali are probably the most popular. There are even Irish stick fighting systems. But historically you have to remember this was at the end of the period where gentlemen carried a walking stick. There was the episode of the US congressman who got hurt in a fight with canes on the floor of the Capitol. It’s really only in the 20th Century have most people not carried a weapon. Thankfully.

  3. In my neighborhood, walkers carry small sticks to golf clubs. If stores (or what have you) have a LIGHT durable, strong stick as product I’d carry one for my walks too.

    Sure, the possibility of attack and/or robbery comes to mind; but where I live it’s more dogs and wild animals (especially coyotes, I’ve been followed by 2-3 coyotes before).

    Weight is the only thing preventing me from carrying one on my walks. But the idea of carrying and hitting things with sticks, makes sense to me.

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