Pole weapon

A pole weapon or polearm is a close combat weapon in which the main fighting part of the weapon is placed on the end of a long shaft, typically of wood, thereby extending the user's effective range. Spears, glaives, poleaxes, halberds, and bardiches are all varieties of polearm. The idea of attaching a weapon onto a long shaft is an old one indeed, as the first spears date back to the Stone Age. The purpose of using pole weapons is either to extend reach or to increase angular momentum—and thus striking power—when the weapon is swung.


Pole weapons are relatively simple to make, and they were fairly easy for most people to use effectively as they were often derived from hunting or agricultural tools. For example, the Chinese Monk's Spade, with its shovel-like end, served two purposes for the monks who used it: if they came upon a corpse on the road, they could properly bury it with Buddhist rites; and the large implement could serve as a weapon for self-defence against bandits.

Massed men carrying pole weapons with pointed tips (spears, pikes, etc.) were recognized fairly early in the history of organized warfare as effective military units. On defense the men holding the polearms were hard to reach; on the attack, as in the Greek phalanx, they were devastating to those units which could not get out of the way.

With the advent of armored fighters, especially cavalry, pole weapons frequently combined the spearpoint (for thrusting) with an axe or hammerhead for a swinging strike which could pierce or break armor.

Modern use

Pole weapons have largely been superseded by firearms. However, the bayonet attachment for a modern assault rifle, when attached, especially sword bayonet or knife bayonet, can still be regarded as a form of pole weapon. Today, pole weapons remain a common sight in many schools of martial arts that study weapons.

Varieties of pole weapon


A fauchard is a type of polearm which was used in medieval Europe from the 11th through the 14th centuries. The design consisted of a curved blade put atop a 6–7-foot long pole. The blade bore a moderate to strong curve along its length, however unlike a glaive the cutting edge was only on the concave side. This made the fauchard blade resemble that of a sickle or a scythe. This was not a very efficient design for the purposes of war, and was eventually modified to have one or more lance points attached to the back or top of the blade. This weapon is called a fauchard-fork, but is very often erroneously referred to as a guisarme or bill-guisarme since it superficially appears to have a "hook".


A glaive is a polearm consisting of a single-edged blade on the end of a pole. It is similar to the Japanese naginata. However, instead of having a tang like a sword or naginata, the blade is affixed in a socket-shaft configuration similar to an axe head. Typically, the blade was around 18 inches (55 cm) long, on the end of a pole 6 or 7 feet (180–210 cm) long. Occasionally glaive blades were created with a small hook on the reverse side to better catch riders. Such blades are called glaive-guisarmes.

Guan dao

A guan dao or kwan dao is a type of Chinese pole weapon that is currently used in some forms of Chinese martial arts (wushu). In Chinese it is properly called a Yanyue dao (偃月刀) which translates as reclining moon blade). Alternatively the guan dao is also known as "Chun Qiu Da Dao" or Spring Autumn Great Knife. It differs from more plain Chinese weapon known as a "pu dao" (long-handled sabre) a.k.a. zhan ma dao (horsecutter sabre) which has a lighter blade and a ring at the end in that it, instead, consists of a heavy blade mounted atop a 5–6-foot long wooden or metal pole with a pointed metal counter weight used for striking and stabbing on the opposite end. The blade is very deep and curved on its face; this resembles a China sabre or the Japanese naginata and bisento, or the European glaive and voulge. Often the edge will taper to a point on the top for thrusting. While a pu dao is an infantryman's weapon mainly used for cutting the legs off oncoming charging horses to bring down the riders, a guan dao is a cavalryman's and usually a general's weapon in that many generalships in ancient days involved the demonstration of personal martial skills to impress troops sufficiently that they would follow him and it took someone of great physical prowess to wield a guan dao in combat. In addition there are sometimes irregular serrations that lead the back edge of the blade to the spike. Usually a red sash or tassel is attached at the joint of the pole and blade. Variations include having rings along the length of the straight back edge as found in the nine-ring guan dao for use as distractions or entanglements for incoming enemy weapons, having the tip curl into a rounded spiral as in the elephant guan dao, or featuring a more ornate design as exemplified by the dragon head guan dao.


A guisarme (sometimes gisarme or bisarme) was a pole weapon used in Europe primarily between 1000–1400. It was used primarily to dismount knights and horsemen. Like most polearms it was developed by peasants by combining hand tools with long poles: in this case by putting a pruning hook onto a spear shaft. While hooks are fine for dismounting horsemen from mounts, they lack the stopping power of a spear especially when dealing with static opponents. While early designs were simply a hook on the end of a long pole, later designs implemented a small reverse spike on the back of the blade. Eventually weapon makers incorporated the usefulness of the hook in a variety of different polearms and guisarme became a catch-all for any weapon that included a hook on the blade.


A halberd (or Swiss voulge) is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries. Possibly the word halberd comes from the German words Halm (staff), and Barte (axe). The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It always has a hook or thorn on the back side of the axe blade for grappling mounted combatants. It is very similar in many ways to certain forms of voulge.


A naginata (なぎなた or 薙刀) is a pole weapon that was traditionally used in Japan by members of the samurai class. It has become associated with women and in modern Japan it is studied by women more than men; whereas in Europe and Australia naginata is practiced predominantly (but not exclusively) by men. A naginata consists of a wood shaft with a curved blade on the end; it is similar to the European glaive. Usually it also had a sword-like guard (tsuba) between the blade and shaft. It varies from typical European construction of polearms in that, like most Japanese weapons, it was mounted with a tang and held in place with a pin or pins, rather than going over the shaft using a socket.


A nagamaki is a pole weapon that was traditionally used in Japan by members of the samurai class, typically against mounted opponents. It had a much longer blade and shorter grip than the naginata, and was developed later. Unlike most Japanese weapons, there were no specific rules about exact measurements and proportions for nagamaki. It varies from typical European construction of polearms in that, like most Japanese weapons, it was mounted with a tang and held in place with a pin or pins, rather than going over the shaft using a socket.


A voulge (occasionally called a pole cleaver) is a type of polearm that existed alongside the similar glaive in medieval Europe. Superficially, a voulge might strongly resemble a glaive, but there are some notable differences in construction. First, the attachment of the voulge blade to the shaft was usually done by binding the lower two thirds of the blade to the side of the pole; the glaive would often have a socket built into the blade itself and was mounted on top of the pole. In addition, while both had curved blades, that of the voulge was broad and meant for hacking, while that of the glaive was narrow and meant more for cutting. Indeed, a voulge looks something like a squashed bardiche head, or just a meat cleaver attached to a long pole.

See also


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