The Trench Club

Woody Harrelson with a Trench Club in "Defendor"

I rented the movie “Defendor” last night (which is an odd, quirky movie), and the star of the movie, Woody Harrelson, wields a trench club, just like his grandfather used in WWI. I had never heard of the trench club, and was curious, so I looked it up. (See here.)

Imagine it is WWI, at the height of trench warfare. The war of the trenches is pretty much a stalemate, so commanding officers fear that their soldiers will become soft and complacent. So they hatch the idea to slip into enemy lines at night (before night vision existed) and kill or capture enemy soldiers. What type of weapon would you use? Keep in mind that the trenches are narrow and are a confined space.

A firearm is not a good choice, because a shot fired will alert the enemy that their lines have been infiltrated. So the emphasis is on silent weapons. One weapon is the knife, particularly with brass knuckles built in. Another is the trench club. The weapon is short, with weight massed at one end.

For intimidation, spikes may be added or barbed wire wrapped around the end. The intent is to make an enemy give up without a fight rather than resist, which could alert others in the lines. And it’s best not to have to fight –ideally, overwhelming force causes the enemy to give up meekly rather than slug it out, which only gets people hurt.

Trench Club: The Striking End Has Been Filled with Lead

The trench club has a thong attached at the handle. First, you don’t want to lose a club in the dark as you’re scrambling through barbed wire. Secondly, you don’t want an enemy soldier to strip the club out of your hands, or lose it in a melee.

The trench club was not an odd weapon,or a rarity, but was mass manufactured by men who specialized in its construction.

Consider the implications. Men are involved in a life-or-death struggle. If the weapon does not work, people die. In these circumstance, the weapon they choose to go with, and the logical choice is, a club. Why are there no “trench sticks”? If I encounter someone with a 28 inch stick, I’m going to go for it.

Furthermore, how much training would be necessary to make soldiers proficient with a stick, versus a trench club?

Trench Club

For me, the trench club is the basis for what I am calling “Double Barrel,” the application of the club to sinawali. By adding a second weapon, so that the proponent wields two short clubs, the system becomes even simpler, while adding firepower.


4 Responses to “The Trench Club”

  1. I think the most important thing you said was that the trenches were narrow. Why did one country use a certain length pole weapon and another country use a different length one? It all had to do with the areas they were fighting in. If you used a 6′ Bo in the jungle (or even the woods of Canada) you would be limited to thrusting attacts for the most part, but you would likely get tired of it getting caught by trees as you move through the jungle or forest and end up cutting that 6′ Bo down to a more manageable length.

    Also, if your main weapon was a 18″ machete and you wanted a wood training weapon so you can make more contact with less injury to your own troops would you then pick up the 10′ Chinese Long Pole? I think not!

  2. James,

    Good points. I think many martial artists today swinging nunchaku, hook swords, and rattan sticks ignore the fact that real weapons are well-fitted to their environment.

  3. Just to be clear, I still swing rattan sticks because they will fray rather than break. In the beginning I showed up as a FMA seminar with hardwood sticks and one got broke by an abiniko leaving me with a sharp pointy stick useless for the class, it was at that same seminar that I bought a set of rattan sticks and they are still going strong some 10 years later. I want to get a rattan Bo so I can cut down for walking sticks.

    The only problem with rattan is that you have to mail order it and you will never just happen to be walking along in Canada and find a rattan of any length just laying there for you to use in defense. I recommend solo training with stick weapons of different weights, diameters, and lengths but rattan rules for partner practice.

  4. Hello:
    A new hard bound book about trench clubs has been recently released: At Arm’s Length Trench clubs and Knives. The author can be contacted at

    Great images, great clubs and information.

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